Travel hacking by manufactured spending 12

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Last month, we shared some of the more uncommon travel hacking techniques we’ve discovered, including the idea of “Spending Money That Isn’t Yours.” This month, we look at a specialized application of this approach – manufactured spending.

Using your travel rewards credit card to generate manufactured spending will have you seeing places like Ephesus for free.

Visiting Ephesus on Points!

The basis of travel hacking by manufactured spending is to make a financial transaction with the objective of earning rewards points on a travel credit card, while returning that money to pay off the credit card bill. Let’s call it what it is – money laundering. But essentially, you are making a loan to yourself against the credit card and then paying off the loan. The only true net cost is the transaction fee.

The best way to do this is to use your travel loyalty credit card to purchase a “cash like” product. We like Visa gift cards because they are easy to find, you can get them in large denominations, and it is easy to utilize the debit card functionality to extract the cash (typically through a Bluebird by American Express bank account). Finally, you close the circle and pay off the loan to yourself.

Use your travel rewards credit card to make a purchase for a "cash-like" product, such as Visa Gift Cards.

Visa Gift Cards – Our “Cash-like” product of choice

Here is a step-by-step process to implement this travel hack:

  1. Go to and set up an account.
  2. Go to a store that sells Visa gift cards and purchase them using a credit card that awards you points/miles. Look for cards that will allow you put $500 on each Visa gift card (the transaction fee will be $4.95).
  3. Now you must physically go to a Walmart store to load your Visa gift card onto your Bluebird account (either at an in-store kiosk or by speaking to a customer service representative).
  4. From your computer, log into your Bluebird account. You can either pay off your credit card via bill pay or write a check to yourself – either option returns the cash to you.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4.

The reward is significant! If you do the full $5,000 (the limit you can load onto your Bluebird in a calendar month), you’ll “spend” $5,049.50 per month and get 5049 miles/points, but that is only $49.50 in terms of net cost (so your cost per mile/point is $0.0098) assuming you use a credit card with 1-point or mile per dollar. During the year, that is 60,594 points/miles. Think of how many trips you could take with that!

Convert your "cash-like" product into actual cash using Bluebird from American Express

Convert to Cash with Bluebird

A few final words. If you time this right, you’ll never be out any of the money – you can pay off your credit card with the money from your Bluebird account before the credit card bill is due. You may encounter questions from store clerks about what you are doing. It’s not worth arguing. This is legal, but sometimes they can be difficult. It’s best to go to another store or come back at another time. You might read about this manufactured spending travel hack on the Internet using something called Vanilla Reload. Due to changes in April 2014, you can no longer use credit cards to purchase Vanilla Reload, which has made this hack more complicated. If you’re going to try it, just stick with the Visa gift cards.

If you look at many travel reward credit cards, they can offer huge bonuses for meeting a minimum spend. For example, some credit cards will give you 50,000+ points/miles once you spend $1,000 with them. The Starwood American Express will also give you Gold Status once you spend $30,000 in a year. This travel hack is a great way to meet those minimum spending levels.

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About Lance and Laura

Working a 50-hour-per-week desk job with only 3 weeks of vacation per year doesn't mean you can’t see the world. Since 2008, Laura and Lance Longwell have been blogging at Travel Addicts, writing about how to maximize a North American vacation allotment while cave tubing in Belize, cruising the Nile in Egypt, or exploring the French Quarter of New Orleans. Laura and Lance have pretty much always had the travel bug. When he was a child, Lance’s parents ensured he saw all 50 U.S. states by the age of 15. Laura’s parents sent her to England for a month in preparation for moving halfway across the U.S. for college in Manhattan. Over the last 15 years, they have traveled together across 5 continents taking in street art, food markets, music, and the tasty beverages of their various destinations. Business travel and a desire to mix convenience with value have led them to use frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty programs regularly to offset the costs of travel and gain upgrades (who doesn't want to fly first class to Paris?). They write about their experiences with points and miles, teaching others the art of travel hacking. Read about Laura and Lance’s travels at Travel Addicts, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for their latest updates.

12 thoughts on “Travel hacking by manufactured spending

  • Rachel of Hippie in Heels

    I’ve heard of this before in a book I read, it’s so funny though even when I learn so much about travel hacking, I don’t really get into it too much, yet I stop up on points at different stores to get, like, a free chapstick! lol

  • Stephen

    I only recently heard about the change with Vanilla Reloads. Bummer, as I used the AmEx HHonors a few years back to score TONS of points at CVS with those! But, alas, the game changes. Do you know offhand of anywhere that sells Visa GC’s that might at least bring a spending bonus category into play?

    • Lance and Laura Post author

      We’ve seen category bonuses on Visa GCs by purchasing them at standard grocery stores. It seems to work for 2x points. Give that a shot.

  • Alana - Paper Planes

    I’ve heard about this a couple times, but I still don’t fully get it…perhaps because I’ve been living in an area too long where I NEVER use a credit card – I’m not used dealing with credit/cards/points/bills!

    • Lance and Laura Post author

      Alana – not all of the travel hacks are credit card based. If you read our post last month, we talked about several hacks that had nothing to do with credit cards. Maybe that will be helpful for you. Good luck!

  • Chris @ One Weird Globe

    Been meaning to look into this. My wife and I are already traveling the long-term way (since 2008 in Asia!). I don’t even think I’d qualify for a credit card anymore… It’s definitely the sort of thing you have to stay on top of, but it sounds like it’s paying off for you.

  • Katie

    I just want to point out that if you use the Chase Ink Plus/Bold and buy your Visa gift cards at an office supplies store, you’ll be making 5x points on the dollar for the first $50,000 spent… so you could be making a ridiculous amount of points!!

  • Adam @ Round the World we go

    That’s such a clever way to travel hack! I’m book marking this for future use – Thanks!

  • rahul ranjan

    i heard first time this type of inccident..i will share definitely this story with my freinds….

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