It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen any credible reports of American Express shutdowns. As a (hopefully) final follow-up to the most recent round:

  • Adam Winslow no longer works at American Express. His last day way Monday, October 18; I think this didn’t happen simultaneously with the shutdowns because there’s more legal red tape in employment law than for shutting down credit card account holders, and that took time.
  • All credible shutdown reports that I’m aware of involved at least a single card opened with Adam. The most unfortunate data point I have on this is for someone that opened a single Platinum card as their first and only card with American Express through Adam in early 2019 and then was shutdown in the second wave.
  • As a corollary to the above, I’m still not aware of any shutdowns in the last wave for anyone that never opened a card with Adam.
  • There was a report at Forbes of a successful reinstatement of AmEx cards for one Adam-related shutdown, later however, the author later reported that the reinstatement was short-lived: A few days later it was reversed and all the cards were gone again.

So, is there risk in engaging in shenanigan-like behavior? Absolutely, there always has been and always will be when you’re interacting with a bank with manufactured spend, gift card purchases, upgrades, downgrades, retention offers, or a litany of other strategies. We’re never completely insulated from a shutdown, but here is what I do to try and stay in American Express’s good graces:

  • Don’t try and bypass limits implemented by the American Express business logic (in other words, if an offer doesn’t appear for me when I click on a genuine AmEx link, then it doesn’t apply to me at that time.)
  • Don’t try and open more cards then the American Express limits (10 charge cards and 5 credit cards), though I’m actually currently at 11 so we can see how well I’m following my own advice
  • Don’t spend big multiples of my stated income or business income on American Express cards
  • If you take a retention offer, hold the card open and don’t downgrade for at least 12 statements
  • If you take a card upgrade, hold the card open and don’t downgrade for at least 12 statements
  • Don’t use a mailer with an offer code targeted at someone else

Of course, it’s possible that you could do none of those things and still be shutdown, or do all of them and keep accounts open forever. While we do have some inside data on how American Express systems work, we don’t have all the data and those systems can and do change, so what worked and was safe yesterday might be awful today.

So, if you’re not shutdown go out and enjoy your weekend and put all of this behind you. If you are shutdown you have my condolences, but you should do the same thing. Remember, there are literally thousands of banks out there that will cushion your fall from American Express’s grace and will reward you for your business.

The cushion provided by your local credit union to soften the fall from your American Express shutdown.

Gift card sales are picking up in just about every way right now, but let’s narrow today’s discussion to a few fun Visa/Mastercard deals (and don’t forget the current Office Depot / OfficeMax deal going through Saturday):

1. has a Halloween sale for three $250 virtual Visa gift cards with $75 off using code TRICKORTREAT, for a total cost of about $693 for $750 worth of cards. To make this even better, Citi has a targeted merchant offer for 1.5x at, you can add it to your card at this link. (Thanks to GC Galore)

Make sure you go through a shopping portal to get to this deal. As of this writing, Alaska is at 4x which would payout at around 2,770 miles. In theory the deal runs through Halloween, but it will probably sell out sooner so jump on it while you can.

2. Simon Mall has 50% off of purchase fees using promo code OCTSCARY50. These are great for their large denominations (up to $1,000), and especially great for running up balances on a Citi Double Cash. Just don’t use an American Express card, they don’t pay out points on Simon purchases.

3. Kroger has $3 back on purchases of Visa or Mastercard gift cards via digital coupon. This one is unique because it reportedly works with variable load and fixed load cards, but only if the face value is over $50. Kroger sells US Bank Visa and Mastercard gift cards which tend to work better in many places than the alternatives.

You have a few Kroger accounts, right? You can create a new one in less than two minutes.

Virtual gift cards in action, but watch out: I have a sneaking suspicion that the printout probably won’t work at a Walmart register.

The Elephant (s) in the Room

Surely you’ve read about the AA elite changes, Marriott point and certificate changes, and Hyatt peak/off-peak changes in a thousand different places so I’m not going to add another “me too” type post, but here are a few concise summaries without all the fluff for your future reference:

  • AA changes (to elite status only, award changes not expected for a long time)
  • Hyatt changes (hotels cost more during peak, less during off-peak, and the same in “normal” times)
  • Marriott changes (#bonvoyed)

What I Really Wanted to Post

With that out of the way, let’s talk about how crazy American Express can be right now, and I hope you can replicate what I did. Background: I opened a Personal Gold card 364 days ago. The annual fee will hit when the statement closes in a few days, so it was a great time to check on a retention offer over chat. I did that, and then a few more shenanigans because reasons:

  • Accepted a retention offer of 30,000 Membership Rewards after $3,000 spend in 90 days
  • Followed this link for an upgrade offer to a Platinum with 25,000 Membership Rewards after spending $10,000 in 90 days, and a bonus 10x on spend at grocery for up to $15,000 in spend from the same card
  • Referred a Player 2 for a new American Express card for a bonus +4x for up to $25,000 in spend for 90 days from the same card

American Express offers stack, and that means that at grocery stores, this card will earn:

  • 24x for the first $3,000 in spend
  • 14x for the next $12,000 in spend
  • 5x for the last $10,000 in spend

You can do this too as long as you’ve got a Personal Gold or Green card that’s been open for at least a year. It’s a good thing that BestBuy gift card resale rates are high right now, amirite?

Basking in the Membership Rewards downpour (with a bonus Easter Egg for Garth)


Bravo is a great platform for sending person-to-person payments with both credit and debit cards. I first heard about Bravo in early 2019 from the now defunct Middle Age Miles blog. It’s never been the lowest fee liquidation option, but if you are earning 5-15x when buying gift cards and you’ve filled up other channels or run out of lower-fee liquidation, it can make sense.

The problem with Bravo though is that the fees started out relatively high and they’ve continued to creep higher, just like ancillaries on Frontier airlines. The evolution:

  • The fees started out at a flat 2%
  • They capped the flat 2% to payments of $499.99 or less
  • Around September 2020 they raised the fees for payments above $10 to be 2.9% + $0.31 per payment (or more)
  • Sometime in the last several weeks, they raised the fee to 3.6% + 0.31 per payment above $30.01

At this point, it’s really, really hard to justify the use of Bravo. That said, I suppose it could still make sense for some of you.

Forcing the Old Fee Structure

Here’s the kicker with the fees though: Until the last couple of weeks you could still send payments under the old 2% flat fee structure. How? By using an old version of the app and jumping through a few other (small) hoops.

Why did this happen? Well, I can tell you in general even though I don’t have any special inside information: a golden rule in mobile app and web development is that the server should validate everything, and the server should be responsible for “business logic” like the fees charged on a transaction. You can never trust a users device to be above board. Bravo’s team clearly didn’t follow this rule. The fees were hard coded into the application itself, so using an older application would give you an older fee structure. It took their team years to finally plug this hole.

Lessons Learned

  • Older apps can unlock functionality that’s been removed or changed, and that can even affect the way you’re charged for a service
  • Backing up your applications on iOS or having quick access to apkmirror on Android will often be useful for future tinkering
  • Sometimes you’ll need multiple versions of an application to accomplish a task

And of course the most important lesson for the software developers out there: Always validate on the server side. Always. (Unless you’re trying to help us out, in which case, thanks.)

Pictured: Bravo’s fix for the “2% in perpetuity” hole.

1. Office Depot / OfficeMax has $15 back on $300 or more in Visa gift cards running through Saturday. As usual, to maximize the deal:

  • Link your credit card with Dosh before buying
  • Check your Chase Offers for 5% back or 10% back at Office Depot (and activate the offer if you have it)
  • Buy the “Everywhere” variety of cards for lower fees
  • Make sure you have a liquidation channel, especially for the Everywhere variety
  • Try and get at least two transactions per trip to save you time and energy

(Thanks to GC Galore)

2. There’s a new American Express targeted 20,000 points bonus floating around the community for turning on “Pay Over Time”. Check your charge cards at this link. Note that for me it leads to an offer for 20,000 points for adding an Authorized User which obviously has nothing to do with Pay Over Time. Either way I’m happy to take 20,000 points. (Thanks to DDG)

3.A new link has surfaced for one of my favorite cards (for its churnability and upgradability), the “no lifetime language / NLL” American Express Business Gold card with a 90,000 Membership Rewards sign up bonus after spending $10,000 in three months. It has another 30,000 points for drawing from an American Express Kabbage line of credit within the same three months of opening. (Thanks to blackfishfilet)

The 90,000 for the Business Gold is a great bonus, especially because you can probably get a six figure Membership Rewards Platinum upgrade bonus on the card after holding it for a few months. As far as Kabbage goes? You can do it, but you’ll almost certainly have to fight to get the account opened and linked, and then fight again to get your 30,000 extra Membership Rewards. Personally, I’d just consider this a 90,000 point bonus rather than 120,000, but that’s just because I value my time and stuff.

Pictured: American Express Kabbage if it were a bedroom.

I recently spent just over a week in Switzerland and although I’d love to talk about that, it’s not really the purpose of this blog. Instead, I wanted to talk about something that I encountered as part of the booking process for both the outbound and the return: I booked a business class award from my home city connecting in Chicago O’Hare to Zurich and the reverse routing for the return.

In it’s eternal crapulance, United often “breaks” business class awards by only offering coach saver awards for most domestic legs, especially when there’s good availability on the route in business class internationally. I consider these mixed-cabin awards broken because it’s frankly punitive to withhold domestic first class seats on international business awards where the business segment is the vast majority of the cost to United, and where the domestic first class cabins are often empty despite the lack of award space. Let me tell you too, there’s nothing quite like flying in a Swiss Throne business class seat only to be followed by a three hour flight in the last row of an E175 with slimline unpadded seats.

How do we fix these awards? You’ve got two options:

  1. Periodically check the United site leading up to your trip to see if they open saver award space on your domestic first leg, then you can call reservations and have them reticket you in the domestic first class cabin for no additional charge (spoiler alert: United almost never opens first class award availability)
  2. Call United and ask to be added to the upgrade waitlist for first class on your domestic legs, which you’re entitled to be on as a business class award ticket holder whether or not you hold any status with United. Note that not all reps know how to do this and you may need to hang up and call again, but fortunately it seems that most reps know how in recent memory.

Note that if you use the second option, you’re considered to be on an instrument supported upgrade which puts you ahead of almost all elite complimentary upgrades on the upgrade list. That also means you’ve got a great shot of clearing the first class upgrade and un-breaking your business class award. You can see the wiki on this post at Flyertalk for more detail on upgrade list priorities.

How did this go for me? Well, because I was flying United I was hit by another form of crapulence: They waited until the last minute to clear upgrades, which mattered because the previous flight to my city was delayed by 8 hours because United is United, and essentially all of the confirmed first class passengers on the previous flight switched to my flight. I went from #1 with 8 seats available in first to #1 with 0 seats available in first within the final hours of my flight.

If Jurassic Park taught us anything, it’s that life will always find a way. My corollary is that United will also always find a way (to break your travel).

Happy weekend!

A picture looking out of an A330 aircraft window at altitude, with a brontosaurus peeking in.
The reason for the previous flight’s delay.

Gift card resale rates have been creeping up toward yearly highs. This isn’t unexpected, Q4 is traditionally the best time of year for rates in the same way that it’s the best time of year to sell tinsel and foam Santa-esque figurines. Here’s what I’ve seen this week:

  • BestBuy gift card rates crept up to 98.75% yesterday. If you combine these with grocery store reward you’re looking at a decent profit even without your credit card spend factored in.
  • Apple gift card rates hit 94.5%. With the new MacBook M1-Pro announcement I expect there’s still room for growth here so start scouting potential buying spots. With Kroger in particular and the 4x promotion that ended yesterday, these rates made Apple gift card reselling rather profitable without considering credit card rewards.
  • Kroger Fuel Point resale rates have crept above $16/1,000 points. Honestly I’ve never seen them this high, and unfortunately I don’t expect it to last. A few back to back 4x general promotions tend to kill high rates, and a couple of those will probably come soon.
  • Home Depot gift card resale rates went to 94.5%. Yesterday’s Kroger 4x promotion could also work with these via Happy cards.

Other gift card brands have followed this trend. The only real exceptions I’ve noted are Gap and Express, which seem to have a flooded supply left over from the summer.

It’s time to dust off your gift card reselling skills and reach out for new buyers. There’s a lot of capacity waiting to be filled out there.

You know it’s Q4 when these beauties start showing up in stores.

1. I’m seeing a 30% transfer bonus for both Marriott and Hilton on my American Express Membership Rewards travel partner page. There’s a report on reddit of a 20% transfer bonus for Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles too, though I don’t have that one. It’s likely worth taking a look at your own profile’s page to see what might be there for you.

2. It’s still raining gift cards, this time from Simon. Use promo code OCT21SAVE45 for 45% off of fees on bulk Visa gift card purchases. You can buy $1,000 Visa gift cards at Simon with low fees, and it’s a decent way to get some spend on Citi cards. As always, remember that American Express doesn’t give you points for spend at Simon.

These continue to work at mid-tier grocery stores and at several online processors. If you don’t have a way to liquidate, keep looking — they do exist.

3. Multiple independent sources are confirming that Hyatt’s peak/off-peak pricing will be implemented on October 26. That gives you six days to book award stays for March 2022 and later at the current prices. Don’t slack too long!

The new redemption chart is here, and unlike most loyalty award changes this one has some good with the bad — if you’re staying in Lubbock Texas on a Wednesday night in July (also known as “as off-peak as it possibly gets”), you might be able to get a night at the Hyatt Place for 3,500 points instead of 5,000 points.

Pictured: Your window view during your off-peak award stay in Lubbock, TX.