Manufactured Spending

My (Last Week) of Manufactured Spending

For a few weeks now, I’ve been sharing my manufactured spending activities, which have mainly consisted of unloading Amex gift cards onto Target Prepaid RED (aka Redbird) and Amex for Target cards. With the 1.5% cash back earned from shopping portals, this was not only an easy way to manufacture spend, but a profitable one as well. On Tuesday, word got out that Target would no longer accept credit cards as payment for Redbird loads, starting May 6. I had just returned from making the rounds at local stores when I got the news. We have since learned that the new policy has in fact been implemented, though debit card loads are still permitted.

When I visited the Davis Target store on Sunday, the cashier looked at the Amex gift card I was using to load my Redbird card and decided to ask a manager if it was an acceptable payment method. He responded that it was in fact acceptable, “though we may change that in the future.” I certainly didn’t think “in the future” meant three days later.

When I heard the news on Tuesday, I made a 45 minute drive out of town to load my remaining Redbird cards. In the past, I was always careful about not loading too many cards or using too many payment forms at once. This time I didn’t care. I needed to dump $6,000 worth of gift cards and I needed to do it right then and there. I explained to the cashier that I was loading more than one card and she said it was fine, though she stared long and hard at the second Redbird I handed her. I explained it was the last day to load these cards with a credit card and her face lit up, “Oh, that explains why you’re like the fourth person in a row to do this!”

She patiently loaded all of my cards and I told her I found the new policy strange because there will be very little difference between the Target Prepaid REDcard and the Target RED debit card – one will be linked to your bank-issued debit card and the other can be loaded with one. She explained that while she agreed it made no sense to have two products that are essentially the same, she understood why they were stopping credit card loads. Target is able to offer a 5% rebate on purchases made with the RED cards because they’re saving money on credit card transaction fees – passing those savings on to the customer. If customers are using credit cards for these loads, Target has to fork over 5% savings on Target purchases and pay transaction fees of up to 3%, which leaves them in the red (no pun intended). Of course most of us weren’t taking advantage of the 5% in-store rebate, but since we were unloading the funds through bill pay, it still wasn’t profitable for Target.

Regardless of why Target did away with credit card loads for Prepaid REDcards, if you have a mile-earning debit card or PIN-enabled gift cards, you can continue manufactured spending with Redbird. The downside, of course, is that it won’t be free and chances are you can’t buy PIN-enabled gift cards with Amex gift cards (at least not in my experience) – which would have cancelled out the gift card fees and resulted in a profit. Eventually, Target may go the way of Walmart and ban gift card loads as well.

For the time being, I’m done with manufactured spending. It’s going to be pretty time consuming and while my schedule as a freelance writer is much more flexible than when I had a full time job, it’s time to focus on more important things. I’ve got grad school on the brain along with a writing project I need to move forward. So the timing of this new roadblock is perfect, forcing me to focus my efforts on something more productive – at least until another easy manufactured spending scheme comes along. 

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  1. Why do you say Walmart has banned gift card loads? I still load much bluebird with gift cards from Simon Malls. I have been doing this for quite some time without any issues.

    • Oops, meant I still load my bluebird.

    • Yeah, i have no problem loading gift cards at WM. But i always use the kiosk, have never actually tried at the register, which i understand can be problematic.

    • They require all “debit” cards to have a name on them when you reload Bluebird at the register or purchase money orders. With the kiosk at my local Walmart not working 90% of the time, this means having to go to the register and get told off for using a gift card without a name on it. Since Target doesn’t have a kiosk for Redbird, I’m assuming I’ll end up in the same scenario.

      • Couldn’t you drive around and find other Walmarts that have working kiosks? I have a list of Walmarts with kiosks within a certain radius of my home that I always bring just in case my usual machine isn’t working. It doesn’t seem much different from driving around to different Targets.

        • Actually, Target is a lot nicer – I always load 4 Redbirds with the same Guest Services person. Since it takes a while for the register to catch up, the person often multi-tasks and helps another customer while still loading my Redbird at the same time. Target employees are so much more competent, friendly, and helpful than Walmart employees. 🙂

          When the death of CC loads was imminent, one of the Target employees (who only heard about it from us customers), even asked me, “Wait, can you still use gift cards to load? I mean like those prepaid Visa gift cards?” and at that time I was like, “I guess we’ll find out tomorrow :(” and they said, “I really hope so!! That would really suck if it was cash only!”

        • It’s much more time-consuming. With Target, I knew for a fact I would walk in and have no problems loading my card. With Walmart, the kinks are down 90% of the time and the cashiers aren’t ok with Visa gc’s anymore. Even when the kiosks work, they’re such a hassle to use sometimes.

  2. My MS’ing has gone down considerably due to WM money centers refusing to accept gift cards. As soon as you say you want to do a split payment, they get suspicious and they ask to see the card. One by one, I’ve had about 5 Walmarts refuse split payments or gift cards. I was averaging about $50k/month, the most was $80k in a month but last month I only did $14k and I have two BB’s.

  3. I am still able to load gift cards onto Bluebird at both the Money Center kiosk and at any register. I’m in Indiana.

  4. Ariana — I will miss you and all your wonderful tips about MS so much! You have been my inspiration for manufactured spending and also have helped me get through some frustrating periods. I only do about $10,000 per month, and of course, I am now stuck with $3000 worth of Amex gift cards with the recent Target change. I will probably buy discounted gift cards at Costco with the Amex gift cards and churn those.

  5. Walmart in the bay area and especially in the east bay never have any consistently working kiosks. My go to store recently removed the kiosk all together. When it wasn’t working I would go to a register but they have cracked down on that too. They no longer allow GC pin loads and as stated above if it does not have your name they tell you to go to the service center. If anyone has a good idea how to unload a large some of AGC let me know. I just bought enough for a few RB and AFT so I need to be creative this month. Thanks in advance

    • Hey Dson, I’m in the east bay too and have enjoyed never going to a Walmart since Redbird came out. Since CC load died, yesterday i started unloading my Amex GCs (from a recent Office Depot deal…I had $7000 in $100 increments!!!) by buying the Visa GCs at the new Office Depot deal ($40 off $600). When I can’t find those anymore, I went to Staples and bought a ton of discounted Sephora and Gap GCs to resell. Using the $100 AGCs one at a time takes up time at the cash register but hey, I’m not losing any money this way! 🙂 I finished loading up my Redbirds for the month so selling the GCs will help me get my cash back faster instead of waiting till next month and besides, I don’t trust that debit loads for RB will be around much longer (never take anything for granted…).

      I still have $5000 AGC left and might just buy Simon Mall VGC with them and eat the fee. I’d still break even come out ahead since I made 5X UR points buying those AGC anyways.

      Finally you can use Kiva if you don’t mind your money tied up for 6 months!

      Hope this helps!! Good luck!

      • Hey Esther,

        Thanks for all the great info. The methods you provided unfortunately haven’t worked for me in the past so I am curious which OD and Simon Malls you have had luck with. Most of the Office Depots I go to won’t accept AGC as a form of payment. I have not had any luck unloading AGC at Simon’s throughout the bay area and I have been to most of them Dublin, Milipitas, Napa, Gilroy, Vacaville, Livermore. I was able to unload about $10k over two visits a year ago but the following time I visited those same locations informed me that they no longer accept it as a form of payment. That was a very sad day!

        Are you reselling the Sephora and Gap gift cards on gift card sites or through another method? The only reason I ask is that you mentioned that you are buying them at a discount at Staples. Are they discounted more than 18-20% because I couldn’t find any GC sites that would net you a break even point even if you bought them through a portal. The only reason I ask is I need to get creative to unload the approx. 18k that I’m stuck with due to the RB and AMT closure.
        Thanks in advance

        • I actually haven’t purchased any GCs from Simon Malls yet…haven’t needed to with all the other deals going on, but I may need to turn to it soon.

          As for ODs, every OD I’ve been to in the Bay Area (SF & East Bay) do accept AGC as payment, and every Staples too. Even CVS does – I just unloaded $500 AGC into a $500 Paypal MyCash card. 🙂

          Yes, I resell the GCs on gift card sites, I’m too lazy to use Raise. I break even exactly – buy the GC at $40 for $50 in person at the store, sell for $40 via GCZen or

          • The Sephora/Gap deal ended already though, sadly. 🙁 I’m actually looking for the next scalable GC deal now.

          • Hi Star,

            Do you have any stratagies on buying and reselling gift cards? 2nd I have about $10,000 in AGC that i need to unload, am i able to buy visa gift cards at OD and staples to unload those?

          • What?!?!! Which CVS store is this? I haven’t been able to buy Paypal cards with a credit card since 2013.

          • whoops I commented in the wrong thread…see my answer further down 🙂

  6. Focus on grad school, and time would go by quickly before you get that degree. It took me almost four years to get my MS while working full time. For other MS, I have one BB and just try to get 5K/month 🙁

    • That’s encouraging to hear, Ngyen! The part about grad school, not BB. 😛

    • @Ariana: Since 2013!? Every CVS I’ve been to in the Bay Area has let me buy it…occasionally some cashiers are like “Wait I don’t think we can take CC on that…” but I’m like, “Oh, can you just try?” and then they’re like “Sure…oh, it works. Weird. I could’ve sworn the register said before I couldn’t.” They were a little wary of me using 5 $100 GCs to buy a $500 Paypal though…held up the line. 😛

      @Benjamin: I don’t have any strategies…I don’t like losing money so I try to only buy GCs when they’re on sale (like the Sephora/Gap last week). This week it’s Lowe’s GCs on sale, but I’d lose $3 per card if I bought those, so I decided not to bother b/c I’m cheap like that. 😉 Yes, you can also buy Visa GCs using the AGCs and unload the VGC to redbird, and the $40 off $600 sale right now on VGCs is awesome, good moneymaker too. I normally would not buy the $200 GCs with $6.95 activation fee b/c again, I’m too cheap to pay $6.95. 😉

  7. It was lots of fun reading your blog and thanks for the great tips you have given. MS is a relatively new hobby of mine (got into it a few months before VR died) and over time it has gotten me some great points and travel opportunities. Unfortunately it has made me hate people (specifically WM employees) and that doesn’t feel good. I decided enough was enough last week when a moneycenter employee informed me that buying gift cards over $1000 was going to require giving my SS# (even if I came in the next day).

    I’m still going to MS but it will be dependent on the one working Kate in my area – I refuse to deal with humans in that store any longer. And since there is a super friendly CVS & super friendly Target across the street from my job – I will still be doing the AGC>VGC>RB route until that eventually dies.

    I’m not naive and know that MS isn’t entirely what the credit card companies intended but I’m not doing anything illegal either. To be treated like a criminal (or worse) has just gotten to me and I’m done with arbitrary rules and clueless/rude employees. Hopefully another easy avenue opens up soon but until then I’m gonna keep it simple and will be happier as well. Cheers!

    • I feel your pain. I also don’t like being treated like a criminal when I’m trying to give a store my business. MS isn’t, as you’ve pointed out, illegal and shouldn’t be met with such suspicion.

  8. I haven’t been to Walmart since RedBird came along. But I used to buy Visa GC using Amex GC at Walmart. I guess I can’t do that anymore?
    The fun has certainly drained out of this hobby. Meeting minimum spend on several credit cards at once is getting harder and harder. I just completed 10K in the past month thanks to RedBird. Not sure what my strategy will be going forward.

    • Laura – I think you still can. I haven’t stepped foot in a Walmart store either since Redbird, so I don’t know what the highest denomination of Visa GC at Walmart is. But you can buy GCs with Amex GC at any store, so assuming Walmart has a good rate, then you should still be able to buy it there. Personally I prefer buying $500 GCs because they’re cheaper and require less typing to load to Redbird. I really miss the easy 5k Redbird direct loads too. 🙁

      • “you can buy GCs with Amex GC at any store” – any store that allows purchase of GC with credit card of course, for example, OD, Staples, CVS, Target, Safeway, etc.

    • That depends on the store. Where I live, I haven’t had any luck buying Visa gc’s (at the grocery store or Simon Mall) with an Amex gc. This might not be the case in your town.

  9. Anybody have luck with loading $100 GCs from OD to Redbird? I purchased $100 Metabank GCs and tried my first $1000 split transaction load today. After the 1st load the prompt on the screen asked if I wanted cash back, I selected no cash back and the 2nd prompt asked if I wanted to have it applied to $1000 and selected yes. I tried several times and it did not work and even got an error message that the card cannot be used. Anyone that can help with some advice, would be greatly appreciated.


    • I haven’t had any issues loading the OD $100-200 GCs to Redbird. I press NO on the second screen – then the cashier asks me how much do I want to put on, and I say $100, and then they type it in and we continue. However, my friend was pressing YES on the second screen and the cashier didn’t need to ask how much, it just automatically drained the whole card and asked for the next one. I think it depends on how advanced the registers are at the store you’re visiting. I guess my store can do it both ways, but some stores you might only be able to do it with the NO method. Tell them you want to do it Split Tender.

      • I tried entering no but it didn’t work. I will try again tomorrow at another Target and provide an update to everyone.

  10. So I went to Target today to load my American Express for Target card. Now they hard carded to say not to accept credit cards or 3rd party gift cards. Even if it is a debit. Has any one had any issues loading this? This is really going to kill my MS moving forward. And i have this 150K membership points Amex Platinum card that i just got that i need to spend 20K within 3 months. Ahhhh

    • Yes, the memo regarding Redbird also mentioned AFT and Greendot as unable to accept CC anymore either. They won’t accept VGCs anymore? I just loaded VGCs to my Redbird last week!

    • It’s really too bad they excluded Visa gc’s as well. You can hit the $20k by switching to Bluebird and knocking out $5k per month with Visa gift card loads.

      • On Flyertalk people reported still being able to load Visa GCs to Redbird as of today 🙂

        • I’m guessing it really is YMMV

          • If you’re in an MS-heavy area like the Bay Area, you should have no issues loading Redbird…the CSRs at Guest Services are seasoned pros and very friendly about letting you load multiple cards with GCs 🙂

          • You’re lucky though…I have $4k in Amex GCs I still need to liquidate. At least you can just buy $20k in VGCs and load them…but I have to figure out how to convert my AGCs to VGCs and so far only Office Depot and Staples have allowed me to…the $6.95 per $200 kills it though, and Safeway won’t let me use AGC to buy the $500 with $5.95 fee. 🙁 It’s gonna be slow draining these…

          • Try Raleys and Savemart, if you have one in your area. I’ve had luck using credit cards to buy gc’s and they don’t always ask for ID, so you might get away with paying with an amex gc.

          • Thanks! Don’t they take the card from you to see the last 4 digits of each AGC though? That’s when they’ll take your AGC and see that it’s a GC…I think it’d be easier if I was liquidating 1 $500 AGC, but instead mine are $100 and $200 increments haha…boo.

          • Normally, they just ask me to read it to them – at Target, at least.

  11. Visited two Targets today and had several issues at the Customer Service desks attempting to load $100 increments. First rep had no issues loading $900; at second Target, however instantly told ‘no GC loading’. Went back to first Target and was met with same response. However was able to convince rep to allow me to unload last of my $100 VGC’s. Was able to unload a single $500 VGC separately via checkout without issue. Take-away: appears to be new Target policy but is taking a while to filter down to staff. I plan to proceed with offloading $500’s at the teller until shutdown. Very much YMMV as to whether they will ask after the type of card being used. Defiantly no multi-$100’s offloads from now on though (instant red-flag).

    • Unloaded $100 VGCs at my usual Target today in the Bay Area (hot spot for MSers); no issues. Asked if the CSR (same usual CSR that mans the Guest Services desk 99% of the time that I do loads) had heard of any memos not allowing gift cards. He said, “No, we haven’t been told anything. I don’t see why they would disallow it? It’s just like a regular debit card.” 🙂 I love my Target. They are so awesome.

      On the other hand, today I bought a $500 Paypal GC from CVS using my Amex GCs in $100 increments and after the 3rd swipe she got annoyed and said she’ll never let me load with GCs again. 🙁

      • Despite some hiccups at CVS today, I managed to unload most of my remaining $100 AGCs:
        $200 at Safeway to buy Chipotle GCs (personal use)
        $500 at CVS to buy a new Serve card (no purchase fee, and up to $500 initial load allowed)
        $1000 at CVS to buy 2 Paypal MyCash cards

        Made good progress, but still have like $2400 in AGCs to liquidate. 🙁

      • It’s also possible they are misinterpreting the warning that comes up on the POS terminal i.e. “no loads of third party gift cards or CCs” or something similar. I pointed out that they were debt cards so maybe were exempt; but didn’t get too far with that argument.

        • Yeah, this Target has always been super lenient and helpful trying to help customers liquidate all sorts of AGCs and VGCs, so I think he and the other CSRs probably just thinks that “3rd party gift cards” means you can’t use things like Chipotle GCs to load. 😉 I’ve never personally seen the message that pops up.

          • No problem this morning liquidating a $500 VGC. Same message appeared on POS ie. “No Amex giftcards or third party credit”. So good news, no hard coding at terminal (yet?).

    • If they tell you “no gc loading” try rebutting with “the policy is no reloading with target gift cards” (which it is). This might confuse the cashier and they may let you load with a visa gc.

  12. Hi Ariana,
    Will CVS allow purchase of OVGC with Amex GC? If not is there any place that would allow it (e.g. i read maybe giftcardmall but that may not longer work)? Even at CVS the 1.5% cashback would offset the $4.95 GC fee.

    • Jeff – it’s very YMMV. Last week I went to two CVS’s and bought a $500 temporary Serve card and $1000 in Paypal MyCash using Amex GCs in $100 increments. The first store with the Serve, the cashier felt uncomfortable and called over her manager, who said “of course it’s perfectly fine.”

      Second store I went to, which I’ve often purchased Paypal MyCash before (but using a CC, not GC), the cashier was totally cool with it, but then got extremely angry with me because I caused a line (each AGC requires them to type in the last 4 digits, so as you can imagine, swiping 10 AGCs takes a long time) AND the CVS register had a hard stop after 7 swipes and required canceling the transaction and starting over. Despite me apologizing profusely to her and the line behind me, she wouldn’t acknowledge or accept any apologies. She let me do one $500 card (5 swipes), made me go to the end of the line, and then let me do the other $500 card, and told me she’ll never let me use GC again. After that emotional trauma, I think I’ll go back to the first CVS from now on, even though it’s more out of the way, but they were so much friendlier.

      At least I’m down to $1900 in AGCs left…mostly $200 increments. 😛

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