Manufactured spend (MS) refers to a collection of techniques used by credit card gamers and hackers, people who exploit credit card rewards to make money.
They do their best to profit simply by using credit cards as a payment method to spend extremely large amounts without actually buying anything.
This is distinct from the well-known concept of credit card churning, but the two strategies can be and often are combined.
These techniques are legal but can certainly seem suspicious, and more than one manufactured spender has been denied at the register and/or investigated about their spending habits. There are other reports of people having their credit card accounts closed, or being blacklisted from getting new cards from particular issuers.
Rewards For Free?
While we all love earning rewards for buying things with credit cards, MS takes this to the extreme.
The main goal of MS is to earn credit card rewards without actually spending money on anything in the end, or by buying things in such a way that the rewards you earn end up being more than what you spent. Basically, you purchase something that is the equivalent of cash and then quickly liquidate it into cash, earning a lot of rewards but spending very little. Practitioners try to minimize fees and time spent researching, traveling, and buying things to maximize profit.
By manufacturing spend you can quickly earn all sorts of cash back and benefits. Reward and travel credit cards (offering miles instead of points) are the most popular.
This may sound awesome so far, but consider this. Most of the strategies you’ll find can be time consuming and require you to drive to different stores, banks, etc., and if you calculate how much you’re going to profit you’ll find that it often isn’t much. Personally my time is worth much more, monetarily speaking, when I write articles like this and work my day job.
Weigh your options carefully before embarking on a manufactured spending odyssey, and consider the opportunity cost you’re paying.
Some Objectives of Manufactured Spenders
- profit by clever purchases and money transfers
- reach minimum spend requirements for introductory, annual, and periodic bonuses
- reach upgraded status for airline and hotel benefit programs, which come with elite benefits that make traveling a richer experience
Popular Manufactured Spend Strategies
Manufactured spenders are in a constant war with the terms laid out by credit card issuers and the policies of various retail stores. There is a huge variety of methods used to manufacture spend, and new tactics are constantly being discovered and discussed on Internet forums.
These strategies also often rely on credit card portals, websites that allow you to earn more rewards at specific retailers.
Let’s start out with some easy and well-known examples, and then get into more complicated schemes.
American Express Reloadable Prepaid Debit Cards
American Express offers several reloadable prepaid debit cards commonly used by MS’ers:
These cards can be used to manufacture spend in a few different ways; here are three of them.
1. Prepaid Cards and Vanilla Reload Gift Cards
Not long ago, Vanilla Reload gift cards were central to one of the most popular MS strategies. Much to the annoyance of MS’ers, the following plot was foiled when CVS Pharmacy stopped accepting credit cards for purchases of gift cards.
- Step 1: Obtain a credit card that offers cash back for purchases from CVS. Let’s use 3% cash back for this example.
- Step 2: Obtain a reloadable prepaid debit card.
- Step 3: Use the credit card to purchase $1,000 in Vanilla Reload gift cards at CVS. Two Vanilla Reload cards are needed because each card can only hold up to $500, and they cost $3.95 each. You earn 3% cash back on the purchase for a total of $30 in cash back.
- Step 4: Use the Vanilla Reload card to load your prepaid debit card with $1,000.
- Step 5: Use your prepaid debit card’s fund of $1,000 to pay off your credit card bill of $1,000, using the bill pay feature of the prepaid card.
This is the essence of much MS. As you can see you’ve moved your money in a circle, earning some cash back in the process. The two Vanilla Reload cards cost $7.90 together but there are no other fees, so your net profit is $22.10.
To make this process even more profitable, churners will obtain multiple credit cards that all offer introductory bonuses for spending. Then, by manufacturing tens of thousands of dollars of spend in the first few months, they can quickly earn a massive amount of extra points, miles, cash back, etc.
Alternative strategies incorporate money orders as a way to transfer funds from gift cards into bank accounts.
2. The Target Prepaid REDcard Makes It Even Easier
An even easier scheme uses the Target REDcard, and bypasses the need for a gift card entirely.
- Step 1: Obtain a credit card that offers some amount of cash back at Target, lets say just 1% for this example.
- Step 2: Obtain the Target REDcard reloadable prepaid debit card.
- Step 3: Load the REDcard with $1,000 at Target using your credit card, earning 1% cash back for the load purchase for a total of $10.
- Step 4: Use the $1,000 balance on the REDcard to pay off your $1,000 credit card bill, using the bill pay feature of the REDcard.
With this method manufactured spenders don’t even need to spend money on gift cards, and there is less traveling required.
3. An “Underwear” Strategy with the Serve Prepaid Card
So called “underwear strategies” are a favorite among MS’ers. They get their name from the simple fact that you can complete them from home on your computer, and in your underwear if you so choose.
The Serve prepaid card offers such a strategy, although it’s less profitable than other methods because of the limits placed on loading the card.
- Step 1: Obtain a credit card that will offer cash back for online purchases, say 1%.
- Step 2: Obtain a Serve reloadable prepaid debit card.
- Step 3: Log on to your Serve account online, and link your credit card to your Serve account.
- Step 4: Fund your Serve account using your credit card, earning cash back. You’re limited to $200 per day and $1,000 per month with this method, leaving you with a profit of $10 at the end of the month if you max it out.
Amazon Payments with WebPay
This was a very easy and popular method to manufacture spend while it lasted, but, as of October 2014, Amazon stopped offering the ability to send and receive money to and from personal accounts. This tactic required a friend that you could trust with a whole lot of your money.
- Step 1: Obtain a credit card that will offer rewards for purchases at Amazon.com – let’s say 5% cash back.
- Step 2: Obtain an Amazon account.
- Step 3: Obtain a trusted friend with an Amazon account.
- Step 4: Use your credit card to send $1,000 to your friend’s account, earning $50 in cash back. The key here used to be selecting “Goods/Services” as the transaction type, instead of “Cash Advance.”
- Step 5: Your friend sends you the $1,000, or withdraws the cash and gives it to you.
- Step 6: Deposit the $1,000 into your checking account.
- Step 7: Use the $1,000 to pay off your original credit card charge.
Pay Your Taxes with A Credit Card
Credit cards are an accepted form of payment for federal taxes, and here the calculation is an easy one. While not a traditional example of manufactured spend, this tactic stays true to the concept of making money simply by using a credit card.
Check the fee for paying your taxes with a credit card, and compare that to the rewards you will earn from the payment. If your rewards are more than the fee, you are essentially being paid a bit of money to pay with a credit card as well as spending money towards any bonuses you might earn. Typical processing fees for credit cards are under 2%.
A clever manufactured spender might buy a gift card at a location where she will earn a category bonus like 3%, and then somehow use the funds on the gift card to pay her taxes.
Pay Your Mortgage and Other Bills with a Credit Card
Manufactured spenders may be able to use some of the techniques described above to pay off any bills they have, but there is in fact an easier way.
There is a free bill-payment service called Evolve Money that allows you to pay your bills with a number of funding sources, including credit cards. You can pay your mortgage, phone bills, cable bills, Internet bills, utilities, student loans, and more through this service.
As you’ve probably already guessed, you need only link your rewards-earning credit card up to the service and then pay your bills as normal. Unlike most people you’ll earn spending rewards for these large payments, like points or cash back, and probably a lot of them.
Reselling Purchases for a Profit… and Free Rewards
Reselling is the simple idea of buying an item and then selling it again, hopefully for a greater price than you bought it for. Reselling has become much more profitable for people who combine this with manufactured spend strategies to earn rewards on their purchases as well.
Credit card portals often play a key role here. During the holidays especially, a portal may offer a massive bonus to the rewards earned at a particular retailer (in addition to base points earned), giving a substantial discount to any purchases made through that portal.
You can probably see where this is going. Any additional discounts you can find will make your reselling of an item that much more profitable.
In addition, credit card’s typically feature protection benefits that allow you to get a better price for a purchase if you find it being advertised for less, or will replace a broken or stolen item.
Check out this devious scheme for reselling gift cards through portals:
- Step 1: Obtain a credit card that features a shopping portal – many popular card issuers do so.
- Step 2: Use the portal to find a discount at a retailer that sells general gift cards – Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc. Let’s say you find an offer for 10% cash back in total (1% for your credit card and 9% for the portal bonus offer).
- Step 3: Buy a $100 gift card at that retailer. You now have a $100 gift card that you only spent $90 on, plus any additional fees.
- Step 3: Use the portal again, but this time use the gift card you just bought to buy a $100 item for 9% off, reducing the cost to $91.
In this example you spent $90 on the $100 gift card, and then $91 on a $100 item. You made $19 here: $10 through the initial cash back deal, plus the $9 balance left on the gift card. If you were to resell the item you bought in the end for more than you paid, you’d be making even more.
Pro’s Only: Manufacturing Delta Gold and Diamond Status
If you were impressed by the previous techniques, you should know that they’re basically peanuts when compared to the massive (but highly organized) strategies used by the most daring and adventurous MS’ers.
Do you fly much? How would you like to get out of economy class permanently, receive all sorts of complementary services and upgrades to make your flights more comfortable, access airport lounges, have your fees for baggage waived, and get all sorts of extra niceties?
Manufactured spenders can get all this faster and more cheaply than you’d imagine. Many airline programs offer status upgrades for increased spending and traveling, but it usually takes a long time and lot of flying to get there. MS’ers use a shortcut.
We won’t go into all the details here, of which there are many, but here’s the basic outline. This method requires a partner-in-manufactured-spending, most often a spouse:
- Step 1: You and your partner obtain multiple Delta-branded credit cards that offer a lot of introductory and spending bonuses in the form of miles, taking advantage of the fact that one person can own two copies of a single credit card: a personal version and a business version. You obtain two cards, and your partner obtains one for now.
- Step 2: You become an authorized user on your partner’s card, allowing you to make purchases and earn miles.
- Step 3: Each person uses manufactured spend techniques to max out their bonus mile awards, bypassing certain restrictions by spending a whole lot of money.
- Step 4: Your partner gifts you the miles he has earned, giving you enough to earn Diamond Status.
- Step 5: One of the benefits of Delta Diamond Status is the ability to gift Gold Status to another cardholder; you use this benefit to give your partner Gold Status. These upgrades will last for the rest of the year along with the entire next year, until the end of January of the year after that.
- Step 6: When the next year begins, your partner gets another Delta credit card and the process is repeated, but this time the giftable miles go to your partner.
- Step 7: With some actual flying, your partner can reach Diamond status that year.
- Step 8: Travel the world in luxury, making your friends jealous and confused.
Classic Manufactured Spend Strategies No Longer Working
Credit and prepaid card terms and store policies change, closing off some avenues for manufactured spend while opening up new ones. These are some of the most well-known strategies that were countered by changes in terms and store policies.
- The golden age of Vanilla Reload cards, when you could buy gift cards at CVS with a credit card (see above)
- Amazon Payments with WebPay (see above)
- Buying $1 coins with a credit card and earning cash back, then depositing them into your bank account.
- Staples selling gift cards through online portals (very profitable and popular when available)
- Visa Buxx, a prepaid card program that still works for some but doesn’t accept new members.
- Using the Ink Bold Card (no longer offered) to load an American Express Serve prepaid card online.
Is Manufactured Spend Worth It?
Some people are obsessed with MS, and there are even rumors of people who make their entire living with manufactured spend. How many fake ID’s and Social Security Numbers they have, I don’t care to know.
The manufactured spend forums are constantly buzzing with questions and reports: this card works here, but the terms have changed and there’s now a restrictive fee. This offer is valid for the next 12 hours, but your favorite credit card is no longer accepted at your favorite store.
The ups and downs are constant, as profits for the companies involved dwindle until they respond with a change of terms, which prompts new exploration and research into the latest deals.
So, before you spend hours looking and applying for the right cards, researching rewards programs and store categories, driving around town to look for the right retailers, transferring money between accounts, researching rewards programs and store categories again as terms change, and having a lively conversation on forums, ask yourself: am I really making money, or should I just be at work?
Are you a manufactured spender? Do you love it, or does it actually cost you money? Have you had any problems? Let us know in the comments below!