On Monday, I published a post outlining the details of a long-standing but little-known travel hacking technique: using PIN-based debit cards to make credit card payments at Walmart Money Center and Customer Service registers. Then on Tuesday I compared the potential cost per dollar (CPD) of manufactured spend you can achieve using various PIN-based debit products.
In the days leading up to this week's series, I promised "a new, game-changing hack which will double or triple the amount of manufactured spend" you can generate each month. But when the details were revealed, they were met with a shrug from many of my readers. I'm not here to judge – I'm here to provide you with my ideas, analysis, and experiences in the world of travel hacking. But the indifferent reaction did start me thinking about the following question:
What do you do when you find out about a new travel hacking technique?
The natural impulse when a new technique like Walmart billpay comes along is to think "how can I add this to my existing system?" And there is a perfectly natural answer: buy PIN-based Visa prepaid debit cards, preferably at a merchant that gives a category bonus (like supermarkets with the American Express Hilton HHonors and Surpass cards), and liquidate those cards at your local Walmart Money Center or Customer Service center.
I would argue that that's the wrong impulse, and that's part of what has led to a lot of frustration among people who've tried using this technique and found it to be more trouble than it's worth. Indeed, it sounds like a special kind of hell buying Visa gift cards in sets of four, taking them to Walmart, asking an underpaid, undertrained Walmart cashier for a $1,998.12 bill payment – and then asking to pay using four $500 gift cards! It's no surprise that people experience a lot of resistance and heartburn if that's their unloading strategy.
But remember the features of the products you've already been exploiting for months: Bluebird allows you to load up to $1,000 per day and $5,000 per calendar month in Vanilla Reload Network reload cards OR register loads at Walmart – and those loads can be done at any Walmart register (I've even done them at the small register at the end of the self-checkout aisle). Gobank allows up to $2,500 per day in PIN-based debit loads at Walmart. While you can load $1,100 twice using a MyVanilla Debit card for a total cost of $1.00, you can also load $500 5 times, at 5 different registers, for free using PIN-based gift cards.
Even better, if your local Walmarts have Money Center kiosks (mine don't), you can load your Bluebird and Gobank accounts there, without even interacting with a cashier.
Then you can use your MyVanilla Debit cards, or other high-limit PIN-based debit products to make single, large, credit card bill payments at the Customer Service desk or Money Center without any fuss: no split transactions, no anonymous gift cards. The same goes for your US Bank and Nationwide Visa Buxx cards (but don't forget the $800 rolling 7-day purchase limit with Nationwide Visa Buxx).
I'm not recommending this, or any other, specific loading and unloading strategy. What I'm recommending is that rather than just stacking new techniques on top of your favorite existing techniques, think about your miles and points strategy holistically in order to get the most out of each horrible, soul-crushing, but shockingly lucrative trip to Walmart.
With that said, I'm dismounting the soapbox! Check back tomorrow, when I'll share my plan going forward, integrating Walmart billpay into my own miles and points strategy, and on Friday I'll share some additional data points that I hope readers will find useful.