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?

American Express Gift Cards

Just a quick post so you know I’m still alive and to share my recent experiment.

American-Express-Gift-Card

I have heard of people buying American Express gift cards online through cash back portals, but I had never done it myself until last month.  I tested the waters by buying a $200 gift card using the AMEX Sync offer of $10 back on the purchase of AMEX gift cards.  I went through BeFrugal (<that is my link)  and also earned $5 cash back.

I signed up for a 3 month trial of free shipping from American Express, but I still had to pay the $3.95 purchase fee. I paid $203.95 for the gift card.  I was almost immediately issued a $10 credit on my American Express statement and I have $5 pending at BeFrugal.  I liquidated the card via Amazon Payments because I didn’t want to go through the hassle of trying to buy gift cards with it.  (and spending more money to do so) So…after my credits, I paid $188.95 for a $200 gift card.  Not bad.

A couple days ago, I got a bit braver and went for a $1,000 AMEX gift card.  I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which wasn’t the best decision.  I’m trying to build Delta points to burn on a trip to Europe next year and those Ultimate Rewards points won’t help me do that.  But, nevertheless, I did it.  I paid $1003.95 for the card and used my free shipping.

For the $1,000 gift card, I earned $27.50 cash back via BeFrugal. I will use this AMEX gift card to purchase 2 $500 VISA gift cards at Walmart and load them to Bluebird.  Stay tuned for an update or a new post to see how that goes.  I hope to do that today or tomorrow.

I will pay $4.94 for each VISA gift card.  Plus the $3.95 purchase fee on the AMEX card.  I have spent $13.83 in fees BUT I am getting $27.50 cash back.  I am $13.67 ahead of the game.

I just made $27.34. Why didn’t I start doing this years ago?

As long as I do not have any hassles buying VISA gift cards with the AMEX gift cards, this is going to be my “new thing”.

Do you buy American Express gift cards online through shopping portals?  Let me know in the comments!  I would love to hear your experience.

Of course none of this is helping me meet my minimum spend on the last Citi Executive card.  (DO NOT use Citi cards to buy American Express gift cards or you will be charged a cash advance fee!) I’m still a couple thousand short on that minimum spend, but I have until Sept 26, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

I am going to write more.  I am going to write more.

I keep telling myself that.  And I will.  Now that Parker has started 1st grade, I have about 8 hours of “free” time every day.  I have a lot going on.  My paranormal group Gatekeeper Paranormal just started doing tours of Bobby Mackey’s Music World, so I am busy scheduling and conducting those.  I am also trying to plan our spring break 2015 trip to Disney World.  And a trip to Europe next summer.

I also plan to apply for a few cards at the end of this month so I need to sort out which ones are the best.  I know for sure we will each be getting a Marriott Premier Rewards card (not my link) offering 70,000 points after spending  $2,000 in 3 months.

I’m also working on the rest of my trip reports from Thailand! It really was an incredible trip and I want to share all the details!

**UPDATE** I just returned home from Walmart where I purchased two “Birthday Candle” VISA gift cards for $495 each – using the $1000 Amex Gift Card.  I then loaded the VISA gift cards to Bluebird with no problems!

Amazon Payment Fail – and subsequent heart failure

Jumping On A New Bandwagon

I know of many bloggers who regularly buy American Express Gift Cards (AGC) via online shopping portals and earn cash back.  I figure I spend roughly $250 a year buying gift cards and I would rather that NOT be part of my travel budget.  So I needed to find a way to offset that expense.  Hello online shopping portals!

WARNING: Always read the fine print when going through any online shopping portal and make sure you understand the terms and conditions.  Also some credit cards will code AGC purchases as CASH ADVANCES, and you don’t want that.  It’s usually just Citi, but check this Flyertalk thread for more information.

For my first test I went through Be Frugal and bought a $200 American Express gift card.    There was a 3.95 purchase fee BUT I earned 2.5% cash back.  So I actually made a $1.05 profit! Woohoo!  Not much I know, but this was just a test to see how it goes.

I signed up for a 3 month free trial of American Express Premium Shipping Service so I did not have to pay a shipping fee.  If you use any kind of free shipping code when placing your gift card order, you will NOT earn your cash back from the shopping portal.  UNLESS it’s a promo code offered by the shopping portal.

Normally the shipping cost is $8.95.  So $8.95 shipping plus $3.95 is $12.90 and with my $5 cash back, I would be PAYING $7.90.  I think you can figure out, that is NOT a good deal.  However, if you bought a $1,000 gift card at 2.5% cash back you would get $25 and therefore make a $12.10 profit.  So if you have to pay shipping, it is best to buy high denomination gift cards.  But I plan to take advantage of the free shipping for the next 3 months.

American-Express-Gift-Card

What To Do With An American Express Gift Card

The easiest thing to do is just use it for everyday spending.  But that isn’t earning you more points for using another credit card for your everyday spending.  You can also use the AGC to buy VISA gift cards and then load them to Bluebird.  But you have to keep in mind that you will be paying a fee to buy that VISA gift card, which eats into your cash back profit.

The last option is to liquidate it through Amazon Payments. You are limited to $1,000 a month with this option, but it is the easiest way to liquidate gift cards.

Uh Oh

I ordered the gift card yesterday and it arrived on my doorstep at 9am this morning.  I don’t feel like getting dressed making a trip to Walmart today and since I only made $1.05 profit on this card, I didn’t want to spend another $4.94 on a VISA gift card.  So I decided to send it to my husband via Amazon Payments.  I have never had an issue doing this in the past – but I have never used an AGC!

I logged into Amazon Payments and entered the gift card number and expiration date and set it up to send $200.  About 5 minutes later, I got this email.

Greetings from Amazon Payments,

Your payment of $200.00 to ********* has failed.

Thank you for using Amazon Payments.
For further information about Amazon Payments, please visit our Help pages

No explanation of why.  Just….failure.  Of course I totally freaked out and thought for sure I was being shut down by Amazon Payments.

shwew

 

I did a frantic google search and found this post.  Basically, if Amazon Payments recognizes your card as a gift card, it places a $1 hold on the card.  So my payment of $200 failed because it was over the limit.  So I went back in and sent him $175 and it went through with no issue.

 

 

Wow.  One of my biggest fears in this game is getting “shut down”.  By anyone.  I have said it many times, I am very conservative when it comes to Manufactured Spending. And I think there are people out there who would raise many more red flags than I would, but you just never know.

Be careful out there, peeps! And tread lightly! Especially if you are a newbie!

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!

Making and Meeting Spending Goals

Time to make a plan

I will be the first to admit that my spending, both regular and manufactured, has always been rather erratic.  I have written a lot about my “mad organizational skillz” and ability to keep track of multiple accounts, but when it came to setting a goal and then spending to meet that goal, I wasn’t doing it.  So I decided to write this post, not only to help my readers better understand the POINT of doing all this, but also to help myself to better organize my spending.

First I want to list the active, open credit cards in my binder for both myself and my hubby.

  • American Express Delta SkyMiles Platinum (me)
  • Chase Marriott VISA (me and hubby)
  • American Express Starwood Preferred (me and hubby)
  • Barclay’s US Airways Premier World Mastercard (me and hubby)
  • Chase IHG Holiday Inn (me and hubby)
  • Citibank American Airlines Visa (me)
  • Barclay’s Frontier Mastercard (me)
  • Bank of American Alaska Airlines Visa (hubby)
  • US Bank Club Carlson Visa (me and hubby)
  • Citibank American Airlines Executive Mastercard (me and hubby)
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred (me)

That’s 17 active credit cards.  See why organization is so important?

I am about to cancel three cards:

  1. My Barclay’s Frontier card.  Frontier awards proved very hard to redeem.
  2. Hubby’s American Express Starwood Preferred.  He has used all the points in the account and there is no benefit to renewing this card.
  3. Hubby’s Chase Marriott Card. He has earned Gold status on his own this year and next year he will apply for the Marriott Premier Rewards card which offers better benefits than the basic card he has now.

That will leave me with 14 cards to spread out my spending.

Credit-Cards

 

My (Immediate) Plans

And by “immediate” I mean within the next 2 years.

Summer of 2015 I want to take a trip to Europe.  I’m thinking most likely Croatia and either Italy or Greece.  I want to fly (business class) to Australia in 2016.  Those are my 2 big ones.  There will be some domestic trips thrown in that I will most likely just pay the airfare for (I save my miles for expensive international travel), and possibly a Caribbean or Hawaii trip on miles.  It is going to be harder to travel now with my son entering 1st grade later this year.  We will be relegated to summer travel with the masses and maybe a Christmas ski trip.  I am not opposed to pulling him out of school to travel, but I will try to keep that to a minimum.  However I do plan on taking a January or February ski trip to Whistler in the next couple of years and I will pull him out for that.

So, having said that, I need to take a look at my inventory of miles.  Between the two of us we have:

  • 384,000 American and US Air miles (that will become “one” with in the next year)
  • 51,000 Alaska Airlines Miles (these can be used on American Airlines and Delta)
  • 308,000 Delta SkyMiles

To fly Business class to Australia using American Airlines Miles, we will need 375,000 miles.  As you can see, we have more than enough to do that after the merge.  But AA miles are probably the most valuable miles out there right now, so I want to concentrate on building as many of them as I can. Especially since we have so many American Airlines and US Airways cards.

information_australia

I will use my American Airlines miles to fly my family to Australia in business class!

My trip to Europe next year will be on Delta and most likely in coach (ugh, I know), which will require 180,000 miles for 3 tickets.  Again, I have more than enough.

I want to build more Alaska miles to supplement my American and Delta totals.  I can’t combine them, but I can get one ticket from the Alaska account and the other two from the American or Delta account.  To that end, I will probably apply for an Alaska card for myself during my next round of apps this fall.

Organized Manufactured Spending

The real goldmine in Manufactured Spending (MS) is using a Chase Ink or Bold card at office supply stores and earning a 5x point bonus.  If you bought $2,000 worth of Visa gift cards per month, you would be earning 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points.  Do that for a year and you have 120,000 points.  That right there is the bread and butter of most miles and points junkies.  And some (most) do way more than $2,000 a month.

Those 120,000 (or more) Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to United, Southwest, British Airways, Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, Ritz-Carlton and even Amtrak.

There are some of us, however, who cannot get the Chase Ink or Bold or other business cards because we do not own our own business and do not feel comfortable lying to get one.  I have a part-time job that would probably qualify me for a Business card, but I applied for a Chase Ink last summer and was denied.  That really spooked me, especially with Chase.  So I am going to lay low with Chase for awhile – at least until next year, and then I might try again.

So where does that leave me and others like me without business cards? It leaves us to only earn 1 mile/point per dollar on most cards.  That can still be worthwhile though, and is better than earning Nothing.  So basically $2,000 a month in gift cards for one year will earn you 24,000 miles/points.  That’s a lot less than 120,000! But again, still better than Nothing.  You also have to factor in the cost of doing this, which is approximately $240 on $2,000 worth of gift cards.

By the way, I am using $2,000 because that’s what *I* do, on average.  That is just enough to pay my mortgage and utility bills.  Every once in a while I will do amazon payments or money orders with gift cards, but I try not to game the system too much and risk getting myself shut down or contributing to shutting down the entire system.

So here is my plan

For the months of June through December 2014, I have made a rotation of 4 cards per month, buying one $500 gift card on each card.  The cards I will rotate are both Citibank American Airlines Executive Cards, my Citibank American Visa, Hubby’s Alaska Airlines card, my Delta SkyMiles American Express and both of our Barclay’s US Bank Mastercards.  By doing 4 different cards per month, I can spread out the spend between 4 different banks.  And notice I am avoiding Chase on all MS activities.  Flyertalk threads like this one and this one really make me stop and think.  And if I want to eventually get that Chase Ink or Bold card, I think it is in my best interest to avoid them for now.

So by the end of the year I will earn just under 10,000 American/US Air miles, 2,000 Alaska miles and 2,000 SkyMiles.  Many people will say that is not worth it.  It’s not worth the $140 I will spend on fees or the trips to Walmart.  You would have to make your own decisions on whether or not it’s worth it to you.  I do not go out of my way to go to Walmart to do this.  But chances are that at least 4-5 times a month I am going to be near a Walmart and it takes me about 10 minutes to run inside and do the deed.  I don’t see that as a big inconvenience.  When you could still buy Vanilla Reloads at CVS, the Miles and Points junkies were running around to every CVS within a 50 mile radius of their home, only earning 1 mile/point per dollar spent on them.  The difference was that they didn’t have to go to Walmart to load them.  So really, that is the only thing that has changed.

The bulk of my “everyday” spending will probably go on my Chase Sapphire Rewards card.  Except for gas and groceries which will go on the Chase IHG cards (2x points in those categories) But of course I will throw a few charges here and there on the cards I am using for MS, just for good measure.

Recurring Charges

Before I go, I want to point out that I have several recurring charges each month that are automatically billed to different credit cards.  Our Chase IHG cards are charged for our Netflix account and our cat’s Wellness Plan at the vet.  The Chase Sapphire Preferred gets Direct TV and our cell phones (for now).  And the US Bank Club Carlson card gets my son’s karate class.

I also have certain credit cards assigned to different accounts such as Groupon, iTunes, and Paypal.

The good thing about setting up these recurring payments is that I can change it any time I want to.  Usually when I get a new card and have to meet minimum spending, I will change the Direct TV and cell phone payments (since those are the highest) to go to the new card until I meet the spending requirement.

So that’s it.  That’s my Master Plan.  Do you have a Manufactured Spending or Travel Planning strategy?  If so, please share it in the comments.  I, for one, am very interested in learning more about how other people reach their goals!  I know many people are loath to talk too much about MS in public forums.  But I think the cat is long out of the bag by now and there is not much classified information left.

Happy Travels!

One last personal note…because he’s just too darn cute not to share.  We got a new dog last week! He is a 2 year old Goldendoodle that we named Bodhi.  I occasionally foster dogs through the Stray Animal Adoption Program and this boy came up needing a foster home. We love Doodles so I grabbed him up and we decided within about an hour that we wanted to keep him forever!   Welcome to the family Bodhi!

bodhi1

Bodhi

 

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