Playing 5X everywhere Whack a Mole

A long time ago, in the post “One card to rule them all,” I wrote up a guide for earning 5X everywhere.  The trick, at the time, was to sign up for an American Express prepaid card and a Chase Ink card.  Then, take your Ink card to Office Depot to buy Vanilla Reload cards (where your Ink card earns 5X for office supply purchases) and use the money from those cards to load your Amex prepaid card.  And, voilà, you had 5X everywhere.  Use your Amex prepaid card for regular purchases or even ATM withdrawals and it was like earning 5X everywhere because you already earned 5X when buying reload cards at Office Depot.

Things got even better when Bluebird came along (see “Bluebird takes flight and changes the game“).  Bluebird was (and still is) a better alternative to the old Amex prepaid cards because it allowed bill pay, check writing, and even withdrawals directly to your bank account.  With Bluebird it became possible to earn 5X not just for credit card payments and ATM withdrawals, but also for mortgage payments, daycare, taxes, or even to pay off the same credit card with which you bought the reload cards!

The initial Bluebird golden period was short lived.  Office Depot pulled Vanilla Reload cards from all of their stores (they later restocked, but with rules against allowing credit card purchases).  There was a workaround that involved buying $500 Visa cards and using those to buy reload cards at other stores, but that too ended when Office Depot stopped selling those as well.  Next, we noticed that reload cards were widely available at drug stores, so we looked for cards offering good drug store bonuses.  The most commonly available at the time was the Amex Hilton Surpass card that earned 6 points per dollar at drug stores.  Then, not only did Amex remove the drugstore benefit, but Hilton massively devalued their program to where even 6X was hardly worth bothering with anyway.

The best alternative 5X everywhere trick then became a Citi ThankYou Preferred card that offered 5X at drugstores, gas stations, and grocery stores for the first 12 months of card ownership.  This offer died a few months after it was rediscovered, but those of us who got in on it are still enjoying it (if we weren’t shut down by Citibank).  I still have two months of “5X everywhere” to go.  Thank you Citibank.

What’s left?  There are a few cash back options:

  • TD Cash Rewards Visa offers 6 months of 5% cash back “on eligible purchases including dining, groceries, gas and cable, phone and utility bill payments.”  This list doesn’t include drug stores, but many have found reload cards or gift cards at grocery stores and/or gas stations that work just as well.
  • Wells Fargo Cash Back card offers 5% cash rewards on gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for 6 months.  There is also a version of this card that offers points instead of cash, but from most reports, cash back is a better option.
  • American Express Blue Cash (old version) offers up to 5% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations & select U.S. drugstores (Everyday Purchases). Up to 1% Cash Back on other purchases. For your first $6,500 in purchases in a reward year, you will earn 1% on Everyday Purchases (5% thereafter), and 0.5% on other purchases (then 1%).  NOTE 10/22/2014: There have been reports of Amex shutting down accounts of those who use this card heavily for 5% spend.

Links to the application pages or to posts about how to apply for these cards can be found on my “Best credit card offers” page.  I do not receive a commission for any of these 5% everywhere cards.

How big is 5% cash back?  Imagine buying $5,000 worth of Vanilla Reload cards per month (which is the most that can be loaded to a Bluebird card per month).  At 5% cash back, that would amount to $3000 cash back per year minus $474 in reload card fees for a net profit of $2,526 per year.  With the Amex Blue Cash card, the 5% earnings don’t kick in until you’ve completed $6,500 in spend, so the profit with that card drops to $2266 per year, which is still pretty nice!

What’s the downside?  You would run the very real risk of the credit card company shutting down your account (without paying you), or with Amex you may suffer through a financial review.  Also, you won’t earn airline miles, so this technique won’t help you fly international first class at a huge discount.  And, with Wells Fargo and TD you would be dealing with banks that might not quite have their act together (See, for example, this post).  And, some have reported getting credit limits of only $1,000 which would, of course, make this overall 5X technique pretty difficult.

Since I still have a couple months left with my ThankYou card, I’ll wait a bit before trying to snag the Wells Fargo card.  I did, though, go ahead with an application for the Amex Blue Cash card (status is currently pending).  Someone had recently stumbled upon this old offer and so I think it is likely that Amex will shut down the application link soon now that it has received wide exposure through Flyertalk and many blogs.

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Comments

  1. I received an app offer from AMEX for a “Blue” card – no fee, 10k MR points after 1k spend.. but it’s not the % back card (current or old version). Their Blue line feels mildly, I dunno, buyer beware… how many versions of the Blue are out there – 5? 6? Of course I read through it first, but for 9 of 10 minutes it had me thinking it was the Blue Cash. At the same time 10k MRs for a no fee isn’t horrible either as long as it doesn’t keep one from a big plat/gold sign-up offer down the road.

  2. I’m in the same situation as you, but I have an extra month or two before my Citi preferred deal expires. I’m also intrigued by that AMEX Blue promo, but I’ve been an AMEX customer for decades, and don’t really want to jeopardize that relationship. I do fear that the activity I’d want to undertake on that card would trigger a financial review. Of course, how bad is their financial review if you don’t lie on your application?

    I guess I have a little more time to see how this all shakes out.

  3. Well, the good news is in a few months you can write a post about all the noobs who get a $2K CL and try to put $5K/mo on their cards and get FRs. And you’ll repeat in bold your admonition to be careful (as if that ever stops anyone).

    You really need to find a new angle – lots of posts these days are essentially rehashed posts with very little new content. Your Ink referral income has to have really dried up…and these 5% CB cards don’t pay. Maybe the only viable model is to be a total pimp like MMS, TPG and all the rest and tell us how great!! every third rate affiliate-paying card is?

    But could you look at yourself in the mirror again?

    Oh, and Congrats on you old Blue approval. How about a million $ month challenge. See how fast you can get an FR? Now that would be good content!

  4. Ugggghhh! First time I got the same feeling reading your blog as I do reading ol’ circles and arrows. It’s just too much info. Maybe link to one of these offers, not package into one tidy post of all current offers! I don’t agree with hoarding good deals, but sometimes there is the information equivalent of those all in one bottles of peanut butter and jelly. This is it. You’re only helping the extremely lazy

    • Actually, there are other at least 2 other 5% CB offers that I know of that are not reported here. So go do your research and find them, since you’re against spoon feeding.

  5. BTW, WF shut all 3 of my accts (checking/savings/CC) within 2 weeks of applying for the card above. Got very small credit limit for the TD card, almost not worth the hassle and hard pull. I’ll try the other 1 as well but I’m not holding out much hope for it either. Probably will get an Amex FR or shutdown too. Sometimes this game sucks…….

  6. FM- Do you 5% manufactured spend because you’ve run out of solid CC bonuses to churn? Or do you do the 5% on top of constant bonuses you are cycling through?

  7. A: you’ve run out of solid CC bonuses to churn due to “devaluation”.

    Just keep killing the 5x CCs until there is no more. 3x is the new 5x.

    Nobody ever learns.

  8. Thanks to FM, I started doing the 5Ë by loading gift cards/VR cards to Blue Bird last year. Now that it is tax time, my question is – are these cash back rewards taxable?

    I know that generally credit card rewards are not taxable since they are considered rebates on purchases. But when you are loading Blue Bird, are you really purchasing something?

  9. When I was first chasing Vanilla cards I ended up buying the wrong frictin card two months in a row…….then I saw your post with photos of the right card and instructions a monkey could understand………I just can’t tell you enough how grateful my family is to what you give to the frequent miler game you app of rama God! Even on your bad days I smile……………your patience with the rookies is so refreshing as we all can learn every day and it is the process that you make so enjoyable…………It is always fun to hear the questions of new readers and to the first time readers this is a great place to ask questions as this space is the most nurturing space that is also a dead sprint out of the blocks every day…………

  10. I enjoy reading your Blog. There was a time when I had 5-6 of the Bloggers from Boarding Area sending their posts to my E-mail but now only yours comes. Regarding your Whack A Mole view, I was never comfortable with the Vanilla card or BB card scam. I thought it was unethical and bordering on criminal. AND I didn’t want my Chase or other Bank credit cards closed. I’ve got 1.8 million miles and points and all came from sign up bonuses or promotions and some are getting a bit old and nearing expiration; but certainly for me who might take 8-10 trips a year they fill my needs nicely as do the 28 cards I now have. ThANKS for touching all the bases even in the face of strong minded comments from certain FlyerTalk posters.

  11. @FM: I’m going back over all of these old Blue Cash posts now that mine has arrived and doing the math for myself. I’ve got a small discrepancy that I point out, not to be nit-picky, but to make sure I’m not missing something small that will add up over time.
    .
    When you did the math on $5k worth of VRs, I think you neglected to account for the $3.95 fee in your calculations. So to buy $5k worth of VRs, you’re really SPENDING $5039.50, right? I haven’t paid attention to whether or not the fee is somehow being flagged as excluded from the cash back, but I don’t think it is and want to be sure that’s your experience as well.
    .
    If that’s the case, then old Blue Cash would earn (.05*($60,474-$6,500))+(.01* $6.500) = $2,763.70, less $474 in fees for a profit of $2,289.70 and a profit YIELD of 3.79%. That ain’t shabby, but it ain’t 5% either.
    .
    In fact, the yield doesn’t even cross the 4% mark until you’ve bought $10k in VRs per month (and has a limit of 4.21619% for all you fellow nerds out there).
    .
    As you say, it’s still pretty nice, … but I’m going to use a return yield of 3.5% (at 6xVRs/mo) to 3.79% (at 10xVR/mo) for my calculations. Still great … but if there are genuine opportunities to earn more with less overall risk (like WF and TD), then at least we’ll be evaluating the old Blue Cash in the proper light.
    .
    (PS, love your work.)

  12. Ed, My calculations were intended to simply compare a true 5% cash back card used to buy VR, to the Blue Cash card used to buy VR. Either way, your profit will be less than 5% of total spend due to the card fees. As you pointed out, I did leave out the 5% earnings on the card fees, so I understated the profit by a little bit.

  13. FM,

    I too have the Citi TY card. How many VR do you buy per month? I have not bought any yet for fear of being shut down, but I want to do some before my one year @5% expires.

    • I’ve been buying $20K a month, which is much less than many. If you haven’t been buying any, going that high at once would probably be a bad idea, but for whatever reason, since the mass shutdown, it appears that Citi has backed off completely and I never even got fraud alerts on this card (whereas if I use another Citi card I do!) Only two months to go for me on this card.

  14. Hey Greg, saw your session at FTU SD this past weekend. Do you know if I’ll get cash back from Amex if I use the Old Blue Cash card to load Redbird directly? My local Target is coded as a supermarket (with Visa anyway — guessing Amex is the same). Will they pay the CB or will they know it’s for loading redbird and give me no CB? I’m debating on signing up for the OBC card, but if I can’t load redbird, it kind of defeats the purpose. Thanks in advance.

    • You will get points but probably not 5%. Even though many Target stores are codes as groceries with Visa/MC, they are not usually coded as groceries with Amex. You can work around that by buying Visa/MC/Amex gift cards at grocery stores or drug stores and then using those to load REDbird.

  15. Pondering the Redbird Cash back strategy and am wondering if buying AMEX GC with Amex Blue Cash and then using the GC to load RedBird………would that draw the same shut down potential as the Blue Cash load at Target?

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