Manufactured Spending

R.I.P: 6 of My Favorite Manufactured Spending Deals That Are Now Dead

Manufactured spending is a great way to generate more miles and points after a credit card sign-up bonus has posted. It’s how I earn most of my miles and points, as I was lucky enough to get into this hobby when opportunities were more plentiful. There was a time when things were easier (and more lucrative) than standing in a long line at Walmart and dealing with surly cashiers who give you the same look George Jung gets with a suitcase full of women’s clothes at a Columbian airport.

Cash register manufactured spending

1. Vanilla Reload Cards 

In the early days, Vanilla Reload cards were the gold standard of manufactured spending. They were readily available to pretty much everyone, you could load them to your Bluebird card online, and liquidate them via online bill pay. It was the easiest manufactured spending tool ever and went on for quite a while before it was shut down.

Not only that, but it was incredibly rewarding. Because Vanilla Reload cards could be purchased at CVS, 711, and office supply stores, the only thing you had to worry about was which credit card category bonus to choose: 6X points through the Hilton HHonors Surpass card, which translated to $131 out of pocket for a night at a top-tier Hilton hotel that was going for just 50,000 points at the time; 5X points at Office Depot through the Chase Ink Bold; or 2X points at 711 stores with the Chase Ink Plus, since 711 was categorized as a gas station.

2. Target Prepaid REDCard (AKA) Redbird 

The Target Prepaid REDCard (i.e. Redbird) was so in-demand that entire businesses popped up that sold Redbird cards to people whose local Target stores didn’t stock them. This was another great manufactured spending tool that made it easy to earn miles and cash back with very little effort. I don’t think there is a more ideal place to go gift card churning than Target.

3. 4% Cash Back on Amex Gift Cards

Once upon a time, cash back portals like the now-defunct Big Crumbs, Top Cash Back, and Ebates offered 4% cash back on American Express gift cards. You read that right 4% cash back. At the time, American Express allowed up to $10,000 in purchases every two weeks. These gift cards came in denominations of up to $3,000 though cash back portals only paid out on denominations of up to $2,000. The best part? After you paid your ~$80 in fees and earned your $400 cash back, you could liquidate these Amex gift cards via Google Wallet or by purchasing Vanilla Reload cards at CVS! For a while, it was even possible to liquidate Amex gift cards via Redbird loads, which was super nice and easy. Manufactured spending in large quantities is nice, but being able to earn cash doing it? That’s the dream right there. 

4. Barclay Rewards Boost for Amex Gift Card Purchases

What’s better than earning 4% cash back on Amex gift cards? Try 6.6% cash back. For a while, the Barclay Rewards Boost shopping portal offered 4 miles per $1 spent on Amex gift card purchases. When stacked with the 2 miles per $1 from the Barclay Arrival Card, that resulted in 6 miles per $1 spent. Back then, Barclay offered a 10% rebate on award redemptions and since 6 miles was equal to 6% cash back, buying Amex gift cards through Barclay Rewards Boost earned a whopping 6.6% cash back! If you managed to purchase $100,000 worth of Amex gift cards before this deal went bust, you earned an impressive $6,600 worth of travel cash. 

5. Amazon Payments

Amazon Payments was one of those deals that wasn’t super lucrative but it was an easy way to meet spending requirements without stepping away from the keyboard. It went on for quite a few years before Amazon disbanded the service altogether. But for those few years, it was nice to be able to generate $1,000 worth of spend every month with a few clicks of the mouse.

6. The U.S. Mint Deal

The U.S. Mint Deal was how I learned about this hobby. Not because I actually participated in it, but after reading an NPR article about the U.S. Mint Deal, my obsession took over and I eventually started this blog. Unfortunately, by the time I had the guts to start applying for credit cards with $3,000 spending limits (!!!!!) the U.S. Mint Deal was dead and I was disappointed, thinking I had missed the big gold rush.

When each of these deals died, people were disappointed and thought, “it’s all going down hill!” Yet, it did not. Each deal ending resulted in people scouring for new opportunities which may not have been easier, but they certainly allowed manufactured spending in larger numbers. 

What were some of your favorite manufactured spending deals of the past few years?

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  1. I was a little late to the MS game but was able to get in on the Target Redbird/Redcard deal while it lasted. At one point i had 5 cards that i was churning every month. I eventually generated about 100K+ in points/miles before it was cut off. Ironically i was scared every time i went into a Target, especially the ones in Brooklyn (I live in Manhattan). Thankfully i traveled for work so i was loading from locations like San Jose, Indianapolis, Memphis, Chicago, almost every city i visited. Alas, it’s gone but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t new deals out there. Thank you for the great blog, i’m not an MS’er since i don’t have a Walmart near me in NYC but i appreciate all of your posts.

  2. The Buxx cards were also a great tool to meet minimal spend.
    Bluebird/Serve is still working for a few but, may as well be a dead deal.

  3. Hello,

  4. I’ve tried travel hack a little bit with credit card churn, but never got the bug and felt MS was too much hassle since I work full time. I get it that some people partake in it to get points and miles on the cheap, but for me, I focused on increasing my earnings power in my job. Sapphire Reserve and 100k Amex Platinum sign up last year was all I’ve done last year, but I do enjoy glancing through MS and deal sites on occasion

  5. I remember I drove 100 miles to get a Redbird, then 100 back home. I was considering make a free stopover in Michigan on an award booking to pick up a Redbird. Then I would load $5000 per month with my SPG Amex card and get 5000 SPG points probably for about 10 months (completely free I timed my Target trips with regular shopping so no extra gas charge) or so before the deal was shut down!

    I got a Costco Membership and was looking into the buy and return program but never got around to and instead just do minimum spends. Bank of America today chastised me for opening too many Alaska Cards over the past year but the guy did end the call with the admission that he doesn’t work in the business card department and his policies had not been adopted by the business card department. But then I told him that the business cards don’t have the $100 statement credit! I will have to probably bite the bullet and just start paying the $75 statement credit for business cards.

    • That’s dedication! I never did the Costco thing because it just felt off to me. My cousin works for the Costco marketing team and told me they were cracking down on that just before it happened.

  6. My favorite was Vanilla Reloads. There was none of that Walmart aggravation and I always got a little excited when I scratched off the Reload card, entered the number and it said $500. Made me feel like I just won on a lottery scratch-off each time. Plus, for a while I was able to buy these at both CVS and gas stations.

    Another fun one was that on-line site where you could buy stocks with no fee with a credit card for up to $2500 per purchase. I actually made a small profit on that.

    Amazon Payments was nice, too. $1,000 a month for doing next to nothing. I didn’t think I’d miss when it went away, but it turns out I do.

    I went to my favorite Walmart today to unload gift cards. They allowed me to do it but the surly woman told me from now on all the funds have to be on one card. Have you heard anything about that or is it just this Walmart?

    Anyhow, I’m getting tired of the Walmart nonsense. Four years of this has just about worn me out. I have a pretty decent stash of miles and with all the new credit card bonus rules I’m not getting as many cards as I used to. I find that when I get a new card I’m usually able to meet the minimum spend with “normal” spend. It seems that gone are the days when I had 4 Citi Executive cards with a $10K minimum spend on each as well as a British Air card with a $20K minimum spend all at the same time.

  7. Here’s another one from the past: For a while Chase was allowing you to buy $500 gift cards on their site with no fee and free shipping, but you could only use a Chase credit card. I was careful and only did about ten thousand on that one, but I heard some people went crazy and got shut down by Chase.

  8. I remember when you could buy I & E bonds with a credit card. Loved that one!

  9. this was a nice walk down memory lane. May I suggest you do a post on your 6 MS Deals that are still alive and kicking?

  10. Slightly off topic. Can anyone help me find the free greeting card setting on so I don’t have to pay the $1.50 greeting card fee when purchasing visa gift cards. Thanks

  11. Ariana, I just found your blog today and I’m already LOVING it! I’m new to MS and about four weeks in. I’m focusing on the Delta MQM’s bonus and doing it via Money Orders at the post office. THANKS for all of your advice! 🙂

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