A Depressing Weekend of Spending: Frustrations, Let Downs & Tightening

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Manufactured Spend Frustrations

Credit Card Spend Frustrations, Let Downs & Tightening

This year has been a very tough one with the loss of many avenues of increasing credit card spend. From Bluebird/Serve shutdowns to the neutering and closure of Buxx options, it has been ugly. Add in tightening on approvals by Chase and recent shutdowns by Citi and one could certainly take a negative outlook on the whole thing.

I have been doing this stuff for quite awhile now and don’t have such a bleak outlook. With that said, I’m not here to sell you anything and thus feel like I can share both the good and the bad with you. Despite my overall positive outlook, this weekend was terrible for me when it comes to MS. Really terrible.

Goodbye KATE

The weekend started with a visit to Walmart to load a Serve card that is still alive. As I wrote a few months ago, all of the MoneyCenter Express kiosks (aka KATE) on the North side of the Las Vegas Valley have been replaced by ATMs, so I went to the South side of town to a KATE that has been fairly rock solid. Unfortunately this is what I found:

Manufactured Spend Frustrations
This is where she used to be.

How sad! Apparently she is being replaced by one of those dumbed down ATMs. How sad. Luckily there is another decent Walmart not too far away. Would it have a working kiosk? Perhaps you can guess the answer. What I found is in the picture at the top of this post. “Lane Closed”. At least this one hasn’t been torn out…..YET.

5X Everywhere – Well Not Anymore

Besides being Valentine’s Day and President’s Day, this past weekend also was NBA All Star Weekend. What did that mean? 5X everywhere on my NBA American Express card. Getting 5X everywhere during All Star Weekend and the NBA Finals is why I got the card. Certainly it would be easy to get some gift cards.

Well, turns out not so much. We have three major brands of grocery stores here in Vegas, but two are under the same ownership. Vons was purchased by Albertson’s recently and both have done away with variable load cards. Then I took a blow at my local Smith’s (Kroger) when they showed me a memo stating that they were going cash only for all Visa/MC gift cards. Sigh.

I also decided to try to purchase a few Visa gift cards from GiftCardMall online. Their fees are a bit high, but with 5% back in made sense and I also wanted to test out a few things. Unfortunately that won’t be happening, because they cancelled my order. Actually, they didn’t just cancel it, they never sent me an email confirmation and the site doesn’t even show the order.

What Is Really Important

Manufactured Spend Frustrations
The beauty of Red Rock Canyon never ceases to amaze me.

Now the weekend wasn’t all terrible. I didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to tracking down gift cards since a friend was visiting and I was out hiking the amazing Lake Mead Historic Railroad Trail and spending some time at Red Rock. There is nothing like beautiful weather and good friends to make you remember what is truly important. There are some slivers of hope on the MS side as well.

My wife was able to find one grocery store (in a chain mentioned above) that sold her some variable load gift cards and I also know of a few other places that still sell them. These places aren’t as convenient which will make building up my Banana Republic slush fund a bit difficult, but it is doable. The landscape is vastly different than it has been and we are seeing a tightening across the board.


I debated whether or not to write about this, but I think many of you are probably running into the same problems. If you look hard enough and take the time to experiment and find options, they do exist. They simply do. Unfortunately many of the options that are left simply aren’t very convenient. That will definitely be a factor for many and I completely understand that.

While I didn’t maximize the 5X or liquidate all of the cards I wanted to this weekend, I am still coming out way ahead. As avenues die and new ones emerge, we must all decide how hard we move forward. Some people will step back and realize it isn’t worth it while others will forge ahead full steam. Whatever you decide, at this point, with all of the bad news, it is definitely safe to say that we are living in a whole new world.


  1. I am going to set up a offshore shell company where you guys can “buy” merchandise from me. However, I will have a permanent 98% cashback rebate promotion for all customers and will send you a check monthly.

  2. I appreciate your candor. Your best posts have always been ones that you hesitated to write but eventually did. I’ve always felt that your blog provided the most comprehensive feel to what churning/MS really is like and one I would suggest anyone follow if they want to gain perspective and not just be sold on the glimmer without realizing the ups, downs and work it takes to accomplish whatever goals they’re pursuing. I can’t say the same for other blogs, which in my opinion sell fools gold.

    • anthonyjh21. I blame all this on you. Its all your fault. Be more considerate and stop moving around your theek bully stick. TIA!

  3. Serene and Eastern has been my go to store. Even with Kate down at times, the service desk has been most friendly. That said, I am out of the country since Dec 28 and I understand that it is a new playing ground.

  4. I feel your pain, but love your ability to find the positives, Shawn! I’m curious about Krogers . . . was this a chain-wide shift to cash only? So far in the NorthWest (portland/Vancouver) FredMeyer (our version of Krogers) seems to be still selling variable load VGCs. They also recently started carrying reloadit cards, but seem to be cash only and hardcoded that way 🙁
    I was surprised and delighted to see notices posted near the gift card rack at Fred Meyer’s this past weekend that informed shoppers that “buying more than $2000 worth of giftcards with a credit card would require ID!” Thanks for the tip! I hadn’t realized before that I could buy more than $495 at a time!! That said, I have been noticing some problems with the pins on variable load USbank visa gift cards- not working, even after being reset. Anyone else having this problem?

  5. Here in Minneapolis I am completely shut down on transferring gift cards to BB, purchasing Money Orders with gift cards at WM and bill pay at WM with gift cards. It is very difficult to liquidate the gift cards now.
    So yes, we are encountering the same issues and I appreciate your imput and information.

    • worst case: plastiq at 2.5% or paypal at ~ 2.9% hit unless you got them at negative cost. Have you tried check free bill pay at walmart? if not, it is 1.88 for up to 4 swipes. that said, 4 swipes will be suspicious. you can do 2 and fly under the radar. The last thing you want is to have walmart tell you that you can’t pay your credit card bill using your debit cards (don’t tell them they are gift cards, only say debit)

      Not sure if you have tried this but it is a way to liquidate and hopefully won’t hit you too hard.

  6. I know how you feel. My last MO place shut me down with a no giftcard policy. Now I have to hand the clerk the cards so they can inspect them. Then the clerk swipes the card and you enter your pin.

    I guess reselling is what is left now for meeting minimum spend.

  7. I don’t buy GC anymore but CVS was good for me during the Target Redbird days…fees were cheaper then kroger etc. and good if you have a drugstore bonus too.

  8. As one who obtains his miles and points predominantly via BIS, I must admit I have a smile on my face as a result of all the recent changes.

  9. Thanks for posting. It would help to be prepared if our grocery stops selling the VGCs. I have already started thinking there will just be new tricks to learn. I have never done a hotel with Priceline, never flown a discount airline in Europe, and not really in the US, so will just need to explore things like that, and other things I don’t even know about yet, to see the world.

  10. The Safeway and Albertson’s pulled all variable VGCs about four weeks ago in my area (PHX) as well. I frequent several Kroger-affiliated stores for my VCGs and have noticed dwindling supply, but have not experienced cash-only (yet?!?). Such a move would cripple many, including myself.

  11. Yeah, it sure has changed from 6 months ago. I still have 1 gas station that sells me variables and 2 grocery stores. Right now the grocery has been giving $2 per gallon in fuel rewards for every $500 AGC, so I’m stocked up on them. Plus they also sell ReloadIts on CCs (for the time being).

    Honestly, I’m finding the liquidation side more challenging with the demise of my 3 Serves… 🙁

  12. Well thanks to working towards MS demise by constantly spelling everything out and relentlessly blogging about it.

    It’s nice to see you are protecting those few methods and resources you have left instead of “helping” all of your readers.

      • Nice try trying to convince yourself you’re somehow not like all the rest of the blogsters.

        And to suggest that one should be optimistic about MS is simply laughable – and delusional.

        • I’m all for everyone having an opinion. I’m opinionated myself. But it’s obvious you didn’t even read his post. It’s by far the most accurate depiction of MS right now in early 2016 and it’s far from roses and sunshine.

          I’m not a big fan of many blogs out there but I am with Shawn. He provides the most honest reviews and overall material that I’ve found in the last 2 years of being a part of this community. The churning and MS world is a bit unique in the sense that we’re not discussing photography and art. We’re talking about decisions that make or break some people. It all revolves around the movement of money and mistakes can be costly.

          While it’s important that people do their homework and not be hand-held, its equally important that public information isn’t misrepresented and that people don’t walk both sides of the line. Not once have I ever felt he didn’t write from the perspective of being an open book with unwavering opinions. Never have I found him pushing profit before content. Not sure what else you can ask for? I’m not going to put words in his mouth but that’s probably why he doesn’t like being referred to as “you bloggers” and why stupid posts like yours say more about you than him.


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