American Airlines Manufactured Spending

Unloading American Express Gift Cards via Google Wallet

Yesterday, I wrote about my $82,000 manufactured spending challenge and how I ventured away from my original plan by cashing out American Express gift cards via Google Wallet. I’ve gotten some emails from folks with questions about this and since there was so much interest in this topic, I decided to address it and explain some possible pitfalls of using this service. UPDATE: Google may shut down your Google Wallet account for doing this, which happened to me.

Google Wallet is similar to Amazon Payments: You use the service to send money to other Google Wallet users. A while back, Google Wallet was free to use. You could send money via credit cards and there would be no charge. The gravy train came to an end, and Google soon tacked on a 2.9% fee for credit card transactions. It’s obviously not ideal to use Google Wallet to manufacture spend directly with your credit card, since 3% is an insane premium to pay for the 1 point per $1 earned on most credit cards.

However, Google Wallet can be a cheap, easy way to unload your American Express gift cards without so much hassle. I would only do this only under two circumstances:

1. If you’re trying to meet credit card spending requirements. Some folks have recently reported issues trying to load Amex for Target with American Express gift cards. If you’re in this bucket or you simply don’t have the time for multiple trips to Target, Google Wallet is a good alternative.

2. If you’re earning at least 2.5% cash back. If you’re simply generating points via manufactured spending, using Google Wallet makes sense as long as you are earning at least 2.5% cash back from a shopping portal to off-set the 2.9% transaction fee. 

The key here is making sure that you’re off-setting as much of the 2.9% fee as possible. Yes, you’re foregoing any cash profits generated from Amex gift cards purchased via shopping portals, but you’re also saving time and hassle by doing this. If you’re going this route, it’s important that you keep the following in mind:


Google Wallet imposes a limit of $10,000 per transaction/$50,000 per five day period. You can also add money to your own Google Wallet account, up to $500 per 30 days. These funds can then be cashed out via money transfer.

While these are the limits imposed by Google Wallet, don’t go nuts. Yes, I could well meet my $82k in spending requirements this way but that would be idiotic and probably get me in trouble – especially since you are asked for your SSN and your transactions are tracked just like those $3k+ money order purchases at Walmart. So go easy and don’t send more than $4,000 per month combined. Why $4,000? It’s just an arbitrary number I made up that I use as a limit per manufactured spending source, per person.

Transfer times

In my experience, transferring funds to another person is pretty much instant. Transferring the funds to your bank account takes about 2-3 days. Keep this in mind if you need to make a credit card payment using the funds on your American Express gift card.

Not all gift cards can be unloaded

I’ve been able to successfully use Amex gift cards purchased from the Amex website to send money via Google Wallet. In my experience, you need to leave at least $0.01 on the card in order for the transaction to go through. However, not all Amex gift cards can be unloaded this way.

A while back I ordered a Simon Mall gift card online as a last push to meet a spending requirement and instead of the Visa gift card, I received an Amex. I tried unloading this card via Google Wallet and even leaving $20 on the card didn’t work. The transaction simply wouldn’t go through. This is worth noting if you have any Amex gift cards that weren’t purchased directly from American Express.

It’s important to note that Google Wallet shouldn’t be a primary manufactured spending tool, but rather as a back-up for unloading Amex gift cards conveniently. The cheapest option is still to buy Amex gift cards via shopping portals and then cash out via Amex for Target. If you’re left holding a few thousand dollars in Amex gift cards after Target cashiers repeatedly turned you away, Google Wallet is one way to cash out. So don’t abuse this tool because it will get you in trouble and the last thing you want to do is piss off Google or end up under investigation for money laundering because you cashed out way too many gift cards. 

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  1. Any thoughts on Amazon Local Register?

    • PointChaser

      The processing fees are pretty generous compared to other services. I haven’t looked deeply into it though.

  2. Which portal do you use? and in your experience are they consistent with the payout?

    • PointChaser

      I’ve been using Topcashback and BeFrugal, though occasionally I use the Alaska portal combined with a cash back card. TCB and BeFrugal have been reliable, though I know folks who’ve had a different experience. Alaska is super fast – 3 weeks and I got my payout.

  3. Have you had any luck with VGC’s from somewhere like GCM? I noticed that you can “add a debit card and skip the fees”

    • PointChaser

      I tried that with a GCM gift card and it kept getting processed as a credit card (i.e. the fees show up and you can hit “continue” to process the transaction).

  4. I’m trying to find where it tells me what is the load limit? Doesn’t look like there is one. From what I see it looks like I would list the AMGC as a Payment Method, correct? Then I could send the money to someone’s bank account therefore emptying the GC out, then repeat?

    Not that I want to actually do this in bulk but I just want to understand how the logistics work.

    (BTW, thanks for explaining all this!)

  5. Just tried to unload an AMEX gift card and got a message telling me that there was a problem adding the card…contact your bank if the problem continues. You say not all AMEX gift cards can be unloaded this way…any more info? I have a bunch sitting around with less than $1.00 sitting around and this seemed like a good way to at least get something for them.

    • I think that’s the problem: The balance is too low. In my experience, if you try to unload the whole balance it won’t go through. You can always use several of these cards to buy a Starbucks card under $10, then ask the cashier (on a different occasion) to cash it out for you.

    • Good way to unload small gift card balances is buying $0.50 (or greater) Amazon egift cards online.

  6. I tried unloading a few Amex gift cards via Google Wallet today and it give me a messaged that the transaction will not go through. I also get this with Amazon payments as failed transactions. All my cards have adequate value and I have unloaded Amex GCs in the past on Amazon payments. Have you heard that both now will not accept Amex GC as a form of payment

    • You can’t unload the entire balance. You’ll have to leave a $1 buffer. So if the gift card balance is $1,000 you can do $999 and it should go through. This goes for both Amazon Payments and GoogleWallet.

  7. Is this dead? I added a $100 AGC to my Google Wallet and it said – can’t load money with Amex.

  8. Newbie here, Why do you need to keep $1 on your gift card? I ask because I have the physical plastic google wallet master card debit card (I never used the online google wallet thing to send money around). I add gift cards I buy from grocery store to my google wallet account, and then add the balance of those gift cards (minus the 2.9%) to my google wallet balance. Example I buy a $100 VGC @ grocery store, add it to google wallet, and then transfer $97.10 to my wallet balance and now that $97.10 is available for me to use anywhere including ATMs with my physical google wallet master card debit card. Once the money has been transferred to my wallet balance and available for use with my google master card I delete the gift card out of wallet (as its no longer needed, funds have already been moved to main wallet balance). I’ve never had to leave $1 on the card, so is that only if your keeping the card in your wallet because your transferring money directly from the gift card to another persons google account? Why not just add the balance of the gift card to the main wallet balance from the beginning? Am I missing something, or doing something wrong?

  9. I think this is because Google will preauthorize a $1 charge on your card when you add it to make a payment, making that $1 unavailable to send for a few days.

  10. I am trying to cash out my Amex GC thru GW. I’ve sent money to wife’s GW account since two weeks ago. Now, there are $2000 balance in my wife account. Is it safe to withdraw the entire amount from my wife’s GW account to her bank account? If not, any suggestion. Thanks

  11. So I have a American Express business gift card and I want to cash it out. Can you explain to me step by step on how to load this card to my Google wallet. I’ve tried several times and I couldn’t get it to work. Google wallet said i can’t load this card to my account.

  12. Hi Ariana, is this system still working? Either with VGC’s and MGC’s or AGC’s? Thanks!

  13. If it’s dead — can you remove the entire link to this topic (it shows up at the bottom of your blog, along with several other links to past articles.)? I don’t want to try it & then get in trouble with Google. Thank you!

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