In the last few weeks I saw posts from two of my favorite Boarding Area bloggers/punching bags that helped crystalize something I've been turning over in my head for a little while.
At the end of September, Gary at View From the Wing wrote about the AAA Visa card. Since I'm apparently the only person on earth who still buys AAA Visa gift cards, my ears perked up. But instead of actually exploring the card's (substantial) benefits, he put it up to a superficial comparison with the Chase Sapphire Preferred and called it a life.
Then just this week Lucky at One Mile at a Time wrote a handwringing piece entitled "Is The Mileage 'Game' Finally Dying?" He wrote:
"Let me start by explaining how I earn miles. Unlike others, I don’t do “manufactured spending.” I find that for the most part it’s only marginally “profitable,” so it’s not really something I do."
I strongly believe that no one should do anything they're not comfortable with, especially not just because you think everyone else is doing it. If you think it's wrong to come up with a business "idea" in order to apply for a small business credit card, you shouldn't do it. If you think it's unethical to take advantage of mistake fares, you shouldn't do it. And if you think manufactured spend is wrong, boring, or unprofitable, you shouldn't do it.
But to write that the travel hacking game is "dying" just because the tiny plot you studiously tend is going bust is ridiculous.
Which brings me back to Gary's post about the AAA Visa card. If you know anything about manufactured spend, the idea of earning 3% cash back (50% more than most non-bonused spend) on PIN-enabled Visa gift cards that are about 40% cheaper than the leading national brand ($3 versus $4.95) is an opportunity worth exploring.
If your job depends on maintaining the pretense that manufactured spend doesn't exist, you end up with nonsense like this:
"First off, I value Chase Ultimate Rewards points at more than 1.5 cents apiece. So 2 Chase points is worth more to me than 3 cents (the 3% back on travel offered by this card)."
I've said it before and I'm happy to say it again: you should not worry about the earning rate of your credit cards, unless you manufacture spend or are reimbursed for travel purchases by your employer (or are self-employed in a business with large credit card purchases, of course); you should put all your spend on a 2% cash back credit card and redeem your points for cash whenever you happen to meet a redemption threshold.
Spending money on goods and services is simply not a realistic way of achieving either cash or travel goals in the way that signup bonuses and manufactured spend are.
The AAA Visa credit card is a great deal
I don't have a AAA Visa credit card, but here's the relevant line from the card's terms and conditions:
"Earn 3 points per dollar (consisting of 2 bonus points and 1 base point) for Net Purchases made with the card through any participating AAA Club when AAA is the merchant of record[.]"
I can also report from my own experience that in-person Visa gift card purchases from AAA (where available) are coded identically to all other in-person AAA purchases – there's no special merchant code assigned to gift card purchases as opposed to, say, cruise reservations.