Gobank loses its luster: account closures continue

As the first blogger to break the news of the Bluebird competitor Gobank, it gives me no pleasure to report that it no longer appears to be a long-term option for manufacturing large quantities of miles and points.

Background

Back on May 30, I reported that I had been called by Gobank's Customer Care department and asked about my account usage. I responded more or less honestly, and continued as before. Then on June 11 (after another statement had closed) I was called again and told that my account usage was "very unusual" and that if I continued to violate (unspecified) limits, then my account would be closed. After that call, I drastically reduced my account activity to slightly less than $5,000 per statement cycle.

Unfortunately, yesterday on my statement closing date, when I logged into Gobank on my PC all of the account tabs had been greyed out, except "HOME:"

Today, I found an additional notification that my account had been closed.

What does this mean for you? 

If you're using Gobank to manufacture miles and points, then it's a very good bet that your account volume is violating their new unpublished limits, either for loads, unloads, or simply the amount of profit your usage is generating.

That means that I can now happily recommend that you use Gobank as aggressively as possible to manufacture spend until your account is closed.

My data points

For reference, here is my record of load and unload volume since I started using Gobank back in April. These numbers are based on my statement dates, which are on the 3rd of the month (so the May numbers cover from April 4 to May 3):

  • May: $4,602 in 12 deposits, $5,901.77 in 9 debits
  • June: $17,001.27 in 27 deposits, $16,000.86 in 14 debits
  • July: $4,900 in 6 deposits, $6,098.64 in 8 debits
  • August: $4,994.05 in 6 deposits, $4,994.05 in 6 debits
  • September (no statement generated): $3,500 in 5 deposits, $3,500 in 3 debits

And no, I have no explanation for why my credits and debits don't align perfectly, except that when I joined, Gobank was still in its "beta" release, so they may not have worked out all the kinks yet in their statement generation software.

Unleash your manufactured spend: Part 4

This post was supposed to go up yesterday, but I'm moving apartments this week and yesterday got a little out of hand. So, my apologies for that. There'll be a wrap-up post this evening and then next week we'll return to our regularly scheduled programming.

In today's entry in my series on the ability to pay credit card bills using PIN-based debit and gift cards at Walmart (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), we're leaving theory behind and I'm breaking down my own plans to maximize this technique in my own miles and points strategy.

First, a little background. As someone who constantly ridicules Walmart's model of "low prices, no training, starvation wages," immediately before discovering this technique I was running just 5,000 per month through Walmart, with just two trips per month (unless I had an urgent need to generate a lot of spending quickly, in which case I could buy additional money orders). On a typical visit, I would make 3 deposits to my Gobank account: a $1,000 US Bank Visa Buxx swipe, a $500 Nationwide Visa Buxx swipe, and a $1,000 MyVanilla Debit swipe. By loading my Buxx cards with my PayPal Debit MasterCard, which was funded with PayPal Cash cards, my net cost for $2,519.75 in manufactured spend (per visit) was $12.18, or 0.48 cents per dollar ($11.85 in PayPal Cash fees, $7.90 in Vanilla Reload Network fees, $7 in Visa Buxx load fees, one $0.50 MyVanilla transaction fee, and a $15.07 rebate for using my PayPal Debit MasterCard). Since I manufacture almost exclusively in bonus categories – the exception being the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard, which doesn't have bonus categories, but earns 2.22% cash back on all transactions – this put my cost per point in the low tens of a cent.

Meanwhile, I would load my Bluebird account online with $1,000 using Vanilla Reload Network reload cards on each of the first five days of the month.

As I suggested yesterday, PIN-based billpay at Walmart led me to rethink my entire miles and points strategy. The point isn't that it's cheaper than loading a Gobank account – on the contrary, it's more expensive. I I were going to manufacture the same amount each month as I have been, I'd be crazy to use billpay instead of Gobank. The point, rather, is that at a slightly higher cost per dollar of manufactured spend, it liberates my entire Gobank and Bluebird loading budget for use with gift cards.

Now, with the same Visa Buxx and MyVanilla Debit spending pattern I was using before, I can directly pay my credit card bills at the Walmart Customer Service center (see Tuesday's post for cost per dollar analysis). Then, I can load $3,500 in gift cards to my Bluebird and Gobank accounts at any register in the store. Using a card that bonuses grocery store spend, like the American Express Hilton HHonors no-annual-fee and Surpass cards (5 HHonors points and 6 HHonors points per dollar spent at grocery stores, respectively), the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card (2 flexible Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at grocery stores), or even the US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards card (2 Flexpoints per dollar, worth up to 4 cents when redeemed for paid airline tickets), I can literally double my monthly manufactured spend while only slightly increasing my cost per point.

Of course, this does entail additional trips to Walmart and additional risks. Since Bluebird has a $1,000 daily load limit, I can't load $2,500 per visit as I do with Gobank. To use giftcards to max out my Bluebird load limit, I'd have to make 5 visits a month – not likely! But 4 visits per month, one per week, seems eminently reasonable.

Meanwhile, I'll incur additional risk by moving $4,000 in Vanilla Reload Network reload card loads from Bluebird over to my 3 MyVanilla Debit cards. Since Walmart Billpay is actually cheaper than bank teller cash advances, at least for some transactions ($1.50 for American Express and Discover bill payments, compared to $1.95 for cash advances), I'll stop doing large cash advances, which will hopefully protect me when I start making larger swipe transactions with the cards.

And that's how I'll be turning $10,000 in manufactured spend into $19,000 in manufactured spend on Walmart visits. I'll pay a slightly higher cost per point, but the value of the points I earn will outweigh the higher costs 5-10 times over.

Check back tonight, when I'll offer my concluding thoughts and provide some valuable data points so you know what to expect when you make a Walmart bill payment.

 

Unleash your manufactured spend with Walmart billpay: Part 1

First of all, I want to thank all of my readers for their patience for the last few days while I've been hinting at today's post. The reason I couldn't post earlier was not just to build buzz, but to make sure that I had personally tested every part of this technique. I've now done so, and I'm pleased to report that it's real, and it's spectacular.

Second, to the best of my knowledge the technique I'm about to describe has never been blogged about openly before, which I expect to change soon. However, it is not the result of my work alone, so before I begin I want to acknowledge the people who set me on the path to discovering it: Jerry in the comments to this New Girl in the Air post; Nathan at the very end of the comments to this post; this PointsChaser post; and of course above all this slow-burning FlyerTalk thread which was the first place to report a number of the indispensable elements that make the technique work. I'm deeply indebted to all those sources for the basic elements of this technique; any errors are of course mine alone.

Having said that, let's get started. 

Walmart allows you to pay credit card bills using any PIN-based debit card

How it Works

Walmart Money Center registers and, in locations without a separate Money Center, Customer Service registers are integrated with the CheckFreePay bill pay network. At any such register, you can ask to make a credit card bill payment and use any PIN-based debit card to pay the bill and the associated fee.

You can use up to 4 PIN-based debit cards per bill pay transaction, while paying a single transaction fee.

Credit and debit cards are issued by banks: Chase credit cards are issued by Chase, American Express credit cards are issued by American Express, Bank of America credit cards are issued by Bank of America. However, each card is also linked to a payment network: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover.

The single most important thing you have to know in order to take advantage of this technique is that when you pay your credit card bills at Walmart, you must make the payment out to the payment network, not the issuing bank.

So even though your Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa Signature card and your Chase Ink Plus MasterCard are both issued by Chase, to pay your credit card bills at Walmart the payee for the Sapphire Preferred will be "Visa" and the payee for the Ink Plus will be "MasterCard."

What it Costs

This section is based only on my experiments at my local Walmart store locations: your experience may differ. 

There are two price points in the CheckFreePay system at Walmart: $1 "3 business day" payments and $1.88 "next business day" payments. Unfortunately, not every credit card payment network has both payment speeds enabled. Here are the results of my experiments:

  • Visa: Next business day only ($1.88)
  • MasterCard: Next business day only ($1.88)
  • American Express: Next business day ($1.88) or 3 business day ($1)
  • Discover: Next business day ($1.88) or 3 business day ($1)

So if you want to make a credit card payment to a Visa credit card at my local Walmart, you must pay $1.88: the $1 payment option is not available. This may vary by store location or employee. 

Why it Matters

Ever since the Federal Reserve issued new regulations forcing prepaid card issuers to allow their cards to be used as "true" PIN-based debit cards, we've been in a very exciting time for travel hacking. For example, Chase allows up to $2,600 in free gift card purchases per Chase credit card, per rolling 30-day period. Likewise, many grocery stores (a common bonus category) allow you to purchase $500 Visa and MasterCard gift cards at a typical cost of $5.95-$6.95.

Besides gift cards, in many parts of the country it's still possible to buy Vanilla Reload Network reload cards at drug stores like CVS, and PayPal Cash cards at 7-11 store locations that are processed as gas stations. 

The problem in this era of virtually unlimited manufactured spend is liquidating prepaid cards once you've purchased them.

Bluebird is a free option, loadable at all Walmart registers using PIN-based debit cards up to $1,000 per day and $5,000 per month, but those loads count against the same $5,000 calendar month limit as Vanilla Reload Network cards.

Gobank is another great option I've extensively covered, but while it's free to load Gobank accounts at Walmart up to $1,100 per transaction and $2,500 per day, it's a Green Dot product that's subject to shutdown if you exceed undisclosed monthly limits or if your loading pattern is deemed "unusual."

PayPal has a $4,000 rolling 30-day load limit using PayPal Cash cards, but unloading your account can cause problems since PayPal is notoriously sensitive to abusive behavior.

All of those problems have now gone away: you no longer need an intermediate product to liquidate your prepaid cards.  Instead, you can bring up to 4 PIN-based debit cards per bill pay transaction to your local Walmart and at a cost of $1 or $1.88 send the card balances directly to your credit card.

The Risks

There are 3 primary risks to this technique that I want to be perfectly clear about up front.

First, there's the risk of having an account shutdown. There are many reports of MyVanilla Debit cards being shutdown without warning, and it's still unclear what loading and unloading pattern is safest. I don't have an inside line on MyVanilla Debit's fraud prevention algorithms, but I believe cash advances are probably the riskiest method of unloading the cards, because of the high limits and fixed $1.95 fee. Large Walmart transactions are probably a close second. So while this is a great technique for liquidating MyVanilla Debit balances, you still should be careful about spacing your loads and unloads out over the course of the month. And of course, even being careful can't guarantee that your account won't be closed.

Second, there's the risk that Walmart will consider your payments suspicious activity. There are lots of reports in this thread of Walmart employees being prompted to record customers' Social Security numbers, home addresses, and other personal identifying details. Those requests seem to be triggered by credit card payments over $2,000, although the exact level that triggers scrutiny isn't clear. Many people are made uncomfortable by disclosing this sensitive information to Walmart tellers. It appears the best way to avoid doing so is to keep your bill payments below $2,000, although this will raise your cost per dollar of manufactured spend.

Finally, when it comes to Walmart there's always the risk of employee incompetence. This can take a number of different forms. Of course, an employee may simply not know how to make these bill payments. Alternatively, there are reports that some store locations demand that you physically bring your most recent credit card statement into the store. Further, some store locations refuse to allow bill pay transactions to be funded by gift cards (cards that don't have your name embossed on the front). Finally, some employees may feel uncomfortable with multiple, high-value transactions, and simply refuse to help you. Be aware that this is not corporate policy: you've just found an incompetent employee, or a store location with an over-vigilant store manager. Visit another location or return at a different time.

These are manageable risks, but they do exist and you should be aware of them before beginning to use this technique. As always, I recommend starting slowly, using money that you can afford to be temporarily without if something goes wrong, and watching your credit card statements carefully to make sure that each payment posts correctly.

Conclusion

This is a very basic overview of this technique. It works and it can increase your volume of manufactured spend while only slightly increasing your cost per point.

Tomorrow, I will provide my analysis of the volume and cost per dollar of manufactured spend that you can achieve using this technique, and I'll compare it to some other popular techniques.

Later in the week I'll discuss some of the most lucrative opportunities this technique unlocks and share my own plans to use it going forward.

If you've already been using this technique, please share your experiences in the comments. How long do your CheckFreePay payments take to post? Do they post at the beginning or end of the business day? What problems have you had dealing with Walmart employees, and how have you resolved them?

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GoBank Shutdowns Begin

Note: for background to this post, check out my posts tagged "gobank", especially  "Does GoBank have a monthly swipe reload limit?" "GoBank Customer Care Calls the Free-quent Flyer," and "GoBank Calls Again."

This is very much a developing situation, but according to a number of posts on this FlyerTalk thread (starting towards the bottom of this page), we are starting to see the first GoBank account shutdowns. I want to give my very rough impressions of the situation so far, very subject to ongoing updates:

  • Shutdowns appear to be based on statement closing dates. As I reported in this post, I received my second call, the one from GoBank's fraud department threatening me with account closure, shortly after my June statement closed (showing $17,000 in swipe reloads).
  • All the reports of shutdowns have been for total monthly load volume exceeding $10,000.
  • People have been shut down who mixed in "regular" spending on the cards: restaurants, grocery stores, etc. So shutdowns appear to be based principally on Walmart swipe load volume.

I highly value the ability to unload my Nationwide and US Bank Visa Buxx cards for free using Gobank, so I've scaled back my Walmart swipe reloads to slightly less than $5,000 per month: $3,000 in Visa Buxx loads and roughly $2,000 in MyVanilla Debit Card and Alaska Airlines Debit Card loads. This allows me to still load a full $5,000 per month in Vanilla Reload Network reload cards to my American Express Bluebird card, and requires just 2 trips per month to Walmart.

That's the level I'm comfortable with, and I hope it keeps me out of GoBank's crosshairs for a little while longer.  Share your experiences in the comments: what load volume are you comfortable with going forward?

AccountNow can supplement Bluebird and Gobank

[edit 6/18/13: It looks like I have an affiliate link for the basic AccountNow card as well. If you are interested in using AccountNow, and want to support the site and the work I do here, feel free to use this link. See the comments below for some of the risks of the technique described here.]

Regular readers of this blog know that one of the simplest ways to manufacture spending on rewards-earning credit cards is by loading Vanilla Reload Network reload cards directly to a Bluebird account, which can then be used to pay bills, including credit cards. This has the advantage of being simple, predictable, and low cost - many rewards currencies are worth manufacturing at 0.78 cents each, and that's before taking bonuses into account. However, Bluebird loads are limited to $5,000 each month, which led travel hackers to seek out similar products.

A slightly more expensive technique that I discovered and reported out is loading a Gobank account with a reloadable debit card, like the MyVanilla Debit Card. This raises (but doesn't eliminate) the limit on the amount of manufactured spending you can do each month, but also raises the cost, since MVD cards charge $0.50 per swipe transaction. Still, at 0.84 cents (a $1,000 load, for simplicity's sake), this is still a great way to earn rewards.

A third, even more expensive version of the same technique uses AccountNow, a reloadable, prepaid debit product (not a checking account). Jason Steele over at The Points Guy reported on AccountNow in the context of Green Dot MoneyPaks – if you're able to buy those using a credit card, then AccountNow is only slightly more expensive than Bluebird (since MoneyPaks have a $4.95 load fee, rather than Vanilla's $3.95).

If you don't have access to MoneyPaks, you can still load your AccountNow account at Walmart using their Rapid Reload Network. However, there is a $3.74 load fee for swipe reloads of AccountNow. The maximum daily load is $1,500 and monthly maximum on total loads is $9,500.

Using my technique of loading MyVanilla Debit Cards with Vanilla Reload Network cards, then unloading them to AccountNow, your total out of pocket cost will be $16.09 ($11.85 in Vanilla Reload fees, $0.50 MyVanilla transaction fee, $3.74 in Rapid Reload Network load fees) for $1,511.85 in manufactured spending, or 1.06 cents per dollar.

On the one hand, that's much more expensive than other existing techniques to manufacture spending. Other than free techniques like Amazon Payments, my cheapest manufactured dollar is 0.185 cents (using the technique I pioneered here).  So the question isn't whether it's worth manufacturing every dollar at 1.06 cents each; the question is whether it's worth manufacturing your last dollar at 1.06 cents each.

That will depend on your specific situation, and especially on whether you have access to Vanilla Reload Network cards at merchants that are bonused categories for your rewards-earning credit cards. All that said, I think there are certainly situations that can make this technique worth using, and I wanted to make sure my readers were aware of it.

 

Gobank calls again

Yesterday I received a voicemail from a "Christie Smith" in Gobank's fraud department,  who left her direct phone number and asked me to call to talk about the activity on my Gobank account.

When I was finally able to reach her today, she explained that:

  1. My level of account activity was "very unusual;"
  2. She was not allowed to tell me the level of deposit and bill pay activity that was allowed, but;
  3. I was exceeding it.

To her credit, she sounded apologetic about the absurdity of the situation. Still, she told me that unless I drastically reduced the amount of deposits I was making, my account would be closed (although she couldn't tell me what a "safe" level of activity would be).

The obvious explanation for this is that Green Dot, the prepaid card company which also operates Gobank, pays Walmart for each cash register load there. For most of their prepaid card products, Green Dot then charges the customer some amount (typically $3.74) that covers the fee they pay Walmart plus whatever their margin is.

In order to compete with American Express's groundbreaking Bluebird checking account alternative, which allows free cash register loads at Walmart, Green Dot decided not to charge Gobank customers for cash loads at Walmart. I suspect, however, that Green Dot still has to pay Walmart for those transactions, which means heavy users of that feature like myself are costing Gobank some serious money.

For now I don't think I'll change my usage pattern very much. Gobank is a remarkably valuable tool, but it's only valuable if you use it. I'll cut down my loads to less than $2,500 per week and less than $10,000 per month (I loaded considerably more than that last month).

And as always, I'll continue to report on every ongoing development with my Gobank account here on the blog.

 

Gobank Customer Care calls the Free-quent Flyer

This afternoon I received 3 missed calls a few seconds apart (like everyone I know, I don't pick up my phone for unknown numbers), before the caller finally left a message on my voice mail. It turned out "Cassie" from Gobank Customer Care was calling to check in with me.

When I called back (not a simple process - I've never been told by an automated system that it was having "technical difficulties" before), I eventually was able to speak with Cassie, who explained to me that my account usage was unusual compared to their other customers, and invited me to explain how I was using the account. Not having anything to hide, I told her I was loading the account at Walmart, and then using it to pay my utilities, credit card bills, etc.

Cassie then told me clearly that "there was no effect on my account usage" and that she was calling to make sure that there wouldn't be any future effect. She didn't say what behavior might have triggered the call, or what I could do to avoid "any future effect." We thanked each other and hung up.

I haven't noticed any effect on my account access so far, so I'm going to attribute this, for now, to an overabundance of caution from Gobank's fraud department as they roll out their new checking account alternative.

As always, subscribe to this blog by e-mail, RSS feed, or Twitter to learn the very latest news from the cutting edge of Gobank usage, as well as all the news from around the world of travel hacking.

Update to Gobank load limits and cost per point analysis

In my ongoing quest to document as many details as possible of Gobank, the relatively new alternative checking product, in order to make it easy for my readers to take advantage of this exciting new opportunity, I want to clarify one additional limit that I have so far failed to mention in previous posts.

As you know, there is a daily limit of $2,500 when loading money to the card using cash or a PIN-enabled debit card at any Walmart register or MoneyCenter kiosk. However, the Gobank website also explains (you can find this under "Deposit > Deposit Cash > Learn more"):

We allow between $20 (minimum) and $1,100 (maximum) per transaction.

Cost per dollar using MyVanilla Debit

This restriction made me wonder, what's the minimum cost a Gobank user can pay per dollar of manufactured spend using the techniques I described in my post, "The Perpetual Points Machine is Real?"

When buying a Vanilla Reload Network reload card with its maximum value, $500, you'll pay $3.95 per $503.95 in manufactured spend. But if you load the reload card to a MyVanilla Debit card, you'll also pay a flat $0.50 per transaction fee when you move the money to your Gobank account at Walmart. To minimize the cost per manufactured dollar, you'll therefore also want to make your unloading transactions as large as possible, in this case, $1,100. (Note that I do not do this, out of an overabundance of caution; I make multiple, somewhat smaller load transactions).

To make the math simple, say you buy $5,500 in Vanilla Reload Network reload cards. You'll pay $43.45 in load fees to manufacture $5,543.45 in spend. To unload that $5,500, you'll make 3 trips to Walmart, loading $1,100 twice during the first two trips and  once on your third trip. Those 5 transactions will cost an additional $2.50 total, bringing your total cost to $45.95 for $5,543.45 in manufactured spend, or 0.82 cents per dollar.

I find it lucrative to pay this cost when I use a 2% cash back credit card (or a card offering 2.22% cash back as statement credits), or when I use one of my other cards that offers big rewards when I reach a high level of annual spending. Whether it's worth it for you depends on how highly you value the points or miles you're manufacturing, and whether you are using this technique to meet minimum spending requirements you can't meet with your everyday purchases.

Changes to Gobank debit card loads

Changes to Gobank debit card loads

Back on May 10, Gobank send an e-mail out to users with updates to the Deposit Account Agreement that governs Gobank checking accounts. In this Flyertalk thread, members were concerned that the e-mail included this section:

Deposit Options
Using a debit card to deposit money into your account will only be an option when making your initial deposit. Ongoing deposit options now include Mobile Deposit, Direct Deposit, bank transfer and cash.

Soon after, it was noticed that the Gobank website no longer allows online debit card loads. Instead, the "Move money from another bank" tab only shows you your Gobank routing and account numbers, which you can use to deposit money electronically from another checking account.

However, the Gobank smartphone application has not yet been updated and still allows online debit card loads to your Gobank account, for example with a rewards-earning debit card like the PayPal Debit MasterCard. At least one of my readers has reported success in doing so since the website was updated.

Note that this opportunity will probably go away on or around May 30, if not sooner, so if you already have a Gobank account and you haven't loaded $1,000 yet using online debit card loads, now would be a great time to do so!

Remember, you'll always find the latest news about developments with Gobank here on the Free-quent Flyer blog.

You can manufacture points at no net cost; should you?

On Wednesday I laid out a simple, reproducible technique to manufacture points at no net cost by using a 2% cash back credit card to offset the cost of Vanilla Reload Network reload cards purchased with a points-earning credit card.

Today I want to discuss some of my thinking behind this technique and some of the potential pitfalls.

Why I Don't Manufacture Points at no Net Cost

To manufacture 100,000 miles or points using a card that earns 1 mile per dollar spent, you'd need to buy 199 $500 Vanilla Reload Network reload cards.  Your total out of pocket cost after liquidating the cards would be $786.05. You could then use the 100,000 miles, plus taxes and fees, to book a round-trip business class award trip to Europe, which might retail for a few thousand dollars. 

To recoup that $786.05, you'd then need to buy 129 Vanilla Reload Network reload cards with a 2% cash back card, earning back $790.77.

The problem here is straightforward, and why I don't use a 2% cash back card to completely offset the cost of my points: if I don't value the roundtrip ticket to Europe in business class at $786.05, why am I paying $786.05 for it?  If I value the money more than the trip, I should just keep the money and not earn the points to begin with.  That way, I'll have $790 in pure profit.

Of course, as I discussed in my first article on travel hacking theory, I do value that award trip at more than $790, in fact, I value it at about $1,300, since that's what I'd typically pay for an economy class ticket to Europe.  For $500 less, I get to fly in business class instead.

That isn't to say that I don't use a 2% cash back card to reduce my net costs: I do, in order to achieve my travel goals while keeping within my budget.

Perpetual Points: Potential Pitfalls

This perpetual points machine has a number of moving parts, so before getting started you should be aware of the risks involved with each one.

  • MyVanilla Debit cards. This Flyertalk thread is full of reports of people having their MyVanilla Debit cards shut down with no notice after using the cards aggressively to manufacture spending. The two most common reasons seem to be using the cards for cash advances at bank tellers and ATM withdrawals, however people who do neither have been shut down as well. You can register up to 3 MyVanilla Debit cards per Social Security number, and my recommendation is to (1) spread your spending across all 3 cards and (2) don't empty your entire card balance immediately after loading. Following those two simple rules I've been able to use my 3 cards successfully for months, although that could change at any time.
  • Gobank. Gobank currently doesn't have a reported monthly swipe reload limit, and has a high, $2,500 daily swipe reload limit.  However, that could change at any time, either by instating a monthly swipe reload limit or reducing the daily swipe reload limit to the point that it's no longer worth repeated trips to Walmart.
  • Credit card companies. Frequent, high-dollar-amount purchases at drug stores could raise concerns at your credit card company. For that reason I spread out my Vanilla Reload Network reload card purchases throughout the month and over several different cards and card issuers.

Conclusion

A lot of digital ink has been spilled over the "value" of different rewards currencies (for example here, here, and here). Ultimately though, you can't use Skymiles to pay your rent or Membership Rewards points to pay your taxes. That's why no matter what your travel goals are, you should first set a monthly budget for how much you're willing to spend to achieve them. Using a 2% cash back card is a great way to keep your expenses in line with your budget while achieving your travel goals faster.

Since you can use these techniques to manufacture almost unlimited spending at a net cost of your choosing, on Monday I'll discuss some of the most potentially lucrative rewards-earning credit cards to use when doing so.