AAdvantage Aviator Card Promo – Will I Make It?

In late November, I received an email from Barclaycard to register for a promotion offering 30,000 miles for spending $2,500 each month on my AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard.  The promo runs from December 2015 until May 2016.  So essentially I would earn 45,000 miles after adding the 2,500 a month for 6 months.

promo

$2,500 is a lot to spend each month without doing any Manufactured Spending.  At least, for me, it is a lot to spend each month!

I got through December pretty easily thanks to a couple VISA GC purchases at Walmart.

And then this happened.

BB

Ahhhh that dreaded e-mail that we all knew was coming.  Don’t say you didn’t know.  This could not go on forever.  Eventually AMEX would wise up and realize they were losing money.

I got that e-mail on January 8 and I’m totally kicking myself for not buying a gift card the first week of January.  But I have always been very conservative in this hobby.  I don’t buy $40K worth of gift cards every month!  So my plan was to wait until the end of each month and see how short I was.  If I was within $1,000 of the $2,500 (likely) I would buy a couple gift cards to make up the difference.  That’s pretty much what I have always done.  I usually bought $1,000-$1,500 a month and paid my mortgage with it.  I rarely used Bluebird to pay off the credit card I used to buy the gift cards.  I think I did that once.  And I didn’t pay the whole balance.  I would usually pay $378.55 or some other odd amount.

So again. I am really surprised that I was shut down by Bluebird.  I have heard that some people are still going at it.  I’m not sure how they managed to stay under the radar, but at this point, I hope they ride it hard.  I know I would.

Yesterday I got this e-mail from Barclaycard.

aacard

That’s very nice.  I was wondering how (if) they were going to keep track of the monthly spending for this promo.  I WISH they had some kind of calculator on their web page so you could track your monthly purchases.  You can look up your month to date purchases, but you have to whip out the calculator to get the total.

According to my calculations, I am at $1829.26 for the month of January.  And that is with a large $1,000 purchase that I would not normally make.  So in reality I have only spent $800 so far this month.  That is probably about average for us, unless it’s Christmas time, someone’s birthday or we are on a trip.   So at $1829 for this month, I am $670 short.  I don’t see myself spending that much in the next week.  Maybe another $100-200.

Unless I buy a gift card.

I’ve been thinking about this.  People are still buying the Visa GC and then buying money orders.  I have only done that once, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.  But I might give it another try.  Worst case, I am stuck with a $500 gift card that I will have to liquidate by regular spend.  And at that point it won’t matter because I will not be able to complete this promotion.

Do you still do any manufactured spending?  Do you think the end is nigh?

Black Tuesday and other thoughts

So about 2 weeks ago I wrote a post about my “new” discovery of buying American Express Gift Cards through shopping portals and earning cash back.  Earning cash back on these cards really helps defray the cost of buying VISA gift cards to load on to Bluebird.

Since I started churning credit cards and playing the miles and points game I am ALWAYS waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And this past Tuesday, it did.  At least as far as cash back on American Express Gift Cards is concerned.

American-Express-Gift-Card

As of Tuesday afternoon, all shopping portals (for cash back or miles/points) pulled American Express Gift Cards.  If you read Flyertalk, there is all sorts of speculation as to why this has happened.  Everything from a re-negotiating of contracts between AMEX and merchants to too much Manufactured Spending has been speculated.  Some suggest the cash back offers may come back in the next month or two, as a similar blackout happened last fall.  Only time will tell.

I got one last $2,000 American Express Gift Card purchase in under the wire on Monday morning.  I hate that I can’t earn cash back anymore, but I’m happy with what I earned this month and that I came out ahead!  Since early August I have spent $46.43 on fees to buy VISA gift cards BUT I have earned $100.50 for purchasing American Express Gift Cards via BeFrugal (<– my link) so I am actually $54.07 ahead of the game.  We won’t talk about what I have spent on fees for the past couple years.  But I worked those into my yearly travel budget so they didn’t hurt my daily budget at all.

App-O-Rama 2014

I haven’t really done any big App-O-Ramas this year.  I did a couple small ones for myself, but all Matthew has done this year is get two Citi AA Executive cards.  (but those are very substantial)

Here’s a breakdown of what we have earned and spent for the first 9 months of 2014

Matthew

  • Citi AA Executive Mastercard Feb 2014 – 110,000 miles – $250
  • Citi AA Executive Mastercard Jun 2014 – 110,000 miles – $250
  • Chase Marriott Premier Rewards  Sep 2014 – 72,000 points  – $0

Laura

  • Citi AA Executive Mastercard Mar 2014 – 110,000 miles – $250
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa  May 2014 – 48,000 points – $0
  • Club Carlson Premier Visa  May 2014 – 87,500 points – $75
  • Wells Fargo Propel Amex May 2014 – 43,000 points – $0
  • Delta Skymiles Amex Gold Business  Aug 2014 – 52,000 miles – $0
  • Chase Marriott Premier Rewards  Aug 2014 – 72,000 points – $0

So all together we earned 330,000 airline miles, 231,500 hotel points, 48,000 Ultimate Rewards points (that I will probably transfer to United next year) and 43,000 points that I am going to use for Disney World park hopper tickets in March 2015.

To get all those points and miles, we spent $825.  I know…that’s a lot.  But, like I said, I work that into my yearly travel budget, so it doesn’t really hurt.

I am going to take a break from applying for cards for a few months.  Unless something comes along that is too good to pass up!  No reason for this really, other than giving my credit score a rest.  Both of our scores are still above 800, so all this credit card churning has not hurt us in the least and probably has even helped our scores to go up.

My plan is to apply for the Southwest personal and business card in early 2015 to earn the companion pass.  Unfortunately we don’t live in an area that Southwest serves, but it would be worth driving to Louisville for all those free flights.  Heck, people from here drive to Louisville when they are PAYING for flights!

Summer 2015

I’m ashamed to say that I still do not have anything booked for our summer vacation in 2015.  I don’t have enough Delta miles yet! I am still about 8,000 miles short.  I may end up buying the remaining miles I need since the plug has been pulled on the American Express gift cards.  I will still try to push out some MS in the next month so I can have close to enough by October and book then.  If anything is left.

We have no idea where we want to go really and at this point, we will probably just spin the Delta wheel and see where it lands.  Where ever I can get 3 business class tickets to, is where we will go.  I am going to try for Greece, Italy or France.  But who knows where we will end up!  And actually we may stay in the US next year! Imagine that! But I have always wanted to explore the west – Arizona, Wyoming, Montana, Utah.  2015 may be the year to do that!

Happy Travels!

 

AMEX Sync Offers and Walmart Gift Cards

Shop on Amazon for Free!

American Express Sync is giving targeted members some pretty great deals right now.  The best offer is the $20 statement credit for spending $20 at Amazon.

Unless you check your account regularly or read several miles and points blogs, you may not know if you have been targeted for this offer.  I don’t think American Express sends out e-mails letting you know about these offers.  At least, I didn’t get one!

To find out if you were targeted, log into your American Express account and click on “Offers For You” near the bottom of the page.  Scroll through the offers and “Save” the offer you like to one of your American Express accounts.

I checked my account and found that I was offered the $20 statement credit for spending $20 at Amazon (apparently some people are offered $20 for spending $40).   I have an SPG card and a Delta SkyMiles Platinum card.  Once I saved the offer to my SPG card, it no longer appeared on my SkyMiles card.  I was hoping to get the offer twice (as some folks have been reporting they are able to do) but once I saved it to a card, it disappeared.

This information would have been useful to me YESTERDAY when I purchased a new vacuum on Amazon! But if I can’t find something else to buy on Amazon before August 31, 2014, I can always buy a restaurant gift card. I bet you didn’t know that Amazon sells gift cards! Well, they do!  You have to watch the gift cards though.  Some offer free shipping and some offer free shipping only with a $35 purchase.  Of course, if you have Amazon Prime, this is not an issue.

AMEXsync

 

As you can see, I also saved the Bonefish Grill offer and the Sally Beauty offer.  Those are just like really great coupons!

There is also a Costco offer, but we do not have Costco in my area.

Gift Cards Are Not Dead!

Every morning I try to read as many of my favorite blogs as I can.  And almost every day there will be a post about the death of the gift card/money order/Bluebird/Manufactured Spending game.  “Oh…I tried to load gift cards at Walmart and it didn’t work, the game is over”  “Oh….I am stuck with $6,000 worth of gift cards that I can’t unload.” “Oh….the Walmart cashier would not let me buy gift cards with a credit card” “Oh…the cashier at Walmart told me they won’t accept debit cards to load to Bluebird anymore”

First of all….stay away from the Walmart cashiers! I avoid them like the plague!  I am fortunate that the 2 Walmarts in my area have kiosks that work about 75% of the time.  This morning I stopped by Walmart and bought a $500 Happy Birthday gift card, went straight to the Bluebird Machine and loaded it, no problem

See?

bluebirdscreenshot

 

You will also see that I only have $900 in my Bluebird account.  As I said in my Million Mile Secrets interview, I am very conservative when it comes to Manufactured Spending. I don’t do it every month and I don’t pay off credit cards with other credit cards.  I also have never bought more than one gift card at a time! I just don’t want to raise any red flags!  Maybe I’m too cautious.  I’m sure I could earn a lot more miles if I did more.  But I don’t.

Over the next 3 weeks, I will buy two more Happy Birthday gift cards at Walmart and raise my Bluebird balance to about $1,900 which will pay my August mortgage, electric bill, and water and sanitation bill.  That’s it.

I have said this many times before.  Don’t get into this game just because I do it.  Or just because the other, more popular bloggers do it.  Do it because you want to travel.  Do what you feel comfortable doing.  If you don’t feel comfortable buying gift cards and using Bluebird, then don’t do it!

To be honest, I still don’t feel entirely comfortable with the gift card/Bluebird thing.  My stomach starts churning when I walk up the cash register to buy the gift card and expect the cashier to say “Sorry, you cannot buy a gift card with a credit card.”  Then once I get past that, it starts again when I wait for the Bluebird to say “YOU LOSE” and spit a “declined” receipt at me.  But fortunately, neither of those things has ever happened to me.  (except when I bought the wrong kind of gift card)

So…don’t believe everything you read on the other blogs.  Gift cards are alive and well.  I plan to keep drinking from this well until it dries up!

Happy Travels!

Problems Loading Visa Gift Cards to Bluebird

Ouch! That burns!

This is the 2nd time in the past year I have been burned when buying a VISA gift card.  I say “burned”, but it wasn’t really that bad.

Let me explain.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I used to buy gift cards online at giftcardmall.com via ebates.  When ebates stopped giving cash back on VISA gift card purchases, I had to go back to buying them in stores.

My tried and true “go-to” gift card is the “Happy Birthday” Walmart VISA gift card.  I don’t know why I would ever stray from this card.  I have to go to Walmart to load to Bluebird anyway, so why not just buy the card there too?  I don’t know.  I despise Walmart and try to limit my time there.  Having to actually stand in line and interact with a cashier while buying a $500 gift card with a credit card makes me uncomfortable.  I’m not doing anything illegal, but it feels like it.  Especially at Walmart.

walmartgc

I KNOW this one works!

About a year ago, Million Mile Secrets posted about using PIN enabled VISA gift cards purchased at Kroger to load to Bluebird.  You can read the post here.

Three times I have purchased VISA gift cards at Kroger, but only once have I been able to load the card to Bluebird.  Each time I have received a little receipt instructing me to call a number and set up a PIN and I have done so.  But when I try to load them to Bluebird I get the dreaded “payment not accepted” message and Ms. Bluebird blasting “transaction declined” across the customer service area of the store.

If you look at the pictures in MMS’ post about Visa gift cards, the top picture of the Visa gift card in gold packaging is the only one that has worked for me.  If you look down to the 2nd picture, you will see some Visa gift cards in silver packaging with gift boxes on them.  The one I tried that did not work had a purple gift box on it.  Also, if you look at the very bottom of that 2nd picture you will see a Visa gift card that is sort of a blueish-purple and says “Celebrate” on it.  That is the one I bought five days ago that also does not work.

All 3 cards had the same back cover as MMS posted a picture of.  All were issued through US Bank National Association and all listed mygiftcardsite.com as a customer service site.  For the life of me, I cannot figure out why one card worked and two did not.

Why Am I Telling You This?

Many people do not like bloggers posting about Manufactured Spending (MS), and Bluebird and gift cards.  Whatever.  I’m not giving away state secrets here.  Most of what I do is very minor league compared to some people’s MS activities! So, I am posting this as a sort of warning to be careful of what gift cards you buy.  Start with a small denomination to make sure it works for you.  Once you find a gift card that works, just stick with it.  There is no need to try other ones.  (unless you find one with a smaller fee)

My “Happy Birthday” Walmart gift card has a fee of $4.94.  Those Kroger gift cards were $5.95.  So basically I wasted $6 on that $500 gift card that didn’t work.  Well….$12 on the two of them, but who’s counting? I was able to liquidate them in another way, so it’s not like I was out $500 ($1000), but it was still an inconvenience.

I still need to buy one more $500 gift card this month to top off my Bluebird account to pay my mortgage for June and a life insurance premium that is also due in June.  I guess a trip to Walmart is on my agenda for next week!

Happy Travels!

My First Money Order!

I have said it many times, “I am a reluctant participant in the Manufactured Spending game”.  I am.  It’s true.  Something about it feels…dirty.  Unethical maybe? I do it, but I don’t feel comfortable doing large amounts of it.

And sometimes I feel sorry for the poor airlines who are giving away all these miles and free travel to people who have never paid them a dime for an actual flight.   The poor airlines who are nickel-and-diming us To Death with fees for checked baggage, hand baggage, flight changes, drinks and meals.

And I feel sorry for the poor banks who are giving all those miles and points away to people using their cards to just circle money around a loop. The poor banks who are making millions off of people carrying balances on cards at 19% interest and fees paid by merchants to accept their cards. Continue reading

Is The Party Over for Buying VISA Gift Cards Online?

 

Since last fall, I have been purchasing VISA gift cards from giftcardmall.com going through ebates.com.  Ebates gives 1% cash back on purchases of gift cards.  The fine print says (and it was pointed out to me many many times by others) that “cash back is not available on VISA gift card purchases”.  HOWEVER, I was getting cash back on VISA gift card purchases between Oct 2013 and January 2014.  Here is my ebates statement showing the $45 cash back I earned.

giftcardmall

Continue reading