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.

A post is brewing about the new American Express Business Platinum changes. Stay tuned, and in the mean time:

1. Staples has fee free $200 Visa gift cards through Saturday, limit five per transaction. It looks to me like this is just continuing last week’s promo for another week. They’re Metabank/BHN cards, so have a liquidation play in mind. Side note: I’m shocked at how many of these there have been this year; don’t expect it to last.

Remember to link your cards with Payce, sometimes it’ll pay 5% on Staples gift card purchases even though it’s not supposed to and definitely don’t contact support if it doesn’t work.

2. Office Depot/OfficeMax has 25% back in rewards on Happy gift cards, up to $25 total back. Buy one of these for $100 to max it out. Happy cards that swap to Home Depot or Gamestop are your best bang for the buck. (Thanks to GC Galore)

3. Do this now: Register for 1,000 AA Miles when you stay at a Hyatt in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York City, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, or Washington, D.C. between November 1 of this year and January 31, 2022.

If you really wanted to game this promo, you could hop back-and-forth between different Hyatt hotels over the course of your travel and get 1,000 miles per night, effectively. Is that worth it? Sounds like a lot of work to me.

Painting a wall with a q-tip seems is mathematically the same amount of work required to hop back-and-forth between hotels for a week.

1. Staples has $200 fee free Mastercards up to five per transaction this week, and this time it’s for real — they pinky-promised and said no take-backs, so I think we’re good. The promotion runs between yesterday and Saturday. Note: There are recent reports that Payce has paid 5% on gift card purchases at Staples, though it can be spotty and it’s definitely not supposed to work that way so don’t write Payce support if it didn’t track for you.

These cards are Metabanks and they’re becoming more difficult to directly cash out, but it’s still possible. Some of the low hanging fruit is at regional grocery stores, but from home options also exist.

2. Office Depot / OfficeMax has $15 off of $300 in Visa gift cards back through Saturday. Remember to link your cards with Dosh for extra cash back, which will make this deal about a $14 money maker each time with the everywhere cards which, despite their name, do not work everywhere that Visa is taken (they do work in many places which matter for us though).

3. Meijer Mperks is has a current offer for $5 off of a future purchase when buying $50 in gift cards, up to 10 times per Mperks account between now and October 23. In case you’re not mathematically inclined, a single $500 gift card will earn you $50, or 10% back.

This one excludes some Visas and Mastercards, but you can buy BestBuy, Home Depot, or Apple gift cards which all have a high resale rate.

4. The personal JetBlue card has an offer for Mosaic status lasting until the end of 2022 after spending $15,000 (Svetlana wrote in to correct the spend, I had incorrectly written $10,000 before). If you fly JetBlue a lot, Mosaic status may be worth getting. If you’re flying it only two or three times a year, then this isn’t worth your time — the real benefit to Mosaic is free “upgrades” to Even More Space and I guess a mini-bottle of awful wine.

If JetBlue Mosaic status got you wine from Valais, we’d be in a totally different ballgame and spending $10,000 for status might be worth it. Alas, it doesn’t. Enjoy your swill wine and blue corn chips instead, cause that’s what you’ll get.

Brevity is back baby!

1. Citi does everything in a uniquely Citi way (wait for it). After they watched American Express and Chase knock Card linked offers out of the park, they finally decided to implement their own version in late 2020. For the most part those offers have been lame, but that’s changing. Login at this link, and check your Citi offers for the following:

  • $50 off of $200 at Best Buy
  • 30% off of Uber, up to four times at $10 back per use
  • 1.5% back at GiftCards.com (Citi excludes “gift card” purchases from GiftCards.com in the T&C, but I’m almost certain that won’t be enforced — what else are you going to buy there? Go ahead and look, I’ll wait)
  • $50 off of $200 at various IHG brands (I see Holiday Inn, Even Hotels, and Hotel Indigo on my Premier)

2. Reader K wrote in to let me know that PayPal Key and their Freedom Flex were working splendidly together at Costco.com this weekend, which means yesterday’s post is partially incorrect. I’ve had more data points pouring in and that’s led to mixed results; some reporting success in various manufactured spend channels and others failing. I think this is a YMMV situation, and hopefully you’re lucky and PPK+Freedom (Flex) just works for you. It didn’t for me unfortunately.

3. Meijer has $10 back for purchasing $150 or more in Mastercard gift cards this week. You can also get $10 back for $50 in Happy gift cards at the same link. Spin up those Mperks accounts, and don’t forget to clip those offers!

Card linked offers with the big three credit card issuers.

Mastercard is on my mind today, so let’s talk about a couple of deals and then add some commentary because it’s a wordy Monday:

The Deals

1. On Friday we thought that Staples was running a fee-free Visa gift card starting yesterday and running through Saturday. But first thing yesterday morning Katie let me know that the ad is wrong. Instead, Staples is actually running a Mastercard fee-free gift card sale yesterday through Saturday, limit five per transaction.

2. Office Depot/OfficeMax is running a sale on Mastercard gift cards yesterday through Saturday too, putting them in direct competition with Staples. This deal is a better one from an earning perspective: you get a $15 rebate on $300 or more in Mastercard gift cards. When you buy two gift cards you’ll earn $1.10 after fees, and you’ll get another $10 back from Dosh as long as you’ve linked your card in the app ahead of time. Given several reports of Dosh looking harder at obvious gift card transactions, I’d add some staples or rubber bands to my purchase going forward.

Commentary

We’ve talked about how Visa and Mastercard aren’t the same before, but let’s add a little more: By default, Visa and Mastercard gift cards are treated like any other debit card in backend payment processing systems, even though they have higher fees than a traditional debit card. Because the fees are higher, payment processors will often block prepaid cards in a whack-a-mole style fashion as usage grows. When they block, they block by BINs (the first 6 digits of a card number — but soon to be 8 digits). This gives us our first takeaway:

  • BINs that are less commonly found at major retailers are more likely to work for our many liquidation techniques.

Now let’s tie this into Mastercard gift cards with some useful background information: In the height of the money order manufactured spend craze between 2014 and 2019, Mastercard gift cards got a bad wrap because at Walmart, you had to use the “change payment trick” when liquidating one of them. That trick was error prone and it gave certain cashiers bad vibes which only made things worse. So, many big time manufactured spenders simply wouldn’t buy Mastercards and prevailing wisdom in the community became “Visa gift cards are better”. That brings us back to the first point with a twist:

  • Mastercard gift cards are less commonly used in manufactured spending, and as a result they’re more likely to work for our many liquidation techniques.

The above datapoint isn’t just theoretical either. There are multiple liquidation methods in use today that work with Mastercards but not Visas. So, maybe take deals listed above as a bigger opportunity than you may have initially considered.

I’m not saying I was the first with Mastercard on my mind (we all know that was Ray Charles), but I’m definitely the most recent.

We’re all over the map with today’s post, sorry friends. It’s just going to be a hot-mess and there’s nothing any of us can do about it.

1. Are you ready for a bunch of fee free $200 Visa Gift Cards again? Well, Staples has got your back. Between Sunday and the following Saturday they’re fee free, limit five per transaction. Make sure you have a plan for liquidation before buying a bunch. EDIT 9/26/2021: Katie let me know that the ad is wrong, it’s actually Mastercard Gift Cards in this sale.

Related followup: Safeway, like Walmart and Kroger, does indeed have a $99 per transaction debit card limit on these cards. So if worst comes to worst, I guess you could buy a couple of money orders to get rid of a card, but ewww David.

2. Yun wrote in to let me know that by chatting with Point debit card support, he was able to get the $99 annual fee refunded on multiple accounts and keep the card open after their walk-back of an offer for a $0 annual fee. I’d suggest that if you signed up for the rewards card with the first year fee free and were still charged $99, you chat with their support online and try and get it refunded. I’d try a few times if it doesn’t work out the first time.

Related followup: I opened a spite Point debit card and I think you should also. Talk about burying the lead on this one too — Point has a new streak for $30 back after using the card once per day for five days, as long as the total works out to at least $200 in spend before October 3. It’s a debit card so getting your spend going is easier than in quite a few other cases, and now that I have a spite card I can get the streak an extra time.

3. I had a several people send questions, notes, and clarifications about American Express upgrade offers. To sum it up:

  • On the personal card side (like the business card side), opening a new card or upgrading an existing card will almost never result in a hard credit pull. However on the personal side a new card will always result in a new account on your credit card which matters if you’re trying to be under 5/24.
  • The “almost” in the above statement comes from what American Express sees when they do a periodic soft credit card pull (which doesn’t show up on your credit report). If something on that soft pull looks very different than before, they may do a hard inquiry for a new application.
  • On business card upgrades you don’t need to wait 12 months before getting an upgrade; the reason you have to wait that long on the personal side is due to legislation in the CARD act.
  • The downgrade/upgrade game is alive and well for some of you, don’t discount the play.
  • There are multiple reports that upgrades have been seen on more than one business card, check them all, and just because you’ve upgraded one doesn’t mean there’s not another offer right behind it.
  • You almost certainly don’t need worry about the presence of lifetime language restrictions in an upgrade offer. I’m not aware of any reports of that condition being enforced, and I’ve seen hundreds data-points that say the conditions don’t matter (including my own).
  • If you get a popup during application for a new card or during upgrade that says your’e not eligible for a sign-up bonus, believe it. There was a brief period where that wasn’t true, but unfortunately that period has passed.

4. Check here for a spend offer on your United credit card. I got 500 bonus miles for spending $500 on my card, which is worth about $7.50 best case, gee thanks. I guess I could use that $7.50 to buy myself a gourmet, marine-life shaped croissant.

5. I finally decided to start using Venmo for in-store payments this week, and my first purchase was a large one at CVS in a different state than where I live. That resulted in my Venmo account being locked and a few annoying email threads with Venmo support. Don’t be like me, try a little harder.

It’s been a long winded week on this site, hmm 🤔.

My prize from the grab-bag? A croissant croisshark. You knew this picture was coming even before you saw it, right?

Gift cards are a hot topic for a few different reasons right now. We’ll start with the positive news and descend into the depths from there:

1. Simon has a new promotion code for 55% off of Mastercard and Visa fees at their volume site: SEP21EA55. This is one of the best offers they’ve had in recent years. These Metabank cards aren’t working for purchases of money orders at the big three purveyors (with limited exceptions): Walmart, Kroger, and Safeway. They still work at many mid-size and small-size regional grocery chains though, and for certain uses at Target. You can also use bill payment services and maybe a FinTech platform or two to cash them out.

Don’t forget that American Express doesn’t award points and doesn’t count Simon purchases toward minimum spend.

2. Dean let me know that the card linked program Dosh has a boosted offer for 4% back on purchases at Office Depot / OfficeMax, though the maximum daily award is still $10 per account. If you buy a single $200 Visa or Mastercard with a $6.95 purchase fee, you’ll be ahead $1.05 after Dosh cash back. You’ll do even better with one of the “Everywhere” Visas and their lower purchase fees of $4.95. (Watch out though, the Everywhere cards don’t work everywhere. The probably should be called “some of everywhere” cards.)

To scale this deal I have one Dosh account for each of my Ink cards, each linked to a different phone number. Do note that there is a report or two on reddit that a Dosh account was locked from transfers due to suspected fraud. So far I’m not affected but going forward I’d buy a pack of paper clips or something with your gift card so the numbers don’t come out as exactly $204.95.

3. There’s a lot going on in the gift card buyers market right now. It’s too early to tell if you should be concerned or not (I think currently you shouldn’t be, but I just turned my gift card buyer radar-gain up to an eleven). With that in mind I think it’s worth reiterating my general advice: Diversify your pool of gift card buyers so that you spread out any risk, and never sell more in gift cards to a single buyer than you’d be willing to lose if the worst case scenario ever occurred again. I’m happy to do $30,000 or more in volume per week when selling gift cards, but I’m most certainly not happy to have $30,000 floated to a single buyer. My favorite buyers pay-out in 3 or so business days which helps me do high volume with less float, and my least favorite take quite a bit longer.

To add to the above advice: There were signs that things were going pear shaped months before the last time the worst case scenario happened, and smart gift card resellers should take those signs as a lesson going forward.

Inception: An image of a gift card illustrating when gift card reselling goes pear shaped.

Reader Gene was the first to let me know that Simon cards stopped working for purchasing money orders at Safeway late last week. It’s the next major in-person liquidation method to fall for Metabank / BHN gift cards, which obviously (as the kids say) sucks.

Background

Metabank/BHN Visa and Mastercard gift cards are some of the easiest cards out there to get at a discount or to buy in bulk, either through Office Depot/Office Max sales, Staples sales, or Simon volume plays. It used to be really simple to liquidate them in person by loading to a prepaid card like BlueBird or converting them to a money order. Unfortunately, that’s been changing over the last year or so:

  • Most Wal-Mart registers stopped accepting Metabank debit swipes over $99 in November of last year. (hint: most)
  • Many Kroger registers stopped accepting Metabank debit swipes over $99 at the same time. (hint: many)
  • As of late last week, Safeway stopped accepting Metabank debit swipes, probably also with a $99 cap. (see above)

Why Now?

Why are major grocery stores clamping down on this? I can think of two reasons, one for each side of the transaction, but in the end both are really just about controlling profit.

First let’s tackle the grocery side with some background information: Prepaid debit card transaction fees are split into two tiers, covered and exempt, each with its own rate. As with most regulation there is nuance to that definition and the fee structure, but it’s not particularly relevant here. What you should know is banks with less than $10 Billion in assets (like MetaBank at approximately $7 Billion) have a higher interchange fee than larger banks. That smaller bank fee is published at somewhere around 1.15% + $0.15. Yes, there is a cap for supermarket transactions, but usually money centers at supermarkets don’t code as a supermarket transaction because they’re, well, money centers.

So when you swipe a $500 prepaid MetaBank gift card to buy a money order for $499.02 the store may be paying somewhere around $5.90 in fees, but charging you less than $1 for the transaction. Ouch. That’s plenty of reason for major retailers to want to shut down prepaid cards from MetaBank when they happening at volume.

Ok, so what about the other side? Why would MetaBank want to shut this down? That’s an easy one. They’re collecting somewhere between $0 and $5 in purchase fees from you, and that number is probably closer to the $0 end after sales commissions, shipping, and other ancillaries are accounted for — so those don’t have a big impact on revenue. They make their money from collecting their portion of interchange fees when you spend on the card. Those fees for a credit swipe are going to be around 2% of the total purchase price or better, vs at best 1% when all is said and done on a debit transaction. By blocking debit transactions they’d approximately double their net revenue.

Where Do we Go From Here?

All isn’t lost with these cards, but the game is a little harder. Here’s how to pivot:

  • There are Visa and Mastercard prepaid issued by bigger banks (like say US Bank) that have more assets and thus are on the lower fee tier for interchange rates. As a result, I think supermarkets and Wal-Mart have a much smaller incentive to care about money order purchases with those cards and thus they’re a safer bet for MS.
  • Plenty of mid-tier grocery stores still work just fine. We’ve talked about several of them on this site before, but certainly look around your area and you’ll probably find others. Don’t let the lack of a name printed on a debit card stop you either.
  • Certain prepaid products (not unlike GoBank) will still accept Metabank cards even though they won’t work to buy a money order.
  • Look for at home liquidation techniques; try payment processors, bill pay platforms, p2p platforms, etc.
  • Explore other techniques that don’t rely on Visa and Mastercard gift cards: buyer’s clubs, gift card reselling, review clubs, bill pay platforms, p2p platforms, social lending, coins, etc.

There are a ton of plays out there friends, keep looking!

There’s more to Wal-Mart than the Money Center. The bad news? To find it, you still have to go to Wal-Mart.