Manufactured spend is here to stay

In case you missed last weekend's most riveting news, some CVS store locations, in some parts of the country, stopped allowing credit cards to be used as a means of payment for some prepaid reload cards, including the two that I happen to have been using most aggressively: Vanilla Reload Network and PayPal My Cash.

I was traveling and missed the opportunity to really stock up, buying just $6,000 in spare Vanilla Reload Network reload cards before my local stores stopped allowing credit cards to be used sometime on Monday morning.

Nonetheless, I find myself facing this change in the shape of the landscape with surprising equanimity. Sure, there are some specific techniques (like JH Preferred and Momentum prepaid Visa debit cards) that can no longer be easily loaded using Vanilla Reload Network reload cards and unloaded through bank cash advances or by purchasing money orders or making bill payments at Walmart.

On the other hand, using those products invited shutdowns, resulted in funds being frozen for weeks at a time, and required filing complaints with the FDIC in order to regain access to your money.

Surveying the landscape, I just don't see this affecting my overall volume of manufactured spend — although it will certainly affect its composition.

Here are four quick suggestions to reflect on as you decide how to best move forward.

If you are only loading Bluebird, just eat the extra dollar

A lot of folks just have one or two Bluebird accounts they've been loading at a cost of $3.95 per $500 Vanilla Reload Network reload card. If that's the extent of your manufactured spend, then you can still easily and simply fill up your Bluebird each month by buying $5,000 in OneVanilla prepaid debit cards, which can still be purchased at CVS using credit cards. Instead of $39.50, you'll pay $49.50, and you'll have to take 5 trips to Walmart each month in order to load $1,000 to your Bluebird card at the register each calendar day.

That's not nothing, but if you are manufacturing spend to meet a minimum spend requirement or with a specific, high-value redemption in mind, and especially if you make regular trips to Walmart anyway (guilty!), your value proposition simply may not change much.

When unloading OneVanilla card balances, just use any 4 digits of your choice as your OneVanilla card's PIN the first time you swipe it as a debit card (and yes, this really works: no need for a long comment thread. It just works).

If you are earning 5%, just eat the extra dollar

Those who are still earning 5 ThankYou points per dollar with the no-longer-available Citi ThankYou Preferred card offer may be used to netting 4.2% profit when buying Vanilla Reload Network reload cards. Now they'll net a 4% profit, and they don't deserve an ounce of our sympathy.

The same is true for those who are using the 5% cash back "old" American Express Blue card.

If you've been over-relying on CVS, take a peek outside the box

In many parts of the country, Vanilla Reload Network and PayPal My Cash cards can be purchased at gas stations and convenience stores, and at pharmacies besides CVS. If you've been relying on one source for all your manufactured spend, you may not realize how many other – potentially even more lucrative – options you have in your own backyard.

For example, earning 2 Flexpoints per dollar spent at gas stations, worth up to 2 cents each for paid flight redemptions, may be worth more than the 2% cash back or 1 mile per dollar you've been earning in your rut at CVS.

Consider – at your own pace – using American Express gift cards

By earning cash back when you purchase American Express gift cards online, you can eliminate the cost of the products you use to manufacture spend. There are risks (cash advance fees from Citi; cash back portals not tracking purchases correctly), and you won't earn bonus points in your credit card's bonused categories, like gas stations, drug stores, or grocery stores.

But you may find that you still come out ahead buying American Express gift cards with certain rewards-earning credit cards, and using those to buy easily-liquidated prepaid Visa debit cards, like the OneVanilla mentioned above.


Naturally, the best thing you can do to remain at the top of your game is to keep reading this blog! It's still possible to travel the world for next to nothing, and I'm still here to show you how.

Thanks for reading.