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TPG contributor Jason Steele comes back today to talk about Manufactured Spending, which is the art of creating points and miles without having to actually incur more spend- like buying gift cards and then using them to load Bluebird and then in turn pay your mortgage/rent/etc. 

Things change everyday for those who try their hand at the hobby called manufactured spending. Here are a few of the latest developments:

Staples.com offers $200 Visa cards online

In the last two weeks, the biggest news was that Staples began selling $200 gift cards online, whereas previously they only had the $100 denominations.

Why was this important? Each card has a $6.95 fee, so selling a card with twice the value means half the fees. Although these cards were previously available in stores, the advantage of purchasing them online was that they might qualify for portal savings of up to 6%. During the final days of April and the first days of May, it appeared that many portals were honoring the points or cash back offered for purchases from Staples.com.

Then, in early May, multiple Flyertalk contributors who claimed to operate their own portals said that they had received notices from Staples that portals would not be offering rewards for gift card purchases. To corroborate those reports, one of the more popular reward portals, Swagbucks immediately added special terms that excluded gift cards.

Swagbucks

I used a card that offers 5x bonus rewards for office supply purchases to by some gift cards using the Swagbucks and Upromise portals between May 4th and May 7th and the rewards are currently listed at both sites as “Pending”.  If I end up receiving those portal rewards, I will have made a cash profit on the transaction and earned credit card reward points.

But even if I don’t, I will have effectively purchased the reward points for about two-thirds of a cent each, which is reasonable, but not an activity that I would spend a lot of time doing. I had no problem using these cards to transfer money with Amazon Payments, and I also plan on using some to pay bills with the Evolve Money service.

The circle of life.. or at least manufactured spending
The circle of life.. or at least manufactured spending

Bluebird update

American Express Bluebird is great product for those who eschew credit cards and bank accounts, as well as for those who are into this hobby. Of course, its utility for the later took a major blow in April when CVS stopped allowing credit card purchases of Vanilla Reloads, a product used to load funds onto the Bluebird card.

In searching for alternative stores that still allowed sales of Vanilla Reloads with a credit card, our readers were quick to eliminate many of the chains listed as carrying these products. Nevertheless, two had success at a few smaller region stores. Noah commented that Food City stores in Eastern Tennessee accepted his credit card to purchase Vanilla Reloads, and Mark confirmed that Village Pantry stores in Ohio did too.

If you live outside of those areas, don’t put away your Bluebird cards just yet. You can use a debit (like the Suntrust Delta) or gift cards to load these Bluebird cards at cash registers and customer service counters at Wal Mart stores. The limit is $1,000 per day, and $5,000 per month, per card. So if you purchase $500 gift cards with a $4.95 fee, you are looking at about a 1% loss when you load them onto your Bluebird card and use the funds to pay any person or business, or transfer them to your bank account.

Those with some time and patience could conceivably participate in the $200 Staples offer, and use their gift cards to load Bluebird, and come out slightly ahead. A better strategy might be to buy $500 gift cards where their credit card earns bonus rewards.

Another option would be to use one of the many cards that earn bonus rewards supermarkets. These cards can offer rewards that are well worth paying 1% in fees, and perhaps even a trip to your local Wal Mart.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
N/A
Annual Fee
$550
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below 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.