Reminder: you can still sign up for Nationwide Visa Buxx cards

I earn only a small fraction of my miles and points chasing signup bonuses. There are people who get all the miles they need through signing up for new credit cards, but I have found that strategy leaves me me with large-but-not-large-enough balances scattered across multiple accounts in a way that mitigates most of the value of the points.

For example, after signing up for a Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage World MasterCard and Barclaycard US Airways MasterCard in January, 2014, and receiving 85,000 miles between the two cards, I still have about 38,000 AAdvantage miles remaining (including my 10,000 US Airways anniversary miles).

This isn't because I don't fly American — I fly American fairly regularly, redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points for cheaper flights and US Bank Flexpoints for more expensive flights, and crediting those paid flights to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. What I don't do is find many occasions to redeem AAdvantage miles — especially such a small number of them.

Instead, I earn miles and points directly in the programs where I get the most value, and where I'm sure to redeem them, by manufacturing spend on the appropriate credit cards.

Nationwide Visa Buxx cards have been around for years

I first wrote about Nationwide Visa Buxx cards in February, 2013 (yes, I've really been blogging that long).

The opportunity offered by these cards is simple: after signing up for a "parent" account, you can add "teen" card accounts, each of which can be loaded with $1,000 per rolling 30-day period from any Visa or MasterCard (although beware of loading using Citi-issued credit cards), at a cost of $2 per $500 load. The "teen" cards, which you'll receive in the mail, are PIN-enabled and have a maximum purchase limit of $800 per rolling 7-day period.

Nationwide Visa Buxx cards are still available for new signups

Two other, more lucrative Visa Buxx products have been limited in various ways over the years: TD Go cards can now only be funded with TD Bank-issued credit cards, and US Bank Visa Buxx cards are no longer available for new signups.

But Nationwide Visa Buxx cards are! So if you don't yet have a card, consider opening an account today. No deal lasts forever, but those of us who opened US Bank Visa Buxx cards in time are still going strong, despite new applications for the card not being available since February, 2014, and I have no reason to believe the Nationwide gravy train will end any time soon.

What role should non-bonused spend play in your miles and points strategy?

Last week Shawn at Miles to Memories wrote about his experience buying PIN-enabled, Metabak-issued, personalized Visa gift cards from GiftCardMall, after clicking through a cash back portal like TopCashBack.

I responded to him on Twitter, remarking "I think you're begging the question; real issue seems to me what role unbonused spend plays in strategy."

Since I have this blog lying around, I figured I can explain myself more completely.

How is your manufactured spend throttled?

I've written before about the kinds of throttles that prevent us all from manufacturing an unlimited amount of spend. Even with huge credit limits, unlimited stock, and compliant cashiers, you'll still be constrained by the time you're willing to spend manufacturing spend, so in a concrete sense everyone's manufactured spend is throttled.

Of course, most of us don't live in that ideal manufactured spend landscape, and so regularly run into credit limits, dwindling supplies, suspicious cashiers, and a simple shortage of convenient or accessible stores.

Liquidation throttles matter most

There is no way to manufacture, on a monthly basis, more spend than you're able to liquidate, and in a fundamental sense manufactured spend is really manufactured liquidation: the search for more, easier, faster, and cheaper ways to get cash back out of the products we buy. After all, there's no special trick to buying cheap printers; the trick is getting virtually all your money back, so you can pay off your credit card while pocketing the rewards you earned on your purchase.

Different forms of manufactured spend are throttled differently

A few examples illustrate this point clearly:

  • You may be able to buy an unlimited number of OneVanilla prepaid Visa debit cards on credit, earning 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar using a Chase Ink Plus card at 7-Eleven store locations, but if you have only one Serve card, you can only liquidate $5,000 in Vanilla Visa cards per month at Family Dollar. At the same time, you might be able to liquidate an unlimited number of Metabank-backed Visa gift cards at Walmart.
  • If you have a Target Prepaid REDcard, you may be able to liquidate up to $5,000 in PIN-enabled debit cards per month at Target for free, but if your Target store locations require you to use cards that match your ID, you may not be able to liquidate any cards purchased at merchants where your credit cards offer bonused earning.

Match your liquidation bandwidth to bonused spend first

By allocating your liquidation bandwidth to your credit cards' bonus categories, you'll maximize your earning over however much spend you're able to manufacture and liquidate each month.

The logic here is simple: Shawn's personalized GiftCardMall Visa gift cards may cost him just $4.59 each, while a Visa gift card purchased at a grocery store might cost $6.95. But if Shawn uses a Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express card to purchase each, he'll be paying 0.3 cents per HHonors point at GiftCardMall and just 0.23 cents per HHonors point at the grocery store. If he cannibalizes his liquidation bandwidth with "cheaper" GiftCardMall gift cards, he'll end up paying more per point than he would by swallowing the higher per-card charge.

A special note on American Express gift cards

American Express gift cards, purchased after clicking through a portal like TopCashBack, are capable of adding a cash back bonus to any non-bonused spend, which can be well worth doing to diversify your strategy away from just miles and points. On the other hand, you'll only be able to liquidate them at merchants that accept American Express cards and don't specifically prohibit gift cards (like Simon Malls).

If there's room left for non-bonused spend, that's fantastic

There are forms of manufactured spend that are intrinsically unbonusable:

  • Visa Buxx cards can only be loaded with Visa and MasterCard credit cards in the Buxx cardholder's name. If you load them with a Barclaycard Arrival+ MasterCard, for example, you'll earn 2.22% cash back, and there's no way to juice that earning rate with an intermediary step (although you may have a different preference for the funding card).
  • Serve cards can be loaded with third-party American Express cards like the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express, but not with American Express gift cards. You'll earn 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in online loads each month, and you'll be glad to get it.

Finally, there are forms of manufactured spend like the personalized GiftCardMall Visa gift cards described by Shawn, and Simon Malls Visa gift cards, which can usually only be purchased with credit cards in the purchaser's name. They have the advantage of being relatively cheap and available in relatively large volumes, but the disadvantage of not receiving any spending category bonuses.


By now I hope my point is obvious: while the large volumes possible with those products do represent a real, concrete advantage that I have no intention of minimizing, if you're capable of liquidating such large volumes you have to first ask whether you've really exhausted all your bonused spending opportunities!

If you have, then manufacturing additional, non-bonused spending that fits within your liquidation bandwidth is common sense. But if you haven't, then you're leaving miles, points, and cash back on the altar of volume.

US Bank Visa Buxx address changes

Obviously, I change addresses somewhat more frequently than your average worker bee. Back in May I moved to the Upper Midwest from New England, then in August my partner and I finally moved into our own place together. That's a lot of address changes to keep track of, but I do my best.

One thing common to all Visa Buxx cards is that the profile address on file with your Buxx card must match the billing address of any credit card used to fund the card. With the Nationwide and TD Go Buxx cards this doesn't pose much of a problem: when your credit card's billing address changes, you can easily sign into your Buxx account and update your profile address to match it.

The first time you attempt this with a US Bank Visa Buxx card, you'll find it equally easy. But if you change your billing address again shortly afterward, you'll see that the option to edit your profile address has been disabled, as indeed I discovered when I moved for the second time and became unable to fund my Buxx card.

I've been logging into my US Bank Visa Buxx account a few times a week for the past few months, and finally today discovered that the option to edit my profile address had reappeared. I checked my records and found that the last time I'd edited the address was 3 months ago, almost to the day.


Your Visa Buxx profile address must match the billing address of any card you use as a funding source. While Nationwide and (formerly) TD Go both allowed you free reign to edit your profile address, my experience indicates that US Bank allows additional profile address changes only after a 3-month period has elapsed.

I'm setting off this afternoon for a long Halloween weekend, so anticipate delayed response times until Monday. Hopefully a few days off will allow me to take a more nuanced view of all the changes currently taking place when I return on Monday.

Charlotte preview: Visa Buxx

It's no secret: I love my Visa Buxx cards. While Visa Buxx transactions aren't in any bonus category, they are a cheap and easy way to earn several thousand points or miles each month, as long as you have a non-Citi-issued rewards-earning Visa or MasterCard to use.

Nationwide ($1,000)

While the Nationwide Visa Buxx is the least lucrative of the 3 I carry, it's also the easiest to get, since there are no geographic restrictions and you can sign up for it using the same personal information for the "parent" and the "teen." And $1,000 in spend for $4 a month is nothing to sneeze at! Just keep the 7-day, $800 PIN-based transaction limit in mind.

US Bank ($2,000)

While the signup link for this card is no longer publicly available, those with already-existing accounts can continue to load up to $2,000 per month, per card. Back in October of last year, I ran an experiment to see if it was possible to sign up for more than one US Bank Visa Buxx account. It ended up being a somewhat stressful experience, and although I got my money back I ultimately decided not to color too far outside the lines with this product.

However, many people have reported much success signing up for multiple accounts and ordering multiple "teen" cards per account.

My favorite thing about the US Bank version is the free ATM withdrawals at US Bank ATMs. By avoiding additional unloading costs, you can reduce your cost per dollar of manufactured spend and/or preserve valuable Bluebird load capacity for other, less flexible products.

TD Go ($1,000)

Unfortunately, I was only able to use $1,000 of the $3,000 monthly TD Go load limit for the manufactured spending competition, since my last two loads of the month fell on the 29th and 30th of March – outside the timeframe of the 28-day competition!

Nonetheless, this is an amazing and amazingly cheap product, so if you live in one of the geographic regions served by TD Bank, it's a no-brainer to sign up as soon as possible.

If there's one thing I dislike about the TD Go, it's the rolling 7-day, $2,000 transaction limit. This month I did my first unloading transaction a few days later than usual, and when I went to Walmart for my second round of unloading, I realized I hadn't let the full 7 days elapse!


While they aren't massively scalable (unless you're willing to really work at it), the Visa Buxx line of products is an easy way to get $3,000-6,000 up on the board each month.

The sun also sets on US Bank Visa Buxx

When I started this blog, the Wells Fargo Prepaid Card still allowed users to load up to $2,500 onto the card for a flat fee of $5. The card still exists, but as of May 1, 2013, has only been loadable using Wells Fargo-issued credit and debit cards, which I believe don't earn rewards on load transactions.

Meanwhile, the Nationwide and US Bank Visa Buxx cards have kept plugging along, allowing $1,000 and $2,000 in loads monthly using any Visa or MasterCard credit or debit card (although Citi-issued credit cards are notoriously at risk of cash advance fees).

Today I saw the news that US Bank is no longer allowing new online applications for their Visa Buxx card. I'm still able to log into my existing account, and haven't seen any indication that they'll be canceling existing card accounts, although at this point I'd say it's a near certainty that they'll be restricting loads to US Bank-issued credit and debit cards sometime in the next 12 months (check back February, 2015!).

I hope that all my readers have already signed up for a least one card account, so they won't be immediately affected by this change. And as always, remember the first two laws of travel hacking:

  1. Every deal dies eventually;
  2. There will always be more deals.

Travel hacking is for lovers

At the beginning of the month I wrote up three techniques for manufacturing spend that

form a solid backbone of manufactured spend that is open to all US citizens and (I believe) virtually all resident aliens, as long as they have a tax ID number.

I got a lot of great responses and fielded a lot of questions about that post, but one question that came up a number of times was whether I could write a similar primer for those who aren't going it alone: techniques that are available to travel hackers with a partner, friend, or significant other who's willing to participate — at least to the extent necessary to score some free travel or cash rewards.

Of course, you can start by doubling the values I gave in that post, since your partner can sign up for accounts with all the same services you did. But there are other games which are better played together; let's now take a look at those.

Amazon Payments

This one's easy. You and your partner will need to enroll your respective Amazon accounts in the Amazon Payments service. After enrolling, one of you can send the other up to $1,000 each calendar month. I really like Amazon Payments not because it's insanely lucrative, but because it's insanely useful for making those odd-denomination purchases that periodically come up. For example, after being approved for the Chase British Airways Visa Signature and the Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage World MasterCard a few weeks ago, I made $1,511.85 in purchases on the former and $2,519.75 on the latter. To trigger the 50,000 mile signup bonus on each card, I needed to reach $2,000 and $3,000 in purchases, so I just "topped off" the accounts with purchases of $488.15 and $480.25, respectively, using Amazon Payments.

Warning: under no circumstances send money back and forth between the same two Amazon Payments accounts. All payments should flow in only one direction. Deal?

The Southwest Companion Pass

Your humble blogger does not fly Southwest. But that's neither here nor there: the Southwest companion pass is an amazing value if you do, and if you have a partner you travel with on a regular basis. If you're not familiar with it, it's even better than it sounds. Unlike the companion tickets you earn on each account anniversary with the Delta Platinum and Reserve American Express cards, the Companion Pass is exactly that: whenever you buy — or redeem miles for — a Southwest ticket, you have the option of including a free ticket for your designated companion as well (although you're still responsible for airport taxes and fees, I believe, up to $10 or so per ticket).

There is only one correct way to get the Southwest Companion Pass: wait for the periodic 50,000 point signup bonuses from the Chase Rapid Rewards Premier Visa and Business Credit Card (currently available). Then spend $2,000 on each card to secure the signup bonuses and $6,000 on one or both cards to get you the rest of the way to the 110,000 points needed to secure the Companion Pass for the rest of the current calendar year and all of the next calendar year. For obvious reasons you'll want to get the Pass as early in the current year as possible to maximize the length of your Pass's validity.

Southwest points are fixed-value, meaning they can be redeemed for any seat on any flight, but the number of points required depends on the cost of a paid seat on that particular flight. As a point of reference, advance "Wanna Get Away" fares cost 70 Southwest points per dollar, so each point is worth roughly 1.43 cents each for those fares. That means that if you plan to redeem your entire signup bonus for flights with your companion, those points are worth $1,430 (in Southwest "Wanna Get Away" fares), and the card earns about 2.86% (ditto) on all purchases.

For answers to questions it would never occur to me to ask, head over to The Points Guy and read their great FAQ.

US Bank Visa Buxx

Unlike the Nationwide Visa Buxx that I covered last time, US Bank more-or-less strictly enforces the requirement that the "parent" and "teen" identities you give when signing up do not match. However, they don't have any restrictions on the age of the "teen" user. That means whoever your partner is, he's eligible! Read more about the US Bank (and Nationwide) Visa Buxx card in the refresher course I wrote last fall. I've been using both cards with a 100% success rate since then, so I don't believe there have been any relevant changes (though read through the comments for some corrections to my inadvertent errors).


I've written a lot about Venmo since I've enjoyed using it with my Bank of America Alaska Airlines Debit Card (unfortunately no longer offered – existing cards will be retired in May, 2014). Using Venmo, you're allowed to send up to $3,000 per week using any true, bank-issued, checking-account-linked debit card.

In the travel hacking community we spend a lot of time talking about "PIN-enabled debit cards," but Venmo enforces a stricter standard than Walmart or Evolve Money. As far as I know (I'm sure you'll let me know in comments if I'm wrong), only real debit cards, linked to checking accounts, work with Venmo. That means your best options are the remaining mileage-earning debit cards. Here are the existing options that I know of:

Neither of the first two cards is perfect in the way the Bank of America Alaska Airlines debit card is: the Suntrust card has a high annual fee, and a bad reputation for shutting down accounts that are opened outside Suntrust's physical banking footprint, while the Bankoh card earns HawaiianMiles which, while they can be transferred to Hilton HHonors points at a 1 : 2 ratio, are not especially valuable for award redemptions. I'm prepared to be convinced otherwise, though — take a look at their award charts and let me know what I'm missing.

I know a lot of members of the community have had a lot of success with the ufb direct card, which I think is probably the best currently-available card to use with Venmo.


Travel hacking is a case study in synergy: the whole can be much more than the sum of its parts. The techniques above, plus authorized user cards when necessary, allow you to more than double your manufactured spend for each partner you add to your group. With new techniques being discovered every day, I truly believe that we are living in the golden age of travel hacking. Why not invite a friend?

Welcome the newest member of the Buxx family: TD Go Card

January is the month that keeps on giving.

Flyertalk member and American Hero BarnyardRomeo on Monday brought the community's attention to the existence of a new member of the Visa Buxx family of prepaid cards: the TD Go Card. I ordered my card immediately, and while it hasn't arrived yet, I want to share what I know so those of my readers who are interested can get their orders in as soon as possible.

Background: Visa Buxx

The Visa Buxx family of cards are PIN-enabled, reloadable prepaid Visa debit cards. While there are a fair number of these cards, the two that have traditionally been of interest to the travel hacking community are the Nationwide Visa Buxx and US Bank Visa Buxx (and the similar, since-discontinued Wells Fargo Prepaid Card), since they can be reloaded using third-party Visa and MasterCard credit cards. Most – but not all – credit card companies award miles and points for these transactions, and the money can be easily liquidated using any of the PIN-based debit techniques we have available.

I wrote a whole post on the nuances of loading and unloading those two cards, so if you're hazy on the details of Visa Buxx cards, check out that post before reading on.

Signing Up

Like the Nationwide Visa Buxx – but unlike the US Bank card – it's possible to sign up for a TD Go card using the same personal information for the "parent" and the "teen." That means it's not necessary to fudge your data or "swap places" with a partner in order to register. I did leave my middle initial out in the "teen" information section, purely from an overabundance of caution.

You can make an initial load of $20 to $1,000 using any Visa or MasterCard credit or debit card, and you'll pay a $4.95 enrollment fee.


Here's where this card gets really exciting: it's superior to the Nationwide and Visa Buxx cards in every way. From the terms and conditions, here are the limits on loads:

Limitations on Dollar Amount of Loads. The initial minimum load is twenty dollars ($20.00) and the maximum is one thousand dollars ($1,000). You may load up to one thousand ($1,000.00) per day on Your Card, not to exceed three thousand dollars ($3,000.00) per thirty (30) days. Your maximum Card value at any time is two thousand dollars ($2,000.00).

Even better, instead of $2.50 (for the US Bank card) or $2 (for Nationwide), each load of up to $1,000 costs just $1.

Now, before you try to load $3,000 over three days and make a single Walmart bill payment, keep in mind that the maximum balance on the card at any one time is $2,000, and (not surprisingly) the card has a daily purchase limit of $2,000. You can find additional information in the terms and conditions and in this handy TD Go product guide. You should read both thoroughly.


I've already ordered my card, and I strongly recommend you think about ordering one for yourself as well. It's impossible to say how long this opportunity will last: the US Bank and Nationwide Visa Buxx are going strong with nary a whimper, while the highly-lucrative Well Fargo Prepaid Card was discontinued, presumably because it wasn't profitable enough for the issuing bank.

Here's hoping January has even more pleasant surprises in store for us!

Nationwide Visa Buxx offering $5 bonus in December

I'll be generous and assume that my readers already have a Nationwide Visa Buxx card, since it's an easy way to generate $1,000 in monthly spend on any Visa or MasterCard every month at a cost of $4.

That being the case, check your e-mail for an offer to receive $5 in extra cash when you load $50 to your Visa Buxx account by December 31, 2013. Unfortunately, the Terms and Conditions are too vague to tell clearly whether loading more than $50 will qualify for the $5 bonus, or if you need to load exactly $50.

This matters since if you only earn the bonus when you load exactly $50, you're barely coming out ahead (since you'll pay $2 for the $50 load and another $2 for the subsequent $450 load), while if you earn the bonus when you load any amount over $50, then the $5 will pay for 2 and a half $500 loads, a free month of manufactured spend!

The bonuses are supposed to post by the end of January, so presumably we'll find out for sure by then.

Reasons to love the Midwest: US Bank ATMs

This last weekend I took a trip to beautiful Milwaukee, WI. It was a great trip, giving me the chance to fence, see a good friend and, of course, visit a US Bank ATM! That gives me the occasion to provide an update to this post from back in September. In that post I reported, based on the US Bank Visa Buxx cardholder agreement, that the limits on free US Bank ATM withdrawals are "$200 per withdrawal, 3 per 24 hour period."

I can now report that that information is incorrect . I ended up testing this because I arrived in Milwaukee Friday night, October 11, and my next US Bank Visa Buxx load day was Saturday, October 12. Since I didn't want to spend my weekend on the US Bank iPhone app looking for ATMs, I decided to try an additional $500 in ATM withdrawals Saturday morning. Here's my (successful) withdrawal history:

  • 10/11/13, 19:26, $200
  • 10/11/13, 19:27, $200
  • 10/11/13, 19:28, $100
  • 10/12/13, 16:01, $100
  • 10/12/13, 16:01, $200
  • 10/12/13, 16:02, $200

Now, does this make the biggest difference in the world? Of course not. For readers who don't have access to US Bank ATMs (as I myself don't have here in New England), it doesn't make any difference at all. But I want to make sure my readers have the most up-to-date information that I have, in case they find themselves passing through the Midwest with a Visa Buxx balance and want to make totally free ATM withdrawals.

In other news, I have replaced my computer so new posts and replies to comments and e-mails should return to normal. Even better, as I was writing this post I received notification from Discover that my ShopDiscover purchase was tracked successfully:

I've never felt so good about spending $1,200...

Striking out with US Bank Visa Buxx

After having a long and fruitful discussion with one of my regular readers, and reading some of the latest information in this Flyertalk thread , I decided I owed it to my readers to figure out once and for all whether it was possible to order multiple US Bank Visa Buxx cards.

There are a number of reasons why this is an interesting question. First of all, the Nationwide Visa Buxx card allows users, without any hacking whatsoever, to order a card with identical "parent" and "teen" information. However, the Nationwide card has a number of drawbacks compared to the US Bank Visa Buxx card: most importantly, a lower monthly load limit ($1,000 vs. $2,000) and a combined weekly purchase and ATM withdrawal limit of $800.

Unlike the Nationwide card, the US Bank Visa Buxx card does not allow accounts to be created with the same information for the parent and the teen. However, as I was the first blogger to report, the US Bank Visa Buxx does not actually verify in any way the information provided for the account's "teen."

This gave rise to the question of whether there was any verification process for the account's "parent." So, I decided to find out, and opened a brand new US Bank Visa Buxx account. At first, all signs were good: the online account was created, my credit card was charged, and I received an e-mail telling me my card would arrive in about 3 days.

Unfortunately, that's when my problems started. One day later, I received a voice message from a "verification department." When I logged into the "parent" account, I saw that the status of the card was "PFRAUD," instead of "ACTIVE" like my first account.

Oddly, a few days later, my new card arrived. However, when I called to activate the card, I was immediately transferred to the Customer Service department, where I was unable to make any headway activating the account. Finally, I asked for my money to be refunded, and was eventually told that it was possible, but that I would receive a check in 15-20 business days.


If you do decide to experiment with multiple US Bank Visa Buxx cards, here are my suggestions:

  • Use a real Social Security number for the "parent" account;
  • Use a different name for the "teen" account (the similarity of the names may have triggered my fraud alert);
  • Make sure you use only "valid" Social Security numbers;
  • Make your initial load small (I have $500 locked up in US Bank's coffers for up to month).