Earning Miles By Buying Money Orders With a Debit Card

Frugal Travel Guy writes about something of a recent Flyertalk controversy.

mrpickles posted his experience successfully using a mileage-earning debit card to purchase money orders, earning miles and depositing the money orders in his account to restore his balance.

This wasn’t the first time anyone had posted about this particular bank and this particular merchant, but the group of members who knew about the deal went ballistic demanding that the information be removed. They feared exposure on Flyertalk would ‘kill the deal.’

And they’re probably right.

As a moderator of the forum where it was posted, MilesBuzz, I was asked by members to intervene and remove the post. Of course I wouldn’t, as the post was certainly not against the rules. The role of a moderator is not to keep information out of folks’ hands. And not to decide who is entitled to know about a deal and who is not.

My belief has always been along the lines of information wants to be free, that no one has a greater right to it than anyone else. Sure, a deal may get killed by why should the people who know about it have a right to keep it private for their own benefit, rather than letting others have the information and use it before the opportunity goes away? All deals end eventually, and there are always more deals.

Of course, when someone shares information with me confidentially I honor 100% the terms under which it was shared. And I’ve certainly appreciated the information that folks have been good enough to share and the lessons that they’ve taught me over the years — whether the information and the lessons have been private ones or public ones.

But on a public forum, and in an official capacity, I can’t act as a censor.

Anyway, lots of time spent by my co-moderator of that forum cleaning up the personal attacks in the thread. And mrpickles edited out the content from his original post.

And ultimately, the deal isn’t even that useful:

  • There are daily and annual mileage earning limits to the debit card which appears to earn miles for these transactions, so it’s really not all that lucrative.
  • The bank in question does not intend to award miles for these transactions, at any given moment the opportunity could go away and the effort will have been for naught, folks won’t even know until the miles either post or they don’t.
  • And for those that care, the bank doesn’t look kindly on these transactions, if they figure out what you’re doing they may ban you from doing business with them for life. There are already reports of some closed bank accounts.

Despite the limited applicability of the deal, that it was already public, there was quite the uproar. I like to be an information ‘have’ as much as the next guy, but I admit I didn’t get it.

At the same time, I wasn’t going to post about the deal before it was public on Flyertalk, and before Frugal Travel Guy posted about it as well. I ponder whether that makes me a hypocrite. I think that the information ought to be free, but I don’t necessarily play a role in making it so. But once others are writing about it, the horse has left the barn, I’m happy to share the links.

I don’t advise most folks take advantage of this one. I’m not publishing the bank or the store, but a little poking around will reveal pretty easily both answers.

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. Besides, these schemes require way too much effort. There are FAR easier ways to generate more than enough miles for you and your family to travel inexpensively and in style.

  2. The moderator response on FT was spot on. Some people just think they own info. Once they are in the club, they don’t want anyone else in, and that nobody else deserves to get in. Like others this particular one is not that appealing to me. Though I can’t stand the bank in question so being banned from them for life would just make me laugh. But still there is absolutely no reason not to share the info. and it is still available in the thread anyway. thanks Gary for continuing to spread democracy. Maybe this group should go form their own little clan in North Korea 🙂

  3. It has also been mentioned on Twitter that Walmart will accept gift cards to buy money orders. Have not validated this but would allow people to get 1 mile for each dollar of money order rather that 1 mile for 2 dollars.

  4. I don’t believe in withholding info, but the newer members don’t play by the rules. They start making phone calls to verify details from the CSRs of the institutions whose loopholes enable people to harvest the airline miles. This kills the deals lot sooner than if everyone refrained from talking to the CSRs, in this case the bank. Old timers get ticked off, not as much by the revelations, but more by the newbies talking up a storm with the CSRs of the institutions they are dealing with. I wish there was some happy medium to keep all the chatter level low while members went about their business of accumulating more miles. Bless Mr. Pickles for finding all these deals and willing to share it all, even at the expense of losing that source of free miles.

  5. The biggest reason people don’t want this deal exposed is because they’re afraid that some sneaky reporter would fish the info out of some FTer looking for fame, write an article in a newspaper, and then the deal would be gone for good. Similar scenario happened with US Mint. It is still going on, but the changes in the program were caused precisely due to that. Now this bank isn’t the government, so it will shut it down.
    Therefore, I believe their request is legitimate and the point that they don’t want others to do it is invalid.

  6. The money order deal has been alluded to, or outright stated in posts many times before on FT.

    (Don’t know if some of those posts have been edited)

    AFAIK, Mr. Pickles posting of the deal was the first time it had its own THREAD.

  7. I agree with Jonathan.

    “@gene care to share?”

    Other than credit cards sign up bonuses, frequent flier promos, hotel promos, bank promos, etc, I dont know of any other:

    “FAR easier ways to generate more than enough miles for you and your family to travel inexpensively and in style.” as Gene said… I’d love to hear of them Gene cause my miles & points accounts are at an all time low right now, & I got a honeymoon to pull off in a year or so…

  8. @Ram… this is in a good point and I agree. First rule: Don’t call! Yet there always seem to be some folks who do. I wonder if that kills deals more quickly than anything else.

    I saw the FT thread right after Mrpickles posted and followed the ensuing drama a bit. The deal is more hassle than I’m willing to put up with…there are too few hours in the day as it is. But great if it works for some.

  9. I keep my word about keeping secrets, but high volume scammers acting as if they are entitled to censor flyertalk and that their interests come ahead of those of others are making flyertalk less fun.

    Come to think of it, the B of A shareholders have never been that obnoxious to me. I think it’s time to move the pro-censorship activists to the bottom of my priority list for a while and put the interests of everyone else ahead of theirs. Here goes.

    The store selling money orders by PIN debit purchase is Walmart.

    The debit cards from the flyertalk thread are Bank of America USAir and Alaska airlines cards.

    Maybe this technique might also work with some other debit cards that earn on PIN transactions (rare, but not unique to B of A) and maybe some other retailers that sell money orders, if any.

    I have never tried this, so I am not speaking from experience.

  10. Ok people, I will offer the other view and I hope it doesn’t get deleted.

    I have known of this deal for many years and I have told people I can trust over time.

    Like others, I have known about this ever since an FT thread about these same 2 debit cards was responsible for an article being written in WSJ which killed a deal where you could use these cards to buy MOs at the post office.

    Too much exposure too quickly is what killed that so people moved to WM. That was back in 2003.

    And quietly and over time, people like me have leaked this gig to those we thought could handle it and do it without blowing it for everybody. I am no judge or jury but I had gotten to know people well and treated it in the same way one would treat trading awards on coupon connection.

    It has lasted 7 years because everyone did their part. And I would estimate that there are a great deal of FT people who did it since then.

    But the thing is, with this deal, it can only work if you are smart and careful. And that’s because there are SO many caveats and things you need to know in order to do this gig right without running into serious problems. Basically, however, the FT thread had left out ALL of that info! So yeah, sure, now a billion people know about it but they are all going to get BURNED! the FT thread was more like when a marketing ad tells you about all the free stuff you can win but nobody sees or pays attention to the fine print. In this case, there was none!

    What should have happened is this–and I will just use these numbers below as an example:

    Slowly over time 1,000 people get to know of the deal and it works. it grows but it is kept quiet. Friends can tell friends. No one goes too big and no one plasters FT or other areas online with it. No tweet, no blog, no nothing.

    But instead, it has now gone out there too quickly without care of thorough details and careful planning and important instructions for the new person who may try this thing thinking it’s just plain old easy as pie.

    This has happened because a few people who have egos and want to show off post it on FT (and now on websites) and now, to expand on my numbers example, 2,000 people know of it too quickly but way too half arsed, and half of them WILL get burned by the bank!

    Then, because of THAT, the bank shuts it down for everyone–including the thread starter and the web people.

    While some may feel a person like me is a jerk for even saying all this and also has no right to keep info from others, I believe that irresponsible posting of this information without taking EVERYTHING into account and carefully leaking it to fewer people is going to hurt A LOT of people (Just believe me, a lot was left out of the original post on FT and others I have seen.

    For starters, ChexSystems will be informed WHEN BofA closes your account for what they view as a form of money laundering, fraud and churning. And ChexSystem, is kind of like the credit bureaus but for bank accounts.

    I can tell you more but I’m too busy trying to find a new way to earn my miles now that someone decided to take it upon themselves that they should ruin this avenue for me and many others.

    thanks a lot.

  11. Also I think people dont like that egotistical loser Pickles in the 1st place. He is an attention whore and proceeds to act like it over and over. Its a shame.

  12. People censoring deals like this all the time grate me a bit on Flyertalk. I am about ready to start posting all the fuel dump tricks.

  13. Jack, Do you see a reason to publicly out a strategy that with increased use will kill the deal? If its a useable strategy that is scalable then sure share away. But it seems self defeating to knowingly publicize something that will immediately be shut down for the sake of “giving everyone a shot at it”

  14. “Some people just think they own info. Once they are in the club, they don’t want anyone else in, and that nobody else deserves to get in.”


    I am the guy who requested that the info be deleted. Do you really think I don’t want others to earn miles? Have you looked at my website, Free Frequent Flyer Miles? Maybe there is something more to this…

  15. @Jeff F seems the responsible thing to do would of been to post the caveats of it in the thread as soon as it was posted. You have a perfect right to keep information from others, and if you have some super elite point earning method I don’t really care. If someone posts your super secret point earning method, I don’t really care either though.

  16. Could it be a better strategy to make a large deposit to BOA Checking prior to starting this, say $50K from a second bank and then not depositing the MO’s back to BOA but to a 3rd bank? Seems like this would be premptive, and would look less like churning.

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