Update: You can no longer purchase Vanilla Reload cards at CVS with a credit card as of April 4, 2014. This will still work with purchasing gift cards and then loading them to a Bluebird via the Walmart kiosk. Take a look at this post for more information.
Formulating A Strategy
Perhaps the simplest lesson to learn about manufactured spend is that you need a strategy. When I first started really focusing on earning miles and points, I didn’t spend much time thinking about my existing cards and primarily worried about getting new credit card bonuses.
The only time I loaded Vanilla Reload cards or gift card to my Bluebird was to meet minimum spend requirements. I thus didn’t care about the fees as I saw them as minimal when compared to what I was earning in points and miles.
Now that I have been doing this for awhile, I seek to offset any and all costs of earning miles and points. While I am not always successful, I do my best when at all possible not to spend any money. Deals like the recent Officemax Visa promotion are a good way to start. Cash back credit cards are another great tool.
The Old Amex Blue Card (Blue Cash)
A couple of months ago someone posted on Flyertalk (see link at the bottom) that the application still existed for the old Amex Blue card (AKA Blue Cash). Unlike the newer card, this version doesn’t have an annual fee or a spending limit on bonus categories. Instead it pays 1% on up to $6500 in spending at gas stations, grocery stores and drug stores in the first year and then 5% after that. All other purchases earn .5% and then 1% after $6500.
- Up to 5% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations & select U.S. drugstores (Everyday Purchases). Up to 1% Cash Back on other purchases. For your first $6,500 in purchases in a reward year, you will earn 1% on Everyday Purchases (5% thereafter), and 0.5% on other purchases (then 1%).
- 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. After that, your APR will be a variable rate, currently 17.24, 20.24 or 22.24%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors.
While $6500 may seem like a lot of money, remember that you can buy Vanilla Reload cards at a store like CVS to pay other bills and accelerate you spending. Let’s take a look at how much cash back you would earn over the course of a year with $2500 monthly spending on this card or 5 Vanilla Reload cards.
Total monthly purchases:
5 Vanilla Reloads @ $503.95 = $2519.75
Total Annual Spending – $2519.75 * 12 = $30237
Total fees for 12 months:
60 cards @ $3.95 each = $237
Total cash back for 12 months:
$65 ($6500 @ 1%) + $1186.85 ($23737 @ 5%) = $1251.85
Note: The higher cashback percentages kick in mid-statement once the $6500 threshold has been met.
Total profit after all fees:
So in a year, you will make slightly over $1,000 profit. While you could keep this money for yourself, the idea is the cover the costs of manufacturing spend on other cards. For example, if you need to hit a spending threshold for a bonus on another card or a new card bonus, you could use this cashback to cover the costs of the Vanilla Reload or gift card fees.
Since this is a no annual fee card, this scenario could go on forever. The $6500 threshold resets each year on the card’s calendar anniversary, meaning you start at the beginning. Remember that you also will earn 5% cash back for all of your normal purchases at gas stations, supermarkets and drug stores which is another added benefit.
Upon reaching $6500 in spending, you are essentially getting $25 cash back for spending $3.95 in fees. No matter how you look at it, this no annual fee card is a very valuable tool and a great way to offset some of the fees normally associated with manufactured spend.
To apply for this card, read the wiki in this Flyertalk thread. Some people report having to go into incognito mode in order to get the application to work. All of the instruction are there!
Note: I do not receive any commission at all if you apply for this card.