Different Ways to Create Spending at Little Cost to Earn Miles and Signup Bonuses

There are lots of ways to ‘manufacture’ spending on a credit card. I’ve written about several of them in the past. The holy grail of miles and points is buying money with a credit card (for the miles), depositing that money into your bank account (to pay of the credit card). Rinse, repeat. This is most leveraged for meeting credit card signup bonuses but also is helpful to simply earn miles month after month.

Bluebird, Vanilla Reload, and Billpay

What’s gotten the most attention is the American Express Bluebird card. You sign up for the card for free, then buy ‘Vanilla Reload’ cards (note: not Vanilla Visa or similar). Some CVS and some Walgreens will stock them and allow you to buy them with a credit card. Earn miles. Load the Vanilla Reloads onto your Bluebird card and then you can use Bluebird’s billpay function to send payments for your mortgage or your rent, to write a check to your spouse or other family, or even to withdraw funds from an ATM.

Sadly, not everyone lives near a CVS or Walgreens that stocks Vanilla Reloads. And not every CVS and Walgreens stocking these will take credit cards for payments.

And those that stock the cards, and take credit cards, tend to run out pretty quickly with all of the folks out there who are looking for these.

MyVanilla Debit Cash Advances

On New Year’s Day I wrote about MyVanilla Debit Cards and the ability to walk into a bank and take a ‘cash advance’ back off the card. The holy grail here is finding a bank that will let you cash advance off of an unregistered card (since you can only personally register 3). Lots of mixed results in the comments of that post, some folks found banks willing to let them do it and for them it’s a tremendous bonanza.

Kiva: Doing Good in the World While Meeting Minimum Spend

I’ve also made reference to funding Kiva accounts with a credit card. That’s the microloan site, you do some good in the world by making funds available to small entrepreneurs to improve their lives. There’s no fee to load your account via credit card. Make a loan. When the loan is paid back, withdraw the funds back to your Paypal account. Do this with prepaid cards purchased for a big bonus, or with credit cards you’re trying to meet the minimum spend on. It’s free, but you have to be able to float the funds while waiting for repayment, and there’s a small risk that some amount of funds won’t be repaid (though this is a small risk, and if one loan went bad the loan is likely a small one).

Amazon Payments — and Leveraging for More Than Just $1000 a Month

Amazon Payments is like Paypal, but they will allow you to send up to $1000 a month with your credit card with no fee. Send money to a friend or family member, you get charges on your card, they give you the money back.

Some people have more than one Amazon Payments account. Apparently using the same social security number for two accounts isn’t an automatic flag. They’ll usually spell their name a bit different (eg use of middle name vs. not), and use a different email address. And most importantly, they won’t link the same credit card to more than one account, that apparently is a pretty quick flag that will shut down your account. Lots of reports of more than three accounts for one person getting shut down, though.

Others leverage multiple Amazon Payments accounts under different folks’ names. This is where friends and relatives come in. If they aren’t using Amazon Payments, you borrow their $1000 a month potential. A spouse, siblings, parents, grandparents. Sign them up for Amazon Payments, make that personal an additional cardholder on your credit card account, and then link their additional card to their Amazon Payments account. That way you can do $1000 on your card each month via Amazon Payments. You can even send the money from your card, via their Amazon Payments account, to you.

You can use Amazon payments to:

  • Help meet minimum spend on a credit card to earn the signup bonus
  • Just earn the 1000 miles a month
  • Liquidate prepaid American Express or Visa gift cards

The only caveat on this last, buying prepaid gift cards (such as at a store where you earn bonus points for doing so), is that frequent changing of cards in your Amazon account could be a flag that gets that account additional attention. Although there are certainly some people that do it, month in and month out.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Don’t want to be the bearer of possible bad news, but just bought a couple of Vanilla Reloads at a CVS in NYC and noticed that the look of the card was a bit off.

    When I got home I compared it to previous cards I had bought before and the AmEx logo was ominously missing from the participating partners logos. The Amex logo is also missing from the Vanilla Reload website.

    I was still able to recharge Bluebird with these new cards and with no problem, but I am afraid AmEx may end support. Does anyone know anything about this? Anyone notice this change?

  2. There is little to no evidence of anyone being able to obtain a cash advance off an unregistered My Vanilla debit card. The bank I went to was willing, however, the transaction came back declined, so it is the issuer of the MVD which would not allow it. Does anyone have any evidence to the contrary?

  3. Also beware of fraudulent VR cards. I am currently out $1,000 from these, although I fully expect to be reimbursed by InComm (the maker of the VRs) or by my credit card company via a dispute. This event has certainly taken the fun out of my VR + Bluebird experience.

  4. @Gene – “[F]raudulent VR cards”? Can you please elaborate? Purchased in a CVS or other store? Counterfeit/Fake? Bad reload pin(s)? Otherwise?

    @Points Surfer – Agree the newer cards do not have AmEx or momentum (Visa) logos on the front, but the backs of both old and new cards are identical, including listing Visa, MC & AmEx. I’d chalk it up to a marketing change.

  5. I tried the MVD with the unregistered card at my local BoA branch. They said they couldn’t do it as my name wasn’t on it and they could not verify it was mine. I may try a different teller later, but the first implied it was branch policy.

  6. Other good ways, which arent quite the self-fulfilling cycle:

    Prepaying utilities/bills/cable
    Buying giftcards (retail yes, but also grocery stores, movie theaters, Amazon, airlines if you buy holiday tickets every year, etc.)

  7. Hmmm. Never heard that switching cards on AP cards causes a problem. Might have to look into that. Been doing prepaid cards via OD to meet spend for Ink.

  8. @Points Surver, @Frequent Miler

    Re: the different designs on VR cards. To my knowledge the Amex logo has never been on the VR cards at CVS. I noticed that difference back when OD was still selling the cards, so it’s definitely not a recent change. (what was that? Ten years ago? Seems like it.)

  9. one other thing to add is purchasing FAR items at various online and B&M sites. I recently bought 5 software titles from Staples that were Free After Rebate and already received the rebates. Just make sure to make scan all documents in case you have to go chasing after them. Granted this takes time and effort…but its one more step to making that spend on a card.

  10. The closest CVS’s to me in Los Angeles have been sold out of Vanilla reloads for weeks now – very frustrating.

  11. @Mark — Yes, at CVS in Atlanta. The cards had only 6 digits of the 10-digit PIN. I did not discover this until the day after purchase, when I went to load the funds to my Bluebird card. The cards had already been emptied about two hours after purchase by someone who had access to the PINs. This is either an inside job or the cards were tampered with. I am betting on the latter of these two theories. It’s been a week, and I’ve not received a response from InComm other than “they are still investigating”. The CSRs at InComm have been very friendly, but I’m getting a little impatient at this point. I plan to begin pressing the issue in a day or two.

  12. So we all should get multiple amazon payments accounts? And one for all our relatives? When AP pulls the plug will you be claiming you had no part in it?

  13. @HikerT: No, we should all get 3 AP accts for ourselves, and 3 for each of our relatives. And yes, that will last real long when we are all pumping $25k per month thru AP. And of course it’s demise would have nothing to do with this blog article. 🙁 Gary never claims any responsibility. He is almost as bad as MMS.

  14. @Points Surfer

    Since I’ve started buying VRs in November I’ve ever seen them with or without the AMEX logo (most have them, but even last week I bought one without), and I only buy them at CVS (I bought 3 at a Walgreens before x-mas, but that was a one-off), and they have always worked with Bluebird. I’ve always assumed they were an old batch that was produced before AMEX was working with Incomm, but of course I can be wrong.

  15. Gary, unless I’m missing no one other than you in your January 1 post on MVD actually confirmed cash advancing unregistered (obviously nameless) MVD temp. cards. Just reread through all the comments there and lots of people confirmed having transactions declined at banks that were more than willing to CA nameless cards, but no one reported being able to actually CA an unregistered card. One person did at first, but then corrected themselves a few comments later saying that the nameless card they cash advanced was in fact registered first. I also just reread all the comments on the Dans Deals early December post on cash advancing MVD cards, and after carefully going through the comments there no one confirmed it working either…

    My own experience as I’ve stated previously has been that the transaction was declined (by the system) at close to a dozen banks now (at large national and local banks). I must be missing something though, as it doesn’t seem to make sense to me how it wouldn’t work at multiple Chase, BOA, Citi, and PNC locations in multiple states, in addition to several local banks, since the transaction is going through the Visa network as a CA no matter which branch/FI is processing it and should appear the same on the back end to Bancorp (MVD card issuer)….

  16. Correction, my bad was able to find one person confirming it, looks like the guy in comment number 88 in your January 1 post confirmed being able to CA $200 on an unregistered card but not $49X…

  17. @HikerT this will get pulled eventually, period. The question is when and why, it has gone on awhile I’ve written very little about it to date on purpose. It’s hard to say, when this gets killed, that it was killed prematurely. Will it be because of my blog? Or Flyertalk? Or the private forum where folks have scores of accounts and are doing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year? We probably won’t ever know. When that time comes will you acknowledge that?

  18. I acknowledge that I can only control what I do or post. I can encourage others think about the implications of whey they do or post, but the responsibility for their actions falls on them not me. I really don’t understand the point of blogging about this stuff repeatedly, and it hasn’t been that long since you posted about MVD.

  19. @John, I agree that it is NOT possible to use unregistered cards. I tried to cash advance $200 and $250 from an unregistered card on Friday and it was declined. The bank was more than willing to advance me the funds. It was the system that declined the cash advance. Over the weekend, I registered the card, and today, the cash advance went through without a hitch. I would like to know where the plenty of people Gary refers to. It’s just not possible to use an unregistered card.

  20. And to think, people used to earn their frequent flyer miles by actually flying. 🙂

    There is so much incentive these days (for good reason!) to try to get as many miles as possible off of the credit cards that every scheme gets maxed out and shut down. I’m certain that Amazon Payments will go that route because, with other avenues closed, it becomes more attractive. A pity, because it’s a nice way to get rid of those pesky random gift cards one winds up with (like when a manufacturer insists on rebating you money in the form of a gift card, instead of a check or paypal deposit).

  21. Yup waiting for this to be regurgitated next week and the week after and again and again.

    Shame on the readers of this blog. Make your $$ count and stop applying for any CCs through blogs like this and MMS and others who are just regurgitating this over and over again.

    Find ways to earn miles yourself. These articles are published to actually kill the deals on purpose because the real deals are the main source. These are just backup methods intended to make unsuspecting folks fight over the small stream of miles.

    All ideas in this post have been stolen from FT and other blogs and have always been in public domain. Take a moment and think for yourself why do these deals get repeatedly posted over and over on these commercial blogs?

  22. Unfortunately it’s much easier to remember criticism than compliments, so I’ll say this big. I REALLY APPRECIATE ALL THAT YOU SHARE GARY! Thanks 🙂

  23. Can you go over a registered card vs unregistered.
    I thought you had to register the card to use it for Any purpose?
    At least that was what I was told at the store where I purchased it.

  24. I was given 2 new PINs totaling $1,000 by InComm this morning. I cannot say enough good things about this company. I will definitely be buying lots more of their product, especially now that they are available at the CVS next to my office!

  25. Hi Gary

    Great post

    If I send $ 1K thru AP from My Visa XXXX to my husbands Visa YYYY
    Can he then send from Visa YYYY back to my XXXX ?
    How long does one need to wait to send from YYYY to XXXX ??

    If I got this wrong please elaborate

    Thanks – I am a newbie

  26. Can a household have multiple AP accounts under different SSNs and send money to one another (maybe always one direction)? will AP shut down account for this case? thanks.

  27. I went to 20 (ok, ok…it was 19!) Walgreens & CVS stores today. I finally found a store that had them. It probably took about 4 hours.

  28. I went to 20 (ok, ok…it was 19!) Walgreens & CVS stores today. I finally found a store that had them. It probably took about 4 hours.

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