In search of the next big thing

Now that most of the “5X Everywhere” techniques are dead or on the ropes, what’s next? 

What went before

For some, the excitement began last April when I published “Almost too good to be true“.  In that post, I showed how it was possible to earn 5 points per dollar when buying Vanilla Visa cards at Office Depot for a 1% fee.  The trick was to pay with a credit card that earns 5 points per dollar at office supply stores.  This made it possible to earn 5X almost everywhere by buying and using these cards.  The only problems were that juggling Visa gift cards was a pain, not all online-merchants would accept these cards for payment, and the cards could not be used outside of the United States.  Still, this was huge.  If a person could move $20K of usual spend to these cards, that translated to 100K points!

Things heated up substantially in May, when I published “One card to rule them all.”  In that post, I showed how to buy Vanilla Reload cards (which are different from Vanilla Visa cards) at Office Depot and use them to load money to American Express Prepaid cards.  This technique overcame the limitations of the Vanilla Visa technique in that the Amex Prepaid cards no longer required juggling gift cards, they could be used with any online merchant that accepted Amex cards, and they could be used overseas with no foreign transaction fees.  Even better, the Amex Prepaid cards could be used to withdraw cash at ATM machines.  So, it was possible to earn 5X points for cash.  This meant that it was possible to earn points for all expenses, not just those that accepted credit cards.  The only problem was that making many trips to the ATM to cover large expenses, could be a huge hassle.

Then, in October, the game became too good to be true.  In the post “Bluebird takes flight and changes the game,” I revealed that the new Amex Bluebird card could be loaded with Vanilla Reload cards just like Amex Prepaid cards, but it was even better.  Unlike the Amex Prepaid cards, Bluebird could be used to pay bills and to transfer money to one’s checking or savings account…. for free.  In other words, once money was loaded to a bluebird card, it could be used for anything.  You could even use the money in your bluebird account to pay the credit card charges that came from buying Vanilla Reload cards.  This was the ultimate perpetual point machine

Disappearing opportunities

It wasn’t long after bluebird appeared that things began to change.  The first big blow came in November when Office Depot stopped carrying Vanilla Reload cards.  That hurt, but it was still possible to earn 5X everywhere by buying $500 Vanilla Visa cards or Amex Prepaid cards at Office Depot.  Unfortunately, that opportunity disappeared at the beginning of this month.  As I reported in the post “Office Depot discontinues $500 Visa/Amex cards,” Office Depot withdrew all $500 loadable Visa and Amex cards over that weekend.  It is still possible that those cards will be replaced with similar, higher fee cards, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The game is nowhere near over.  It is still possible to buy reload cards at other locations (see “The reload game is on“).  As a result, it is easy to use these to manufacture spend towards big spend bonuses, and for meeting minimum spend requirements when signing up for credit cards (see “Best credit card offers“).  Unfortunately, I think it is just a matter of time before these options dry up as well.

Searching for more

To me, finding new ways to earn miles & points, is a great game.  The thrill of the hunt and the excitement of discovery are almost as good as enjoying the rewards of free travel.  I don’t know what the next discovery will be or where it will come from, but I know that it will be fun searching for it!

Here are some areas in which I’m looking for new opportunities:

Shopping Portals: Online shopping portals offer a way to earn extra points & miles when buying things online.  In some cases, it’s possible to get points for buying gift cards.  And, in some cases, it is possible to use gift cards to buy other, more valuable gift cards such as Visa, MasterCard, or Amex gift cards.  The trick is to find the combinations of portals and merchants and gift cards that come together to present new point-earning opportunities.

Category Bonuses: Office Supplies are not the only valuable category bonuses available.  The trick is to find opportunities to leverage these category bonuses far beyond the narrow case in which they were intended.  See “Best Category Bonuses” for a list of the best credit card category bonuses that I’m aware of.

Savings Programs: Through the OPEN Savings program, American Express offers automatic cash back savings to business card holders when they use the card at certain merchants.  MasterCard offers a similar Easy Savings program.  While these programs offer cash back rather than points, they can still be a great way to save money and potentially earn cash back everywhere. 

Merchant Loyalty Programs: Many merchants offer loyalty programs in which customers earn points that can be used as store credit, gasoline savings, or to earn specific rewards.

Stacking opportunities

The best new opportunities will likely be the ones in which we manage to stack multiple bonuses together.  For example, take OfficeMax.  OfficeMax.com is available through many point and cash-back portals.  It is also an office supply store, so cards like Chase Ink and Amex SimplyCash earn extra points/cash at OfficeMax.  Also, OfficeMax.com is part of the OPEN Savings program.  So, when buying more than $250 worth of stuff at OfficeMax.com with an Amex business card, the customer gets 10% cash back automatically.  By stacking all of these opportunities, it is possible to earn 15% cash back, plus portal points, plus OfficeMax MaxPerks points when buying from OfficeMax! 

For those wondering, yes you can get OPEN Savings when buying gift cards from OfficeMax.com.  I first wrote about that in the post “10% off everything and 7% off everything else.”  Do note that many OfficeMax stores do not allow people to buy other gift cards with OfficeMax gift cards…

It isn’t hard to find great opportunities like the one I just described at OfficeMax, but it is hard to find ways to get those same benefits when buying things other than office supplies.  I don’t like schemes that involve returning merchandise for cash back.  To me, those tricks are just over the line.  That said, if by a store’s rules (written or not) I can buy gift cards and earn portal points and/or category bonuses, I’m all for it.

Join the search

Via the Frequent Miler Laboratory I do my best to keep track of what works and what doesn’t.  Many of the results come from reader reports and many are from my own research.  If you have an idea, visit the laboratory to see if it has already been tried.  If not, please report your experiment and results in the comments of that page.  If it interests you, I also recommend subscribing to the comments of that page (add a comment saying something like “subscribing” and check the box that says “Notify me of follow-up comments by email.”).

I have no doubt that the next big thing is coming.  I can’t wait to see what it is…

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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30 Comments on "In search of the next big thing"

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Nick @ PFDigest
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You can goose your returns a little bit by signing up for Great Bridge Group… assuming they actually pay out and assuming their business model is sustainable, both of which are unproven assumptions at this point (anybody remember Envaulted?).

THEsocalledfan
Guest

Miler,

As much as I enjoyed your trip report, it is great seeing you get back to what makes your blog the best; finding/speculating the opportunities that are out there…..

Keep up the good work.

Ollie
Guest

He’s back!!!!

Tyler
Guest

Some people think all bloggers just copy FT posts and other information, but I have a lot of respect for how you work to create valuable information of your own. Great work! Thanks for the updates.

Mileage Update
Guest

Welcome back.

Webazoid
Guest

Whats ur expwriemce with paypal or mv debit?

todd
Guest

Finally back to what matters.long live 5x

Ron
Guest

These sorts of posts are why people visit your blog. Nobody else spends the time to try and figure out the schemes to make points. Most bloggers can barely be bothered to re-edit your posts when they try to fob them off as their own ideas.

As for flight trip reports, I’d rather you just put a sign on your blog that says “will be back in a few days” – and let the other nitwits blog about the various differences in caviar in F products. Nobody cares.

ikonos
Guest

Welcome back Miler. You and probably lucky has the most original content for some one who posts as often as you two do even though your specialties are different. Good to see you are back to your groove.

CHRIS
Guest

FM:
If i sell $500 gift card to plastic jungle, do i earned 2.5% on $500 worth or $400 (if the card i am selling worth 80% value)?
2ndly, how reliable is topcashback? do you recommend other paysite other than topcashback?

ikonos
Guest

i mean you and lucky probably.

CHRIS
Guest

to earn the 10% OPEN program at officemax, you just need to use AMEX gold card right? it doesnt need to go through their (OPEN) portal?
I can go to topcashback, use the AMEX GOLD and earn 10%?

CHRIS
Guest

and lastly, i saw on people comment, the AMEX gold OPEN only works for “online” only, not for retail. Is this correct?

Kris
Guest

Hi..I am new to this…are there any stores that sell 500$ visa or amex gift cards..i just need to meet a threshold for a sign up bonus..your suggestions are appreciated..

Jim
Guest

@CHRIS,

PJ cb is transaction value, not face value. TCB/PJ is not reliable in my experience. It’s a nice bonus but not to be counted on.

bf
Guest

MVD charges a flat fee of 50 cents for a cash advance on any amount, up to $9999.

CHRIS
Guest

@FM & Jim, thank you for the reply.

THEsocalledfan
Guest

Miler-chuckled at your response to Ron. I did enjoy your trip report, not to mention much more succinct than some other bloggers, but Ron is correct that these are the types of posts that keep the readers coming back. I am just hoping that Bangkok trip has inspired you to dream up new ways of miles accumulation that the rest of us can aspire to! I mean, you want to ride in Suite Class again, right? 🙂

Keep up the great work.

Carl
Guest

What kind of gift cards can you buy at officemax.com? 10% back on a gift card purchase doesn’t seem sustainable

webazoid
Guest

yah, it’s the paypal $500 loads that i’ve seen at cvs (buy card, load to paypal, use debit to withdraw) and the my vanilla debit card that was featured on dans deals. it gets tiring trying to manufacture spend w/ these methods at 1x now that 5x is gone. i’ll stick to the simple VR–>BB or Amex for Target –> ATM for now. cycled through 7k last month to get amex 100k plat and aa x2 . can take a break for another 3-4 months until my next churn.

James
Guest

It’s hilarious that FM wants to take credit for ideas and events that were already known. Using phrases like “I reported” or “I published” or “I revealed” is laughable.

Ollie
Guest

@James what you wrote is laughable. Long-term readers of this site and FT know what was out there and what was not.

Chimmy
Guest

Thanks for your insight.

CHRIS
Guest

Wow dealing with Plastic Jungle is A PAIN IN THE Axx.
I bought 5 Exxon cards ($50×5) from office depot, thinking to buy Chase pts for little less than $.01 and to try to sell it to Plastic Jungle via topcashback…

My order was cancelled because of “large amount of gift card sold out”. Really? $250 is consider alot?
and now they are requesting me to fax them receipt eventhough I still need to mail the gift cards to them. Why not ask to mail the gift card + receipt at the same time?

Is everyone experiencing like this? is $250 consider alot? really? because my order was cancelled too before when i try to sell my $50 lowes card.

Chimmy
Guest

@Chris, have you ever bought from or sold to Plastic Jungle before? Those and other sites have security protections in place to ensure that they don’t get cards purchased with stolen credit cards. If you’ve never done business with them before, chances are they do consider $250 a high amount for your first sale.

Mike
Guest

CVS in Baltimore area are now cash only on VRs. Most stores not restocking. This is confirmed by manager and two cashiers at three locations.