Manufactured Spending

My Week in Manufactured Spending: Branching Out Beyond Visa Gift Cards

It’s been a bad week for many folks out there who had their Serve and Bluebird accounts shut down. As I previously explained, I don’t think this news is quite as terrible as everyone is making it out to be. There are lots of other options out there for earning points and miles. Prepaid cards are just a small part of that. This past week, I branched out a little. I’ve gotten pretty tired of churning Visa gift cards – especially those dreaded Walmart runs. In fact, last week when I had to drive 40 minutes out of town to get my Macbook Pro replaced, I passed several Walmart stores but couldn’t get myself to stop at any of them. 

CVS gift cards

Despite my aversion for Walmart, I did pick up some more gift cards. I bought $1,000 worth of Visa gift cards from Safeway and then another $1,800 at Staples – I know, this goes against my own advice, but I’ve set aside a day next week when I’m planning on hitting up several Walmart stores at once in order to unload them all. With Serve and Bluebird out of the picture, I have a nagging feeling there will be a huge rush for money orders and that will die out as well. Thus, I don’t plan on holding onto those gift cards for long. 

In the meantime, I was cleaning out my inbox (it’s a fascinating life I’m living these days), when I came across two Cardpool coupons for $5 off. I earned these through my referral link (thanks guys!) and decided to browse the site for redemption options. In the past, I’ve used these coupons for Hyatt gift cards, but I didn’t really need more of those. Instead, I searched for reselling opportunities.

I opted to buy two $50 gas gift cards, which came to $42 each. I would be able to resell these to another gift card company for $40 each. Now, $2 for $40 worth of manufactured spending is ridiculously high considering $500 Visa gift cards sell for as little as $3.95. However, I had a Vanilla Visa gift card with just under $100 left on it and this was an easy way to unload it…without leaving the house or forcing myself to spend the extra balance (I’ve already bought all the Trader Joe’s peanut butter cups I need for the foreseeable future).

While looking through old emails, I got another IHG Priceless Surprises email, which earned me another easy 500 points. I also took some time to browse through the various deals available through American Express My Offers. Sure enough, there were a few gems, which I’ve outlined in a post scheduled for tomorrow. One of them was $100 cash back for spending $500 at Burberry. The terms didn’t exclude gift cards, so I ordered a $500 Burberry gift card. At the very least, I can resell it for $450 and pocket $50, plus some free SPG points.

I also took advantage of the Amex Sync cell phone bill offer: Spend $75 and get $10 back. This offer can be redeemed twice. So I made two separate payments on my T-Mobile bill to get a combined $20 cash back. The two $10 credits actually posted right away, which was nice. I did get a notice from American Express that I had successfully redeemed my Burberry offer and should expect a $100 statement credit if my purchase qualifies. We’ll see how that works out.

Once the gas and Burberry gift cards arrive, I’ll list them online or maybe just sell them directly to a gift card reseller. This is a far cry from my days of churning $23,500 with ease, but it’s about all I can manage right now. These days I’m all about ease and convenience, even if it means I’m ms’ing in much lower volumes. Hitting my monthly search quota with the Hawaiian Airlines MileFinder may be around the corner. 

How was your week in manufactured spending?

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  1. The Hawaiian miles tool bar no longer accumulates miles – unless you found a way to make it work?

  2. I take some issue with your statement that “I don’t think this news is quite as terrible as everyone is making it out to be” just as I was disappointed by your previous post’s sentiment that “it’s just $5,000.” It’s all about perspective, of course. Perhaps for you, it’s not a big deal, but for a large number of people, Serve or BB were their primary or perhaps sole means of MS, and $5,000 was a great deal of money and points to them. I have no way of knowing the statistics, but I imagine a great portion of people have no stomach for reselling and no knowledge of some of the other means for accumulating points.

    In contrast, I imagine there is a portion of the MS/points/travelhack community that are overjoyed by the news. These would be the people who do have alternatives and also are happy that the “hoard of unwashed masses” doing the easy stuff like Serve might now all go away, stop earning points, stop competing with them for awards, stop reading the circles-and-arrow bloggers – indeed, that such bloggers might themselves whither away – and leave them in full possession of the remaining MS options. For them, it’s certainly not “as terrible as everyone is making out.” Rather, it’s great news.

    • The reason I say that is because it doesn’t change things much – instead of going to Walmart to load a prepaid card at the kiosk or register, you’re instead going to the money center to buy a money order. I honestly don’t see this as a huge loss since it just means you have to alter your ms routine a little bit. Plus, it did go on for four years which is longer than anyone expected.

      There are some people who are happy about this ending because it means a large group of people won’t be earning as many miles. I’m not one of them, otherwise I would have never bothered starting a blog about manufactured spending. As I pointed out in my original post, money orders are still available to most people, so I doubt this eliminates a large portion of manufactured spenders. As for those who don’t have the stomach to resell, churn credit cards, or buy money orders – that’s their choice. This hobby is all about adapting to changes and if someone doesn’t see it worthwhile to adapt, then they’re free to step away. We all have a choice.

      • Walmart isn’t accepting my U.S. bank visa card. 2 different locations allow me to swipe it and try it, but it comes back and says “tender not allowed”, just like when I tried to load my bluebird with it. Any ideas why?

  3. Just curious, how do you plan on getting $450 for your Burberry card since most places are paying 80%?

    • Probably through Ebay. My sister recently sold her gift card for $480 that way. Up until a few days ago a few gift card reselling merchants were offering $450 for a $500 Burberry gift card, but that number has dropped. If all else fails, I can sell it to a family member and make a decent profit from it.

  4. Jerry Mandel

    You are lucky that Walmart will let you buy money orders with debit/gift cards with PINs. Not in Dallas, Texas area.

  5. Other ways that I’ve offloaded Visa gift cards

    – (over) paying utility bills (electric/gas/water/trash/cell phone/internet) – some companies will cut you a check for the difference if you call and ask
    – Tithing/Charitable Contribution
    – buying Costco Gift Cards (We go through costco very fast between groceries/gas every month)

    • Jerry Mandel

      1. Why only Visa cards? Master Cards no good? 2. Why use gift cards to pay or prepay monthly bills? Here in Dallas, Texas, I MS new card bonuses by prepaying electricity, gas, water/sewage/garbage, cable (TV, internet, landline bundle), cell phone, newspaper directly with my credit cards-no gift cards needed. 3. I get it back with no fees from no monthly payments for a lot of months 4. And, of course, I can always pay most bills by credit cards to get miles/points. 5. Pay car and life and household insurances by credit card. 6. Save big bucks by buying discounted gift cards with credit cards. and others. 7. Why not shop at Costco, etc. using credit cards for purchases directly?

      • Hey Jerry,

        1. I tend to gravitate towards VGC, but master card gift card is just as good. These habits are from generating money orders since MC gift cards didnt play nice with Walmart when generating money orders.
        2. I have the 5x category bonus for buying visa/mc gift card from grocery/pharmacy. it’s like getting a 5% discount on utilities, or getting extra points on it. With Amex serve being out of commission for me (all my accounts got closed), I have to find other ways to liquidate down the entire balance of the gift cards
        3. Yes, if you’re doing a direct payment, but i’m trying to squeeze more points out of each $
        4. Yes, only if you’re doing a 1 Pt /$1. With Ink and Old Amex blue, you get 5 pts on the $1.
        5. What service are you using to pay your car payment with CC? Plastiq? Checkfreepay? Most auto finance companies only accept debit, or they charge a fee to pay with CC
        6. Yes, I do this too, but I stack the 5x bonus on top of it.
        7. I’m not sure if Costco Codes as a grocery – so to be safe, I go VGC -> Costco Gift Card to ensure i get the category bonus for Amex Blue. However, i also need to liquidate VGC from Chase Ink purchases

        Hope that helps


        • Jerry Mandel

          #5-Car insurance-not car payments. #1-Sigh. NO place in Dallas, Texas area accepts loaded gift/debit cards with PINs to buy money orders. USPS will tell you it is OK for money orders but their branch computers will decline them every time. Thanks for the informative answers.

          • Not what I heard. In fact, I know people who moved to Dallas because it’s such an ms goldmine. But I understand your desire to keep that under wraps by telling people NO place in town accepts gift cards for money orders.

          • No desire to keep anything under wraps. I tried EVERY grocery and drugstore chain, oriental groceries, building supplies, gas stations, banks, Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, Coscto. YOU tell me where any place in Dallas, TX area sells money orders for loaded gift/debit cards with PINs.

      • One of the factors of me not applying for more CC is because I’m in the process of refinancing my house. It’s a total Pain in the butt trying to explain the hobby to underwriters, but I understand where you’re coming from by directly paying the utiltiies to get the bonus. I’ve had to wean off new applications until the refi is over.

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