Manufactured Spending

My Week in Manufactured Spending: Unloading $26k in One Day

Before my trip to Asia this week, I decided to order $30,000 worth of Amex gift cards and unload them real quick. You know, to make the days before my trip slightly stressful so I can enjoy my vacation more. Anyway, I earned 1.5% cash back through Top Cash Back along with 2.2% in travel rewards from the Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite card (though that payout will be changing soon). My plan was to liquidate these cards by purchasing PIN – enabled Visa gift cards, then unloading them via Redbird and money orders. Visa gift cards carry fees of $4.95 – $5.95 per $500 so I was looking at $297 – $357 in fees. Money order fees would total $3.50, so I was spending $300 – $360 but earning $450 in cash back and $660 in travel rewards. 

Visa gift cards

On Saturday I was in Walnut Creek when I decided to pull up Google Maps and see what ms-friendly stores were nearby. I discovered there was a Safeway right around the corner, walked in, bought $1,000 worth of Visa gift cards. I had expected to be told off at check-out. Surprisingly, the cashier let me pay with an Amex gift card. On the way home, I unloaded another $3,000 at another store with ease.

Sunday is when I over reached and decided to liquidate the remaining $26,000…in one day. As you can imagine, that didn’t go as planned. I live in a manufactured spending wasteland and despite my best attempts, I have yet to find a reliable source. I thought about driving to San Jose, but that seemed more trouble than it was worth. So I started local.

The Safeway in the next town over has been a hit or miss, but it’s not like I had a ton of options. I picked up two cards and the cashier did an override, not even batting an eyelash when I handed her my Amex gift card in response to “Can I please see your credit card and ID?” Plus I banked some extra gas rewards, so this was a success! Target was a bust. While the cashier didn’t seem to care what I was paying with, the register would only let me pay card fees with an Amex gift card. I cancelled the transaction and went to customer service to unload some $200 Visa gift cards via Redbird.

Next, I drove 20 miles to a college town, which I love because all the stores are staffed by apathetic students. My first stop was a Safeway where I picked up four cards totaling $2,000. There was a Rite Aid next door and while I’ve never had success at Rite Aid, I gave it a shot anyway. I picked up two Paypal My Cash Reload cards, which I was happy about because the fees were low at $3.95 per $500. However, the cashier explained I couldn’t pay with a card that didn’t have a name on it. So I used the only credit card I had on hand – the Virgin Atlantic Mastercard. At least I found a place that accepts credit cards for gift card purchases, so I can come back in the future to stock up.

Since things were going well, I hit up a nearby CVS where I was able to purchase $1,000 worth of Vanilla Visa gift cards without any trouble. There was another Safeway a few miles away and it happened to be next door to a CVS I used to frequent. I was able to load up on another $1,000 in gift cards at CVS. When the cashier sent me off with, “Is there anything else I can help you with”? I was tempted to go back for another round but remembered that CVS limits gift card purchases to $2,000 per day. Since my ID was swiped (and the transaction tracked) both times, I went next door to Safeway. Bad call.

The cashier wasn’t a clueless teenager but a middle-aged woman who was wearing starched white blouse, more makeup than a MAC artist and kind of resembled Red from OITNB – in other words, she was either an authority figure or took her job very seriously. She saw my method of payment and said, in a tone becoming of a hotel front desk agent addressing an elite member, “If you would please allow me to escort you this way, I’ll have customer service take care of you”.

This wasn’t some VIP section where they thank you for being a loyal customer and shower you with gifts. I waited for 10 minutes while a bakery employee kept shouting, “I’ll be right with you” – presumably at me. She came over and asked me how I was paying. “Sorry, you can’t buy a gift card with a gift card”. I was in a pretty foul mood and told her this was not cool, especially since Red over there didn’t tell me this when she escorted me to what turned out to be the line of shame. When I walked past her on my way out, I was tempted to call Red out on her bull**** move but decided to stick to the rules and keep moving. No need to waste any more time.

I headed back to the Safeway store where I had successfully unloaded $2,000 earlier. On my way there I spotted a Forever 21 and made the mistake of going in. I needed a bulky cardigan for the flight and they don’t seem to have a shortage of those year-round…or any other clothing items, really. Another bad move. I spent 30 minutes walking through a store that looked like it had been looted during a zombie apocalypse, before leaving empty handed.

On the bright side, there was a Rite Aid across the street. I purchased $1,000 worth of Visa gift cards and walked out happy. Unfortunately, the happy feeling ended there. That awesome Safeway store I decided to go back to? It turned on me. The cashier asked for an override. The woman who came over wouldn’t let me pay with an Amex gift card. She claimed the store manager was very strict about that. I guess he didn’t know about the other employee who seemed oblivious to this rule. Again, I didn’t argue and simply called it a day.

In all, I managed to unload $11,000 worth of gift cards. It’s much more efficient to get someone else on board. So today I’m taking my sister with me to a few local grocery and drug stores. If it goes as well as yesterday, I might keep MS’ing until it’s time to board…

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  1. How many (different) bank accounts do you deposit MO to? Do you have a personal limit you try to stay under? Right now I just use 1 but don’t do many MO. Always wondering when I should open a second account to spread it out some.

  2. Gosh that sounds stressful! Would be grateful to know how to unload Vanilla cards. I am pretty basic with only doing the VGC from grocery stores to unload at Walmart.

  3. hollyatclubthrifty

    You’re nuts! I love it! I would lose my mind if I had 26K out at once!

  4. Thank you very much for sharing your experiences. I’m learning a lot from your postings.

  5. I love your boldness to unload $26k in One Day!! I do this kind of power trip sometimes to liquidate all my VGCs and it feels awesome. Just to confirm if you had purchased 2 Vanilla Visa GCs at CVS using your AMEX GCs?

    • That’s a perfect way of putting it (power trip)! Yes, all of the gift cards were purchased with Amex gc’s – with the exception of the two Paypal cards, which I had to purchase with a credit card.

  6. Have you tried to use your Target for AMEX cards lately? I’ve been shut down twice trying to load them from credit cards; once in Atlanta and once in suburban Sacramento. Both times I was told that the cards have been phased out, and that the staff was told a month ago not to load them anymore. I called the customer support number for the Target card and was told that the cards are still OK to load, but as of October 15th the load fee will go up to $4.95.

    I gave up on my Redbird card when I got shut down with that in both Nor CAL and Atlanta (several times in each location) and have gone back to the dreadful Bluebird and Walmart. I hate Walmart, but no problems getting anything loaded there.

    • I haven’t, but I assumed the Redbird loading policy applied to AFT as well. Have you tried loading with a gift card? If the fee is going up to $4.95 and they’re not accepting credit cards, that’s definitely reason for me to cancel the card.

      • They wouldn’t let me load the card at all (I did have gift cards with me, and asked about those). They told me the AMEX for Target card had been phased out and was no longer valid. I heard that 3 times, so it sounds like a memo went out rather than three managers all had the same idea at the same time. Interesting that the customer service rep I spoke with said otherwise. I thought the Target AMEX card was an expensive load before, but $4.95 is definitely not going to fly with me.

        $26,000 in one day…you are the MS goddess! I wish I had your fearlessness at this; I’d have been a stress wreck just thinking about attempting such a thing!

        • I’m sure Amex will send us a super late notice any day now. Unfortunately I didn’t hit $26k but it’s always worth trying! I’m almost done though and will have an update next week.

        • Jacob Goldberg

          To be certain, this kind of behavior is not healthy (or even productive, given the risk, stress and time involved). Professionals who have studied churners found them just as prone to anxiety and insomnia issues as we see in similar groups (obsessive couponers, those who use use complaints and review platforms for freebies/discounts, etc).

          Look a bit closer and you’ll see addictive behavior in these posts as well; along with the telltale inflated emotional investment with trying to manipulate and control the process along the way. Flying into a rage over being denied 50¢ in some scheme is indicative of bigger problems that need attention.

          One wonders where these types will end up when the lenders finally get fed up with their endless games and make policies that complicate their churning. Many are taking steps toward this already, to leverage the waste of time and resources the parasitic churners leave behind.

          Fortunately there are behavior modification therapies that have shown promise in helping these people.

          • Some people collect bobblehead dolls, we collect points and miles: I consider this hobby to be the more productive alternative. In fact, I know folks who very easily generate $5k per month in cash back using these methods – and it involves much less effort/stress than their day jobs. As for the question of health, travel is one of the most beneficial things we can do for our health. When all this goes down, the truly obsessed in our midst aren’t going to fritter their time away in therapy – they’ll move onto the next great thing…and sharing it sparingly to keep the deal alive. 😉

    • AFT died with Redbird. Credit card loads are no longer supported at Target period.

      You can still load Redbird with real debit (and prepaid debit gift cards) but cashiers are cracking down on that too. Since you’ve switched back to BB, just liquidate them that way 🙂

      Credit card loads are dead. Long live convoluted MS strategies 🙁

  7. Lots of work! I’m confused though, your title says Unload $26K in one day but the last line says unloaded $11K of gift cards? And maybe I don’t understand your terminology, is it an unload going from Amex GC to getting a Visa GC or when you buy a MO? I have not done the GC to MO cycle, is that at the Safeways and such?

    • It’s my attempt at unloading $26k (as you can see, that didn’t quite work out). When I’m unloading Amex gc’s, I’m using them to buy Visa gc’s. These are then liquidated either via money order or Redbird.

  8. Amex GC’s seem to be more trouble than they are worth. Yeah, you can get a halfway decent profit return through portals, but is it really worth all the headache at all those stores? Do you think they wouldn’t have given you half as much crap if you just cut that step out and just bought the VGC’s with a regular credit card and racked up points that way? Also, you aren’t really liquid yet.. still gotta deal with Kate and/or K8 to get rid of all the VGC’s.

    • For small scale ms, yes I’d be better off just using my credit card directly. However, I’m finding that while Amex gift card orders get approved in large quantities, a $1k purchase at a drugstore often sets off a fraud alert. Buying Amex gc’s cut the cost of ms, allows me to do larger quantities, and makes it possible to ms for others – if I hadn’t been able to order $10k worth of cards with my dad’s arrival card, I would have had to add myself as an authorized user and still deal with fraud alerts on relatively small purchases. I know it doesn’t seem worthwhile, but for me it’s less trouble than purchasing them directly.

      • Never thought about using Amex GC to get around fraud alerts or authorized user headaches. Good info, keep up the good work! 🙂

  9. Although I applaud your effort and hard work, I thought liquidated meant to be left with nothing but paid credit cards and the associated points in hand. You were only half way liquidated. You most likely had just as much effort awaiting to unload the VGCs. Anyway, good luck and keep going!

    • Thank you! I didn’t clarify this in the post, but I did mange to unload those gift cards via Redbird on the same day. There’s the final step of making a payment, but I’m getting to it once the Redbirds have hit the $5k max.

  10. Is the picture of the actual gift cards you purchased? I am always afraid to buy “strange” gift cards that I might get stuck with. I stick with my tried and true Walmart Happy Birthday Visa GC because I KNOW it loads to Redbird and Bluebird/Serve. But if I could buy the ones I see in your picture (I have seen those cards in stores such as Kroger) and load them to Redbird, it would save me from having to go to Walmart. Except maybe to buy a money order. I have only purchased a money order once and I had to do it at the Money Center desk.

    • Yes, it is. Those Walmart Happy Birthday cards weren’t PIN enabled a few years ago, but I guess that’s changed? Buying MO’s with the Vanilla Visas is a bit tricky – when you swipe your card, you immediately have to select “change payment” on the pin pad and then select debit. Otherwise, the transaction will get processed as credit and thus rejected.

  11. freakflyer

    how are you unloading the PayPal cards?

  12. I haven’t yet tried to load a debit card to Redbird because I thought there was a $1000 limit per month (per the Redbird Fees and Limits page)? Or does the $5000 monthly cash limit apply instead for theese PIN-enabled debit cards? Thanks.

    • Redbird Target Cash/Debit Load combined Limit.: $1000 per transaction, $2500 per day, $5000 per month. So it’s $5000 monthly limit even for these PIN-enabled debit cards.

    • You can do an online debit card transfer to your Redbird account and there is a $200 transaction limit and a total of $1000 monthly limit. I link my Paypal debit to Redbird, so I can get a total of $6000/month in my account.

  13. I have a question about using Amex gc’s to buy VGC’s at CVS. If the Amex gift card is for $500 and the VGC costs $506.95 with the fee, how are you paying the fee? Do they let you pay the fee with a separate method?

    • At CVS the register processes the $500 and asks for a secondary payment form to cover the excess amount.

      • I’m sorry can u explain how u are liquidating after buying VGCs? U said redbird (5k a month) and u also said 5k in MO. What about the rest?

        I’ve never done MOs since I only have 1 bank account and am scared reading about the shut downs. How much per month is low volume? 5k? 2k?

        • I’m not always doing $5k in mo’s – this month it’s much more, in which case I’m making them out to family members who then use the funds to pay off my credit cards. $2k is low volume.

  14. thanks for the response! i have a few other questions about MOs after reading your newbie guides:

    Do you ever get questioned in branch about why are you paying by money order? I’ve heard on forums that sometimes people get treated like criminals just bringing a money order in branch!

    Can you deposit MOs online if you have an online only bank account?

    • Most of the time I’m depositing them via ATM. I don’t really do enough to raise red flags. This month I stepped it up a bit because I was leaving on vacation, but most months I don’t even crack $5k.

  15. Thanks so much for ur responses ariana. I’ve been new the hobby and lightly MSing for less than a year now. It’s great to finally find a blogger who is straightforward and patient answering questions! U rock!

  16. I am curious which stores accept Amex gc to purchase Visa gc. Is it most CVS stores? What about Rite Aids or Simon Malls?

  17. Cashiers at a lot of stores are not accepting Visa GCs as debit cards. They check to see if it has a name on it & should not show ‘gift card’ printed on it too.
    So to liquidate those one has to really drive around all over town to find cashiers who are not that strict – which adds up gas expenses & more time wasted.
    Really decreases the return that you get.

    • I’m not finding that to be the case. In fact, recently Target has made some changes that require the customer (rather than the cashiers) to swipe the Redbird, followed by the payment option. Now more than ever, cashiers don’t seem to be interested in checking payment types.

      • Ariana,

        Let me understand the process here. You buy Amex gift cards from a CC (where do you buy amex GCs), you then buy VGCs from Amex GCs ( again which VGCs, I have heard vanilla GC won’t load at the WM), use VGCs to load Serve and or MO, desposit the MO in your bank account. Did I understand the process right? I’m looking to MS 1-2K per month, I have Serve card, what would be the best way to do this?

        Also my spouse has serve card, how can I transact on her behalf, I don’t know at any point they ask for ID and it has to match with serve card etc?

  18. Steve Olvido


    Follow your “Queen of MS” blog, please advise ways to unload 3K $200 Amex gift cards in Sacramento, CA


  19. Ari,

    Do you use Serve? There was a serve sweep recently and many accounts were closed. What do you use now to unload?

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