SORRY you can no longer Buy Vanilla Reloads using a credit card at CVS. 😦
So this post is no longer valid
The way to earn a lot of Frequent Flier miles and points without travelling, is pretty obvious to most of us. For many years now ,most people earn their travel points by engaging in the great American Pastime of shopping using our Airline Miles Credit Cards.
However, what is not known as widely is that there is a huge sub-culture among frequent flier aficionados, that find new and clever ways to game the system of Credit Cards to earn more miles and points.
This is known widely on the internet as “Manufactured Spend”. I think a better term might be “artificial spending”, as the idea is to create credit spending that does not occur in nature. The main strategy is using credit cards to purchase cash equivalents (gift cards, prepaid cards) for the lowest possible price, and then use those cash equivalents to pay-off your credit card balance.
A really novel way to do this came out a decade ago. The US Mint allowed you to purchase Dollar Coins using your credit card via their website. They were counting on Coin collectors to buy these in bulk for their collections. Instead people purchased these coins online using a credit card, and promptly paid back the credit card using the bank deposits from these coins. I never did this but I can only imagine transporting thousands of dollar coins to my local bank branch. I’m guessing there were some priceless looks on bank tellers as customers dropped off thousands of dollar coins.
As time goes-on tricks used for manufactured spending come and go. This dollar coin trick is long-gone but memorable. The current one that seems both the easiest and most reliable is using Vanilla Reload cards. These are cards used to fund pre-paid credit cards. These were developed as tools for the under-banked that do not have access to traditional bank accounts, credit cards and on-line billpay.
I use these card as intended. I purchase them to fund an online account from America Express called Bluebird. I then use this account’s online-bill-pay feature to pay my bills including my home mortgage.
The trick is that some merchants allow you to buy these Vanilla Reload Cards using a credit card. This effectively allows me to earn miles and points for paying my bills and utilities that would not normally take a credit card for payment.
BTW, doing this is not free. These re-load card come with a fee of $3.95 for each card that has a maximum value of $500. I’m essentially buying 500 point for $3.95 each time I get one of these cards+ the time and energy. For me that is a small cost as I generally value the points I generate at 2 cents or greater. The fees equate to around .79 cent per point and the I chalk-up time+energy to supporting my hobby.
All of this trouble comes in particularly handy as Credit Cards have gotten more and lucrative with their sign-p bonuses. A good examples is the 100,000 mile sign-up bonus for the Citi American Airlines Executive Mastercard. This card require you spend $10,000 in your first three months of activity to get this large bonus, on top of a $450 annual fee ($200 will be refunded as a statement credit). I got this card recently and was able to meet this spend requirement using vanilla reloads purchased at CVS including the one right around the corner from my office.
Apparently I’m not unique in doing this as cashiers at this location are familiar with customer coming to the register and doing large purchases of these $500 cards. You can in fact buy up to $5000 of these card each day with a valid Drivers license.
Why go to all this trouble? Well 100,000 miles is enough for 4 round trip tickets across the US. The dollar value of these miles is debatable but I would value them at between $1500-$2000. The allure of this travel hack, is that with the right planning anyone with good credit, planning, and a CVS store nearby can pay for an extravagant vacation by converting a few hundred dollars into several thousand dollars of travel value.
This particular strategy is used by many people and written about over and over again by bloggers all over the internet. Some good websites to read-up on this include boarding area and million mile secrets. These are the places I started looking to get tips. If any of my readers are interested / needs some pointers getting started, drop me a comment and I’ll be sure to help.