Tis the season: $5,000+ in free* spend

I mentioned last week before my trip to Chicago that I was planning on exploring the technique outlined in this Flyertalk thread. As a holiday promotion, the American Automobile Association is offering no-fee gift cards. While they sell both American Express and Visa prepaid gift cards, the Visa cards are most interesting because (like virtually all Visa and MasterCard gift cards) they are PIN-enabled. That means you can use them with any of our favorite liquidation techniques: Walmart and grocery store money orders, bill payments at Walmart, Gobank loads, Bluebird loads, and others. They probably will not work with postal money orders, since those purchases are coded differently.

The Deal

Here’s what you need to know:

  • You need to have a AAA membership;
  • AAA is regionally organized, and not all regional branches are participating in the no-fee promotion;
  • Even among those that are participating, not all branches sell the Visa gift cards which can be PIN-enabled – some only sell the less useful Amex cards. These cards aren't useless, in case you want to front-load your spend in order to meet a minimum spending requirement or bonus spend threshold, but they can't be liquidated as easily or cheaply;
  • There are many reports of people being unable to purchase additional gift cards after about $5,000 in purchases. Since the gift cards are registered to your AAA membership, it’s easy for the issuing bank (in this case Metabank) to know who is purchasing the cards. However, the more family members you have, the more you can take advantage of this promotion;
  • To enable the PIN functionality, you need to call the number on the back of the card. You don't need to login to their website to register the card; it's already registered. You only need to call in, follow the prompts, and set your card's PIN number.

My Experience

While I was in Chicago, I went into the AAA location on North Michigan Ave. I asked if their location was participating in the no-fee gift card promotion. When she confirmed that they were, I asked to purchase 4 Visa gift cards for $500 each. She then took my AAA membership card and spent 4-6 minutes filling out a number of forms on her computer terminal. She then asked me for my form of payment, and I handed her my Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard, since it's my most lucrative card for unbonused spend categories.

The purchase went through for exactly $2,000 (no purchase fees), and the points have since posted to my Barclaycard account. In fact, they've even been redeemed for a travel charge that was about to roll off my account.

I liquidated the 4 Visa gift cards by purchasing 2 Walmart money orders for $0.70 each (doing a split transaction to use 2 of my 4 gift cards for each money order), meaning I paid $1.40 for $44.44 in value.

I won't tell you that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: in fact, opportunities like this come up fairly regularly, as my readers know. However, it is a great opportunity to get closer to your travel goals (or just earn 2% cash back) at virtually no cost to you.