Better than free credit card spend

There are various techniques for “Manufacturing spend.”  The idea is to spend money on credit cards and get most or all of your money back.  These techniques are useful regardless of whether your goal is to meet minimum spend requirements on new credit cards, or to get large-spend bonuses, or simply to earn more points from your credit card.  In the past, most manufactured spend techniques have cost money.  For example, buying and liquidating reload cards (such as Vanilla Reload cards) is incredibly easy (if you have a store nearby that will sell them to you with a credit card), but they do cost $3.95 or more per card.  At a top value of $500 per card, the $3.95 fee amounts to a very reasonable .79% fee.

Recently, new opportunities have surfaced to manufacture spend thanks to the ability to assign PINs to debit gift cards (see “Gift card PINs“).  Since then, I’ve mentioned a few times that it is possible to make a profit while manufacturing spend by first buying American Express gift cards.  For example:

  1. Go through BigCrumbs or TopCashBack to buy American Express gift cards for yourself and get 1.4% or 1.5% cash back.
  2. Use the American Express gift cards to buy Visa gift cards either in-store or online at GiftCardMall.com.  Pay about 1% (or less) in fees.
  3. Use the Visa gift cards at Walmart to load a Bluebird card (for an easy way to do this, see “Bluebird swipe reloads via ATM“).

You won’t get rich with the above process, but if you do it right you should come out slightly ahead financially while still manufacturing spend.  That’s a big improvement over paying to manufacture spend!

A better solution

A couple of days ago, blogger Tavel-Summary showed that TopCashBack is now paying 1.5% cash back for purchases of Visa gift cards through GiftCardMall!  After reading this, I immediately jumped online to try it.  I ordered two $1000 cards for a total cost of $2013.38 (which included card fees and track-able shipping).  Within a few hours, TopCashBack alerted me that $30 cash back was pending from GiftCardMall!  This new solution cuts out a step.  You can now earn money while manufacturing spend as follows:

  1. Go through TopCashBack to buy Visa gift cards at GiftCardMall.com and get 1.5% cash back.
  2. Use the Visa gift cards at Walmart to load a Bluebird card.

I still need to test how easy it is to use the PIN feature on the cards mailed from GiftCardMall, but I don’t expect to have any issues.

Caution: Many readers have had many problems with TopCashBack in the past, so there is some risk here.  My experiences, though, have been very good.  For example, I bought an American Express gift card through TopCashBack and it tracked appropriately, and I was paid 3 months later (which is a typical payback period for cash back portals).  Also, via my Million Mile Madness month, I spent thousands of dollars at Staples to get 5.5% cash back from TopCashBack, and not only did all purchases track appropriately, but I’ve already received all of the money.

Earn more money

If you prefer getting more money over simplicity, you can stack these techniques:

  1. Go through BigCrumbs or TopCashBack to buy American Express gift cards and get 1.4% or 1.5% cash back.
  2. Go through TopCashBack to buy Visa gift cards at GiftCardMall.com and get 1.5% cash back.  Pay with your American Express gift cards.
  3. Use the Visa gift card at Walmart to load a Bluebird card (for an easy way to do this, see “Bluebird swipe reloads via ATM“).

In total, you can earn up to 3% cash back, minus a small amount to cover shipping and gift card fees.

Earn even more money

Due to technical issues last month, TopCashBack had to abort a planned one day American Express gift card promotion, but the deal is now back.  Even better, at my request, they’re now planning a 1 day promotion for GiftCardMall as well!  Here are the deals to look for:

  • Monday April 22: TopCashBack will increase their American Express Gift Card payout to 2.5%.  One day only.
  • Monday April 29: TopCashBack will increase their GiftCardMall payout for Visa gift cards to 2%.  One day only.

These offers are a week apart.  American Express usually sends out their gift cards very quickly so it should be possible to stack these offers:

  1. April 22: Go through TopCashBack to buy American Express gift cards and get 2.5% cash back.
  2. April 29: Go through TopCashBack to buy Visa gift cards at GiftCardMall.com and get 2% cash back. Pay with your American Express gift cards.

If all goes well, is should be possible to earn 4.5% cash back!

Tips

  • Do not use Citibank cards to buy gift cards online as Citi is known to treat these purchases as cash advances (and will charge high fees).  If you are unsure whether your bank will treat these purchases as cash advances, you can protect yourself by calling and asking for your cash advance limit to be reduced to zero (some banks won’t allow it to go all the way to zero, but at least you should be able to lower it to less than you plan to pay online).
  • Don’t go overboard.  If you buy tens of thousands of dollars of gift cards per month with one credit card, you are very likely to be targeted for a financial review.
  • American Express has strict, but not clearly defined limits regarding how much you can buy per transaction.  See “Learning Amex gift card rules the hard way
  • To pay less in fees for Amex gift cards, buy the cards shown in the top-left corner of the Amex Gift card page.  These cards can hold values up to $3000 each.  By going with larger value cards, the shipping and fees become a smaller percentage of the total.
  • You may be able to find Amex discount codes online to save on shipping or to waive gift card fees.  Readers have reported, though, that codes I’ve published in the past no longer work.
  • Readers have said that GiftCardMall is very picky about ensuring that the billing name and address that you list on their site is exactly the same as the one registered to the credit card (or gift card) you pay with.  I haven’t had any issue, though, in using an Amex gift card that I sent to myself.  Presumably it was automatically registered with my mailing address.
  • Don’t be surprised if it takes several months for cash back to become payable.

 

Links

TopCashBack referral links:

Also, here is my BigCrumbs sign-up referral link (I’ll receive a very small commission each time you receive cash back if you signup with this link)

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

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Comments

  1. I tried ordering on gift card mall site, trid different credit cards and entered my info correctly but all got denied. The credit card accounts show thousands in pending and reduced my credit limit. Don’t try it

  2. FYI, I have used the discount coupon codes to waive fees/reduce shipping when ordering Amex gift cards via Big Crumbs, and my Big Crumbs cash back has always posted. Has anyone ordered Amex gift cards via Top Cash Back AND used a coupon code and still got the cash back from Top Cash Back? That is the one scenario I haven’t tried yet.

  3. FM : Will the one-day increased-payouts from TCB et al apply to both AMEX Personal and Business Gift Cards? Also, on the TCB website, they have this notice : “Please note: coupons that are not displayed on the TopCashback site, will nullify eligibility for cashback,” but no coupons are displayed. Will any coupon work then that doesn’t kill the cashback?

  4. Miler,

    I have done the gift card mall $1000 Visa gift card, and was easily able to set a pin. Worked like a charm at Wally World to buy a MO.

  5. Any further advice on potential CCs to avoid besides Citi? I assume buying Amex GCs with Amex CCs would be frowned upon, what about Barclays or US Bank (I hear Chase is a safe option, but I have Barclays and US Bank cards I’d like to try too).

    • THEsocalledfan: the thing that stops this from being better than the mint are the limits imposed by Bluebird and Walmart if you do too much with money orders. Otherwise I’d say it is better and easier than the Mint. Thanks for letting me know that the $1k card from giftcardmall worked!

  6. Ordered 1000$ 2 weeks ago and got the card within a week with no issue. Ordered 2000$ last week and they called and wanted to make sure that I was the one ordering this.
    when I asked why are they asking me to verify my information

    Exact words “We are noticing a trend recently and making sure all orders are accurate”

    So expect delays since it looks like half the world is ordering them.

  7. Is there a 1K revenue/purchase limit on Topcashback? As in after you have done 1K purchases with TCB, you wont get additional CB from them? How does that work? Do I need to create multiple accounts?

  8. File this away, just so you know: If you manage to get declined by GCM when trying to purchase the VISA GC with an AMEX GC, the *authorization* on the AMEX GC sticks around for 7 *calendar* days (according to the AMEX customer service people).

  9. Also, tried 4 different addresses 4 different times on GCM, no go… all put pending charges on my card and got a fraud warning, that I took care of already.

    Purchased hour ago Amex giftcard on TCB, no email as of yet.

  10. @Jeremy, It’s not really an AMEX GC thing. All credit/debit cards will “authorize” a transaction and then complete it. If the transaction doesn’t complete, the authorization generally sticks around for a day or two. Sometimes you can call the card company and have them remove the authorization.

    In this SPECIFIC case, I was told that the authorization would remain for 7 days and that, because it was “close to $1000” he was not allowed to remove it prematurely.

    YMMV

    • @Chico, That’s been going on for at least a week. The Chase cards are NOT PIN capable (unless that has also changed in the last couple of days.)

  11. Anyone know if points will show up for a Club Carlson Visa Business for these gift card purchases? Also whether or not they are considered a cash advance or not? Terms say “We will not award Gold Points for Advances (as defined in the Agreement, including wire transfers, travelers checks, money orders, foreign cash transactions, betting transactions, lottery tickets and ATM disbursements), convenience checks, balance transfers, unauthorized or fraudulent charges, overdraft advances, interest charges, and fees, credit insurance charges, transactions to fund certain prepaid card products, U.S. Mint purchases, or transactions to purchase cash convertible items, or if your Account is in Default, past due or closed.”

    • @Royce, I tried this last week and let me tell you what a PITA it was! Here’s how it’s gone (so far…)

      Day 1:
      Tried to purchase AMEX GC w/ Club Carlson Business VISA. Instantly declined on AMEX site. Tried again (in case it was my error), same result.

      Called the Carson Business customer service line. As suspected, I triggered a fraud alert. No problem (I thought). Got transferred to the fraud people and did the “yes this is me” dance a second time. Verified that it WAS me and I WAS trying to make that purchase. Hold released. Call ended.

      Tried online purchase again … instant fail. Same result. I called directly to the fraud department, did the dance, and … yep … they were blocking it. I asked them to please STOP doing that. Got a “special notation” in my account to that effect. Tried the AGC purchase with the rep still on the line. Success! (or so I thought)

      Day 2:
      Received e-mail from Amex that my purchase was not approved. Ugh. Called to ask why not. Naturally, they blamed the card company. Tried the purchase again … fail!

      Called Carlson VISA people again, did the dance, asked the rep to read the notes and GUESS why I was calling. Got the block removed AGAIN. Tried the purchase again, success! End call.

      Day 3:
      Received e-mail from Amex that my purchase was not approved.

      (Meanwhile, during these three days, another AMEX GC order I’d placed with another card went through, processed, and was delivered.)

      At that point, I declared it “not worth the effort” and will find another way to manufacture spend on this card.

    • @Jack, I seem to be the lightning rod for bad luck when it comes to these things. Per that FlyerTalk thread, though, looks like they work after all. Thanks.

  12. It’s funny that this post coincides with the Blackhawk IPO(Company that operates Giftcard Mall, HAWK on Nasdaq) Frequent miler might need to disclose if he has any financial interest…

  13. Well, that was interesting. This is what I mean about being the “lightning rod” of bad luck.

    Okay, so I have to use a Chase card, that’s cool. However, when I clicked “submit” it declined the purchase saying that card had been used too many times in “the allowable time period.” Yet that was the very first time I’ve ever ordered a Chase GC.

    Used a different Chase card, no problems.

    I’ll report back with personal experience as to whether or not I can liquidate it via PIN.

  14. GCM is the most sophisticated company to deal with. I was trying to order $1K GC and my orders were always declined. I tried Chase, AMEX, US Bank. Called banks, they approved transactions, no security holds – but anyway, no luck. I don’t know how you guys are succesfull with GCM’s orders.

  15. I’m beginning to think that only bloggers actually receive money back from TCB! But my first exposure to BigCrumbs, so far, has been nice. Thanks FM for keeping us all updated!

  16. Can we buy cards visa-versa order: starting from GCM Visa, and then using it buy Amex GC? (and then possibly buy another SGM Visa as described in the post). Point is to not buy Amex GC with Amex CC at the beginning. (Or does it not make sense?…)

  17. I used my Chase card to purchase a $1,000 AMEX GC through TCB last week. I used a coupon code for discounted shipping. I had it shipped overnight (because we needed to purchase something before the rebate on it expired). And I was already credited the $15 into my account by TCB. No problems at all – worked like a charm. Thanks Frequent Miler!!

  18. those who do these specially using chase and amex cards are GUARANTEED to get shut down. it is just a matter of time. once they shut down, they will take your points away. I know 2 of my buddies got shut down by chase when they used to frequent office depot stores and lost 300k points. STAY AWAY FROM COMMITTING SUICIDE

  19. “Guaranteed” is a very strong word. A broken clock is right twice a day. Someone will get shutdown, someone will not and earn lots of miles and points. That’s the game we play. Live it or leave it.

  20. Should be a feeding frenzy. Anyone can get 1.4% + .2% + .2% from BC buying AMEX GCs any day of the week. 2.5% from TCB is more, but it’s just one day and how much can you really do before AMEX cancels all your orders? Slow and steady wins the race. I’ll probably sit this one out. Similarly with GCM, how much could you really do before they cancel orders?

    P.S. maybe it’s just me but a BC referral link every time AMEX GCs are mentioned doesn’t seem much different than an Ink or Sapphire affiliate link every time UR is mentioned. Someone that buys a lot of AMEX GCs would be better off double referring themselves. 0.4% on manufactured spend is a lot of money to give up. No problems crossing that line here.

    • HikerT:
      1) That’s a really good point. There’s no reason not to take advantage of these increased offers, but people should also take care to spread their spend over time. The usual cash back rates are still really good. So, as HikerT said, you’ll do better going slow and steady.
      2) I think you’re making a couple of points here that are worth discussing. First is whether I should include referral links at all given that I’ve sworn off affiliate links in my posts. Just because referral links and affiliate links are technically different doesn’t mean that they are different in any meaningful way. So, one can argue that I shouldn’t have either type of link in my posts. I’m totally open to a discussion about that. The reasons that I went ahead with them were 1) If people need to sign up for these things anyway, I might as well make it easy for them, and provide a link since I don’t have any other place on the blog people can go to find them. 2) The money earned from these referrals is so small that I do not believe that there is any chance that it biases me. In fact, if I was biased I would push people to BigCrumbs every time instead of TCB since the long term potential earnings are much higher. So, I’m not saying that it is the right decision for me to provide the links — I’m just putting out my thinking about it. I’ve waffled on this topic. Sometimes I’ve put links in posts and other times not.
      The second part of your comment suggests that I am providing bad advice in order to get referral money. The better advice, you suggest, is for everyone to double refer themselves to BigCrumbs so as to get an extra .4% cash back. I’ve never referred myself to BigCrumbs because it used to be very clearly spelled out on their site that it was against the rules to refer yourself or anyone in your household. So, I never advised others to do this either. I just checked now, though, and I have to admit that I don’t see that language anywhere on the site. Maybe they decided they don’t care anymore? If I can get some confirmation of that, I would certainly advise people to go that way!!!

  21. @FM re: post at 15:18
    I missed the variable value AMEX GC thing in that post. I’ve only ever ordered the fixed denominations. Hmm, so I guess that might work. (Mwah, hah, hah, haaaa)

  22. @HikerT

    Two years ago when the mint deal was still alive and I jumped in on the Bigcrumbs game I did the two referrals. About a year after I believe that requested more information like your address and unique paypal email address. While it may work well for you.. it is .4%, I just have to ask if that it is really worth the risk? It’s kind of like using TopCashBack.. I would rather go for the sure thing than take the risk and a very small extra percentage. If you get shut down by Bigcrumbs I’m not sure how hard it is to work the system to get another account. Though I give you props if you have had it working successfully.

    @ Frequentmiler
    “The money earned from these referrals is so small that I do not believe that there is any chance that it biases me.” I would think in theory you make at least $100-600 in referral commissions. I’m able to see that you have 320 referrals in your 2 generations of referrals that pay out. I would think that if you kept a master post, kind of like your credit card page.. you could just refer to that. I agree that these referral links have no negative effect on people’s credit score and can be used for shopping in other places than just Amex GC’s. I like that you actually take the time out to test things yourself and do not just reference the work of others.

    While TCB has worked for you, it seems that when it does not work for others (as many have posted on flyertalk) there seems to be almost no customer support.

    I would really like to suggest that you remind people that these deliveries come to the door and are simply dropped off by UPS with no signature needed. I wrote an article for Frugaltravelguy. I think this is something very important to mention as these are $1,000’s of gift cards.

  23. Another excellent post FM. Nothing wrong with providing referrals for BC or credit cards. It’s like the person who goes “slow and steady” at $500/mth on GCs/OD when everyone else doing 10k/mth at 5x. The only person getting hurt you, not lucky or the other bloggers who are making the money off your research/advice.

  24. When you buy the GCMall cards with Amex GC, do you order the personalized Amex GC? I’ve been always getting the regular kind so they ship faster, and have not had problems buying VR with them, but I’d figured the non-personalized ones wouldn’t work unless your name is “A Gift For You” – or does Amex register your name along with your billing address automatically even if you don’t personalize the GC? Where do they get the info from – Amex account? CC you used to pay (assuming non-Amex)? If there is even the most minor formatting difference in your billing address it will matter to them.

    I had my first GCMall order cancelled, a day after I made it, because on my billing address, I left out my middle initial, which is on the CC that I used to pay. There was no field for a middle initial but after calling I was told that I should put it in the first name field after my first name. After that I was locked out when I tried to place a new order and it took me many calls to get a customer service rep who understood the problem and was able to fix it, but eventually I was able to place a new order with the middle initial. If anyone reading this is having problems with GCMall, I’d advise calling back until you get someone who can fix the problem. Even after they escalated it to a supervisor who called me back it still took opening a new ticket with a different supervisor after the first one claimed to have fixed it but it still didn’t work.

  25. I agree with Brant, I have had issues with TCB. Disputed it for 6months. Not service at all. Assume that you will get nothing and you have nothing to lose.

  26. Do purchases of Amex GCs with a Personal PLatinum earn MR points? Would AMEX give me any grief if I did two orders, one for 8 * $3K (with Chase), and one for 11 * $3K (with Amex), so I can pay my taxes?

  27. what about using discover or BOA card? do you get miles or cash back? I am offered $250 if i spend $1500 for 5 months on discover, I’d also like to use my BOA Hawaain airline card if I can get miles for buying giftcards online.

    thanks for any confirmation.

  28. Great post, and dovetails perfectly with paying estimated taxes with Official Payments over the phone!

    I’ve had a ton of issues with ordering Amex GCs lately so nice to see another route to the $1,000 Visa Debit cards that negates the purchase fees.

    Here’s hoping that the TCB rebates come through correctly!

  29. Oh Brent,
    You insinuate that FM is biased by TCB referrals and then write the sentence “I wrote an article for Frugaltravelguy.”

    That’s great.

    See Matthew 7:3.
    For the record, I’ve never successfully purchased from GCM, but I’ve had tons of success with TCB. I’m also always careful to document everything, and emailing their customer service with documentation once fixed things.

  30. Has anyone tried buying the amex e gift cards? The fee is smaller and there is no shipping fee. I didn’t look to see if they are available through topcashback.

  31. I’m very frustrated with Gift Card Mall .. I’ve tried 4 different transactions in the past week, have been meticulous about entering name/address exactly on the credit cards etc. I’ve tried in two different names from our household. Each time, the pending charge goes through but I get an email about 24-48 hours later saying that the order was cancelled.

    I didn’t even get an email asking to call and clarify. What gives..?

  32. CLUB CARLSON CARD (experience with representative)
    1. Made a 3K on CC (payment didn’t go through)
    2. Call CC – was told fraud block for “AMX GIFT CARD PURCHASE”
    3. Hang up and called CC back again:
    ME: “Does Gift Card = chase advance”
    CC: “Not sure, I have to ask supervisor – can you hold please?”
    CC: “Supervisor said GENERALLY GIFTCARDS would be considered cash advance”
    ME: “What is GENERALLY MEAN? – when is it not?”
    CC: “Not sure, you would have to contact the merchant”
    ME: “What about AMX gift card?”
    CC: “Not sure, you have to contact them and ask how they put it through – most merchants put gift card through as cash advance”

    So there, still don’t know the answer, it seems like it could go either way. It seems like AMX puts the transaction as AMX GIFT CARD PURCHASE. Anyone knows how to interpret this?

  33. Purchased 1 x $2000 Amex gift card using BOA virgin Atlantic card about 5.45pm EST. I received an e-mail about half an hour later that my order has been approved.

  34. Got it…I was confused and thought they were all through giftcardmall. i bought some visa…still making some money on it so not bad if i can reload my bluebird account.

  35. Quick update: I purchased several $3k Amex cards on Monday. Tried to purchase Visa cards through GCM. Initially went through but received cancellation via email below. Rep said the cards had to be registered before you could make online purchases. Called Amex and verified. Registered cards and will resubmit. Rep also said info had to exactly match registration info when buying Visa GCs. Will update.

  36. purchased and received a $3000 amex card that says”gift card for you” from tcb but no cashback posted yet. Also and more important, how do i purchase visa gift cards at the gift card mall. Don’t see anything that allows me to use a amex gift card to pay, just credit cards. Also how do i buy 3000 worth of gift cards as the fees bring the bill over $3000.

  37. I purchased three Visa GCs with denominations of $1k, $1k, and $983. Total cost after fees was $2,999.12. I selected Amex as the CC option. Went through but am waiting for secondary review – see earlier post.

  38. I took it easy on Monday and ordered only two AGCs. So far, one claims to have shipped and one JUST got declined for the old “can’t verify your information” thing. Meh. Extra cash is just gravy at this point.

  39. Do I have to register the American Express gift cards before I can use them to purchase the visa gift cards from the giftcardmall.com?

    • Hmm, mine shows the clickthrough at 20:11, but the cash back hasn’t posted yet. I honestly don’t give a rip if it posts at the bonus rate or not … that’s just gravy. I just want to be sure it posts.

  40. I sold a bunch of GCs for the Pi Day promo TCB had and there is no record of the sales. I also bought a few cell phones back in November and they STILL don’t have a record of that transaction. I’m glad it works for you, but I’ve had nothing bu problems with TCB. The only merchant that tracks correctly for me is Walmart.

  41. I was just trying to buy some visa GC from GiftCardMall.com and the check-out page showed $0.85 in tax for the $1,000 GC!!!! Anybody else had this problem?

  42. What clock is used by topcashback?

    wiki topcashback shows they are based in the U.K.

    A transaction confirmation email shows Headquarters: MediaNet Systems Ltd, 3422 Old Capitol Trail, Ste 1701, Wilmington, DE 19808-6192

    My AMEX buy was 23 Apr 2013 02:22 per the same email from Delaware.

    The AMEX confirmation from AMEX was dated Mon 4/22/2013 8:08 PM (U.S.A. Pacific DST).

    Only one card registered but two were purchased at the same time.

    I’m guessing that only the first transaction counts.

    I’m guessing the time zone made the transaction ineligible for the special one day bonus.

    I’m guessing I’ll learn if my guesses are correct here before I see any update or change on TCB.

  43. cyclotron: If you setup the PIN online, you should be all set. For the future note that you do not have to setup PINs with those cards, you could just use the last 4 digits of the card number instead.

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