Using the Target Amex card to run up spend

The American Express for Target card that I wrote about yesterday is hardly revolutionary.  Compared to the generic American Express Prepaid cards, the Target Amex has higher ATM fees and much stricter limits (for example, the card may only be used within the U.S.).  Compared to the new Bluebird card, the Target Amex doesn’t compare at all.  It doesn’t have bill pay, you can’t move money out to your bank account, and there are no plans to allow check writing.  However, the Target Amex has one awesome feature that the others don’t have: you can load this card in-store with a credit card.

To get your own American Express for Target card, please see my post “How to get the American Express for Target card.”

Fees and Limits

The Target Amex card has the following fees and limits:

  • $3 per reload in-store
  • $3 per ATM withdrawal after the first free withdrawal each month.  Note that ATM owner fees apply as well.
  • Number of cards: Each person is allowed up to two cards.  Only one may be purchased in a day.
  • Maximum load: Per rolling 30 days, $2500 per card / $5K for two cards (can do $3K to one card and $2K to another, for example)
  • ATM withdrawals: Limited to $400 per day

Running up spend

There are many reasons you may want to run up spend on a credit card.  Here are a few examples:

  • Meet credit card minimum spend requirements.  Many credit card sign up offers require high spend to receive the full value of the offer.  For example, the Ink Bold and Ink Plus currently require $5K of spend in 3 months in order to get the full 50K bonus.
  • Achieve high-spend bonuses.  Some cards offer bonus points when you reach certain thresholds of spend.  Other cards offer airline or hotel elite status.  Personally, I use “manufactured spend” tricks with the Delta Reserve and Delta Platinum cards in order to achieve high level elite status on Delta each year (see “Mileage running, from home“).
  • Maximize promotions.  Some cards target cardholders with temporary incentives (such as extra points) to use their cards more.

Whatever your reason for wanting to run up spend, the Target Amex can be a nice addition to your tool chest.  It’s not free (like Amazon Payments), and it’s not a game changer (like Vanilla reload cards), but it’s pretty good.  Here are two approaches to using the card to run up spend…

Straight-Up Approach

The simplest way to use the Target Amex to run up spend is as follows:

  1. Use your credit card to pay for each reload.  Load the maximum allowed $1000 each time in order to make the $3 load fee as small of a percentage as possible.
  2. Find the lowest cost ATMs around and unload the card $400 at a time.  Some people have been lucky enough to find free ATMs at their local credit unions.  Some have reported finding 99 cent ATMs inside MacDonald’s.  Others have settled on the still inexpensive ATM’s in Costco ($1.25 per withdrawal).

If you load and withdraw $2000 per month, and use Costco ATMs at $1.25 per use, your total costs will come to $24.25, or 1.21%.  If you don’t count the value of your time into the equation, this can be a very reasonable price to pay to get points!

Indirect Approach

There are many variations of the indirect approach.  The basic idea is to get extra points or cash back when buying bank gift cards and then use those bank gift cards to load your Target Amex.  For this post, I’ll focus on a simple cash-back strategy for buying Amex gift cards at a discount:

Buying Amex gift cards at a discount

The idea is to go through the online portal BigCrumbs to buy American Express gift cards and receive 1.4% cash back.  Here’s how:

  1. Sign up for BigCrumbs.  (If you would like to contribute to Frequent Miler, please consider using this referral link — I’ll earn a small bonus each time you get cash back).
  2. Search BigCrumbs for “American Express”.  You’ll find two options: American Express Gift Cards – Business, and American Express Gift Cards – Personal.  Click through either one.
  3. Order gift cards for yourself.  Except when special promotions are going on, each card has a $3.95 fee, so your best value is to buy one $3000 card at a time.  You will also be charged $8.95 for 2nd Day shipping.
  4. Pay with your credit card.  Note: do not do this with Citibank cards since it has been reported that Citi treats these purchases as cash advances!  In my experience, both Chase and American Express treat these as regular purchases.  If you’re unsure about your bank, consider buying a small denomination card first to test the waters.

In total, your fees will come to $12.90 or .43%.  From BigCrumbs, you should get back 1.4% of $3000, which is $42.  After subtracting out the fees, you still gain $29.10 which is a .97% profit!

Liquidating Amex gift cards

Now that you have Amex gift cards that you effectively got at a discount, you can liquidate them by using them to load Target Amex cards and then withdraw the money from ATMs.  By going through this indirect approach, your total fees for running up spend will come down to a miniscule .24%!

Scale up

With the options shown above, you can easily “manufacture” $2000 spend per month.  Yes, you could go to $2500, but then you wouldn’t be perfectly optimizing the fees since you would have to do a $500 load each month.

One easy way to scale up beyond $2000, is to get a second card.  That way, you can go up to $5000 spend per month.  Further, if you have a partner you can work with, they could get two cards as well.  A couple could manufacture $10,000 in spend per month!

Warnings

I’ve cautioned heavily before against doing exactly what I wrote about above.  With either the regular Amex Prepaid cards or the Bluebird card, I think it would be a mistake to abuse them by using them just for loading and unloading.  Amex counts on you using these cards for real credit card transactions.  If you don’t, they have the ability to close your accounts.  Just as concerning, loading and unloading cards looks like money laundering.  So, you do run some risk of being investigated (even though there’s nothing illegal about the procedure I wrote about).

Everyone needs to use their own judgment about the level of risk they’re willing to incur.  In the case of Target Amex cards, my guess is that the fees are just high enough to put us in the clear.  What I mean is that Amex and Target probably don’t lose money (at least, not much) when we load and unload cards as described in this post.  If true, then they would have little or no incentive to spend resources on monitoring how we use these cards.  I can’t stress enough, though, that this is just my educated guess.  Use your own judgment about how (or whether) to proceed.

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Pingbacks

  1. […] Next week, TopCashBack is planning a one day special in which they’ll bump up the payout on American Express Gift Cards to 2% from the usual rate of 1.5%.  This could be a great way to get ahead on paying taxes (see “Pay federal taxes by credit card, almost for free“).  Or, if “almost free” isn’t good enough, see “Pay Federal Taxes via Credit Card for Free.”  The rates listed in the latter post are out of date, but the general ideas still work.  If you don’t have big tax payments to make, see also “Using the Target Amex card to run up spend.” […]

Comments

  1. So when I go to BigCrumbs, it isn’t letting me buy a gift card > $200? So for $2000 in gift cards it wants to charge me 39.50 plus the 5.95 shipping? Am I missing something?

  2. Same experience as some of the others at Target in Chicago. The cashier refused to load the card with Visa GCs. Tried three different cashiers.

  3. bandana: I don’t understand. Why does the cashier even know that you intend to use a Visa GC? When I load my card I just tell them I’ll pay by credit and then I swipe the Visa gift cards myself. Yes, you have to show them each card after you swipe, but I’ve never had anyone raise any issues with that.

  4. Hey everyone, quick question. I found the prepaid cards at a Target by my house but no one in the store could figure out how to activate them. They tried scanning the two bar codes on the back of the packaging and input an amount to load on the card, but then the whole process failed. Am I supposed to ask them to open the package and swipe the card for the initial load? Thanks in advance.

  5. Even though there is a $2,500 balance limit on the Target AmEx, you can load up to $5,000 per 28-day period … but having 2 cards in the same name does not increase this limit.
    From Target AmEx card agreement, “You may load funds to your Cards using your Funding Source until the Available Funds on any Card purchased by you equals $2,500 and on all card purchased by you equals $5,000, and you may load funds to your Cards using Direct Deposit until the Available Funds on any Card purchased by you equals $10,000 or on all Cards purchased by you equals $10,000. Not more than $1,000 may be loaded to any Card purchased by you in a 24 hour period using your Funding Source, not more than $5,000 may be loaded to all Cards purchased by you in any 28-day period using your Funding Source, and not more than $10,000 may be loaded to all Cards purchased by you in any 28-day period using Direct Deposit.”
    So, you only need 1 card to load $5,000 per 28-day period at a cost of $15(-0.3%) for reload fees.

    Also, free credit union ATMs can be found at many places of employment … check that unfamiliar ATM at work.

    Personally, I find its easiest to hit minimum spending requirements by purchasing AmEx gift cards through BigCrumbs (with free shipping and no card purchase fees) earning +1.4% then liquidate through Target AmEx (-0.3%) and free ATMs(-0.7%).

    I also found its advantageous to purchase gift cards to become Hilton Diamond with $40K in spend from Hilton AmEx Surpass, which earns +50% more points, before using Vanilla/Bluebird … this gives 4,500 Hilton points for $3.95 fee.

  6. Ben: No, I don’t think they need to open the package. Try a few other cashiers next time.

    J-Star: Thanks for that great information. I’ll plan to update this post with those corrections!

  7. The stores in my place doesn’t carry these.. can I buy them when I travel to other places that have these TargetAmex?
    Can I reload these cards at target at my place where they don’t sell TargetAmex cards?
    Thanks

  8. Thanks FM for the reply.
    Do you think buying a 3K amex gift card with my amex gold businesscard would work to help meet the spending threshhold?
    Also in amazon payments can I use the same gift card in three different accounts (my friends accounts)?
    Thanks

  9. Kris: Yes, buying a 3K amex gift card would work to meet the spend requirement on your Amex gold business card. No, I wouldn’t recommend using the same gift card on multiple Amazon payment accounts.

  10. FM:

    Thank you for your awesome website. I am currently trying to formulate a strategy, but I trying to find the best way to manufacture spend.

    They don’t have the Target Amex within a 300 mile radius from me. I cannot use the WF Debit card, as I have issues with Wells Fargo. I have a BB card, but have had troubles purchasing a VR card at Walgreens. The register would not load it, apparently their system blocks it. I do not have a rewards debit card.

    Is Amazon Payments the only other option? I would like not to get anyone else involved if at all possible.

    Thanks for all of the info!

  11. TV: you can use Amazon Payments that way, but there’s not much point in it. Instead, just use Amazon payments directly with whatever credit card or gift card you would have used to fund the Target card. That way you avoid the $3 load fee and the hassle. Keep in mind, though, that Amazon payments is limited to $1k per month

  12. Is it possible to use the target AMEX & WF debit to load bluebird, if so, is there a transaction limit for the target AMEX and WF debit? I’m trying to find ways to load my bluebird account, in my area its basically impossible to find VR’s and my UFB direct debit card lost its miles earning capabilities.

  13. Is it possible to use the target AMEX & WF debit to load bluebird, if so, is there a transaction limit for the target AMEX and WF debit? I’m trying to find ways to load my bluebird account, in my area its basically impossible to find VR’s and my UFB direct debit card lost its miles earning capabilities

  14. So let me see if I understand this correctly:

    Let’s say you buy a $2000 Amex gift card for $2012.90. You get 1.4% back from TCB, $28.18. Leaves you with $15.28. (I know 3k is a beter deal, I’m just using 2k as to not carry $ over month to month)

    Costs $6 to load $2000. Costs $2.75×3 + $1.25 ($15.5 total) to get $1600 off the card at ATMs at Costco (3 fee paid atm withdrawls and 1 free withdrawal + costco atm fee). Spend the rest as normal for the remainder of the month as to not draw up too many red flags. You should get 2000 Ultimate Rewards points for a total of $0.32. Am I missing something?

  15. i did its actually $4.25 to withdraw the money so you’re really negative $4.82/2000…but a total cost of $0.0024/mile… right?

  16. If you buy a $2,000 AMEX gift card and load $1,000 will Target charge your $1,003? Leaving you with $997 or can you pay the $3 with cash/another card?

  17. Sam: you could pay the $3 with cash or another card if you prefer. Or, pay with the Amex gift card entirely, then for the next load, pay $997 with the Amex gift card and $6 with another card.

  18. Let me see this.
    The straight up approach is using my CC to load the AMEX for Target. That means that if I use lets say my Chase or citi AA or AMEX SPG card, it will show as spending?

  19. FM, that’s great news.
    Thanks
    I see that the target amex has a pin for ATM withdrawal. Since the daily withdrawal limit is $400, can you use it as a pin card to, let us say, load your Bluebird. ? I know that Amex cards generally do not have a PIN. Is this PIN for ATM use only or to be use for PIN based transaction? Would they charge $3 if you use it to buy MO or to load your Bluebird?

    Thanks FM

  20. I had to try but I had I didn’t want to deposit 1k on 1 cc (SUSPICIOS ROUND NUMBER)but at the same time I didnt want to pay $3 for loading less than 1k. So I remember you saying that you can use many cards on one load. I loaded 640 from amex spg, 140 from chase SW and 323. We’ll see if all go as spend in all 3 cards.

  21. @luchex:
    have you found an atm in bay area that doesn’t charge fees.. does the EBT/Moneypass apply to the AFT?

  22. FM said
    With the options shown above, you can easily “manufacture” $2000 spend per month.  Yes, you could go to $2500, but then you wouldn’t be perfectly optimizing the fees since you would have to do a $500 load each month.”
    You don’t need an extra target card
    The maximum we can have at a given time is $2500 but the maximum we can deposit per month is about 5k. If i have a 3k amex gc:
    Day1 deposit 1k, extract $400
    Day2 deposit 1k extract $400
    Day 3 deposit 1k (limit is $2500 and I only have $1200 on my account)

  23. Free ATM withdrawals at WaWa convenience stores in the Phila area and Quick Chek convenience stores in many parts of NJ.

  24. A little late to the game here…one thing you mentioned tangentially—about not using Citi—should I not be using Citi (Hilton Honors Reserve) to pay for gift cards I’m then using to fund my Bluebird with at Walmart? Haven’t noticed cash advance fees before (but then again I’m not always diligentat about combing through my statements).

  25. Rachael Z: It depends where you buy the gift cards from. If you buy from a regular store (grocery, gas station, drug store, etc.) it will be fine. The issue is when you buy from a financial institution like when buying Amex gift cards from Amex.

  26. Finally got around to trying to get this, tried two stores in Illinois last week and one in New Jersey this week, multiple POS machines, and all had an error at the last step in the process. After clicking to verify all the information and before payment the system gives an error to the cashier, “Offline to processor – can’t sell card.” These stores rarely sell them and had no idea of the problem. One manager suggested I called the customer support line, which produced a clueless guy who had difficulty understanding the issue and checking with a supervisor had no info on the issue. For more fun I tweeted askamex, they said they would investigate, so far no response. I wonder how long they have been offline. Must not be selling many if no one seems to know they are down.

  27. Might want to add to the limits: Max load $5k across both cards / rolling 30 days.
    To minimize load fees you can load $2k and $3k rather than $2.5k per card.

  28. Did anyone have problems loading AFT with Amex card?
    I tried numerous times in NJ and the POS denies it (after asking for the 4 digits on the front of the card)
    I then tried with visa gc, and it got accepted (with PIN). Don’t know if the limitation is that it will only accept with PIN, or that it won’t accept Amex. I tried both Amex gc and regular Amex card (FIA).

  29. @Chuck,
    If you mean using an AMEX Prepaid Gift card I had the same problem. They would not accept it.

    So, FrequentMiler, what’s up? You say above it can be done but it cannot, unless there is a trick to it.

  30. @Chuck, @Frank: It appears that Target may no longer accept Amex gift cards as payment for reloading this card. I’m waiting to hear from more people about this before updating the post.

  31. I often have my first few transactions denied when using a new card. It has always been related to fraud alert on the card. I just call, have them clear it and it had worked when charged again. I have not used gift cards before so I cannot chime in on that.

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