Manufactured Spending

Newbie Guide to Manufactured Spending: Visa and Mastercard Gift Cards

All of the cards we’ve discussed so far involved a three-step process. You buy a reload card, load it onto a prepaid card, then cash out via various methods. There is an easier option: Skip straight to Visa and MasterCard gift cards.

Visa Mastercard gift cards

Many gift cards are now PIN-enabled, which makes it possible to unload them via prepaid card loads or money order purchases. These gift cards can be purchased in maximum $500 increments and have fees ranging from $3.95-$6.95.

Purchasing Visa and MasterCard gift cards is becoming one of my favorite manufactured spending due to the following advantages:

No purchase limit

You can buy as many of these as you want. The only thing to take into account is whether you have time to unload them all.

Easy unloading

Most Visa and MasterCard gift cards are PIN enabled, making them easy to cash out via money order purchases and prepaid card loads. All of the cash-out methods are either free or fairly cheap. The “safest” gift cards to buy are Metabank issues Visa gift cards. These are sold at grocery stores and branded as Gift Card Mall Visas. Check the back of the gift card package to ensure they are indeed issued by Metabank.

In addition to unloading them via money orders, you can also load them onto Bluebird or Serve prepaid cards. You can load these cards at Walmart stores. Then use the online bill pay center to pay your credit cards and other bills.

Keep in mind that just because a gift card has a Visa logo on it, that does not mean it’s PIN enabled. Gift cards issued by Bancorp, US Bank, and MetaBank are usually PIN enabled.

Category bonus potential

You can buy Visa and MasterCard gift cards at grocery stores, office supply stores, and drug stores – all of which are lucrative category bonus merchants. These cards don’t come in very large denominations (mostly in increments of $500 or less). However, the bonus points paid out by credit card issuers often makes it worthwhile.

Free manufactured spending

Fees vary depending on the card and the denominations you’re purchasing them in. Usually, they don’t exceed $6.95 for a $200 MasterCard gift card. Which earns 1,000 points at office supply stores with a Chase Ink Bold card. What decreases the cost significantly are promotions that often eliminate the purchase fees and sometimes even makes buying these cards profitable.

Office Max, for example, often runs promotions on their gift cards. The most recent one was for $20 off a $300 gift card purchase. The largest denominations they carried were $100, which came with a $5.95 fee. The fees came up to $17.85, but with the $20 discount, I pocketed $2.15 (I know, I won’t quit my day job). The significant part of this promotion isn’t the change you pick up as a result, it’s that you’re earning miles without any fees.

With my Ink Bold card, I earned 1,500 Ultimate Rewards points. That’s not enough for a trip anywhere, but if I do this two more times, it’s enough for a one-way short-haul flight (using 4,500 British Airways Avios). You can unload these cards using the methods outlined above, or simply use them to pay your bills.

Cash back on visa gift cards

Another option is to buy Visa gift cards through Gift Card Mall by going through a shopping portal like TopCashBack or Extrabux. Currently, the payout on Visa gift cards is just 0.5%. With the denomination of these cards being reduced to $250, this can get expensive. I would keep an eye out for TCB promotions that make purchasing gift cards profitable. (UPDATE: As of November 3, 2015 Visa gift cards purchased from Gift Card Mall are no longer PIN-enabled, so buying them is no longer a viable manufactured spending option.)

As you can see, Visa and MasterCard gift cards can be great manufactured spending tools. Not only is there unlimited earning potential, but you can also reduce expenses by factoring in online shopping portal bonuses and in-store promotions.

Note: I will earn a $10 referral fee if you register using the TopCashBack link in this post. Along with $5 from Extrabux after your first purchase. Extrabux pays out an additional commission when users who signed up with my link use the portal. Please feel free to include your own referral links in the comment section.

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  1. Are there fees for the visa and MasterCard cash back options? I did my first cash back on a my vanilla card and was surprised at a 1.95 fee.
    Also, do you think my vanilla is ok if used modestly, maybe $ 1-2,000 a month?

    • PointChaser

      MyVanilla Debit cards do carry fees every time you use them, which is obnoxious. Visa and Mastercard gift cards (like the ones in the photo) do not have these fees.

  2. Jerry Mandel

    NO Visa and MC GIFT cards come PIN enabled. You have to call or go online to get a PIN to convert them into DEBIT cards. However, One Vanilla cards are already DEBIT cards. I just use the last 4 digits for a PIN to buy money orders in Walmart money centers (not at cashiers) to deposit. Pay Walmart fee in cash.

    • PointChaser

      What I mean is they’re capable of being used with a PIN. Some of these cards don’t require calling in for PIN set-up. You simply type in a PIN of your choosing the first time you use the card, and that’s the set up process.

  3. best card to use at grocery stores?

    • PointChaser

      That depends on what you’re after (cash back, hotel points or flexible rewards). I’ve done a breakdown in this post, but will be going into more detail in the next few posts.

  4. Has anyone had experience recently using a regular visa card to load onto the bluebird? I was reading a bit that the regular visas aren’t loading onto the bluebirds.

    • PointChaser

      Do you mean Visa gift cards? A while ago I used them at to load Bluebird at the ATM. Haven’t tried online though.

  5. If I buy Visa gift card with Citi Executive card, is it treated as cash advance? Thanks.

    • PointChaser

      No, since it’s not a financial institution. If you buy Amex GC’s, then yes Citi will code those as a cash advance.

  6. I bought several Visa gift cards from You mentioned “some” gift cards don’t need to set up PIN. Just pick the PIN at the first time of use. But since it’s not for “all”, I don’t want to get rejected in store. So I still went to update the pin on their website “”. But at the end, it told me “Remember the PIN cannot be used for cash withdrawals at ATM or merchant locations.”. Does it mean I cannot withdraw money at ATM? 🙁

    • Jerry Mandel

      One Vanilla cards at CVS are already debit cards. I buy money orders at Walmart to deposit into my bank. I use last 4 of card number for a PIN. I always use my bank ATM card for cash.

    • PointChaser

      That’s true, you can’t use them at the ATM but you can unload them via the following methods: 1. Use them to buy money orders or 2. Request cash back at the grocery store register like you would with a debit card. 3. You can also load these cards onto your Bluebird card.

      • Are all Visa Gift Cards offered at the Gift Card Mall able to be used with a PIN? Like you have mentioned, a number of the Visa gift cards offered at various brick and mortar outlets ARE NOT able to be used with a PIN and as a result are not able to be loaded to Bluebird. I just want to make sure that I can use your Extra Bucks link to buy gift cards that are able to be used with a PIN so that I will be able to unload them onto Bluebird. (I can’t check since the purchase is online…couldn’t find any info relating to PINS on the GiftCardMall website)

        • PointChaser

          The gift cards offered on GCM are all PIN enabled. When you receive them, you can go online, activate them and set a PIN – I’ve done it numerous times. It’s just the ones sold in stores you have to be careful with.

          • Thank you. Great to know. Also, I share “point chasing” tips with my dad. He raised the question of security when ordering potentially thousands of one’s own dollars through the mail. I know that gift card mall charges a little bit extra for higher amounts to take security measures. Have you been happy with how securely and reliably your gift cards are sent? If an order was to get lost, have you looked into what recourse could be taken to recover the lost or stolen funds?

          • That’s a valid concern. If that were to happen, your credit card company can and will handle it. I’ve had experience with lost items in the mail before (purchased from online retailers) and when the retailer wasn’t helpful, the credit card company came through and refunded the money. That’s the great thing about credit cards – your purchases are protected.

          • Good to know. I had the same question. Your answer leads to another question though. Is there a limit of how many GCs I can buy from GCM in a day?

          • There doesn’t seem to be a limit, but every time I’ve purchased over $5,000 I’ve been asked to submit a form confirming the purchase. This is done to combat fraud, which I appreciate, but it will slow down the processing time a bit.

  7. Can I have one more question? If I use AMEX credit card to buy Visa gift cards on GCM, will that be cash advance? Thanks.

    • PointChaser

      You’re safe using credit cards on GCM – it’s not a financial institution, so it doesn’t get coded as a cash advance. The only time you need to worry about cash advances is when you’re buying Amex gift cards online. See this FT page for a list of cards that get coded as cash advances

      • Great! Thanks a lot!

        • PointChaser

          No problem! Feel free to comment or email if you have other questions.

          • Like Lori I have a question about a different part of the Wal Mart GC loading process, but to BB. You have written that you have multiple family members for whom you order credit cards. Have you managed a bluebird account for a family member as well? And lastly if so, have you had success loading GC onto a family member’s BB account at Wal Mart or are you restricted to only loading the BB account in your name?

          • Yes, three of my family members have Bluebird cards that I manage. I have loaded other people’s Bluebird cards with Vis gift cards at the Walmart register. They don’t care whose card it is, since you’re loading money with a debit card, so you shouldn’t have any issues.

  8. Just left Walmart after failing to be able to load 5 different GC’s so as to cash out with a MO. Three were Visa debit from Staples and two were MasterCard. The cashier couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t work and either could I. I used the last four of the card as the pin and for the MasterCard changed the payment option to debit. Do you know if a pin MUST be set online ahead of time? I thought using the last 4 numbers of card worked but was just proven wrong. Getting ready to try Amazon payments…

    • PointChaser

      That’s odd. I’ve never had a problem unloading them this way. The PIN setup varies by card – there should be information on the back of the card packet on how to do this. Amazon Payments is certainly another option if this doesn’t work out.

      • Jerry Mandel

        Yes, you have to follow the directions on the back. The last 4 digits only work with One Vanilla.

  9. When loading a one vanilla at the wal Mart register, is it ok to load all 500 at once or is it better to split it into two separate transactions? (200 + 300) I’m planning on trying this for the first time tomorrow so any help is appreciated. I have two one vanilla prepaid debit cards with 500 on each. Thanks!

    • Loading all 500 at once and even doing both cards at the same time shouldn’t be a problem. Just did a $500 debit at wal mart all at once. Where you loading the funds to?

    • PointChaser

      Loading the entire card at once isn’t going to be a problem. Good luck!

      • Thanks for the quick reply! Just to confirm: I tell them at the register that I would like to load my Bluebird card, then swipe the Bluebird, and then the One vanilla? Unfortunately my Walmart doesn’t have a Money pass machine.

    • Jerry Mandel

      Buy one $1,000 money order in a Walmart money center with the two $500 debit cards. Pay the MO fee in cash. Deposit the MO into your bank account. You don’t load the One Vanilla at Walmart; in effect, you “unload” them and discard them. I buy them in a CVS.

      • Thanks for the other option. If it’s possible, I think I would rather use BB instead of my normal checking account in order to avoid having to continually deposit MO into my local bank (small town). Is this ever considered suspicious because I think I remember reading somewhere that it is best to avoid many large MO deposits on a continuous basis. If loading to BB is not possible at all, please let me know as I will be going tomorrow!

        • Jerry Mandel

          First, $1,000 is not a “large” deposit. Second, no teller has ever hesitated one second to process the deposits. By the way, do you also have a credit union account? I do.

  10. At extrabux gift card mall portal i noticed some fine print on cash back restrictions. It says “Cash back is not available for Visa purchase Fee, Customization Fee, Hess Gasoline, Acro, Safeway, BP, Visa, or Gulf Cards.” Does this mean that when purchasing visa gift cards extrabux does not offer cash back? Arent u saying in this post that they do?

    • PointChaser

      Thanks, Joe. That bit about Visa gift cards just got added. Previously, the only restriction in regards to Visa gc’s was the part about purchase fees not being eligible for cash back. At the same time, it’s odd that they would include the piece about Visa fees not being eligible, while simultaneously saying Visa purchases aren’t eligible either. I’ll reach out to them to get feedback.

  11. I couldn’t use a OV card to fund Bluebird at Walmart, but I was able to pay $0.70 to get a MO. Is this correct, or was the clerk mistaken?

  12. Just wanted to share my experience today at Walmart in Atlanta – kiosk was down so I went ot the Money center to load my BB with a Visa Gift card. I was told they no longer accept any gift card/debit card for BB unless it has your name imprinted on the GC/debit card. Hopefully other Walmarts are not going this direction.

    • PointChaser

      Everyone should steer clear of the money center. The cashiers nationwide are now imposing a no-giftcard rule. Going to the money center only draws more attention to this game.

  13. Is my math right? if buy thru TCB to GCM, 10 cards = $5000 + $39.5 fee + $25.3 shipping = $5069.3
    0.5% CB = $25.3, net cost = $69.3-25.3 = $44. 5 MO max $5 fee, so total cost ~ $49. $49/5069 ~ 1 cents per mile. trying to meet min. spending for citi so can’t take adv of OD of 5% CB.

    • PointChaser

      Looks good, though keep an eye out for an email from GCM, asking you to verify your purchase. This happens with large quantities. You can also reduce your costs by buying Simon Mall Visa gift cards instead. Those run $2.95 per $500, so you’re looking at a cost of $29.50 for $5,000.

  14. This is really great information. If I buy 5k worth of giftcards from GCM using my chase sapphire card, it will count as a normal purchase? How much do you think I can unload from a grocery cashback at one time?

    • PointChaser

      Yes, it counts as a normal purchase. Usually you can cash out $200 per transaction, depending on the store.

  15. Does this trick still work ?

    It’s now Aug 2014. I heard of more companies cracking down on this.

  16. As of today 10/25/14 can $500 master cards bought at grocery stores be used to buy money orders at same or different grocery store? Must they be pin enabled if you can? Can you use last four digits on card or must you call and register?Also what are recent banks that sell the cards?(banks that won’t pose a problem with placing a pin).
    Can simon mall gift cards still be used for same purpose(money orders).

  17. Kristi Southard

    Dear Ariana…. I’ve been reading your website for about a year. So impressed! I have a question? Is it better getting the Serve card or Bluebird? I have the Bluebird . I’m trying to load Staples Visa VG’s online just $100.00 and its giving me ERROR message? Can you tell me why its not working? I already called and set up pin.

    Thank you..

    Kristi Southard

    • Thank you Kristi. There are a myriad of issues with loading Bluebird with a gift card online (including account closures), so I don’t recommend you do that. I personally think Serve is a better option. The main advantage is that you can load $1k per month online with a credit card.

      • Ariana, Bought close to $1800 worth of visa/mastercard/amex prepaid giftcards from staples last month and when I went to walmart to unload it on my serve account, I get “TENDER NOT ALLOWED” error. What am I missing? I set pin to all these cards.

        • I’m assuming each card has $200 on it, so try loading $199 instead. Back when I was unloading $4k worth of Staples Visa gift cards, I kept getting the same error message until I started leaving $1 on the card. Give that a shot and see if that works. If the kiosk keeps giving you a hard time, try the register.

  18. Has something changed at Walmart. I have been unloading Staples $200. Visa gift cards onto my Bluebird card for quite some time. Yesterday they would not load, I had 2 managers trying. It was such a big deall and didn’t work that I’m afraid to go back because they all know me now. There is no automatic way to do it at my store, only at the register.

  19. @pointchaser
    can bancorp GCs be liquidated via WM please?

  20. has any of these information about buying Visa Cards with a CC have changed?

  21. Alexander Tolbert

    hey.. how do i remove cash from an amex gift card?? want to purchase money order to pay my rent✋


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