[Note to readers: I have an old friend visiting town starting tomorrow so this may be the last full post for the week, unless I find some downtime and inspiration in between our adventures. Next week I'm traveling to the Western Montana Fair, where I will hopefully be able to get a few blog posts up in between trips to the rodeo. And no, I'm not competing.]
Last year there was a flurry of excitement on FlyerTalk when, as a holiday promotion, AAA branches in some parts of the country began selling PIN-enabled Visa gift cards with no processing fee. It was possible to use a credit card for the purchase, earn points, and pay only the cost of liquidating the gift cards. Once the promotion ended, folks realized that even with the processing fee, those gift cards may still be worth buying under certain circumstances.
Not all AAA locations sell Visa gift cards
I discovered once I returned from Chicago, where I was able to buy fee-free Visa gift cards over the holidays, to New England, that the AAA of Southern New England did not sell Visa gift cards at all; they have an exclusive relationship with American Express, whose gift cards, not being PIN-enabled, were useless to me.
Here in the Midwest, I found my local AAA branch to be well-stocked with Visa gift cards and more than happy to sell them to me by credit card. The cards cost $3 each, can be loaded with up to $500 each, and there is no discount for buying the cards in bulk.
AAA Visa gift cards are registered in the office
Unlike other brands of prepaid Visa debit cards, like OneVanilla cards, which allow but don't require you to register a ZIP code online, each AAA Visa gift card is registered to you (or perhaps, theoretically, another person) in-store at the time of purchase.
Once your card is activated in-store, you can call in to set your PIN number by following the telephone prompts.
There are unpublished limits on purchases
Since these cards are registered to the purchaser immediately, it's easy for Metabank, the issuer of the cards, to track purchase and unloading activity down to the dollar.
Unfortunately, that appears to be exactly what they do.
Back in November and December, when the deal first broke, the usual suspects went big, buying tens – or perhaps hundreds – of thousands of dollars in gift cards and unloading them as quickly as possible. Once such unusual activity was detected, Metabank froze their remaining gift cards and I believe insisted on mailing them refund checks.
Further attempts by those customers to buy gift cards at AAA were refused, either by managers or by the sales system itself.
During that promotion, I bought just $2,000 in gift cards and immediately liquidated them. I never heard anything from AAA or Metabank, but also didn't attempt to buy any more once the promotion ended since they weren't available locally.
For more information on these unpublished limits, you'll need to dig into the relevant FlyerTalk thread. Further, the usual caveats apply when using Citi credit cards for these purchases. There's at least one report of AAA gift card purchases being treated as a cash advance.
I don't consider AAA gift cards to be a highly scalable technique for manufacturing spend, but it is one that is still viable under some circumstances, and I wanted to remind my readers it exists.