Manufactured Spending

Minimum Manufactured Spending Required to Travel (Hint: You Don’t Have to Go All Out)

A lot of people out there think manufactured spending has to be done in massive numbers. That if you aren’t spending $100,000+ every month you may as well sit on the sidelines. Some people are discouraged because they don’t have enough credit or places where they can buy Visa gift cards they can churn for miles. But the truth is, most people don’t need to do a ton of manufactured spending. And Visa gift cards are accessible enough nowadays that everyone can earn enough miles for at least a weekend domestic trip, with very little effort.

Earning points and miles through manufactured spending September

A few years ago I remember reading a post by Chris Guillebeau where he said it takes saving just $2 per day to be able to travel somewhere. The same goes for manufactured spending: You don’t have to do a ton of it in order to have enough miles to travel. As little as $5000 a month in gift card churning is enough for most folks to book one domestic trip per year. At $5,000 per month, you’ll earn at least 60,000 points or $1,200 if you channel it towards a cash back credit card. That’s enough to fly roundtrip anywhere in the U.S., with points or cash leftover to cover hotel expenses. If it’s international travel you’re after, just $10,000 per month in manufactured spending is enough to travel abroad.

Generating $5,000 – $10,000 per month in manufactured spending is attainable for nearly anyone and doesn’t take much effort or organization. We’re talking 2 – 4 orders or a single trip to your local mall’s customer service desk per month. It’s something most people can do without having to worry about organization and tracking.  

Personally, I can manufacture $1,200 worth of cash back or 60,000 airline miles in about 8 hours. How many jobs out there pay that much per hour? Manufactured spending can be very rewarding when done right and doesn’t need to be high-risk or require a ton of time and money. So if you’re not pulling off six figure numbers every month, keep in mind that you may not have to. For many people, a single trip to Walmart every month is all it takes to earn enough miles for a roundtrip international flight and a few free hotel nights

I myself have cut back on manufactured spending recently; partly due to exhaustion and partly due to laziness. However, in July my parents are going to London for my cousin’s wedding. For less than the cost of an economy class ticket, I can manufacture enough miles for them to fly business class. So I’ll be stepping things up substantially to cover that trip with points and miles. Or I may take the easy way out and pick up a couple of credit cards instead. 

I’d like to know how much manufactured spending you’re doing these days. Do you manufacture miles speculatively or do you create a strategy around your travel plans?

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  1. You wrote: “Personally, I can manufacture $1,200 worth of cash back or 60,000 airline miles in about 8 hours. How many jobs out there pay that much per hour?”

    That’s assuming everything goes smoothly and you don’t have to make repeat visits due to the many reasons that could easily go wrong. You’re not earning that on a consistent basis of 40 hrs a week like a regular job that’s more stable and brings home a predictable paycheck. Your credit cards accounts run a higher risk of getting shut down which brings psychological stress and anxiety, not to mention also the risk of having thousands of $ worth of gift cards lost/stolen. Most people don’t want to spend hours a day or week traveling back and forth to a Walmart or post office either. It’s something an unemployed person or college kid can do as a side hobby, sure, but once you grow older (and wiser) I just don’t see the appeal of MS.

    • Then why are you reading this blog?

    • Yes all that is true. MS isn’t for the faint of heart. This game is hard if you’re a person that worries alot. There is some risk involved.

    • True – a lot can go wrong, especially if you were to do this for 40 hours per week. That’s why I’ve kept it to roughly 10 hours per week and for the most part, it’s been smooth sailing. I have a great WM store that let’s me MS without issues, I have a good tracking system in place, and I’m not exceeding what is manageable for me. The appeal lies in the large payoff (in the form of miles or cash) for a relatively small time commitment. As I said, you don’t have to go all out – a little goes a long way.

  2. Question-what do you do with all those gift cards? How does that translate to miles/points? This is a new concept to me.

    • She goes to the customer service center at Walmart and buys money orders. Then uses those money orders to pay off the credit cards.

    • You buy the gift cards with mile-earning credit cards and liquidate them via money orders.

      • Curious to know…doesn’t depositing MO at such a high volume make the bank tellers suspicious? Do they ever question why you’re making out so many to yourself? TIA!

  3. I always have a strategy when manufacturing. I get most of my points from cc signup bonuses and will only manufacture if I have trouble meeting the minimum spend or if need some hotel points. I don’t MS with Chase any longer because their cards are too important to me and I don’t want to risk them shutting me down. I don’t count buying Visa cards at Staples/Office Depot with my Ink card when they have the rebates as MS. I’ll MS with Citi to get free Hilton award nights. I recently got the Capital One Venture card and will need to hit the malls to make the minimum spend on that. Back in the BlueBird days I was doing $15K a month. Now I’m averaging less than $1K a month. The last few times I went to my favorite Walmart their attitude had changed and they were a bit surly. They didn’t like that I was liquidating more than one gift card and told me not to do it again. But there are plenty of other Walmarts in the area I can check out. I also don’t like depositing too many money orders into one bank for fear of getting shut down. I’ve opened several bank accounts due to their lucrative sign up bonuses and then spreading the MO’s around.

  4. Back in the halcyon days of the Birds, I was doing quite a bit of MS. (not even close to your level though) But since that has all been shut down, I have not done any in over a year. I suppose I could try to get back in it (I am starting to hoard miles because of fear of this being a dying hobby) and try to earn some more. But I wouldn’t know where to start at this point. Not sure if my Walmarts (there are only 2 in my area) are MS friendly in terms of money orders purchased with Visa GC. I’ve only done that once or twice.
    I haven’t even applied for a new card since October. Trying to get under 5/24…but I think I am too far gone to worry about that.

    It’s encouraging to hear that people are still doing this….

    • we don’t have flexible schedules to book far in advance so I’ve decided to do more of cash back and research on the best travel deals when our schedule permits. with CB stashed for our travel expenses, we still get to the destinations we want w/o paying an arm and a leg for it. I have a stash of URs that I can convert to cash if I want to but since I have CSP, I’d rather transfer to partners if needed for a better deal and I just pay with points.

      I have the 5% am3x, cap is $50K on groceries, 3% CUtitanium on groceries and citidcb on everything else.

    • You can always just dip your toe in it. But to be honest, at this point it’s probably better if you get into reselling or MS purely to meet spending requirements. It’s becoming more expensive to ms via Visa gift cards these days.

  5. I’m curious what your average cost of MS is when going the visa gift card route. I assume if you’re buying them with an activation cost. Just trying to figure out what is the right balance of cost to points that will be earned.

  6. What are you doing for cash back?

  7. Back in the Bluebird days I focused diligently with specific travel plans/redemptions in mind, and while I never reached any rank of expertise at MS and by many would be viewed as an amateur, I did enough MS then to fully support 2-3 wonderful vacations for my husband and myself. Amex shut me down in the early waves of their guillotine even though I was very circumspect in my actions. Then we moved to a different city and my Simon Mall, which used to be close by, became practically a day trip, so I retired from MS for about a year. Recently I’ve rejoined MS-ing. We have a new vacation spot in mind so here I go again focusing on beefing up specific account balances. I’ve never been a MS-er w/o an exact flight itinerary or hotel property in mind as I definitely ascribe to the earn’em and burn’em philosophy.

  8. Since I don’t have any major trips on my plate because we just did SE Asia and then UAE/Kenya I’m not hustling like I did for those 2 separate trips. Right now I’m doing about $3k to $5k per week with gift cards to money orders. I did get a CC and hit the minimum spend quickly and will look at churning another one in the next month. I like to keep things simple and easy. However, I just had 3 GC that were tampered with so I’m having to wait for that to clear. It’ messed up my little cadence I had going.

    • Can you be more specific about 3 GC that were tampered. That is a bit concerning as that has never happened to me so far but it is always better to be fully prepared just in case

      • My routine is to buy OVs at CVS and VGC at a local Ralphs in S. Cal. I went to a CVS I had never been to before. When I open the package I noticed the glue was different. I called the customer service number on the back of the card and squared things away with them, it was easy, well easier than with the VGC from US Bank from a Ralphs, another location I had not purchased from before. I tried to buy a MO at WM and the cards were not reading through the POS. I called the card customer service and they told me both only had a .05 balance, both were drained. Their process for replacing the card is much more involved. A form and snail mail or Fax. OV’s I’ve already received the replacement card. This is my 1st time with either of the cards.

        • One time a lady at a grocery store messed up my gift card I think by not putting in the 3 digit code correctly. It ended up with me having to get the manager to use my current gift card to buy a new gift card while he waived the fee. Anyway the next time I went to that store and each time thereafter I never saw that lady at the customer service desk and only noticed she was mopping the floor.

    • Thankfully I haven’t had that issue, but when your gift cards get tampered with, I imagine it can be a huge hassle to get the funds back. It’s nice to take a break sometimes or to just slow down. Enjoy it!

  9. I’m doing 15k a month mostly getting the cards with GCM at 1% and free shipping under 2K per order.

    • Hi Joe — now there’s a wonder, being able to buy vgc’s (?) at GCM. For most of us, GCM is close to impossible to deal with… one order works, then weeks, later, they cancel an order…. call them up and get utterly no help, just an insinuation that YOU’re the criminal, that GCM is out to protect their good customers.

      So any tips from your experience to get on GCM’s good side?

  10. Hi SCOT- I had similar experiences with GCM they cancelled my first 2 orders and I didn’t try again for 6 months, I re-started really slow with 1, 500 card a week and after a while I started ordering
    1500 daily until I hit the 15000 limit per month (they let you know when you reach the limit) sorry I can not offer you a better advice other than be patient.

  11. can you go through the math of how you’re getting a 25% return on MS? “At $5,000 per month, you’ll earn at least 60,000 points or $1,200 if you channel it towards a cash back credit card”


  12. Hey Ariana,

    Where do you deposit Money Orders? I just had a bank freeze my wife’s account (Northwest Savings Bank). I deposited around $5000 over a few days and made some credit card payments. This is not our primary bank. I have been mostly doing Grocery stores -> Walmart MO -> Banks. Any suggestions on depositing/liquidating MO’s? Have you ever sent them directly to the Credit Card company? I have all the major ones, Amex, Discover, Citi, Chase….

    • That’s very odd. I’ve mainly used Bofa over the last year but recently switched to Wells Fargo. I’ve never had my account frozen due to MO deposits. Maybe it’s because this is a smaller bank. I wouldn’t send them to the credit card company since they can get lost in the mail, but I have used them to pay bills in-branch.

      • Got it, I’ve never tried to pay bills in-branch. Most of my banks are not local, and I recently closed my WF account. Thanks for the tip. Will see if they can do Bill pay in branch. My two primary accounts (Consumer’s Credit Union, and PSECU) I have been avoiding depositing MO’s due to fear of them shutting them down. I actually like those two banks. I wonder if banks tend to do that with increased MO deposits? It’s been more stressful finding a way to deposit the money orders, than actually getting them. Strange!!!

  13. Sort of same here Boa just mailed me the closure account notice and I moved over to WF..

  14. I have a very large out of pocket expense coming up. I figured, why not use my Chase Ink card and see if the Visa Gift Cards would be accepted as payment. Yes! While I still have to pay for this expense and it’s not a matter of churning gift cards for money orders I’m still trying to wrap my head (and wallet) around the amount of money I have to spend. I’m sure it’ll be fine especially when I end up with nearly 30,000 more MR points when I’m done.

    • Wow, that’s awesome! Trust me, the idea of spending $100k per month in gift cards used to freak me out. In fact, I thought $10k was a lot. You’ll gradually get used to these things.

  15. I don’t understand how you do this with one trip to Walmart. I do about $8-10K per month in Walmart MOs but they only allow me to do one at a time at a max of $1000 so that is 8-10 trips per month. Is it just my Walmart that has this limit?
    Although it can be time consuming to MS, I see it as a hobby I enjoy. And to get paid for your hobby is always a bonus. Fortunately I don’t stress out too easily and spread my MO deposits over 5 banks so only average about $2K deposit per bank per month.

    • They can’t print a money order for more than $1,000 but you can in fact buy more than one. The daily max is $10k. You just have to split it across multiple transactions and make sure you fill out the paperwork.

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