It’s almost a national past time around MEAB to poke fun at Metabank Pathward gift cards, but it’s not without cause: they’re harder to liquidate than almost any other issuer, and often they make you pay higher fees than the competition too. I can only assume that’s out of spite. And now they’ve given us another reason to be annoyed, also presumably out of spite.

The Stupidification

Reports came in privately and publicly that things got worse earlier this week. For background, it’s been an open secret with Metabank Pathward gift cards that while many of them stopped working for cash equivalents at Walmart, Kroger and Safeway, some expirations and variations continued to work at both without much consternation. It was also an open secret that most of them worked without a problem at mid-tier grocery chains too. That all changed.

The situation now seems to be that rather than grocery chains implementing blocks, Metabank Pathward has implemented its own issuer-side blocking. That means that in one fell swoop we’ve lost effectively all money center liquidation mechanisms on Metabank Pathward gift cards, and I believe it was intentional too, again presumably out of spite.

What Now?

So what do you do with a tractor size stack of Metabank Pathward gift cards now? You’ve got options:

  • FinTechs
  • Lending platforms
  • Non-money center transactions
  • More, err, liberal payment processors

Good luck out there!

“Now Metabank Pathward can’t see my liquidation technique…” – MSer

  1. Dell has been fulfilling previously canceled orders in the last 24 hours without a corresponding new credit card charge. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, and the pattern based on prior instances seems to be:

    – Deliver a product (digital or physical) without a cleared charge on the credit card
    [crickets for about six months]
    – Invoices from Dell with threats of legal action and collections

    If you were notified by email that an order shipped or was fulfilled that you didn’t expect, your best best is to open a case with Dell and either ask for a refund or ask to pay for the item to save yourself heartache and misplaced AmEx credits too.
  2. American Express has a no-lifetime language Business Platinum 150,000 Membership Rewards offer after $15,000 in spend and another 10,000 Membership Rewards after adding an employee card and spending $1,000, all within three months. This link isn’t new, but the expiration of the offer was updated and there are multiple reports that it appeared recently indicating that there’s a new targeted campaign. (Thanks to SideShowBob233)
  3. The infamous payment processor that we love to hate stopped taking certain gift cards at a reduced processing fee yesterday, so be careful with your buys. They do work elsewhere though, so always be probing.

But how will SideShowBob233 meet minimum spend on that Business Platinum now?

Plastiq, a once favorite bill-payment service for manufactured spenders, has slowly gotten worse over the years with a gradual but pronounced death. Some of the ways:

Earlier this year they announced that they’re going public via the $480 million dollar Colonnade Acquisition Corp SPAC. I can only assume that they’re trying to emulate other SPACs like BODY, which went public and managed turn $10 in net asset value per share into a current price $0.70 in just a little over a year. EDITORS NOTE: I know sometimes we say silly things at MEAB and “Colonnade” sure looks like a silly thing, but it’s the SPAC’s real name. Really.

So, what are they up to now? Well, another kind of “nothing good”, I assure you. In order to drive away price sensitive customers that use the service because it’s a bit cheaper than others, they’re raising processing fees to 2.9%, the par for the industry. Obviously they’re doing this so that they can compete on features alone and lose customers that way, except faster than before.

Is there still room for Plastiq in a manufactured spender’s toolbox? I guess so, but barely. I’d take this as a good opportunity to find alternatives that are less cruddy and more functional.

Happy Wednesday!

I’ll be honest: It was hard not to make today’s picture about Colonnade, but since it’s Plastiq it had to be a louse. I don’t make the rules friends.

  1. PayPal has a 4% cashback deal for six more days at Safeway with apparently no transaction size limit. Even better, according to brykupono at reddit, you can cycle the deal repeatedly for up to an hour by re-adding the offer to your account after each transaction.

    To trigger the deal you’ll have to checkout with a PayPal QR code from your mobile app which is interesting for other reasons too, like for hitting Chase Freedom Q4 bonus categories or for other less obvious games.
  2. has fee free physical and virtual gift cards with promo code cyberdeals22. These cards are usually easy to liquidate, but watch out when purchasing because lately they’ve been charging as a cash advance on American Express cards.
  3. Nearside, the King George III of banks, accidentally announced on Monday via email that part of their business operations were shutting down in the near future. They quickly followed up with an “oops, sorry, ignore that message”, then yesterday sent a message saying essentially “actually guys, sorry, lol, mah bad, we’re dying on December 23 for Christmas, lmfao”. I guess unlimited 2.2% cashback on debit transactions may not be a sound business decision, but what do I know anyway?

    If you have money at Nearside, I’d transfer it out sooner rather than later (I did the moment the first message came in, I didn’t need to wait for the rest of the drama to play out).
  4. Dell is 15x and Saks Fifth Avenue is 10x at Rakuten’s shopping portal for the holiday, so it’s a good time to liquidate American Express Platinum and Business Platinum credits. Even better, SideShowBob233 notes that Drop has 100 points per dollar or 10% back at Dell, and it stacks with portals too. If my math is correct that brings Dell prices down to about par with other retailers, except you still get the frustration of Dell’s order system for no extra charge.

Nearside wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving. No, wait, go away! Just kidding, Happy Thanksgiving.

UPDATE: MSN Flyer reports that American Express charged a cash advance on a purchase at as well. The issue appears wider spread than we thought and is a troubling development.

American Express is historically very forgiving with cash-like purchases, seeing a cash advance show up on a statement is effectively unheard of unless you visit an ATM, run a bank teller cash transaction, use it at a casino, or for a payday lender transaction. In fact, I’ve never seen a cash advance on any of my American Express cards in my manufactured spend history, even when the merchant sells nothing but gift-cards or when buying literal currency from the US mint.

There’s something rotten in Denmark Manhattan though: There are now two reports of a cash advance fee being charged at a mostly under-the-radar Mastercard gift card online retailer when using an American Express. One of the reports from includes a screenshot of the transactions. (Many thanks to reader Nick)

I haven’t purchased gift cards from this retailer in several weeks so I don’t have a datapoint of my own, but I can say that this retailer has been wonky with American Express for about two months. Some of its quirks:

  • Requires AmEx SafeKey, but only sometimes
  • Orders occasionally pass SafeKey but then sends a failure to the retailer
  • SafeKey tokens can leak to or from other sites
  • Pending charges started appearing with a merchant name of “OTH MISC” or was blank, and the name only corrected when the charge actually posted.

Was the cash advance charge intentional on American Express’s part? I’m honestly not sure, I think it’s equally likely that the vendor messed up their merchant account in some other way that caused the cash advance and it may be fixed in a few weeks. Also, recall that historically when American Express is sick of manufactured spend at a particular retailer they just stop awarding points but still let the transaction through rather than charging a cash advance fee, like with purchases, so it’s an odd turn to blatantly charge cash advances on a similar retailer.

Regardless of the cause, watch your American Express manufactured spend charges closely for the next couple of months until we get a better handle on what’s up.

The plumbing between a certain gift card vendor and their merchant processor.

  1. There’s a new offer for turning your American Express Platinum and Business Platinum Clear credits into a $75 Uber voucher. In the past you’ve only needed a new email address to get these to work even if you already have Clear, and I assume this time is no different.
  2. Meijer has a promotion for $50 off of $500 in many third party gift card purchases. This is the less lucrative version of this offer versus a straight discount, but still generally very lucrative. Notable exclusions are Apple and Amazon, and worthwhile inclusions are BestBuy and Home Depot. (Thanks to GC Galore)
  3. There are multiple reports in the MEAB slack and elsewhere that Mastercards from MyPrepaidCenter have been fraudulently drained since late last week, likely from a site-hack based on the data-points and given that the site was offline for much of yesterday. If you have any of those cards, I’d suggest you drain them as soon as possible, or at minimum double check the balances. If you have cards that were compromised you should be able to dispute the charges and get your original balance back, but it’ll probably be a slog.
  4. Check your email for a targeted offer from Discover bank for $100 or $150 bonus for brining either $10,000 or $15,000 in deposits into the bank by the end of September, and maintaining an average balance of at least that much through the end of November. The terms and conditions are here. (Thanks to 5 via MEAB slack)

A scammer liquidating a gift card.

Beginning in mid-June I started receiving reports that American Express has imposed spending limits on charge cards and lowered limits on credit cards. Based on the number of reports I’ve received directly and the volume of chatter I’ve seen in various groups the issue is widespread, much more so than we’ve seen in the last several years. What’s going on?

Charge Cards

With charge cards, it seems American Express is doing on of two things to affected accounts (but probably not both):

  • Imposing spending limits on mostly unused charge cards
  • Taking up to a week after payment to free-up available credit

For active charge cards, spending limits don’t seem widespread (but there are a few reports).

Credit Cards

On the credit card side we’ve seen:

  • Credit lines slashed on both idle and actively used cards
  • Taking up to a week after payment to free-up available credit

Unlike the charge card side, activity on a card doesn’t seem to protect it from a reduced spending limit.


So far, everyone that’s been affected by the recent charge limits has one of these two traits with their AmEx accounts:

  • Big balances (think 30%+ of stated annual income)
  • Lot’s of cycling (similar magnitude)

The language used on the AmEx website when a limit is imposed mirrors the language used when a financial review results is reduced charging privileges. That could mean we’re seeing a new type of financial review (perhaps a “silent financial review”), and having a big balance or cycling your cards quite a bit triggers it.

Assuming this round is like past rounds of spending limits, it’ll probably be stuck on your account for a year.

Why is AmEx doing this?

I don’t have inside knowledge about why AmEx is doing this, but I do know that their two major banking partners aren’t rosy on AmEx’s recent financial performance (Morgan Stanley’s bank analyst downgraded the stock this week and Charles Schwab has given the company a “D – Underperform” equity rating as of yesterday.) Perhaps AmEx is looking for ways to reduce their risk or for ways to shore up their balance sheet?

AmEx’s public Q2 financial results are scheduled for early Friday of next week, so perhaps we’ll learn more then. In the mean time be aware that AmEx seems to be more on edge lately and act accordingly, like maybe drink a beer and chill.

AmEx understands “no preset spending limit” as well as this shop understands 99 cent stores.

1. Southwest has 20% off of fares to or from Hawaii for travel between March 11 and May 12 of next year, which includes Spring Break for most of the US, use promo-code HAWAIISALE.

2. Yesterday’s deal with SimplyMiles turned out to be a giant disaster after all, because of course it did when AA was involved. The gist:

  • They took the site down yesterday morning (it was timing out on all requests)
  • They site came back and they put a banner up saying that only purchases before a (probably incorrect) time were honored
  • They removed the banner all-together
  • They messaged that they’re “working with Mastercard” to everyone who wrote in and asked about status

First, I’m terribly sorry if I got you involved in this deal and it ends up wasting your time. Second, I hope it works out for you whether or not you end up wasting time. And because you didn’t ask, here’s my prediction for how this will go:

Usually, ill-conceived promotions turn into flaming meteors that crash into full dumpsters outside of a liquor store — so, I guess that.

3. One of my absolute favorite long-term deals of the last year was fee-free Vanilla Visa gift cards at because:

  • Vanilla Visa gift cards work in quite a few more places than Metabank/BHN Visa gift cards
  • continues to work well with American Express cards (unlike
  • The “flash sale” ended up lasting over five months even though it was supposed to be just a couple of days

Well, rejoice (maybe) because that flash sale is back for 2021 using the code FLASH2021. The code was just announced yesterday and as of this writing is supposed to expire yesterday, but I have high hopes that it won’t actually expire. Give the code a shot today, and keep it in your back-pocket because it’s possible that it will continue to work well into 2022.

A dumpster outside of a liquor store waiting for the next fiery AA promotion to come crashing down.