Free credit card spend. What’s left?

The end of free credit card spend

One by one, most free and easy options for increasing credit card spend have fallen by the wayside.  The US Mint used to sell dollar coins with no fees or shipping charges, and they let you use a credit card to payThat incredible deal ended in 2011.  Amazon used to allow $1000 of free credit card spend per month through its Amazon Payments system.  They ended that option in October of last year.  Amex used to allow $1000 of free credit card loads per month to its Serve prepaid product.  In April, they began restricting these loads to Amex cards only (but… there are still good uses for this feature!).  And, Target used to allow in-store credit card loads to REDbird (the Target Prepaid REDcard).  That option ended on May 6th.

Free spend remains

Free spend isn’t completely gone, but it is harder to find.  Here are a few options that still exist:

  • Load Serve with an Amex card. If it is issued by American Express, you won’t earn points but the load should still count as spend towards your minimum spend requirements.  If it is an Amex card issued by a different bank (consider the Fidelity Investment Rewards 2% cash back card, for example), then you’ll earn rewards too.
  • Fund a new bank account. When setting up a new bank account, many banks allow you to fund the initial deposit with a credit card.  Doctor of Credit maintains a list of banks that allow this along with reports of which credit cards do or don’t charge cash advance fees for doing so.  There are limits to how often you can do this, though, without causing problems.  Some banks do a “hard pull” credit inquiry when opening new accounts, so that can have a negative effect on your credit score.  And, most banks will check your ChexSystems report to see if there are any negative mentions (see Doctor of Credit’s post on ChexSystems, here).  At a minimum, if you do this too often, you may be denied opening new accounts simply because you have too many recently opened accounts on your report.
  • Buy fee free Visa/MasterCard gift cards.  These are not easy to find, but they do exist.  Check local credit unions, for example, to see if they sell gift cards and ask how much they charge.  AAA often offers fee free gift cards as well, but they’re pretty strict about limiting the total amount they’ll let you buy.  Then there are the occasional sales.  OfficeMax, for example, often has deals on gift cards (such as this recent deal) where the discount more than offsets the gift card fees.  Once you have these Visa/MasterCard gift cards, you can use them as debit cards to reload REDbird at most, but not all, Target stores; or to reload Bluebird or Serve at Walmart (but Vanilla Visa gift cards won’t work there).
  • Start with Amex gift cards to cover your costs.  (UPDATE: This approach is no longer useful now that Amex doesn’t offer portal rewards for denominations over $200). Many remaining credit card spend techniques cost money.  For example, most Visa/MasterCard gift card purchases incur a fee: usually around 1% for $500 gift cards.  You can more than offset this fee by going through a cash back portal to buy Amex gift cards (usually for about 1.5% to 2% cash back), then use those gift cards to buy Visa/MasterCard gift cards.  The main problem with this approach is that many merchants that allow purchasing gift cards with credit cards do not allow Amex gift cards for payment.  For example, neither GiftCardMall nor Simon Malls will accept Amex gift cards as payment.  So, while this technique can result in free (or better than free) spend, it can also be a huge headache, or even a financial disaster if you find yourself unable to liquidate the cards.

Paying for spend

As free spend options dry up, the next step is to look towards low cost options for increasing spend.  For example, you’ll be charged a 1.87% fee to pay federal estimated taxes with a credit card.  Or, you can pay your mortgage with a credit card through a service like ChargeSmart.  Fees for that service vary depending upon how much you pay.  Or, pay about 3% through a variety of services to use your credit card to pay your rent.

Is it worth it to pay for spend?  Stay tuned for a follow up post where I’ll layout options for paying for spend and I’ll attempt to answer that key question: is it worth it?

Last updated on December 28th, 2015

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.

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JGM
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JGM

Good intro post for newbies to the hobby. How about expanding this? Sure, killing deals is bad, but I think Kiva loans deserves at least a mention when it comes to MS. That one is widely known and probably isn’t going anywhere.

alexa rakowski
Guest
alexa rakowski

You can still buy supermarket gift cards. If all else fails, you still have to eat.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Hi Alexa,

That’s a good point.

However, what you suggest is simply SHIFTED spend, not true manufactured spend.

Not trying to be nitpicky here – I just wanted to point out that those are two separate concepts.

Sam
Guest
Sam

If you could manufacture spend for Thank you Points for a penny and Ultimate Rewards and Amex Rewards at 1.2 to 1.5 cents and Hhonors at 0.25 cents, would you do that?

Just curious and thank you. Excellent Blog!!!

wineshopper
Guest
wineshopper

There are certain regional supermarkets where purchasing $500 Metabank Visa gift cards with a credit card for a $5.95 activation fee yields $1 off per gallon of gas at the supermarket’s gas station for up to 20 gallons of gas. In this technique, if you can find it, you are making money for manufactured spend as opposed to spending money. I actually use gas cans to maximize the 20 gallons since my car’s gas tank when empty cannot utilize all 20 gallons of gas, transferring the additional gas later. I personally use these gift cards to load on Bluebird to pay bills like tuition, utilities, real estate taxes, donations that would otherwise not accept credit card payments. I also have a long commute and high expenses, so I am typically maximizing the $5K Bluebird load limit per month with results in ~$200 of ‘free’ gas for paying $60 in activation fees. This was an even better deal when gas was about 33% more expensive than it is now. Good deal if you can find it! I am not stating the name of the supermarket since the hope is that they will not close this loophole. Bluebird gift card loads at Walmart ATMs continue to work perfectly for me.

Alex
Guest
Alex

I wish this worked for me. Our supermarket does fuel rewards, but only on gift cards up to $100. Unfortunately no fuel rewards are earned on the variable gift cards (up to $500). That would be a steal!

Glenn
Guest
Glenn

Yeah, Safeway doesn’t pay out any fuel rewards on VISA or MC gift cards. So no 2X Gift Card rewards. Buying a $500 Merchant Gift Card would earn you $1.00 off gas, but buying a VGC or MCGC wouldn’t earn you anything.

Dee
Guest
Dee

One of the things I miss about living in New England – Shop & Save gas rewards on Visa gift card deals. They didn’t run it all the time. But when they did, the savings were fantastic. I could get $2.20 off/gallon up to 35 gallons. I used to take my friends’ Stop & Shop cards to buy Visa GCs because I couldn’t use all the discounts.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Moved out of New England years ago. Don’t miss a thing 🙂

Troy
Guest
Troy

I know Vanilla Visas dont work loading bluebird but do they work loading Redbird at Target? Thanks.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Yes they do, I just added two $200 vanilla visa gift cards to my Redbird just the other day. NOT the variable load ones (where it says $20-$500 or whatever on the packaging). I believe it needs to be the flat amount ones. Mine looked like this (but was $200 instead of the $100 shown here). I got it at an Office Max during the recent promotion.

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Troy
Guest
Troy

Thanks. So the CVS variety that are loadable to $500 are out?

Dee
Guest
Dee

The variable load Visa GCs worked for me yesterday at Target. It wasn’t Vanilla. It was MetaBank

Troy
Guest
Troy

Dee, right. I understand the metabank work on BB and RB but the Vanilla visas that are loadable to $500 is what i am curious about as the $500 metabanks are hard to find or my supermarket wont sell using cc’s.

calwatch
Guest
calwatch

Just loaded two $300 variable Vanilla VGCs to Redbird this afternoon. (With the Office Depot deal, you could pay $570 for $600 in Vanilla VGCs… easy 5% gain, when OD was sold out of fixed variable gift cards.)

T
Guest
T

They do work at Walmart you just have to know how.

Antonio
Guest
Antonio

Topcashback offers 3% back on Staples.com, and 4% back at Walmart.com. You can make up for the fee there when purchasing gift cards. I was hesitant to pull the trigger from purchasing gift cards from Walmart.com, because in the fine print, it mentioned that in order to use them, you had to use the “credit” method to use them, which would defeat the purpose of me using them to load REDcard. Although, I bought a $100 at a Walmart store last night (from Sunrise Bank), and it worked flawlessly

Nate8
Guest
Nate8

Antonio, you’re probably not going to get the cashback.

Antonio
Guest
Antonio

why?

Antonio
Guest
Antonio

Never mind…. I didn’t see the fine print about no gift cards at Staples

K.O. Stan
Guest
K.O. Stan

first of all thank you for this excellent site!

i always wanted to ask about GIFTCARDS dot COM site. you never mentioned about it. does it work? since giftcardmall does not allow to pay with amex gift card… is there a opportunity for MS?

bwiflyer
Guest
bwiflyer

How about “Merrill Accolades American Express” card. This gives world points. Any one have experience with this.

anthonyjh21
Guest
anthonyjh21

You had me curious about chargesmart so I just did some number crunching on if it’s worthwhile or not to pay our mortgage this way.

Bottom line is for this mortgage payment it’s 2.65% fee. Where I’m really curious is with AGC and if they’ll accept them as a credit card payment. My net cash back is 3.8% – 4.1% w/ AGC so this deal could be 1.15% – 1.45%, which would allow me to 1) add in more than $20k minimum spend/year, and 2) profit a few hundred bucks/year.

Love some thoughts (or data points if anyone has any) on this.

trackback

[…] Free manufactured spend. What’s left? – With the loss of Amazon Payments, Serve non-Amex online loads and more, what free avenues of manufactured spend still exist? […]

trackback

[…] Free manufactured spend. What’s left? by Frequent Miler. Nice round up of what’s left for free manufactured spending. […]

Stannis
Guest
Stannis

The list of fallen tricks only mentions the end, not the earn. Not many of them were concurrent which leads me to believe there’ll always be new tricks.

James
Guest
James

Thanks for the post.

I am just curious about if there’re any ways (other than serve/blue/red bird) that allow me to reload my gift card.

Brad Meyer
Guest
Brad Meyer

Wow. Reading all of these comments really is making my head spin. It’s not easy gaming the system!!! Looks like it’s becoming quite a challenge to reload the AmEx Serve cards with the Vanilla Visa Debit cards.

Sherri
Guest
Sherri

and before there were mint coins, I used to buy US Treasury bonds with credit cards… $5K at a clip.

Mark
Guest
Mark

You can manufacture spending at Bovada – the old Bodog website. Your first deposit is free upto $3k and they send you a check right back and its super reliable. Unfortunately it’s 5% for every deposit after. You also get a $200 referral bonus for yourself and someone you refer:
http://www.bovada.lv/bonuses/refer-a-friend

anthonyjh21
Guest
anthonyjh21

Being a former professional online poker player and fellow MS’er I feel I have to put an * next to your post. While I agree in theory it can be done, it’s not worth the potential hassle. Let me explain.

Due to the US Gov’t closing payment processors and making the navigation through regulatory grey areas damn near impossible, Bovada and other U.S. serving poker sites have had to jump through several hoops to ensure their U.S. players can deposit. Note there is nothing illegal going on, it’s just a boatload of issues going on behind the scenes that make it hard for online sites to get your money loaded to their sites.

The way the online deposits work w/ cc at Bovada is you’ll most likely be processed by a payment processor outside of the U.S. and your transaction will be listed on your cc statement as something random such as golf ball services located out of Hong Kong. The issue here is your credit card will almost certainly flag this as fraud if you attempt a $3k deposit, let alone $1k.

Do you really want to cause eyes on your cc account? Is it worth the hassle of trying to have the transaction done again? If so, be careful of the Bovada system flagging your account as already redeeming the one-time cc deposit fee waiver because you’ll be charged for subsequent deposits, rendering this option in poker terms as ” -ev .”

Long story short, I wouldn’t recommend this option to anyone trying to MS. For that matter, I’d avoid anything poker/online gaming site related for several reasons.

jimmy shotgun
Guest
jimmy shotgun

Ive used multiple books for a few withdrawals and deposits, no problems so far, as long as you met the requireent, they have to pay or you can get a 3rd party like sportsbookreview to get involved. bovada is really easy to meet the rollover because you can live bet and I usually do tennis and rugby, i met the requirement in a week over the first 2 rounds of a tennis tournament, but waited 30 days to withdrawal, bovada has never missed a payout supposedly. in my experience i usually close out the card after 1 or 2 deposits because of the annual fee but chase seems really easy to approve the purchase, capital one did not approve. im glad not a lot of people do this because a $1000 bonus Im getting a few times a year cant stick around if everyone jumps on board.

jimmy shotgun
Guest
jimmy shotgun

a lot of people dont* do this. it takes some patience and you cant have a addictive personality or youll lose if you start going after the profit and not the bonus.

anthonyjh21
Guest
anthonyjh21

None of these sites operate under any regulatory body. Not domestically or globally. They have licenses to operate in whatever physical jurisdiction where they keep their servers. Beyond that they don’t have to abide by any government. So if you have any issues you’re more likely to go after whomever licensed the site and nothing else will really matter. Sure, you could smear them online but that’s not likely to get a payout, just piss them off!

I always avoided sports betting. While some claim there’s an edge, the variance is insanely high if you do enough betting. I only played poker. With that said, anyone w/ an addictive personality should stay FAR away from any gambling or skill-based (poker) game unless they have discipline of steel and can walk away when needed.

jimmy shotgun
Guest
jimmy shotgun

He was just trying to get people to click his link for refer a friend. what he neglects to mention is that bovada, along with every other sportsnook has a 5 times rollover for the initial deposit and bonus before you can withdrawal. for ex; if you deposit $500 you will get a starting balance of $750 because you get a 50% sign-up bonus up to $250. Before you can withdrawal you have to wager 5 times the amount of the deposit and bonus ($750 X 5 = $3750).

Also there is a foreign transaction fee if you card doesnt waive it. thousands can be made, im up a few stacks this year so far from 3 different sportsbooks with their bonuses. either way you pay for either a deposit fee at the beginning or withdrawal fee at the end, usually around $50 for check/wire transfer.bovada has a free check per month but then there is a 5%deposit fee.

i wouldnt do it for MS, but as far as bonuses go, as long as you play the moneyline on extremely heavy favorites such as the first rounds of tennis matches on say djovokovic vs someone unranked and are are disciplined in gambling, this is a better scheme than bonuses from cc in my opinion. i do both, feels good to get bonuses gambling while abroad on a free flight from churning and free airbnb from travel expense reimbursements.

jimmy shotgun
Guest
jimmy shotgun

forgot to mention, as long as you contact you bank before depositing and tell them about a ilarge international online purchase youll be fine, ive done it with chase and bofa.

anthonyjh21
Guest
anthonyjh21

The problem is the banks have their ways of eventually figuring out which payment processors are really behind those golf balls you bought online or the $1,000 in suntan supplies. Point is even if you get the green light you’re setting yourself up to possible flagging and account closure. Trust me, I’ve been around long enough to know.

Your point about the rollover is spot on. I forgot to mention that as well. Bovada, like most sites, will require a rollover. You can’t just deposit and withdraw and call it easy peasy. Think about it for a minute. Bovada is having to pay up the wazoo for these shady payment processors to help facilitate money to it’s customers. They’re not about to allow people to deposit, play one hand or bet one game and then cash out the rest of your $3k.

Sherri
Guest
Sherri

Which Visa or Amex cards *are* loadable at the Bluebird kiosks?

Thank you

Derek
Guest
Derek

Targets now demand form of payment with your name on it… The end is near. (San Jose Ca).

Brett
Guest
Brett

You have to be kidding me, seriously?

Derek
Guest
Derek

Brett – I wish I were! Yeah, I said, “Oh really” and left. It doesn’t look like it’s hard coded in software – yet. I will try a different Target in the area and report back.

Brett
Guest
Brett

That will stink, this will definitely change up everything once again. I guess it’s time for me to liquidate these last few cards.

Brad Meyer
Guest
Brad Meyer

Here’s one: Anybody know if Serve will let you add money from a prepaid American Express card?

trackback

[…] A solution to the minimum spend obstacle is called “manufactured spending”.  Manufactured spend techniques are ways of increasing credit card spend without losing much money. For example, until recently it was possible to fund the Target Prepaid REDcard (AKA REDbird) with a credit card and then use those loaded funds to pay off your credit card bill.  In that case, no fees were involved at all.  In a recent post, I showed options free manufactured spend that still exist.  Please see: Free manufactured spend. What’s left? […]

Taz
Guest
Taz

Can anyone confirm that loading from Amex Starwood to Serve WILL count towards my minimum spend? I keep seeing the word SHOULD but no one confirming it works. Thanks.