Manufactured Spending

My Week (end) in Manufactured Spending

I may need to rename this series because these days it seems like the only time I’m actually doing any manufactured spending is on weekends. The week before last, I was preoccupied with jury duty. Last week I spent three days visiting the offices of a social media company in San Francisco. A commute that used to take an hour and a half tops, now takes over two hours. When I got home at 7:30 PM every night, I definitely didn’t want to go to Walmart. Or anywhere else for that matter.

Walmart KATE Money Center Kiosk

I did manage to purchase about $3,000 worth of Visa gift cards at the beginning of the week, while liquidating $1,000 via money orders. I had a brief moment of hope on Monday, when I found a working kiosk for the first time in over a year. Back in the day, this particular machine sold money orders in $200 increments. Since the line was long and I had a few $200 Visa gift cards on hand, it was the perfect opportunity to give it a try. Of course, my hopes were dashed when I selected “Money Order” and this message came up:

Walmart KATE Bluebird Kiosk

Wednesday through Friday were spent in San Francisco and while I didn’t have much time to buy or liquidate gift cards, I loved being able to stop by Phiz Coffee every morning for a Mint Mojito Iced Coffee. I also got to catch up with Kendra from Points and Pixie Dust, whom I randomly ran into outside the Embarcadero BART station before grabbing lunch at The Deli Board – if you live or work in the area and haven’t been to The Deli Board, go! I’m usually not big on sandwiches but the FAY is literally the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever had. I might just skip Thanksgiving dinner and have a sandwich at The Deli Board this year.

Saturday was pretty much the only other productive day I had. I went out to a bunch of Walmart stores and came away with around $6,000 worth of money orders. Remember the scary Halloween moment I wrote about last week? It repeated itself at the same Dixon location last week!

I was sure the cashier had made a mistake on the split payment option the previous week. So I decided to make things easier and just buy a $499.30 money order using a $500 Visa gift card. This way, the entire purchase would go on one card and there would be no room for error. Except, when I ran the card, the same error message came up (something like, “Unable to accept card type”). I tried another $500 gift card and the same thing happened.

I stepped aside to check the card balance, thinking I might have accidentally used a card that had already been liquidated. Except that wasn’t the case. If you’ve been to the Dixon Walmart and had this happen to you, please share so we can confirm they are indeed hard-coding registers to reject Metabank Visa gift cards for money order purchases. I had better luck elsewhere, particularly the two Neighborhood Walmart stores on the way home.

Sometimes I end up with odd balances on my gift cards (i.e $0.30 – $5). So I load those onto my Starbucks card. Except, the cashier at my local Starbucks claimed I couldn’t “use a gift card to buy a gift card”. I told her I wasn’t buying a gift card, I was just loading the equivalent of small change from what is supposed to be treated like a credit card onto my Starbucks account. Her co-worker ok’ed it, so she proceeded to unload eight of my “spare” Visa gift cards onto my Starbucks account. I mentioned how someone told me I had the worst luck when it comes to manufactured spending sometimes. If Starbucks baristas turning me down isn’t proof of bad luck, I don’t know what is.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. I went to my local Safeway store to pick up some essentials and decided to get two Visa gift cards while I was at it. About three weeks ago a manager confirmed that credit cards were acceptable payment forms for variable load Visa gift cards. However, when the cashier asked me how much I wanted on the cards, she added, “You do know you have to pay cash for variable load gift cards, right?” I told her I’ve always been able to use a credit card for gift card purchases. She claimed the policy was cash-only. There’s no sense in arguing with a cashier, so I just cancelled the gift card transaction and decided to come back another time.

Someone recently called me the “Queen of manufactured spending” (every little girl dreams of that title), but I may have to give up my crown thanks to these low numbers. Especially, when you compare them to what FPT Gift Box managed to do recently. I definitely have some catching up to do!

What have you done this week to earn more points and miles?

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  1. Lucky you! Does that Kiosk (KATE) take VGC to reload BlueBird/Serve? Is this Kiosk at South or East Bay Area?

    • Unfortunately not. You have to use a Metabank Visa. However, I don’t yet have a Serve or Bluebird, so I can’t even say for sure whether the kiosk was working or not. This particular kiosk was at the Vacaville store.

  2. Better to have a little bad luck doing a lot of something than no luck at all doing nothing 🙂 Good for you for making it happen and sharing it with us.

  3. I was able to purchase a MO at registers and load Serve at Kate using a metabank card at Walmart yesterday. I’m in VA.

  4. Thanks for linking to my site, Ariana! That brought a lot of traffic to my site. I just launched the website a few weeks ago so definitely helps a lot when I get a pingback.

    I’ve been doing another $2-4k a day at Safeway this month (since the blog post) so am up to $60k between Oct and Nov.

    I’ll be giving away at least $500 Gap Gift Cards this and next month to families in need/going through financial hardship.

    I’m likely doubling to $1000 because I already sent out $300 and the form will close at the end of the month.

  5. have you tried buying money order at the post office

  6. Ariana would you mind sharing more info about how you go about selling branded gift cards, like Gap and others. I’m sure there are some pitfalls to be wary of. I’d like to know more before I give it a try. Keep up the great work!

    • Thank you! I haven’t really gone into branded gift cards, except when Hyatt ran that 10% discount promo last year. The only thing you have to look out for is if you’re selling too many or your volumes are high, gift card resellers will flag you and ask you questions about how the gift cards were obtained.

  7. With cash back on AMEX gift cards gone, are you just eating the fees for all these VGCs? I have done $2,000 in the past week. (woo hoo!) But that cost me $20 and I don’t like that. Right now I’m just trying to meet minimum spend on a few new cards I have, but I don’t see this continuing as a long term MS option.

    • I am, and I don’t like it either. However, I’m mostly using the Arrival card so the fees are off-set when I redeem my miles.

      • Hi Ariana, this has been a major source of confusion for me too. While I see paying $5.95 per $500 as an investment for a sign up bonus, I don’t see that it’s worth the time and effort for regular MS. With an Arrival+ card, Sure you get 2x points, but that’s $4 profit per $500. Hardly worth it unless there’s a faster way to liquidate high volumes of cards. Thanks again! I love your blog 🙂

        • 2.2% on $500 is actually $11 “cashback”. Minus the $5.95, you’re take profit is $5.05. It’s not a lot but when you have a system, know exactly where to go, and how to liquidate the cards, you can scale to $20k a month (or a week like me) for a nice profit of $200.

          I call it a an extreme hobby. Some people run marathons and triathlons. I visit Safeway every day. 🙂

          No, it’s not worth your time if you only go buy one $500 at a time.

          • Thanks for the reply! I thought there must have been some secret ingredient I was missing. I definitely know what you mean about hobby. I was a couponer for a while (before TLC came) and it was totally an obsessive hobby 🙂

          • Back when shopping portals offered cash back on Amex gift cards, this was definitely way more lucrative. Simon Mall Visa gift cards are actually cheaper, so I do plan on switching over at some point. However, for now this is just more convenient since I do go to Safeway a lot.

          • I guess non of you guys have OBC since you are MSing with the Arrival + at Safeway. Last month before deval on the that card.

  8. While going through the motions on Kate with Kroger VGCs, out of nowhere I get a prompt that says:

    “Cancel All Items
    Do you want to stop checking out and cancel your entire purchase?”

    Selecting no to try and continue loading BB causes:

    “Assistance Needed

    Please wait for cashier.

    Assistance needed for:

    Fatal Error.”

    However other VGCs with more varied colorful packaging seemed to work fine.

  9. @Ariana Arghandewal
    whats the best way to unload bancorp GCs please?

  10. is it ok to have multiple banks to load money orders alone ?

  11. I used to play dumb and quietly move on when encountering an over-zealous Safeway cashier denying my ability to purchase GCs on credit. Now I politely ask them to talk to a manager. More often than not, they come back, apologize and process my transaction… except for that one time when he WAS a manager.

  12. Hi Guys – Where can I currently use my AMEX Platinum Charge card to buy Visa Gift Cards and load them to my Serve Account? I want to earn points for some bills I will owe in the next few months and the contractors don’t accept AMEX, only check. I know Serve allows you to issue a check so this would work perfect. Thanks!

  13. I dont like these methods…go to store A, buy This…then go to store B, try to Liquidate, and hope the 19 Year old Cashier cooperates…..too risky. I only have 1 WM, 100 miles away from me (im in the Dakotas), and what if they refuse to load my Serve from VGC’s? Then what? Financial disaster? No thanks…i cant take that chance. I’ll stick to using Square, to bill “my wife”, who is a AU. That way i can easily hit my Min. Spend’s. Yes, they Charge 2.75%, but The Bonuses are lucrative. And this way, I can do it from my living room, sipping Some Cold Ones in my PJ’s.

    • Square is known to shut down people for doing that. You need many manufactured spending options because things and rules change constantly.

      • I agree, but i need things that are not risky, and quite frankly, driving 100 miles from store to store isnt my thing. I prefer living-room methods….if u have any suggestions, do Tell! I just cant see driving around, hoping I Say the right thing, Or smile the right way just to get them to load my Serve. What if they refuse? I live in the middle of nowhere ND, and if i get stuck with $10 K in VGC’s, that wouldnt be good. I like concrete guarantees,..

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