Weekend thoughts on killing deals

I saw a few interesting posts in the last few days about the ethics and mechanics of writing publicly about techniques to manufacture spend:

In the 2-and-change years I've been writing this blog, I've developed a general rubric I use to guide my thinking about whether to share a technique to manufacture spend: if the technique takes advantage of a publicly advertised product of a for-profit company, I feel fine writing about it. If a technique involves a glitch, mistake, or oversight on the part of a company, I'll save it for my subscribers-only newsletter.

This rubric doesn't have the goal of "keeping every deal alive as long as possible." If I had that goal, I wouldn't blog about manufactured spending (and many of my critics would rejoice). Rather, it's based on the philosophy that when a company knows what it's doing, writing about a technique is more likely to help readers take advantage of a product for as long as it exists, while when a company doesn't know what it's doing lots of casual readers piling in will likely kill a deal before anyone can benefit substantially. That includes, unfortunately, the readers who would call into a company to "make sure something works," drawing even more attention to the oversight or mistake.

In other words, since every deal dies eventually, I ask whether I'm helping readers maximize their profit from a deal, or helping it die before anyone is able to benefit?

I don't think this philosophy is any better or worse than anyone else's, but it's the one I've settled on for now. Here are a few examples of how I've applied it in action:

  • The TD Go, Nationwide, and US Bank Visa Buxx cards are all products that by design allow or allowed users to fund PIN- and ATM-enabled prepaid debit cards with MasterCard and Visa credit cards. I wrote about them frequently and they still occasionally come up on the blog.
  • When TD Go announced that credit card loads would be limited to cards issued by TD Bank, third-party credit cards that had already been saved continued to work. Since that was a programming oversight, I didn't write about it. The more publicity the oversight received, the sooner it would be fixed (as it eventually was).
  • When Evolve Money first launched, it allowed contributions to 529 college savings plans to be funded with prepaid debit cards. There were risks (you might get a call from Bill), but that was how the product was designed, and I wrote about it extensively.
  • When Evolve Money first launched, due to lax implementation they also accepted credit cards to fund contributions to 529 college savings plans. Since that was an unintentional oversight, I shared it only in my subscribers-only newsletter, but not here on the blog, and it continued to work until a few days after affiliate blogger Daraius Dubash wrote about it on his highly-trafficked blog.
  • Kiva loans, still one of the most lucrative and accessible manufactured spending techniques available, are bonused as "charitable spending" by US Bank as a matter of policy. That doesn't mean they'll continue to be bonused forever — they won't. That's because every deal dies eventually. But when the corporate policy is clear, as it is in this case, the more of my readers able to take advantage of the policy, the better.

While that's my general approach, there are a few obvious exceptions:

  • When I agree in advance not to share something from a reader, I honor that even if it would otherwise be fair game, unless it's already common knowledge. After all, I actually do manufacture spend, so I'm thrilled to find out new techniques, even if I can't share them with my beloved readers!
  • On the other hand, when something is not corporate policy but has lasted long enough to become background or institutional knowledge, like refunding travel purchases made with an Arrival+ card, I'll write about it on the informed guess that the company simply doesn't care enough to change or fix it.


That's my overall attitude towards blogging about manufactured spend. I don't make any claim that it's the right attitude, but it's mine, and if it helps anyone trying to figure out where they stand on the subject, I'll be happy I could help.

Unvarnished and uncensored criticism is always welcome, of course, in the comments.