Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Jun 15

Using the Bluebird card for Manufactured Spending

Note: In response to a few readers’ questions, I’m going to spend a couple of days talking about manufactured spending.  Today, I will discuss the Bluebird card, but turn to other (and possibly easier) methods tomorrow.

A couple of days ago, a reader asked about the best way to manufacture spend using the Bluebird cards.  Manufacturing spend, for those not familiar with the term, is generating spending on your credit card solely for the points and ending up as close to zero dollars out of pocket.  Huh?  Here’s an example.  A few years ago, the US Mint allowed you to buy dollar coins directly from the mint, using your credit card, with no fee.  So you could buy, say, $5,000 worth of coins and, when they arrived, deposit those coins in your local bank and use that same cash to pay the credit card bill.  Your net is zero dollars out of pocket, but you’ve earned 5,000 credit card points/miles for your time.

One of the most popular ways to manufacture spend is with the American Express Bluebird Card, which can best be described as a bank account on a debit card.  You would deposit money, either by check or by reload (more on that later) and could use your account to get money at an ATM, pay bills, etc.  One popular way to reload, or add money to, the card was with a card known as a “Vanilla Reload.”  You could buy Vanilla Reloads at CVS for up to $500, with a $3.95 fee, and then type the numbers on the back of the VR into its proprietary site.  The money would go directly to your Bluebird account and you could then get it out at an ATM, by paying a bill or simply by transferring the money to your own bank account.  You could manufacture up to $5,000 in spend per month this way, meaning that you earned points at the cost of about 0.8 cents per point ($3.95 fee divided by the $503.95 you spent), which is not a bad rate of return, but not a great one, either.  Many people, however, had cards that paid them 5% for drugstore purchases (See the post here.), meaning that they received $25 in rewards, which more than offset that $3.95 fee.  Sadly, however, the ability to buy Vanilla Reloads with a credit card at CVS went away a few months ago, shutting down that particular avenue.

There is still one way to play the Bluebird, though, but it’s more complicated.  It involves numerous trips to Walmart (Amex’s partner in the Bluebird venture) and possibly some frustration when you get there, so if you don’t live near a Walmart, this method may be more trouble than its worth.

It’s not well known, but most of the prepaid debit cards that you can buy at stores like CVS can be used instantly, just by establishing a PIN number on the card.  Each card has a different method of establishing a PIN, so just read the instructions that come with the prepaid debit card.  The easiest ones to use are the Vanilla prepaid debit cards that you can buy at CVS (You can still use a credit card to buy a prepaid card.  You cannot use it to buy a “reload” card, which is a card that transfers funds onto yet another debit card, such as the Vanilla Reload described above.  Bottom line: If you can use the card instantly, you can probably buy it with a credit card.).  The Vanilla prepaid debit cards that you buy at CVS can then be taken to Walmart and loaded onto the Bluebird cards.  You can do up to $1,000 per day and, if you’re lucky, your Walmart has a Money Center kiosk, which means that you can load the cards by yourself and not have to go through customer service.  Here is an example of what the cards look like, courtesy of Google Images:

Visa GCs

 

If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is.  But if you have a Walmart convenient to you and a 5% cash back card, you can make a couple of hundred dollars per month this way.

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9 comments

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    • Mike on October 22, 2014 at 12:10 am
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    @pk, I have a few suggestions for you, but it’s more than I want to write in the comments section here. Can you email me at Frequentflyermiles101@gmail.com and I’ll give you a few ideas.

    • pk400 on October 21, 2014 at 4:55 pm
    • Reply

    or maybe not BB. I just want to make 1 MS move. Getting the Visa card at staples this week seems like the play of the week, with the bonus card. What is the next step? BB or another one don’t care want to lose my virginity.

    • pk400 on October 21, 2014 at 4:47 pm
    • Reply

    OK so i commute via a city and i can go to walmart. Lets say with out the ink. what would i do with the gc at walmart. I am the most newbie you can get but i love to travel. i only play the cc game till now.plain cc with bonus once a year.

    • Mike on October 21, 2014 at 4:38 pm
      Author
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    You’re lucky you have $300 cards! The most I have is the $200 cards. Unfortunately, they can generally not transfer directly to BB. You usually need an intermediary, such as Walmart. Without the ability to buy Vanilla Reloads on a CC, BB is much more difficult.

    The only advice I can give is that the Chase Ink Plus card pays 5% on office supply stores, so if you figure out a way to liquidate them or live near a Walmart where you can do so, there’s a cash back opportunity.

    • pk400 on October 21, 2014 at 3:02 pm
    • Reply

    This week there is a special deal on Visa Gift card at Staples. you can get a $20 free gift card if purchasing a $300 gift card (Visa). Can this card then be loaded to the bluebird, thus gaining 300 points at bb?

    • Mike on August 8, 2014 at 5:49 pm
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    • Reply

    They don’t. In fact, I’ve never even had to register them. You establish the pin when you first swipe the card. Note, though, that the CSR at Walmart might ask for your social for their book. I’ve never had to give it for under $3,000, but you might get someone who doesn’t know the rules.

    An easier method of cashing these cards out is at Stop & Shop, where you can buy up to $2,500 per day using these cards. Get a $499 money order, since there is a $1 fee. At S&S, you’re lucky if they even look at you. Forget asking for a social!

      • Anthony on August 30, 2014 at 2:22 am
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      Can you elaborate a bit more on this method? You can buy vanilla reloads at stop and shop with a credit card and then load up the Bluebird online from them?

        • Mike on September 2, 2014 at 9:47 pm
          Author
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        Alas, the days of vanilla reloads are over. You used to be able to buy them at CVS and load them onto a Bluebird card. Unfortunately, CVS has stopped selling them with credit cards and I have yet to find another vendor who will sell them to credit cards.

        The best you can do is buy One Vanilla gift cards at CVS and use them at Walmart to buy money orders. Some supermarkets will allow you to make money order payments with them, but those are fewer and farther between.

    • Sean on August 8, 2014 at 5:34 pm
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    Do those gift cards require you to enter your social security number for activation, too?

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