My credit card spend strategy

When I meet long time readers in-person they often ask what exactly I do to manufacture spend.  They want to know which credit cards I use, what techniques I employ, and how much spend I manufacture.  I think that the primary motivation for questions like these is the desire for guidance.  People want to know if they’re using the best techniques, whether they’re spending too much or too little, and whether they’ve missed out on any opportunities.  When I describe my approach, I often get the feeling that listeners are a bit disappointed.  They realize that the approach I take is unique to my goals and situation and rarely helps to inform their own.  Still, since I’m often asked, here’s the answer….

Background

“Manufactured Spend” is a collection of techniques for increasing credit card spend in ways that results in getting most or all of your money back. The reasons for doing so include: meeting credit card minimum spend requirements, earning credit card big spend bonuses, or simply earning credit card rewards.

My goals

I’ll probably elaborate on my 2015 goals in a future post, but for now here’s a short list, specific to manufactured spend:

  • Continue to qualify for high level Delta elite status for myself and my wife (see “How to manufacture Delta elite status”).
  • Sign up for the best credit card offers and meet minimum spend requirements.
  • Take advantage of category bonuses and spend bonuses such as the Chase Freedom and Discover It quarterly 5X categories, and the occasional targeted offer (for example, my wife was recently offered 15,000 bonus miles if she spends $500 per month for 3 months with her US Airways credit card).
  • Consider spending $40,000 on an AA Executive card to earn 10,000 elite qualifying miles

It’s worth pointing out some things that are not on the list:

  • Earn cash back
  • Maximize all avenues of manufactured spend

I know plenty of people who take manufactured spend techniques to the extreme and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per month.  Some actually earn a living doing this.  Others simply earn as many rewards as they can, as fast as they can, almost like a second job.  I believe that some do this because they feel like they’re missing out if they don’t.  They feel that since others are getting these huge rewards, they need to as well, just to keep up.  Some are sure that the manufactured spend techniques will end soon and so it is a race to earn as many rewards as possible before its too late.

I don’t feel that way.  Manufactured spend techniques come and go all the time.  I’m willing to bet that when the current best opportunities go away, others will arise.  And, going to extremes is hazardous.  I know many people who have had their bank accounts (along with their credit cards) shut down for suspicious activity.  They weren’t doing anything illegal, but it looked like they were.  I even have a friend who received an unannounced home visit from a Special Agent for the United State Postal Inspection department due to his frequent purchases of money orders from the post office.

While I’m far from immune to shut downs, I do try to practice moderation.  I manufacture spend in order to meet goals, not as open ended way to earn unlimited rewards.

My approach

REDbird / Serve

The vast majority of my manufactured spend approach currently relies on REDbird (see “REDcard changes everything”).  I currently manage four REDbird cards.  Since each card can be loaded up to $5K per month, that gives me $20K per month of easy and free manufactured spend.  That’s a total of $240,000 in spend per year.  Once money is loaded to each card, I use the card’s free bill pay function to pay my credit card bills.

I may convert one of my REDbird cards back to a Serve card.  Or, I may try to convince another relative or friend to get a Serve card that I can manage.  The reason is two-fold: 1) Since I blog about these products, it would be good for me to have a Serve card if/when new features of note become available; and 2) Sometimes there are great deals available for buying Visa gift cards.  And, while it is possible to load REDbird with Visa gift cards, I don’t like doing so with small denominations ($200 or less).  With each card, the cashier has to enter in the last four digits before you can move on to the next card. Meanwhile, inevitably, the line behind you grows restless.  With Serve (or Bluebird), I could instead make my way to a Walmart that has a working automated kiosk (they’re rare, but they do exist) and load my gift cards one by one without bothering anyone.

See also: The complete guide to Bluebird, REDcard, Serve, and SoftServe.

Amex gift cards

In order to increase rewards and to offset the cost of some manufactured spend techniques, I buy Amex gift cards through cash back portals.  The current best rates are for 1.5% cash back, but its not unusual to see rates jump to 2% or 2.5% cash back for a day or two.  I prefer to buy personalized Amex gift cards since that gives me the ability to put my name on each card.  That way, if a cashier asks to match the name on my credit card (the Amex gift card) with my ID, I’m good to go.  I expect to use most of my Amex gift cards at Target for reloading REDbird.  If/when Target stops accepting this form of payment for REDbird, I’ll move on to another option such as buying Visa gift cards at grocery stores.

Caution: Do not use Citibank credit cards to pay for Amex gift cards online since you will likely be charged a cash advance fee.

See also: The complete guide to Amex gift cards.

Gift cards with PINs

It is sometimes possible to earn 5X rewards when buying $500 Visa or MasterCard gift cards.  For example, some cards offer 5X rewards at grocery stores (Chase Freedom, for example, offers 5X at grocery stores this quarter, up to $1500 in spend).  Those gift cards, then, can be unloaded either by loading to REDbird, Serve, or Bluebird or by buying money orders or paying bills.  Since fees on $500 gift cards tend to be around 1%, it can be quite profitable to buy them with a 5X card.

See also: Playing 5X everywhere Whack a Mole

Federal Taxes

Federal taxes can be paid by credit card, and fees are as low as 1.87%. Anytime credit card rewards exceed 1.87% it can make sense to pay your taxes this way.  Plus, if you itemize deductions, you can list these fees as deductible expenses and save a bit on your taxes.  While its possible to pay taxes with Amex gift cards in order to net almost no fees, I find it easier to pay with a regular credit card.  Then, profit I earn from buying Amex gift cards through a portal and liquidating at Target is used (mentally) to offset the tax payment fees.

See also: The ultimate guide to paying taxes by credit card, debit card, or gift card.

Miscellaneous other stuff

The approach I described above is far from an all encompassing points & miles strategy.  Instead, it is the big-picture approach I’m taking for manufacturing spend in order to meet the listed goals.  As opportunities come up I’ll probably add in additional techniques.  For example, when stores offer huge rewards through portals, it often makes sense to buy and sell items just for the rewards.  Or, when there are special deals for gift cards, it could make sense to buy the gift cards and resell them, sometimes for a small profit.

Additionally, there are often opportunities to earn rewards that have little or nothing to do with manufactured spend.  These include hotel and airline promotions, flower deals, and much more.  I will, of course, continue to take advantage of these deals (and to write about them) as they come up.

Last updated on February 23rd, 2016

Regarding comments: Comments posted at the bottom of Frequent Miler pages and posts are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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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Vivek D
Guest
Vivek D

Hi. Thank you for the post. I already have a bluebird card but would like to get the Redbird Card. How can I go about that? Thank you!

Eric
Guest
Eric

You CANNOT have a bluebird card and a redbird card at the same time. You can only have 1 product (Bluebird/Serve/Redbird) card in your name. See this guide on Redbird. You must close your bluebird account if you want to get the redbird account.

It would be nice if they allowed folks to get Bluebird/Serve and Redbird. Everyone would probably jump in on that deal.

https://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/the-complete-guide-to-redbird-the-target-prepaid-redcard/

Sammy
Guest
Sammy

Vivek,how are you loading your BB.please advice because I’m having trouble at WM

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

Hi, great advice you said” Caution: Do not use Citibank credit cards to pay for Amex gift cards online since you will likely be charged a cash advance fee.” is this with all GC purchased on line or just Amex could you purchase a Visa GC from a online site ? Would it show up as CA on your Citibank card.

Eric
Guest
Eric

Only online AGCs are flagged as CA on Citi cards. I am not sure about buying VGCs at GCM. But then again if you buy VGCs at GCM, you can only get 1x for most cards.

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

Thanks Eric
I need to meet min spends on 3 Citibank cards , I live in a very small town 1 Wal-Mart and get flagged every time I try to buy GC with credit cards the up side is I never have a problem using KATE to load BB .

Rick I
Guest
Rick I

Greg,
Great post.
After losing my Old Blue cards, I’m back closer to your model of common sense. Thanks

jack
Guest
jack

How do you have 4 red cards at once?

Detailingtravels
Guest
Detailingtravels

Would it be ok to have all the address on contact infor for your personal red cards and the red card u manage the same?

Gerry
Guest
Gerry

Hi Greg. Thanks for all you do. You write above that you may convert a Redbird back to a Serve or seek out a new Serve. Why? As someone considering making the switch from Serve to Redbird, I’m wondering what I will feel I’m “missing” if/once I make the switch.

Gerry
Guest
Gerry

Oops. I glossed over your text on this. Sorry. 🙂

tv7
Guest
tv7

Nice article. Finally you have a good mobile platform!

AlohaDaveKennedy
Guest
AlohaDaveKennedy

Another reason for manufactured spend of course is to generate tax free income.

“The reasons for doing so include: meeting credit card minimum spend requirements, earning credit card big spend bonuses, or simply earning credit card rewards.”

Pierre
Guest
Pierre

Great post and great analysis of the MS fear of missing out.
Thanks for all your valuable insights.

Can
Guest
Can

Do you really not ms for CashBack? You’ve pointed out that sometimes CashBack ms makes much more sense than points ms.
https://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/2014/08/12/quickest-spend-to-top-tier-stays/

ES
Guest
ES

Nice post. As I contemplate taking a day off a week from doing any MS, I like your strategy. Just because others are going to the max does not mean every MSer has to.

I have 2 BBs and 2 RBs and hope to convert one BB to an RB when I can get my hands on one (I live in a state where they are not available). But I will keep one BB because I like the ability to write paper checks. Indeed, I pay estimated and owed state and federal taxes with BB checks, which for me provides a better return that paying taxes on a CC, since I am loading BB with GCs often bought at 5X.

Clare N
Guest
Clare N

I, too, like Bluebird for the ability to pay with checks. But I’ve stopped using it. Are there any cards currently which you can buy and load on-line?

Paul
Guest
Paul

$20K a month is all? What you are effectively saying is you make your $ off outing the deals and pimpin’ credit cards…

medichill
Guest
medichill

Paul, don’t be a dIck.

yeshu
Guest
yeshu

Ignore him, he is always a dick. He relies on MS for his livelihood, and gets irked when someone “outs” a good MS stretegy

Lynn
Guest
Lynn

Do you do even amounts such as 1k all the time? How much do you do with chase each month? Are you concerned about them shutting you down? Thanks for all the info!!

Anon256
Guest
Anon256

Where do you buy money orders with Visa giftcards? Ever since they stopped working at Walmart registers I haven’t been able to find a good place.

Victor
Guest
Victor

Anon256,
Check your local grocery store (Kmart, giant, Safeway etc). Some of them might allos de it card MOs.

Sammy
Guest
Sammy

Frequent miler i live in TX and it seems like you can apply for Redbird debit card on target website also.Please correct me if I am wrong.

m
Guest
m

No. Red card by amex must be purchased in store. They scan your drivers license and take your SSN in the process.

Shawn Coomer - Senior Editor
Member
Shawn Coomer - Senior Editor

You can only apply for the Target debit card or credit card on their website. It is confusing because all three cards use the “REDcard” name. The Target Prepaid REDcard is what is normally referred to as REDbird. You can find out more information here.

https://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/the-complete-guide-to-redbird-the-target-prepaid-redcard/

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

I know you don’t do PayPal now but in the past were you able to use the PayPal Debit Mastercard for Evolve or to load Redbird? The rationale is that if someone is chasing JAL miles that the Diner’s 3X drug store buys could convert to SPG to JAL…….but the key washing the drug store purchases…….

Anon
Guest
Anon

FM, Do you use any Chase cards to MS? How much of the total goes on Chase? I’ve just read so many shutdowns.

yeshu
Guest
yeshu

you are better off MSing using Chase business cards like Ink…probably not the best strategy to MS using Chase personal cards.

justSaying
Guest
justSaying

Taxes:?? Why not pay taxes on a PayPal MasterCard Debit and earning 3x from drug stores through Diner’s?

jediwho
Guest
jediwho

That’s a good point. I think the only negative is that the max you can pay per transaction is $3,000. So that limits how much manufactured spending one can do when it comes to paying taxes using PayPal.

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

3k per month? then 3k March 30 and 3k April 15……Hoping that’s all the pain I will suffer…….as most is already gone

danny
Guest
danny

You said that you manage 4 redbird cards, can you take a relative’s card and goto target to load for them? do they not check id?

Rick
Guest
Rick

You reload Serve at WM kiosks? I’ve only seen kiosks that accept BB reloads. What selection do you make on the kiosk to reload Serve?

Eric
Guest
Eric

I select the “Walmart Moneycard” option but I have read that you can still use the “Bluebird” option to load Serve. The kiosk is not hard coded to accept Bluebird cards only since Bluebird and Serve are essentially the same product. But if I were you, just stick with the “Walmart Moneycard” option.

Rick
Guest
Rick

@Eric Thanks for the reply; I’ll try the Moneycard option. FYI, I’ve found that WM kiosks will not accept Serve reloads when I hit the BB button. It responds “invalid account” or similar after I swipe my Serve card, & this has happened at multiple kiosks.

Glenn W.
Guest
Glenn W.

I always use the bluebird button to load my Serve. Never had a problem.

jediwho
Guest
jediwho

What is the process you follow for loading four RB cards? Meaning, how many visits a month do you make to Target and how much per card do you load per visit? I know the max load is $2,500 a day but only $1,000 per load, so how long do you wait before making the second and third loads?

jediwho
Guest
jediwho

Also, how old is your niece? Is there an age limit for getting a prepaid card?

Austin
Guest
Austin

When initially setting up the additional RedCards, did you have the individuals do it in the store or did you use your license for all the activations and then change it online?

trackback

[…] My manufactured spend strategy […]

sammy
Guest
sammy

I am newbie and making the best of all the advice finding here.Trying to meet spending req on Chase Sapphire and Ink with vanilla GC in the increment of $500 do u think chase will flag it or is it ok to purchse GC once a week in the amt of $450

joe
Guest
joe

Can i reload redbird cards with amex gc in denominations of $2000 each load?

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

Since you have to scan your Driver’s license and give SSN for a temp Red card does it stop you if you already have a permanant RedCard……..ie keep you from retrieving one for another family member?

Lynn
Guest
Lynn

You said you only use chase cards a little for MS. Are other banks less likely to shut you down? Which banks are best to use? Thanks.

Sammy
Guest
Sammy

Frequent miler: how do I load BB from GC ,when WM is not helping.
Thank you

david
Guest
david

Frequent Miler,

I saw you made a comment that you use Serve to unload the gift card Quote

“Those gift cards, then, can be unloaded either by loading to REDbird, Serve, or Bluebird or by buying money orders or paying bills.”

I read the WiKi on FT and saw comments like

“Online Debit Card Loads
For online debit load, only use of bank-issued cards is allowed. The use of pre-paid debit cards (Netspend, Paypower, Univision, Paypal*, etc.) and VGC/MGC/AGCs is not allowed. While initial transactions may work, your account will eventually be flagged. ”

Is there an alternative way to unload the VGC ?

Could you please comment on this ?

Thanks

new
Guest
new

HI FM, I was thinking to close down my BB in Feburary and then switch to Serve. Is it possible to max out the 5k for BB and then load another 6k to serve in the same month? Any experience on that. Thanks.

jediwho
Guest
jediwho

Is there anyway one can qualify for Diamond status on Delta just using CC? I did read your post on getting elite status using CC, but was wondering if diamond was possible instead of just platinum?

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

I’m brand new to MS and had a quick question about using REDbird so that none of my credit card accounts get flagged. I have my own RB and I have access to charging $2.5k each month on a family member’s card. Would there be any problem with charging $5k to my Citi card and $2.5k to my Chase card each month? Would it matter if each charge was an even number like $1k or $2k?

Thanks for any help. I’m just trying to wrap my head around all this.

Phil
Guest
Phil

Great article! You say you manage four REDbird cards. Can on individual acquire more than one card? How?

Travelfan
Guest
Travelfan

Great article on MS. I am new to all of this. Can I buy a money order at Walmart with my Chase Ink card and get 5x reward or Delta Skymiles card?

trackback

[…] morning everyone, I wanted to respond to Frequent Milers’s post (My manufactured spend strategy) and share my own MS strategy.  You will probably be surprised by my strategy, maybe inspired, and […]

Becky
Guest
Becky

Can you still load prepaid Target red cards with a credit card? Not seeing that option on Target website. Thank you.

Gene
Guest
Gene

@frequentmiler
buy amex GC ar 2.5% cashback.. liquidate through redbird. but isnt there an opportunity cost of 2% which you could have otherwise manufactured via a 2% cash back card & redbird without amex GCs?

trackback

[…] less competition likely means more success in booking inexpensive awards.  In the post, “My manufactured spend strategy,” I declared my intention to continue to earn Delta miles and elite status through credit card […]

seth light
Guest
seth light

On your niece or sisters RedBird account that you manage, do you have to load money with a credit card from there name. Or just any card? Thanks!

Wass
Guest
Wass

Hey,

I’m just looking to clear something up.

I have an Ink Bold that I’m looking to maximize for MS purposes (right now it’s just used to pay for utilities). I haven’t stopped by any office stores yet to check out GCs since I’ve heard various takes back and forth about what can be purchased with a card, and which are the correct cards to purchase for this purpose.

Is there any way you can clarify any cards that I should avoid (I’m a bit confused by mentions of vanilla vs. pin vs. debit, I don’t know what the differences are), or what the best strategy would be to maximize value from these?

At the moment, the (admittedly very basic) idea I have is to just buy a few standard GC’s in $200-$500 range each month and then use those for typical day-to-day purchases, thus effectively getting me the 5x points on all purchases.

Note: RBs aren’t available near me yet, if that changes anything.

Thanks! (and pardon the long post)

Eric
Guest
Eric

Questions:

1. How many credit cards do you currently have open?

2. How many credit cards do you apply for each app-o-rama?

I am on my 2nd App-o-rama and am just worried about getting too many Chase cards / cards in general at once.

My biggest goal is to get the Chase companion pass, while earning other miles, I’m just worried about applying for too many Chase cards (I’m applying for Chase Southwest Premier card and another Chase card on my AOR, and hoping to pick up a 5th Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards card whenever another 50k deal pops up)

I currently have the following cards:

Chase Ink Bold 50k
Chase Sapphire Preferred 40k
Citi AAdvantage Platinum (recently converted to Bronze) 40k
Citi AAdvantage Business (today converted to Thank You card) 30k
US Airways Premier World Card (Barclay) 50k
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature (Bank of America) 25k

My plan for my 2nd App-o-rama:

1. Barcley Arrival Plus (40k / $3k in 3 mo)
2. Amex Platinum (100k / $3k in 3 mo)
3. Amex Everyday (10k / $1k in 3 mo)
4. Chase Southwest Visa (50k / $2k in 3 mo)
5. Chase Marriot Rewards Business (70k/$2k in 3 mo)
6. Virgin Atlantic (90k / $12k in 6 mo)

Z S
Guest
Z S

Hi, I have a major question for you about your manufacturing opportunities. I want to hit the Delta goal as well through the Platinum Delta AmEx but reading the ToS gives me this little bugger:

“*Eligible purchases are purchases for goods and services minus returns and other credits. Eligible purchases do NOT include fees or interest charges, cash advances, purchases of travelers checks, purchases or reloading of prepaid cards, or purchases of other cash equivalents. Additional terms and restrictions apply.”

Do they not care when you manufacture spend with re-loadable cards like the Serve or Paypal?
Or am I missing a step in your process to make these manufactured spending as eligible?

Jennifer Stiko
Guest
Jennifer Stiko

Are you still able to load up to 5K a month on each card? Or not because of no longer being able to load with a CC? Thanks!

Diane
Guest
Diane

Seeing as redbird is gone, updates to this post?

JACK
Guest
JACK

Not really interested in going store, to store, hoping that I Say “just the right thing”, or find “just the right Cashier” to cooperate. I like at-home strategies. Of hand, I can think of $1K Serve loads with Amex CC, And Square Payments to a relative (since u can’t Pay yourself). Any more “living room” strategies? I like to do this without leaving my house! 🙂

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[…] #6: My manufactured spend strategy […]