Manufacturing Spend: What still works September 2016?

UPDATE: Please find an up-to-date version of this post here: Increase credit card spend (and get most of it back). What still works?


Manufacturing Spend is the process of increasing credit card spend to earn rewards in ways that results in getting most of your money back.  These techniques can be useful for helping to meet new credit card minimum spend requirements, to earn big-spend bonuses, or simply to earn rewards. Unfortunately, the options available for manufacturing spend change regularly. So, here is a survey of common techniques along with what currently works and what doesn’t…

SummaryManufacturing Spend Options Still Alive

  • Bluebird: Alive for Some
  • Serve: Alive for Some
  • REDbird: Dead
  • Visa Buxx: Mostly Dead
  • Visa / MasterCard Gift Cards: Mostly Alive
  • Gift Card Churning: Mostly Alive
  • Reselling: Alive
  • Kiva Loans: Alive
  • KickFurther: Alive
  • Fund Bank Accounts: Alive
  • Pay Taxes: Alive
  • Pay Bills (Plastiq): Alive
  • Pay Rent (RadPad): Alive, but now with debit fees

Bluebird: Alive for Some

Technique brief summary: Reload Bluebird indirectly with credit card, then withdraw money or pay bills

Updates:

  • Ability to reload: Only available to those who’s account has not been frozen. New cardholders are fine (until they too have their accounts frozen from reloads).
  • Buy Vanilla Reload cards to load funds: Extremely rare to find stores that carry Vanilla Reload cards and allow credit card purchases
  • Buy Visa/MasterCard gift cards and use as debit cards to reload in-store at Walmart:
    • Kiosks have been removed from most locations (and rarely work anyway)
    • In-person loads still technically work with many gift cards, but many stores have taught their employees not to allow reloads with gift cards.  In some such cases, a gift card with your name on it (available online from giftcards.com, for example) will work since it can be validated against your ID.
    • Vanilla branded gift cards do not work at Walmart for load amounts of $50 or more
    • MasterCard gift cards do work at Walmart, but they require effort: you must quickly hit the “Change Payment” button after swiping the card to change to debit payments.

Bluebird is a prepaid reloadable card advertised by Walmart and issued by American Express.  To manufacture spend with Bluebird, the trick is to find a way to indirectly add funds via credit card.  Once funds are loaded, there are easy options for getting your money back: withdraw cash to your linked bank account; use Bluebird’s bill pay feature to pay your credit card bill; or withdraw cash from ATMs.

Unfortunately, in the past year Amex has aggressively gone after those suspected of manufacturing spend with Bluebird or Serve by freezing the ability to load new funds. This effectively makes Bluebird dead to anyone in that situation.

Those who still have live Bluebird accounts may find that options for loading them indirectly by credit card are also quite limited:

  • It used to be possible to buy Vanilla Reload cards at a variety of stores with a credit card, then go online to move those funds to Bluebird or Serve.  Today, only a handful of very small chains around the country still sell Vanilla Reload cards and still allow credit card purchases.
  • Another option is to buy Visa or MasterCard gift cards and then use those as debit cards in-store at Walmart to reload Bluebird or Serve.  For details on what works today with this process, see below: Walmart Kiosks, Walmart, and Visa/MasterCard Gift Cards.  Short answer: It’s still possible at some Walmart locations, but not all.

Learn more here:

Serve: Alive for Some

Technique brief summary: Reload Serve indirectly with credit card, then withdraw money or pay bills

Updates:

  • Ability to reload: Only for those who’s account has not been frozen. New cardholders are fine (until they too have their accounts frozen from reloads).
  • Buy reload cards to load funds: Extremely rare to find stores that carry reload cards and allow credit card purchases
  • Buy Visa/MasterCard gift cards and use as debit cards to reload in-store:
    • Possible at some Walmart locations (see Bluebird, above, for details)
    • Possible at some Family Dollar and Dollar General stores. If you can find an accommodating store, all brands of Visa and MasterCard gift cards that have a PIN should work.
    • No longer an option at Rite Aid (cash only)
  • Load via credit card: Amex cards only. Amex cards issued by Amex do not earn rewards, but load amounts do count towards signup bonus minimum spend and big spend bonuses.

Serve is a reloadable prepaid card built on the same platform as Bluebird.  Since Serve is not tied to Walmart in any way, though, it has broader capabilities.  Beyond the options for loading Bluebird, detailed above, Serve can also be loaded at a number of stores besides Walmart, and can be loaded with other reload cards in addition to Vanilla Reloads: Money-Pak and ReloadIt.  Serve can also be loaded online via Amex credit cards.

Learn more here: Complete guide to Bluebird and Serve.

REDbird — The Target Prepaid REDcard: Dead

Technique brief summary: It used to be possible to load in-store with credit card and then withdraw money or pay bills.

Updates: Cash only loads kills REDbird for manufacturing spend.

Visa Buxx Cards: Mostly Dead

Technique brief summary: Reload online with credit card, then withdraw money or pay bills

Updates:

  • Nationwide Visa Buxx: No longer available to new customers. Hobbled for existing customers.
  • TD Bank Visa Buxx: Alive, but only for loads with TD issued credit cards
  • US Bank Visa Buxx: Dead

Visa Buxx are prepaid reloadable Visa debit cards designed for teenagers. The great thing about these cards for manufacturing spend is that they can be loaded by a parent online, with a credit card for a small fee.  Then, they can be unloaded either by using as a debit card to pay bills via debit card, buy cash equivalents, in stores that allow cash back for debit payments (many grocery stores, for example), or via ATM withdrawals.

Visa / MasterCard Gift Cards: Mostly Alive

Technique brief summary: Buy gift card with credit card, use as debit card to pay bills or to buy money equivalents

Updates: While many grocery stores have gone cash-only for Visa/MasterCard purchases, good options for buying them still exist.  Liquidating gift cards has become more difficult, but not impossible.

The trick to manufacturing spend with Visa and MasterCard gift cards is to find ways to buy gift cards with a credit card.  Ideally, you’ll find gift cards with low fees as a percent of the total gift card value or where you’ll earn a large credit card category bonus.  Many good options still exist.

For detailed options, please see: Best options for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards.

Unloading gift cards is tougher. Online, I can only think of two good options: 1) you may be able to use gift cards to pay rent with RadPad; or 2) Pay estimated federal taxes for a small flat fee.  In person, look for places that offer bill pay services and/or money order purchases.  In some cases (which vary regionally), they’ll allow debit payments for these services and then you should be able to use your debit gift cards to pay.

Gift Card Churning: Mostly Alive

Technique brief summary: Buy merchant gift card at discount with credit card, resell to break even or make profit

Updates:

  • Amex Offers: Still alive and well
  • eBay: Gift card churning through eBay is alive, but hobbled now that they no longer allow buying 3rd party gift cards with eBay gift cards (grace period for buying gift cards with eBay gift cards run through October 13 2016).
  • GameStop: No longer allows buying valuable gift cards with GameStop gift cards.

Gift card churning is the art of buying and liquidating gift cards for the purpose of saving money, earning money, earning extra points, and/or manufacturing credit card spend.

Please see: The art of gift card churning in 2016.

Reselling: Alive

Technique brief summary: Buy merchandise at discount with credit card, earn portal rewards, resell to break even, or make profit, or for a slight loss (this is often a cheap way to indirectly buy airline miles when portals offer big bonuses)

Updates: Amazon has made life more difficult, and in some cases, more expensive for resellers. See: A Dark Time for Amazon Sellers.

Manufacturing Spend through reselling has always been a tough but potentially very rewarding option.  In some cases people start reselling for the purpose of manufacturing spend, but soon realize that it is a great way to earn money in general.  That said, it takes effort and considerable risk to pull it off.

For an overview of manufacturing spend through reselling, please see: Increasing Spend through Reselling.

Kiva Loans: Alive

Technique brief summary: Use credit card to make micro-loans.  Most loans pay back in 6 to 12 months, but with no interest.

Updates: Kivalens, a companion website used for filtering to “safe” loans and making many loans at once, has been completely re-written and is much better than it was before.

See: Manufacture Spend (and do good) with Kiva and Kivalens.

Kickfurther: Alive

Technique brief summary: Use credit card to fund short term business loans (really consignment purchases). If all goes well, you can get your money back, with interest.

See: Kickfurther review 2. Manufacturing profit and spend. 

Fund Bank Accounts: Alive

Technique brief summary: Use credit card to fund new bank accounts.

Updates: Citibank no longer allows credit card funding of Citi bank accounts.

Read this Doctor of Credit post for details showing which banks allow this and how to avoid cash advance fees.

Pay Federal Taxes: Alive

Technique brief summary: Use credit card or gift cards to pay federal taxes.

If you don’t mind giving the US government a loan, you can use a credit card or Visa/MasterCard gift card to pay your year-end and/or quarterly estimated taxes.  Fees start at 1.89% for credit cards, or flat $2.50 fees for debit cards. Over-payments, if any, will be refunded after you file your year end taxes.

For full details, please see: Top 5 reasons to pay federal taxes with a credit card or gift card.

Pay Bills with Plastiq: Alive

Technique brief summary: Use credit card or gift cards to pay bills that can’t usually be paid by credit card.

Updates:

  • In some cases the Citi AT&T Access More card counts Plastiq payments as online purchases, so they earn 3X rewards. Search the Frequent Miler Laboratory for details.

If you have bills that can’t usually be paid with a credit card (e.g. mortgage, rent, car payments, professional services, etc.), then one option is to pay those bills with the Plastiq bill payment service.  Current fees are 2% for MasterCard payments, and 2.5% for Visa or American Express.  Make sure the rewards you earn outweigh those fees!

See:Complete guide to Plastiq credit card payments.

Pay Rent with RadPad: Alive

Technique brief summary: Use credit cards or debit gift cards to pay rent.

Updates:

RadPad does require proof of rent charges so this technique cannot be used to pay yourself or friends.

UPDATE

Please find an up-to-date version of this post here: Increase credit card spend (and get most of it back). What still works?

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. also US Post office is currently offering $2 off Visa gift card fees… i got the coupon the in the mail.
    hopefully they accept credit and carry $500 Visa. I’ll check on Thursday.

  2. Thanks for the comprehensive update.

    The only MS I ever did was on the Serve card (load with credit card, pay off credit card), all online.

    All of the above are either too risky or too much legwork.

    If you become aware of any other MS that was as easy as Serve (I know it’s unlikely), please share.

  3. To meet minimum spending requirements or to take advantage of a credit card bonus offer I purchase variable load gift cards($20-$500) at a major chain grocery store which is pin enabled and use it at Walmart to buy a MO for $498 dollars. Then I deposit the MO in my checking account. Luckily my bank has a branch in both of the Walmart’s I regularly shop at which makes it easier. I put the leftover amount of the gift card into my amazon.com gift card account. One or two a week is the most I’ll do as I don’t want to draw much attention to what I’m doing.

  4. Again, categorizing “Reselling” as a technique of MS is not accurate.

    What is even more inaccurate this time is you listed “Reselling” as “Mostly Alive”
    Note that Reselling is a business that has been around for thousands of years. Using credit card to source your merchandise is just an added value in this business. If anything, it will only survive after credit card dies.

    • Labeling reselling “mostly alive” was actually an accident. Yesterday I lost some changes when editing this post. I thought I had fixed most of them, but I missed that one. I’ve now changed it to “Alive” as it should be.

      I define MS as any techniques that make it possible to increase credit card spend and get your money back. Reselling fits that definition.

      I also include here some things that don’t fit my MS definition, such as paying bills. Paying bills by credit card is not MS by my definition (unless you find a way to pay yourself), but it is a handy way of increasing credit card spend without increasing overall spend (other than associated fees).

      • Prepaying utilities, celular phones, cable, etc. with credit cards is definitely a no-cost MS to get sign up bonuses.You **get it back** from no monthly payments for a while. Also, paying the monthly bills gets miles/points at no cost. It is definitely as good as MS.

  5. I might have downgraded the description of gift card reselling a notch, maybe to “somewhat hobbled” or something rather than “mostly alive”. Most of the EBay deals are worse than before. In the past you could almost always buy say gas gift cards at below resale on EBay. Now you mostly can’t. And many of the gift card places that resold for more than Amex Sync regular deals have now adjusted to resale values below that. You can’t use EBay gift cards to buy other gift cards. The hole in Staples that let you buy other gift cards with Staples gift cards has been closed. There are very few gift card deals at Safeway et al anymore, at least below resale. It generally only in rare cases that involve stacking (OPEN discounts say) plus unusual shopping portal rates or whatever that these things work at all anymore.

  6. For the past few months I’ve been buying gift cards from giftcards.com (which are Metabank cards) and have had no problem turning them into money orders. Tried yesterday and it was declined so I checked the activation and PIN and everything was in order. Tried again today at the post office and 2 different grocery stores and still declined.

    Called customer service today and they said the gift cards can only be used for purchases and that this is a permanent change. No more money orders or bill payments allowed. I guess I’ll just have to spend them down over time. Really sucks since this is my only form of local MS available. I live near Baltimore and the closest Simon Mall is in Virginia. (sigh)

  7. Greg, Unless I’m glazing over while reading through all the old options that are not working (not helpful), I am puzzled that your current listing of what still works in ms doesn’t seem to include the loading of debit cards to pre-paid reloadable debit cards, product vehicles that operate like BlueBird, but only better in my experience. (You did several path-breaking posts on this technique last January and early february….. with much emphasis that we’d need to find out own working local arrangements)

    For me, I’m grateful for those initial “teaching” posts. You showed us the way — yet now you don’t even mention them? I’ve had accountnow since March, as part of my varied ms arsenal. (especially for the “free” paying of bills like the mortgage and even cc bills….) To be sure, billpay at Walmart is much easier and cheaper ($1.88 or so) — when I have visa debit cards…. (but often I have m/c) In any case, my Krogers are much closer to me than Wally worlds…. Yes, they charge $4.50 for each load of accountnow, and most Kroger money center clerks are not trained in how to load these things…. (via Western Union) Among the local glitches, my loads via Kroger are at the moment limited to $995.50 (< 1k), even though accountnow tells me the limit at their end is 1,500…. Don't bother arguing with a Kroger computer — just smile and work with what they permit.)

    I'd actually like to see more posts and discussion about accountnow and other re-loadable debit products like it — and to compare which cards can be loaded where with debit cards. Know of any such forum?

    Yet rather disconcerting that even though you first opened my eyes to this option (reloadable debit cards other than BlueBird), you now don't even include it in your run down of what MS options are still working. ?? How come, and/or what am I missing?

    • On the day I wrote this post I stupidly had it open in editing mode in two browsers at once. That led to me losing a bunch of changes. I had written a section about reloadable cards, but apparently lost it. I didn’t realize it until reading your comment.

      I’m considering publishing this every month or two. I’ll make sure to add it in the next time.

  8. ps, was also curious that you characterize “nationwide buxx” as “mostly dead.” think I first learned about that too from you, and it still works for us, $400 a week over 2 cards…. Yes, costs us 1% to use ($2 per $200 withdrawal at the local 7-eleven or credit unions) Then I have to figure out what do do with $400 week in cash…. deposits at bank atm and direct bill pay seem to work just fine. (and at $1,600.00 a month, it really helps supplement a ms strategy for meeting minimum spends)

    Ok, it’s days may be numbered. til then, it’s alive…. until it’s not. 🙂

    • No new signups I believe for NW Buxx, although I heard that those of us with existing accounts can still get new teen cards- although seems to take months now to actually get the physical card. How are you using Account Now? Some quick research seems to imply that reloadits are the main way of loading it these days and that it is somewhat expensive to use. Haven’t been able to get reloadits in my area with a CC for some time, unfortunately.

  9. I keep reading about all the problems people have with silly Bluebird and Serve. In Walmart money centers (NOT cashiers), I use the $500 gift/debit cards with PINs to buy $1,000 money orders to deposit in my bank. I pay the 67c per $1,000 MO in cash.

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