Manufactured spending is the most important tool for earning lots of miles and points.
What is manufactured spending? Essentially, any purchases that you would not have otherwise made if you were not earning the associated points, where you expect to receive all or nearly all your money back in a reasonably short timeframe.
Unfortunately, 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 2021.
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 because they do not believe they can spend enough to meet the minimum spending requirement to earn the sign up bonus.
Many cards with large sign up bonuses require $5,000, $10,000 or even $15,000 spend within three months of opening the card before you are rewarded the bonus points.
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 worthwhile to continue spending.
For example, the Chase Ink Cash card earns 5 points per dollar at Office Supply Stores. up to 125,000 Ultimate Rewards points each year. One of the most notorious time-tested manufactured spending tricks is buying $500 Mastercard or Visa gift cards at Staples, and then liquidating the cards elsewhere. (If you’re interested in applying for that 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.
10 Manufactured Spending Methods
Here are tenmanufactured spending methods that continue to work in 2021.
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 Mall, which sells $1,000 Visa Gift Cards
There are also a variety of online options to purchase Visa and Mastercard gift cards:
|Type of card||Mastercard & Visa||Visa||Visa||MasterCard & Visa|
|Shipping cost||$1.99 per card or $7.95 per order||Free up to $1,500; otherwise $10.95||Free||None|
|Fee per card||$6.95||$5.95||$8.95||$0|
|Order limit||$2.5k per order, $5k per two days||None||$2k per order; 10k per day||$200 per card/day, $10k in orders/day|
|Credit Card points||1x||1x||5x with Ink Cash or Bold||1x-10x|
|Lowest all-in cost||1.7%||1.2%||3.0%||$0|
|Portal Cash Back||1x||1x||0% (possibly 3-7%*)||0|
Given the lack of fees and opportunity to earn bonus category points, Fluz is clearly the best option.
Once you purchase the cards, use a money order or bill-pay service described below to liquidate the cards. As a general rule, Mastercard Gift Cards tend to be much easier to liquidate online, while Visa Gift Cards often work better in store.
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.
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.
While Plastiq officially stopped accepting prepaid Visa and MasterCards on January 1, 2020, many variations of prepaid cards still go through. Plastiq charges a 1% for payments sent via debit cards.
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 & Vigo
WU and Vigo offers the ability to bill-pay a select number of merchants, including credit cards, for a fixed fee. Payments can be made online or 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.
You can also use these services to send funds to another person’s checking account. Vigo charges a $4.99 flat fee to send up to $999, making it a very cost-efficient manufacturing spending method you can do from anywhere. 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.
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 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. Aside from sending money through Vigo (described above), given the costs involved in this method, it is likely not a a sustainable strategy..
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.
There are many ways to reliability manufacture spend in 2021. 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.