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?

My Recent MS Adventures

MS Adventures? Or Misadventures?

By now, I’m sure you have seen everybody’s e-mail from Target that explains what you can and cannot feed your RedBird with.  I will throw mine in here, just in case it looks different from every other blogger’s e-mail.

targetemail

This isn’t really new.  I’m sure since they stopped allowing credit card loads on May 6, that many people have had success loading the “old fashioned” way with gift cards purchased from other sources.

Here is what I have done over the past two months.  Hold onto your hats! You know I’m a big spender! <sarcasm>

On April 8 and April 13 I purchased two $2,000 American Express gift cards and loaded them directly to my RedBird account.  I paid $12.90 for fees and shipping  for each card, but I earned $60 cash back.  (which should pay out at the end of this month) So I was ahead with $34.20 in my pocket.  And $4,000 in my RedBird.

Between mid-April and May 6, I loaded $7,300 via direct credit card loads onto my account and Matthew’s.  That sure was fun while it lasted.

After May 6, I did not do any MS.  I didn’t like the hassle of going to Wal-Mart and if I was going to go to Walmart, I would rather just load up there with Kate.  But I can no longer use Kate since I canceled my Bluebird and Serve accounts.

Then, I got bored.

I really did not like just sitting here and not doing anything to actively earn miles and points.  So on May 27, I decided to jump back in.  I tested the waters at Walmart.

walmart
It had been awhile since I had purchased a gift card at Walmart.  I was nervous that things had changed.  I have had Walmart cashiers bark at me “cash or debit only” when I start to swipe my credit card.  I just always smile and say, “It’s ok” and then it goes through.

 

The gift card rack looked different now.  There were many more options of card designs to choose from.  But having been burned in the past, I stuck with the “Happy Birthday” card that has always worked for me.

gc

I really liked the stork one, but I was afraid to try it.

I have learned a few things over the years about buying gift cards at Walmart.  Never go to the cigarette lane.  That is usually where the Customer Service Managers hang out, en masse, to go over whatever it is Walmart CSMs have to discuss.  Also avoid older ladies and the 10 item or less express lane.  My plan is to always look for a young person and preferably a guy.  They tend to care the least.  I found just who I was looking for in Jacob in lane 7.  I don’t think he said a word to me other than “how much” when I handed him the gift card.  He was too busy trying to sneak glances at his phone and flirt with the girl in lane 10.  I was in and out in about 5 minutes.  No muss, no fuss.

success

I hope Jacob works at Walmart for a long time. I wish I knew his schedule.

That gift card has a fee of $4.94 so now I am only ahead by $29.26

I then drove directly to Target to load the gift card to my RedBird.  Again, I was nervous because I wasn’t sure if this would work.  But it worked like a charm.  In and out.

target

Well, that’s blurry

The next day, Matthew and I drove to Indianapolis to see the Weird Al concert.  Best Concert Ever, by the way.  So good in fact, we are going to see him again next week in Dayton.  And taking Parker!

I have always heard that the MS opportunities in Indiana are abundant.  They have Simon Malls, which have lower fees on their gift cards than Walmart.  I have also heard it is still possible to buy Vanilla Reloads with credit cards!  How sweet!

On our way to the concert we stopped at the very nice Circle Centre mall in downtown Indy.  We ate dinner and then went to the customer service kiosk to buy a Simon Mall gift card.  The old lady working there was nice enough (at first), but very slow and somewhat suspicious of why we were buying such a large denomination gift card with a credit card.  We bought one $500 gift card charged to Matthew’s US Airways card.  There was a $3.95 fee so now I am only ahead by $25.31.

We walked around for about 30 minutes and as we were about to pass the kiosk again on our way out, I decided to buy another gift card using my Citi AA Mastercard.

When I approached the kiosk and told the lady I wanted to buy another gift card, she gave me a very accusatory look and asked, “Why?”  Yikes.  Because I am a consumer and it is my right to purchase whatever I want.  I had to stand firm.  I am not doing anything wrong.  I was holding my credit card in my hand.  She took it from me and started digging through her receipts to find Matthew’s receipt.  I asked what she was doing.  She said she was looking to see if it was the same card.  What? I told her it was not, and even if it was, why does that matter?

Let’s write the rest of this out like a one act play, shall we?

Lady: “How much do you want to buy?”

Me: “$500”

Lady: “No.  I’m not selling you one for $500.”

Me: “What are you talking about? I want to buy a $500 gift card. If my credit card is declined, you can refuse the sale, but you can’t refuse to sell me something that I am capable of paying for.”

Lady: “Yes I can.  I’m not selling you one for the same amount that he bought.  I can’t do it.”

This is getting scary now.  I was waiting for her to push the secret security button.

Me: “Of course you can. You just won’t”

Lady: “That’s right. I won’t.”

Wow.  Matthew is getting jittery now.

Matthew: “What about $499”

Lady: “No.  I won’t do that either. It’s not allowed.”

Me: “This is crazy.  You are just making stuff up.”

Matthew kicks my foot and gives me a look like “you better watch it”

Since when do you have to haggle to buy a gift card? This is insane!

Me: “Why are you doing this?”

Lady: “Because he just bought one”

Me: “So.  If we had walked up here and pretended like we weren’t together, you would have never known.”

Matthew: “OK  what about $495”

Lady: “No. I would feel more comfortable doing $450.”

Me: “Comfortable? This makes no sense whatsoever.”

Lady: “I’m not selling another one to you for $500”

Me: “Why?”

Lady: “Because I can’t”

Matthew: “$495”

This went back and forth for a while longer, but you don’t need to read all the “yes/no” stuff.

Finally I just said, “Just do $450 and let’s get this over with.”

simon

I had to turn around and snap a picture of the kiosk from hell.

This was the worst gift card buying experience of my life.  Talk about feeling like a criminal.

But I did get my $450 gift card with a $3.95 fee so I am now ahead by $21.36.  I loaded both Simon Mall gift cards to my RedBird with no problem.

A Simon Mall In Another Universe

Matthew was in Oklahoma City on a business trip this week.  There is a Simon Mall there where he has purchased gift cards in the past.  Yesterday he bought two $500 gift cards in the same transaction, with no issues.  $7.90 in fees for both cards so my bottom line is $13.46 in my pocket after all my gift card purchases.

Today, I took those two gift cards to Target to load to my RedBird.  I did the first $500 load with no questions asked.  I told her I wanted to do another one and she started the transaction and she said “Oh I forgot to look at the card you used” I said “Oh for the last four digits?” (which is what they used to do for credit card loads) and she said, “No, to make sure the names matched.” I was not prepared for this and should have had my credit union debit card on standby for such an issue.  But the gift card was still right there in my hand so I just showed it to her.  That transaction had already cleared so there was nothing she could do, but she could have denied the 2nd one if she felt something was wrong.  Although, really…why should they care?  She looked at it and said “Oh it’s a gift card. Ok” and continued to ring the 2nd transaction.

You can order personalized Simon Mall Visa Gift Cards via giftcardmall.com, but you have to pay a shipping fee which brings your total in fees to $7.94.

Taking Time Off

So now I have enough in my RedBird to pay my July mortgage and a couple bills so I am going to take a short break from MS.  Maybe the next time Top Cash Back offers over 2% on American Express Gift Cards I will buy a couple and start again.  Earning the cash back to cover the VISA fees is the only way this MS hobby makes sense now.

I have a $3,000 spending requirement on the new Citi AA card I just got.  But I don’t usually have a problem spending $3,000 in 3 months without MS.

Have you had any MS Adventures lately?

 

My Pretty Redbird AND Saving Money at Disney

RIP Serve

serve-1As I’m sure you know by now, Serve will no longer allow credit card loads beginning on April 16.  Boy, that was fun while it lasted.  The limits were low (only $1,000 per month), but I could do it from the comfort of my home.  I didn’t have to put on my PJs and go to Walmart to buy gift cards and hope that Kate was not ill.

I will finish out my $1,000 for March and get $1,000 more loaded before April 16 and then I will bid adieu to Serve.   We had a good run, you and I.

But, wait, what’s this?  A pretty little red bird on the horizon?  Unfortunately, I live in an area that does not sell the Target Prepaid RedCard (aka RedBird) and when I was looking through the list of states that sell them, I could not think of anybody I knew who lived in one.  Apparently, I forgot about my niece in Maryland! Well…my nephew’s wife.  Technically, my husband’s nephew’s wife.  My niece-in-law? In-law?

Anyway! I explained to her what I wanted and she had no problem stopping at Target on her way home from work to pick one up for me.  She even loaded it with $5!  She then sent me a picture of the card showing the number and the 4 digit code on the front of the card.  I used that information to register the card online, in my name.  Within 3 or 4 days I received a personalized, permanent RedCard in the mail.

REDbird_card_image

I was a bit nervous going to Target to load the card.  Since my local Target does not sell them, I wasn’t sure they would know what they are and/or what to do with them.  Visions of WalMart danced in my head.

It was a rather busy Sunday afternoon at Target, but the express line had no wait.  I walked right up to the register and said “I’d like to load my RedCard please”, like I had done it a million times.  She looked at me with a smile and said, “Of course!”

I loaded $325 with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card with absolutely no issues.  It was the easiest thing ever.  I was in and out of the store in about 5 minutes. (Confession…I was having Walmart flashbacks when swiping my credit card, trying to keep it out of her sight so she wouldn’t bark at me “Cash or debit ONLY!”.  When she asked to see the card for the last 4 digits, I had a mild panic attack.  But she entered them, handed it back to me and I was done)  As my son would say “Easy, peasy, lemon squeezey”

So now, where do I go from here? I need to have some sort of strategy for loading the card.  I don’t have any minimum spending requirements to meet, so I need to beef up an account that I plan to use soon.  Ultimate Rewards points are ultimately the most valuable in my opinion, so I think I will focus on them.  But I can’t get too greedy and have Chase wonder why I am suddenly spending so much money at Target.  In even amounts.  I can fix part of that by loading, say, $432.67 to make it look like an actual purchase.  As I have said before, I am not a HUGE manufactured spend(er).  I usually do only a couple thousand a month to pay bills with.  The RedBird limits are $2,500 per day and $5,000 per month, so I can’t go too crazy anyway.  I read blogs of people who do $15,000 or $20,000 a month (and I’m sure you read them too) and honestly, I think those are the people who ruin this for the rest of us who play conservatively.

Right now I only have 1 RedBird, but when Serve dies I think I will close it and open a RedBird in Matthew’s name.  That will give us $10,000 of MS availability each month.  Not that I would use that much.

I also might buy a few American Express Gift Cards through cash back portals.  I will likely use my SPG Amex card for that.  Right now I can get $30 back for buying a $2,000 Amex gift card.  The gift card will cost $12.90 in shipping and fees, so I will make a $17.10 profit.  Better than nothing.  And then I can load the GC on to my RedBird for no fee.  Less Target purchases appearing on my credit card accounts.

We’ll see how this goes.  I’ll keep you posted.

Saving Money at Disney

We are going to Walt Disney World for Spring Break next week.  Yes, I know we are crazy.

walt-disney-world-news1

 

I have done a pretty good job saving money on the trip.  I booked our rental car way back in October for the great rate of $136 for the week! The same car at the same company booked right now is $299.

We are staying at the Country Inn & Suites by the airport.  It’s not fancy, but it has decent reviews and who spends that much time in the room anyway?  I am using Club Carlson points for half of the stay (with the BOGO deal for having the Club Carlson VISA card) and my friend is paying cash for the 2nd half of the stay and I got a great rate at 30% off for 3 nights.

I used 34,000 reward points from my Wells Fargo Propel American Express card (40,000 point sign up bonus) to get my 5 day adult park ticket and bought my son’s 5 day ticket on Undercover Tourist.   With my leftover Wells Fargo Propel rewards points I got a Best Western hotel gift card that I will use on our trip to Bryce Canyon this fall.

But here is the most recent Disney money saving deal I found.

Do you know about AMEX Offers or AMEX Sync?  For Sync, you connect your Amex card with your Twitter account and follow the American Express Twitter feed to take advantage of money saving offers.    You can also just log in to your Amex account to see “Offers for You” and have them added to your card.

Since the Wells Fargo Propel is actually serviced by Wells Fargo, it does not appear when I log into my American Express account.  My SPG, Delta SkyMiles Platinum and SkyMiles Gold Business card are on my American Express account page online.  You can usually add each offer to only one card.  BUT since the Wells Fargo card is separate, I can get the offer added to that card as well via AMEX Sync on Twitter.

So how does this save money at Disney?  Well, one of the Amex Offers is $10 off a $50 purchase at Lowe’s.  Lowe’s sells gift cards, including Disney Gift Cards.  I bought two $50 Disney gift cards at Lowe’s and got two $10 statement credits from American Express.   I added the offer to my SPG card and my Wells Fargo card and got $100 worth of Disney gift cards for $80.  In my book, this is a 20% discount on food.  That should buy at least one meal, right?  My husband wanted me to use the offers to buy mulch.  Yeah…that sounds like fun.

 

If They Blog About It, It Will Die

How many times has this been true?

I seriously miss the days when travel hacking, credit card churning, manufactured spending was all underground.  There were a few message board sites where people would talk about it using aliases and lots of code words.  Not anymore! Now we scream it from the rooftops in Big Guy Blogs and Frequent Traveler University gatherings.  We tell you how to game the system and rake in millions of miles by doing things the banks probably don’t like.

For years I never talked about it.  I didn’t even tell my family and friends what I was doing.  (mainly because I didn’t want to get lectured about ruining my credit score.  Yeah whatever, Mom) I just always said “I never pay for travel”, with a smile.  I still say that.

Well…I don’t do that.  I won’t.  Which is part of the reason I do not regularly write in this blog.  I will still post about my trips (promise) and give you some tips on travel but I’m not going to be one of those blogs who posts about every Chase sign-up bonus and every airline mileage program devaluation.  (though I reserve the right to complain about such devaluations)

So here is a little known money saving/mileage earning deal going on this month.  Thornton’s gas stations (located only in the midwest with a few scattered in FL)  are offering 20% off third party gift cards to places like amazon.com, iTunes, restaurants, stores etc.  It is not well advertised, but I found out about it through a Big Guy Blog.  I wasn’t even going to blog about it because I wanted to keep it a SECRET! Especially in my area – more for me!

Thornton-20-Gift-CardsIf you have a credit card that earns a category bonus for gas station purchases, you are not only saving money, but earning bonus points.

There are 3 Thornton’s in my general area.  The first one I went to was just about completely wiped out of gift cards and the guy behind the counter told me that he did have amazon gift cards, but someone bought 20 of them the day before and now they are gone.  I bought one $25 Buffalo Wild Wings gift card for $20 and paid with a credit card.

I went to the 2nd Thornton’s and all they had was Bass Pro Shops and iTunes. I’m kicking myself now for not buying the iTunes.

I did not make it to the 3rd Thornton’s until yesterday.  Still no amazon or store cards, but I did select a Darden restaurant card and an iTunes card.  When I got to the register the girl said “I don’t think you can pay for those with a credit card”. I told her I bought some at the Erlanger location with a credit card just a couple days ago.  She tried and the payment was not accepted.  I gave her my bank debit card, but that did not work either.  Another girl came up and said they had “problems” with accepting credit cards for gift card purchases and so it is now their policy not to.

Of course I never have cash, so I had to return the gift cards, put my tail between my legs and leave.  Brought back memories of trying to buy Vanilla Reloads with a credit card at CVS.  Thornton’s did have a big selection of Vanilla Reloads, by the way.  They sat there – taunting me.

So.  The Big Guys post about Thornton’s gift card discount.  People run out in droves to buy them all up.  There are none left and Thornton’s wised up to the credit card game.  (or somebody was buying massive amounts of them with a stolen CC)

If you are interested in saving money, this could still be a good deal for you using cash.  In fact, it IS a good deal for you.  You are still saving $5. I would not go out of my way to do this, but if you have a Thornton’s in your area and they actually have some gift cards left – go for it!

It is still possible, in a roundabout way to pay for them with a credit card.  You load your Bluebird or Serve with a credit card (or gift cards purchased with credit cards) and you can withdraw $100 cash from a Money Pass ATM with no fee and then buy $100 worth of gift cards for $80.  Is it worth your time to run around all those places doing that? I doubt it, but if it’s convenient for you, it’s a good deal.

Bottom line, it’s still a money saver if you pay cash.  Christmas is coming, ya know.

I have slowed down considerably on my Manufactured Spending.  Right now I am only doing enough loads on Serve to cover my mortgage payment each month.  I can load Serve with my credit card from the comfort and warmth of my office chair (shhhhh! don’t tell anybody!). I don’t mind that at all.  It’s free and I don’t have to run to Walmart all the time.

In 2014 I spent $149.49 on gift card fees.  I got into the cash back on American Express gift cards late, so I only earned back $90.50.  That means I spent $58.99 to Manufacture enough Spend to get 795,000 miles and points in 2014.  Was it worth it?  Was it worth it  to spend $59 to get 795,000 miles and points?? Yeah…I think so.  Well…to be fair I should probably account for annual fees I had to pay that were not waived for the first year.  And it gets a little ugly there.  (damn you 3 Citi Executive cards! ) $975.  But still.  Just over $1,000 for 795,000 miles and points?  Sure.  But I am done for a while. I have decided it is just not worth the hassle.

Likely by the end of the year I will apply for a couple cards if they offer good “end of the year” sign up bonuses.  Chase Southwest is a big contender.  They are currently offering 50,000 points per card and they have 4.  Even though I am a bit gun-shy with Business cards, I might give it a go.  I’m also hoping British Airways offers a 100,000 mile sign up bonus at the end of the year as they have done for the past couple years.  I am keen to use Avios for a trip to Ireland.

So that’s all for now.

 

 

I’m Still Here, Just Quiet

I have taken a short break from Manufactured Spending (and apparently from blogging as well).  I wanted to let my money “shake out” and see if I was still in the black when it landed.

ibank

….this is not my account…..

I have an interesting system for keeping track of my MS in iBank.  If you are familiar with iBank, you know you can keep track of multiple accounts in the register.  In my iBank register I have my “Checking”, 2 “Savings” and then 23 credit card accounts.  Yeah…it’s a lot to keep track of.  But I have a system!  When I make a purchase I enter it into both the “Checking” account and the “Credit Card” account.  For example, if I go to Target and buy $25.68 worth of Halloween candy (just sayin’) using my Citi Executive 2 (I have 3 of them),  I will come home and enter $25.68 as a WITHDRAWAL in my checking account in iBank.  On the “Payee” line I will enter “Exec 2”, which is my code for that particular card.  I have codes for every card that differentiate if they are mine or my husband’s and what version of the card they are.

Then I will go to the “Exec 2” account in iBank and list Target as the payee and list the amount as a WITHDRAWAL.

When my Citi Executive 2 bill comes, I go through my iBank Checking account and confirm the withdrawals with “Exec 2” as the payee and then I DELETE them from the Checking account register.  I then go through the Exec 2 account and “clear” all the charges that appear on the bills.  Once that is done, I deduct the total amount of the bill in my Checking account as a Payment to “Citi Exec 2” and ADD the total amount of the bill as a “Deposit” in the “Exec 2” iBank account.

And now its even.

But can  you see where this is going in regard to what iBank thinks is my total net worth?

At the bottom of the iBank screen is a “Summary” of your net worth.  When I decided to take a break, mine said this:

Money you have:     $2,432.22

Money you owe:      $7,247.33

Total:      ($4,815.11)

Yikes!  Yet when I logged into my Credit Union checking account, it showed I had about $13,000 in there!

I decided it was time to take a break, pay off all the bills and see where I stood financially.  I’m happy to report that all is well.  All the credit card bills are paid off and I am still a few thousand in the black.  Shwew!

Now that the Cashback portals are back to offering payouts on American Express gift cards, I may get back into it.  The payouts aren’t great right now, 1.5%, but it’s better than nothing.  My property tax bill is due at the end of this month.  I hate to pay out a couple thousand dollars and not earn miles for it!  But my Bluebird account is empty so I would have to make several trips to Walmart in the next week or so to get enough in there to pay the bill.  And you know how I hate going to Walmart!

My Blogging Break

I got a bit disillusioned with the whole Miles and Points blogging thing when I noticed a trend among the “Big Boy” blogs.  (TPG, MMS, MP, FTG…you know the ones)  I mean, how many times and in how many different ways can they push Chase cards? I know it’s their bread & butter, but come on!  Is that what it takes to be successful in this world?  I wanted to share my experiences of free travel with a child! Not pound you on the head with a Chase Ink! But yet, that’s what these guys are doing.  And they are wildly successful (in this limited world).

You know the Miles and Points blogs I enjoy the most? And the ones that I think offer the best information?  Travel is Free and Hack My Trip.  I strongly suggest checking them out.  They focus more on how to travel for free, rather than shoving credit card links down your throat.

I still want you to read my blog, of course.  And I am going to work harder at writing and sharing my experiences with you.  I still love to travel and I still love to travel for free! We just got back from a fabulous week at Beaches Turks and Caicos!  There is nothing free (or even cheap) about Beaches!  It’s a splurge that I feel is worth every penny!

Trip report coming soon! Promise!

So…thanks for coming back and checking out my post.  Tell me…how do you keep track of your manufactured spending?  Do you have an easier, less complicated method than I do?  I’d love to hear about it!

Happy Travels!

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!

 

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!

American Express Serve

I have been reading a lot about Serve by American Express – especially the part about directly loading it online with a credit card. You are limited to loading $1,000 per month ($200 per day) unless you link your Serve card to Isis.  (which I am not doing)

I opened the account in my husband’s name because you cannot have a Bluebird account AND a Serve account at the same time.  Since I like the convenience of being able to write Bluebird checks to people and businesses that I cannot pay electronically, I am still a BB girl.

I did a $200 test load with Matthew’s new Citi AAdvantage Executive card.  I kept my fingers crossed that it would work because I am still trying to bang out that $10k spend!

It loaded with no problem and I waited a couple days and made some payments.

serve

But the real test was whether the charge posted as a regular charge or a cash advance.  Citi is notorious for posting such things as cash advances.  You cannot buy American Express Gift Cards directly from American Express with a Citi card or they will post as cash advances.  Anything posting as a cash advance will not count toward your minimum spending requirement and you’ll have to pay fees and interest!

Knowing that, I was not sure how this $200 charge to Serve would post.  I was not able to log onto our Citi account online, so I had to call.  (the horror)  I did not want to  come right out and ask about the Serve charge specifically, so I just asked the agent to go over the recent charges to my account.  He read through the list that included “$200 to American Express Serve”, wedged between “$20 to Soft Touch Car Wash” and “$7.30 to The Noodle Company”.  Good news! I made a point of asking about a couple pending charges that I knew were coming up, just to keep the call as innocent as possible.  I also did NOT ask for my cash advance limit to be lowered to $1, as so many people do.  I just think that is rather suspicious and I like to keep my activities as benign as possible.

serve-1

 

As long as I am able to continue to load Serve directly with a credit card, I think I will keep it for a while.  I don’t think it will completely replace Bluebird for me, but it will be a nice companion and an additional way to meet Minimum Spending Requirements.  Serve does charge a $1 fee per month unless you set up a Direct Deposit or load $500 during your monthly statement period.  I don’t think loading the $500 will be an issue. Apparently you can also withdraw cash with no fee from MoneyPass ATMs.  Apparently the US Bank at my local Kroger store has a Money Pass ATM.  Next time I am there, I will have to try to withdraw some cash and verify that it works.

Does anyone else have any experience using Serve?  As a Serve “newbie” I would love to hear your opinion!

Happy Travels!

 

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!