I’ve mentioned before that I don’t do any manufactured spending. To my new readers: It’s when you buy prepaid money products with the sole purpose of earning points, then cash them out, rinse and repeat. I have several reasons for that, which I’ve mentioned in this post. The biggest one: The opportunities for m/s (short for manufactured spending) are limited in my area.
I live in a rural town in a middle of nowhere. Our Walmart will not even sell Visa gift cards when using credit. Oh, and everyone knows everyone, which is why I didn’t take advantage of Mint bonanza, now dead. Old timers know what I’m talking about!
I do buy Amex gift cards occasionally when cash back offer is increased, but normally just spend them on my regular bills. So far, I have only bought one Visa gift card at a local CVS.
That said, I don’t think that m/s is necessarily bad. In fact, I probably would participate in it myself if opportunities were more abundant and if I didn’t have a kid, who starts screaming from the moment I enter a store. If I had a mortgage or a car payment that I could pay through Evolve Money, I would not hesitate to buy a few Visa gift cards.
If for whatever reason you can’t sign up for new bonuses at the moment, and can convert to one of my picks, it could give you a chance to accrue miles or points in the meantime.
I also think this activity might be a good idea for those who have to pick up a side job. If you are short on cash and m/s opportunities are plentiful in your area, it could provide a healthy ROI, time-wise. Also, m/s to meet minimum spending requirements is almost always worth it, like the offer for 100,000 AAdvantage miles, which according to this Flyertalk thread is still available.
I do want to stress that m/s is only for those responsible with credit, and not for beginners in this hobby. You also have to have a backup plan in case one m/s method dries up suddenly, which happens on a regular basis. Don’t spend more money that you can’t afford to be without for a few months.
Let me list a few credit cards, I would consider worthy of this activity:
In drug stores, gas stations or grocery stores:
1) Amex Blue Cash
This is an old version which earns 5 percent on gas, grocery and drug store purchases after $6500 in spending per year, uncapped. All those stores usually sell prepaid cards with 1 percent built-in fee. No need to explain why it would be profitable to buy them with Amex Blue Cash. I couldn’t get the application to come up, but you can find more info in this Flyertalk thread.
2) Chase Freedom Visa, Discover IT or US Bank Cash Plus when pharmacy, grocery store or a gas station is a bonus category that earns 5 percent per dollar in purchases. If you can buy and liquidate Visa gift cards at a cost of 1 percent ($4.95 on a $500 card) or even 1.5 percent, you would come out ahead. The bonus is capped, so it would be of limited benefit, but still worth mentioning, since many families in this hobby have one of those cards.
3) Barclaycard Arrival or Fidelity Amex
The first one earns 2.2 percent towards travel, the second flat 2 percent cash back. I wouldn’t renew Arrival and pay the 89 dollar annual fee, but would probably use it on occasion for a few gift card purchases in the first year. Otherwise, Fidelity Amex would be the winner.
4) US Club Carlson Visa
You earn 5 points per dollar on all purchases, so value proposition is very strong. Plus, remember, you get a second night redemption free. This would make US Bank Club Carlson Visa card a very good candidate for m/s, but I recommend, you have a specific redemption in mind because award category can change at any time.
5) Amex SPG card
I recently raised my value of SPG point to 1.5 cents. Using this card could be a good deal if you are looking for a category 1 or 2 hotel redemptions (2,000 or 3,000 points on weekends), and are willing to share one room with your kids.
Once again, I recommend, you first have a plan in mind. It could also come in handy when you are close to 20,000 points in your SPG account and want to transfer them to miles. That’s because you get a 5,000 miles bonus when transferring that amount into a participating mileage program.
You can also use my last three card picks anywhere where you can buy gift cards, including online.
In grocery stores specifically:
1) US Bank FlexPerks card
You earn 2 points per dollar on grocery store purchases (uncapped), which at this time includes Walmart. Each point is good for up to 2 cents in airfare, so each $4.95 in fees could potentially provide up to $20 in value for flights.
2) Amex Premier Rewards Gold card
You earn 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar in grocery stores (uncapped). Those would translate into 2 Avios miles, or possibly more if there is a bonus on transfer. You also get 15,000 points bonus after putting $30,000 on that card each year.
So, if you can reach that amount, you would really be getting 3 points per dollar. Even if you pay a $4.95 fee per $500 Visa card, it would translate into buying 1 Membership Rewards Point for 33 cents. That’s a great deal, as long as it doesn’t eat up too much of your time. Be aware, this card comes with a $175 annual fee, usually waived in the first year. So, the strategy would be to spend $30K and cancel before the fee hits.
In gas stations specifically:
1) Amex Blue Cash Preferred
You earn 3 percent (uncapped) on gas station purchases. If you can find a place that sells Visa gift cards or other prepaid products, you would make a profit of $9-10 per $500 card, assuming you can liquidate close to free, like via buying money orders in Walmart or grocery stores.
2) Amex Everyday Preferred
You earn 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar (uncapped) on gas station purchases as long as you hit 30 transactions per month. I value Membership Rewards point at more than 1 cent, so this would be a better choice than Amex Blue Cash Preferred, as long as you can keep track of your number of transactions. You can always buy 1 dollar Amazon gift cards online, if needed.
So, these are my picks. Hardcore m/s enthusiasts probably would come up with a more comprehensive list. As I said, I’m not opposed to m/s, and simply encourage my readers to calculate the cost, which goes beyond just fees.
Manufactured spending takes time, energy and effort, which should always be taken into consideration. It can also cause stress and even get you blacklisted with a bank, though the danger is fairly small.
Here are some of the best websites to learn more about manufactured spending:
Readers, do you participate in m/s? To what extent?
P.S. Today is the last day to apply for several increased offers, including all 4 Southwest cards. You can read more in my “Best Deals” page.
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Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.