Manufactured spending is one of the best ways to earn lots of points and miles. However, with the techniques and strategies continually changing, it can be hard to know where to start. In this post, I describe nine of the most widely used methods that are still working in 2019.

Why you should learn to manufacture spend

It’s not a secret. Credit card signup bonuses are the easiest way to earn thousands of dollars worth of free travel.

For the average traveler, couple, or family who want to travel one to four times a year, you can reliably use sign up bonuses to exclusively fund your travel. However, many are afraid to apply for more cards for one reason: the minimum required spending (MSR).

Those new to the miles and points hobby often ask how they can spend enough to earn multiple sign-up bonuses. The answer is one or several of the techniques below. Manufactured spending provides a way to spend thousands while getting nearly all of it back, usually in the span of a few days.

Manufactured spending can be useful even when you are not working toward a signup bonus requirement. That’s because several cards with category bonuses make it profitable to continue spending.

For example, the Chase Ink Cash card offers a 5x Office Supply Store category bonus, allowing you to earn an additional 125,000 Ultimate Rewards points each year. If you’re interested in applying for the card, check out my guide on How to Apply for the Chase Ink Without a Business.

Manufactured spending is a lot like mining for gold. Everyone is looking to get rich, and most do not want to publicize their methods out of fear they will cease to exist. It’s not surprising many methods that were reliable one or two years ago, no longer work today.

While this post will provide a good introduction to the most popular methods, I created a separate post with some of my Manufactured Spending secrets. That post is protected, so it will not be indexed by Google.

9 Manufactured Spending Methods

Here are nine manufactured spending methods that continue to work in 2019.

Prepaid Visa & Mastercard Gift Cards

These are the lifeblood of manufactured spending.

You can purchase these at a variety of physical retailers including

  • Office Supply stores such as Staples and Office Depot (to earn 5x points with Chase Ink Cash and Bold cards)
  • Grocery stores such as Safeway and Kroeger (to earn 4x points with an AMEX Gold card on up to $25,000 in spending each year)
  • Drugstores (to earn a 5x category bonus on the Chase Freedom card during certain quarters)
  • Simon Malls, which sell $1,000 Visa Gift Cards

You can further reduce your cost to acquire these cards in-store by using a card-linked cash back app like Dosh at certain stores.

There are also a variety of online options to purchase Visa and Mastercard gift cards:

WebsiteGiftCards.comGiftCardMallStaples
Credit Card points1x1x5x with Ink Cash or Bold
Portal Cash Back4x with Rakuten Card otherwise 1x4x with Rakuten Card otherwise 1x0% (possibly 3-7%*)
Type of cardMastercard & VisaVisaVisa
Denomination$500$500$300
Fee per card$6.95$5.95$8.95
Shipping cost$1.99 per card or $7.95 per orderFree up to $1,500; otherwise $10.95Free
Lowest all-in cost1.7%1.2%3.0%
Order limit$2.5k per order, $5k per two daysNone$2k per order; 10k per day
Monthly limit30k30kNone
* Technically, gift cards sold by Staples are excluded from earning cash back through most portals. However, many gift card purchases have been successfully earning cash back through Rakuten recently. Since Staples is known to report detailed transaction information to portals, there is a risk the portal cash back will not be rewarded or be clawed back retroactively.

You can go through a portal, such as Rakuten or TopCashBack, to lower your acquisition cost. Furthermore, if you have the Synchrony Rakuten credit card, you can earn 4x Membership Reward points at Giftcards.com (1x portal cash back + 3x from using the Rakuten card). I discuss this card in detail here.

You can spend down the balance organically on these gift cards over time, but that would not be manufactured spending. Instead, use one of the services below to liquidate the cards. As I will describe below, Mastercard Gift Cards tend to be much easier to liquidate online, while Visa Gift Cards often work better in store.

Money orders

This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Chances are if you’ve been around this game for any amount of time you’ve heard about using money order with the Walmart Money Centers.

Money orders are essentially prepaid cheques. They are often used by those without bank accounts to pay bills. Many grocery stores, including Walmart and Meijer, offer the ability to buy money orders with a debit card. That means you can use a prepaid card, Mastercard, or Visa gift card. Unlike with online liquidation, Visa gift cards tend to work better for purchasing money orders, while Mastercard gift cards can run into problems at places like Walmart.

Instead of paying a bill, those using money orders to manufacture spend will simply make the money order payable to themselves. Then they will deposit them into their bank account. The easiest way to do this is to find a bank or credit union that allows mobile-deposit of money orders. It’s a good idea not to use your primary bank account to do this there is a risk you could be shut down for repeated deposited. This FlyerTalk thread has a list of banks that allow mobile deposit of money orders.

Some stores impose limits of $500 per money order, while others allow them up to $1,000. If you have smaller denomination gift cards, such as $300 Visa Gift Cards from Staples, you can perform a split tender transaction to use multiple cards for a single money order.

Most stores will charge a nominal fee to purchase a money order, $0.70 in the case of Walmart. That makes this one of the cheapest ways to liquidate Visa and Mastercard gift cards.

Check out this Flyertalk thread for helpful tips, or read my manufactured spending guide for all the details.

Plastiq

Plastiq allows you to use your credit card to pay vendors that otherwise would require a check or bank transfer. These types of payments can include rent, tuition taxes, event planners, etc. While the standard processing fee is 2.5%, Plastiq is continuously running promotions that will bring the processing fee down to 1-1.5% for payments up to $10,000 each.

Beyond traditional bills, Plastiq also allows you off pay credit cards, mortgages, personal lines of credit, HELOCs, and various other types of debt. This is where the ability to manufactured spend coms into play. Check out my manufactured spending guide for full details.

Keep in mind, certain types of cards cannot be used to pay particular categories of merchants. For example, American Express and Visa cannot be used to pay a mortgage or other debt products. See this PDF from Plastiq for full details.

Unfortunately, effective January 1, 2020 Plastiq will no longer accept prepaid Visa or MasterCards.

Melio

Melio is similar to Plastiq, but targeted exclusively toward businesses. You are required to use a business email to signup, and they may ask for additional documentation to verify you are the business owner.

Melio charges a 2.5% processing fee to credit card payments. Unfortunately, Melio never runs any promos like Plastiq, so you likely stuck paying the full 2.5%.

Just like Plastiq, Melio restricts the types of payments you can make with certain cards. Unfortunately for us, they seem to enforce these rules better than Plastiq.

Western Union

WU offers the ability to bill-pay a select number of merchants, including credit cards, for a fixed fee. Payments can be made online and for a lower fee through in-store kiosks.

The service is another avenue to liquidate Visa and Mastercard gift cards. Take a look through the available bill-pay targets for some ideas. Once again, I cover the details in my manufactured spending guide.

Gift Card Resale

Grocery stores, gas stations, office supply stores, and other brick and mortar stores frequently run promotions or offer increased rewards on purchases of third-party gift cards. You can maximize these deals by using a credit card that offers a category bonus.

For example, use an Ink Cash card to purchase gift cards from Staples and earn 5x Ultimate Rewards. See this Doctor of Credit post for a list of stores. The United MileagePlus X app also provides bonus United miles for gift card purchases.

You can resell these gift cards on websites like CardCash or Raise. However, you will likely receive a better price if you join a group dedicated to gift card buying.

Open a Bank Account

Many regional banks and credit unions will allow you to fund your opening deposit with a credit card. Usually, they’ll allow credits to fund anywhere from $50 to $10,000. This may be one of the simplest ways to meet a minimum spending requirement in one transaction.

However, some banks may code these transactions as a cash advance, and charge you the applicable fees. You should refer to this Doctor of Credit post to ensure you will not get charged a cash advance fee. It is also a good idea to proactively lower your cash advance limit to $0 on the credit card you will be using.  

Buying Groups

Buying groups reimburse you for purchasing quantity-limited or discounted products using your credit card and ship or deliver them to their warehouse. These groups benefit from sourcing the merchandise at a discount and you benefit by earning cashback, miles or points.

After joining a buying group, they will notify you from time to time of various products they are buying. Products range from consumer electronics, gift cards, rare coins, or concert tickets. Most often these groups will repay you the exact purchase price. However, sometimes they will offer a commission on top of the purchase price, anywhere from $1 – $200, for extremely limited deals.

As an example, Amazon may be running a sale on iPads. Since Best Buy limits the quantity of discounted iPads an individual may order, these groups will pay you to order for them. Most will give you the option to ship the merchandise directly to them, or ship it to your home and drop it off at their warehouse.

For more information, see my guide to Buying Groups for Credit Card Points [Reviews] for more details.

Send Money to a friend

As a last resort, you can use PayPal and Venmo to send money to friends. Be advised you will likely pay around 3% in fees for using a credit card and these platforms have monthly transaction limits. Given the costs involved, this is not a sustainable method.

Bonus Method: Microlending

Kiva is a microlending platform that allows you to fund short-term loans to entrepreneurs around the world. You can fund using a credit card without additional fees. Kiva claims a 96.9% repayment rate.

 Conclusion

There are many ways to reliability manufacture spend in 2019. As with everything in this hobby, it pays to stay organized. Keep track of all your manufactured spending costs to ensure a given method is worthwhile for you.

You should never spend more than you could reasonably float for several weeks.

If you are interested in other under the radar methods that I cannot share in a public post, check out my guide to Manufactured Spending secrets.

Featured photo by Two Paddles Axe and Leatherwork on Unsplash

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