Techniques I don't write about (but you should know about!)

The range of topics I write about here is pretty freewheeling. I have an open mind about any and all approaches to travel hacking and manufactured spend, and am willing to at least dabble in anything that sounds lucrative enough.

On the other hand, my own travel needs are met almost exclusively with US Bank Flexpoints, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Delta SkyMiles, and Hilton HHonors points. All four are cheap and plentiful, and between the four currencies cover easily 90% of my annual travel budget at discounts of 75-85% off retail.

Consequently, I'm perfectly aware that the blog has developed a few blindspots: programs that are objectively lucrative, but which I don't interact with on a daily or monthly basis. With that in mind, here are a few programs that I've "undercovered" compared to their objective utility.

Southwest Airlines Companion Pass

Obviously there's no shortage of Southwest Companion Pass coverage thanks to their periodic 50,000 Rapid Rewards-point signup bonuses. But even if, like me, you don't chase signup bonuses, you should still consider simply manufacturing $110,000 per year on Chase's co-branded credit cards.

Why? Because if you fly Southwest regularly (and would otherwise pay cash), you're earning over 3 cents per dollar of unbonused manufactured spend. Using the linked example of 1.59 cent per point, you'll earn 3.18% cash back on your Southwest credit card spend, compared to the 2.105% cash back of a Barclaycard Arrival+ or 2.625% cash back of a Bank of America Travel Rewards card (enhanced with Preferred Rewards at the Platinum Honors level).

Thanks to Southwest's annual devaluations, this isn't a strategy you should use to earn Rapid Rewards points speculatively (I don't think you should earn miles or points speculatively at all!), but if you redeem Southwest points aggressively, this is a great deployment of your unbonused manufactured spend.

Interestingly, once you've earned 110,000 Companion Pass qualifying points, you're actually better off manufacturing your unbonused spend on a Chase Freedom Unlimited and then simply transferring the 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent with that card to your Southwest account.

So why don't I write about the Companion Pass more? Because Southwest doesn't serve my local airport!

Reloadit cards

If you have access to accommodating or oblivious cashiers, and registers that haven't been hard-coded against accepting credit cards, then Reloadit cards can provide access to cheap, or even free, bonused manufactured spend.

I actually do have access to accommodating cashiers, and cash registers that aren't hard-coded against credit cards. But I still don't buy Reloadit cards.

The reason is that you're now required to liquidate Reloadit cards using the official Reloadit website — you can no longer load prepaid cards through those cards' own portals. This matters because the Reloadit website is terrible.

First, each Reloadit account has a limited number of "devices" that can be registered to it. To track these "devices," Reloadit installs a cookie in your web browser and asks you to name your device.

Now, I do all my browsing in incognito mode, so all my cookies are deleted each time I close my browser. Which leads Reloadit to ask me to register my device again. Etc., etc., ad nauseam.

To incorporate Reloadits into my manufactured spend practice, I would have to either start using a special browser just for Reloadits, or muck about with different user profiles in Google Chrome. And the payoff? Saving $50 or $60 per month on activation and liquidation fees.

If that's worth it to you, you should definitely shop around for Reloadits and friendly cashiers. But it's not worth it to me, so you won't find many breaking news updates about Reloadit on this blog.

Citi ThankYou Rewards

With the slow but steady demise of manufactured spend at gas stations, the best current combination of Citi ThankYou cards seems to be the Citi AT&T Access More card combined with a Citi Prestige card. The former earns 3 points per dollar spent on online retail purchases, and the latter allows you to redeem those points for 1.6 cents each towards paid American Airlines tickets, or transfer them to one of Citi's travel partners.

This combination is tailor-made for resellers who source their products online and know how to get good value from their ThankYou points. It is expensive, though, with a $95 annual fee on the AT&T Access More card and a $450 annual fee on the Citi Prestige.

I personally don't pursue this strategy because US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards give me a roughly similar value (up to 4 cents towards airfare on any airline per dollar of spend, compared to 4.8 cents on American Airlines or 3.75 cents on other carriers), at a far lower cost (a single $49 annual fee). Moreover, I do my best to avoid flying American Airlines, and I don't engage in more than a cursory amount of reselling.

It's a potentially powerful combination, but it's not for me, so I don't write about it much here on the blog!


In the real world, people constantly operate under misinformed, poorly-informed, or uninformed prejudices. That's to be expected.

But we don't have to do so blindly! By being aware of my prejudices, like my preference for lower annual fees over higher ones, I can consciously work to evaluate conflicting ideas on their merits, instead of on my own preconceived notions.

The payoff of that work may take a long time to appear, but it's ultimately a concrete improvement in the quality of my decision-making.

REloadit report: opportunities and pitfalls

Since CVS stopped allowing Vanilla Reload Network reload cards to be purchased using credit cards, many people naturally turned to competing reload products. After Green Dot's MoneyPak reload product, one of the most prominent is REloadit, a product of Blackhawk Network (rather than Incomm, the producer of Vanilla-branded prepaid products) sold at many grocery stores nationwide.

I wrote about REloadit back in May, in the context of manufacturing spend at low or no cost using T-Mobile prepaid debit cards which, when loaded using REloadit cards, refund the $3.95 purchase fee to your card's balance.

Since writing that post, I've started experimenting with REloadit cards and have some very curious datapoints to report.

REloadit-compatible prepaid debit cards

You can find REloadit-compatible cards on this site. Besides the T-Mobile card mentioned above, the two most important ones to note are PayPower (since you might be accumulating a growing stack of unregistered temporary cards already) and Serve, the now-slightly-superior-to-Bluebird checking account alternative by American Express.

REloadit packs come in different designs

Last year I wrote about the the plethora of Vanilla Reload Network reload card designs and the opportunities each redesign promised.

REloadit packs come in at least four designs, and each design is sold by a different grocery store chain near me. I don't have pictures of the fourth design, but I do of the three designs I've personally experimented with.

Here's a REloadit "classic:"

Here's what I think of as a "second-generation" REloadit pack (I'll explain why in a moment):

And finally, here's REloadit 3.0 (now rebranded to "Reloadit"):

I bought all three of these cards within the span of a week. So why did I put them in this order?

The "third-generation" Reloadit card comes last because it's the current branding of their website. The distinction between REloadit classic and second-generation REloadit cards is more important, however.

First- and second-generation REloadit cards have different functionality

If you've experimented at all with Evolve Money, the free online bill payment service, you've no doubt wondered what exactly they mean when they say you can pay your bills with "cash" online.

It turns out they give two options: something called Evolve Pay Bucks which – to the best of my knowledge – no one has ever seen in the wild, and REloadit cards.

Unlike the many Vanilla Reload redesigns over the lifetime of that technique, and as strange as it sounds, first-generation REloadit cards do not work with Evolve Money.

What if you accidentally bought a handful of first-generation REloadit packs?

Needless to say, when I discovered this today, I was more than a little peeved. I had already successfully experimented with third-generation REloadit (or "Reloadit") packs using Evolve Money, so had purchased a few REloadit cards with precisely that purpose in mind.

After Evolve Money returned a not-particularly-helpful error advising me to call Blackhawk directly, I was eventually able to reach a customer service representative (try entering 16 0's when prompted for a card number) who both assured me the funds on the card were available for loading and that she had never heard of Evolve Money or any other REloadit-compatible bill payment service, other than PayPower.

Fortunately, I do have access to PayPower cards, so I registered one of my temporary cards and quickly loaded it up with over $1,000 in REloadit packs on my way out the door to Walmart, keeping in mind that PayPower charges its steep $5.95 monthly fee within a week of purchasing the card, and not wanting to pay that fee for access to my own money.

If it were July already, I would have attempted to load the funds to my Serve account, but I was already more than a little worried that my money had been claimed by marauding prepaid pirates, so I seized the opportunity to load the funds while I could.

Conclusion: and PayPower shut me down

When I got home, my access to my PayPower online account had already been revoked, so I assume my same-day loading and unloading activity resulted in my account being shut down.

Since I got my money out and won some hard-earned datapoints for my readers, I'm perfectly satisfied with the experience. And of course, once I'm able to experiment with loading my Serve and T-Mobile accounts with REloadit packs, I'll have more to report.

T-Mobile Visa Prepaid Card

Last weekend in Charlotte, a reader pulled me aside and asked, "Why haven't you written anything about the T-Mobile prepaid card?"

I tried to explain that here on the blog I report my own experiences, so that they can inform the efforts of my readers to achieve their travel goals. Since I don't have a T-Mobile prepaid card, I don't have any value to add to what my readers already know about the product.

The reader was not impressed with my explanation, so here we go.

Applying for the card

You can sign up for a T-Mobile Visa Prepaid Card online. It costs $4 to enroll, unless you're a current T-Mobile customer, in which case it's free.

Additionally, there's a $5 monthly maintenance fee each month in which you don't load at least $500 to the card.

Loading the card

If you load your T-Mobile Visa Prepaid Card with more than $300 using a Reloadit pack (so-called "retail" loads), the fee for purchasing the Reloadit pack is refunded to your card, making the card free to reload. If you can purchase Reloadit packs using credit cards, this means it's completely free to manufacture spend at any merchant that allows such purchases.

There are a number of other ways to load the card, none of with are particularly interesting: you can load cash at T-Mobile store locations or at Visa ReadyLink reload merchants.

Unloading the card

The T-Mobile Visa Prepaid Card has a built-in bill pay feature.

Don't use it.

The relevant FlyerTalk thread is full of reports of people having their accounts frozen or closed for exclusively using the built-in bill pay feature. Instead, use this card like you would any PIN-enabled debit card product: pay bills through Evolve Money or at Walmart, buy money orders, or pay off your Citi credit cards over the phone.


The T-Mobile Visa Prepaid card seems like a great tool, but only if you have access to Reloadit cards that can be consistently purchased with credit cards.

Additionally, the large number of reports of account freezes shutdowns would make me wary of scaling it up very fast, since if your account were closed you may lose access to the funds on the card for days or weeks.