If you were a programmer at a bank and you had to code a bonus category for a particular vendor, say like earning 32x Membership Rewards points on flights to Mars booked through Deep Discount Mars Trips, how would you do it? You’ve got a few decent options for how you might award a bonus based on:

  • A particular merchant account and payment processor
  • A particular merchant category code (MCC)
  • A specific merchant name, like “DEEP DISCOUNT MARS TRIPS LLC”

Of course you don’t have to pick just one of those, good banks and good programmers will do two or all three. Of course, there are some FinTechs out there that take the easy way out and do the bare minimum, for example, searching for “MARS” in a charge’s name and awarding 32x if the letters are found in the charge description. When that happens you’ll earn 32x at:

  • Marsha’s Grab and Go
  • Cactus and Marshes LLC
  • The Marshmallow and Vacuum Emporium

Often the FinTech programmer figures out that they’ve made a mistake and will fix the bonus award by implementing a blocklist instead of fixing it the right way, so the logic is: Award 32x if “mars” is in the charge description, but not if the description is “The Marshmallow and Vacuum Emporium”. Because of course they do.

Well, in the cat-and-mouse game with FinTechs, there are often ways to name-mangle your merchant description to side-skirt blocklists, for example by paying with a service like PayPal which will prepend PAYPAL MARK* to the front of your charge description, leading to 32x again.

It should probably go without saying, but let’s say it anyway: bonus street cred if you use one FinTech product to mask the charge for another FinTech. Happy hunting!

The Marshmallow and Vacuum Emporium, ripe for earning 32x.

  1. Miles discovered a new variety of Target Redcards, the Target Redcard Reloadable. It’s mildly interesting for the $40 + $40 sign-up bonus, but probably more interesting for shenanigans other reasons in the same vein as the Target Redcard Credit Card.

    So far it appears to be a Serve/BlueBird like product on the Visa network. It also appears that anyone that has a Serve or BlueBird gets denied during application, so ymmv. (Thanks to Miles via MEAB slack)
  2. AA’s partner card-linked program SimplyMiles and Citi Merchant Offers are again conspiring to help you earn loyalty points for getting luke warm food delivered or for a first class car ride to the airport in the back seat of a 2003 Chrysler Sebring. The offers:

    – 465 AA miles on a $25 Uber Eats order, one time (this earns loyalty points)
    – 235 AA miles on a $15 Uber ride, one time (this earns loyalty points)
    – $10 back on a $25 Uber Eats, one to three times
    – $5, $10, or $15 back on a $15 Uber ride, one to three times

    The SimplyMiles offers mention that taxes and fees are excluded, so make sure the base cost meets the threshold in case they actually enforce that.
  3. Do this now: Decide which of these you like better: Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hilton, and then link your Lyft account to the appropriate one:

    Alaska: 2x miles per dollar spent at Lyft through December 31, then 1x
    Delta: 2x miles per dollar spent at Lyft on airport rides, 1x otherwise
    Hilton: 3x points per dollar on most Lyft rides, 2x on shared Lyft rides

    Personally I’d just link to Alaska and be done with it.
  4. Southwest has 30% off of flights booked by today to and from Hawaii for travel from December 1 through March 8 of next year using promo code GOHAWAII. Double check existing bookings, and make sure to pack a meal when you fly unless a bowl of stale pretzels and some off-colored crackers float your boat.
  5. Capital One has announced its November mileage transfer bonuses:

    – 20% bonus to British Airways (use for short haul AA flights or transfer to Qatar Avois for business class redemptions)
    – 20% bonus to Accor hotels (don’t use)
  6. Astra Finance, a popular tool for manufacturing direct deposits, will stop working on December 16. (Thanks to ChurnChurnChurn)

After a car-wash and some duct tape, your Uber Eats driver will deliver your cold Whopper in two hours or less; but most importantly, it’ll be delivered in style.

Introduction

We’ve followed the saga of the quick fall from grace in the Kroger fuel points markets approximately monthly since this summer, and we seem to have reached a steady state for operations:

Kroger is getting very good at shutting down reseller’s fuel accounts quickly.

Practically speaking this means that big end-users (fuel points buyers) are exiting the market and gift card and fuel points buyers are pulling back.

Theories

First, here’s the data that we’ve seen that’ll help draw conclusions:

  • Account locks happen rapidly when loading unrelated fuel points accounts back-to-back
  • Account locks happen in the middle of redemption
  • There was temporary glitch that allowed for massive overdrawing of fuel points accounts that lasted several weeks, and a few end-users took accounts extremely negative
  • We’ve seen multiple reports of continued overdrawn accounts since the glitch, but in small balances unlike what had happened in the past

With that in mind, what caused Kroger’s systems to go from effectively zero policing to massive shutdowns? Only the folks at Kroger HQ in Cincinnati know for sure, but there are a few possibilities:

  • Significant money was taken from Kroger’s balance sheet during the redemption glitch, so putting an end to reselling became a significant business decision and staff was allocated specifically to monitor and lock accounts
  • Kroger may have implemented facial recognition technology as an anti-reseller technique
  • Kroger may be successfully fingerprinting reseller’s electronics devices and shutting down accounts associated with those devices

Reactions

We’ve seen varying reactions from the community to the increased account shutdown activity:

  • Gift card and fuel point resale rates have rocketed above 100%
  • Many end-users can’t logistically work under the current constraints and have exited
  • Some fuel points brokers have instituted same day redemption policies and have indemnified buyers from loss within a certain timeframe
  • Many gift card and fuel points resellers have stopped buying all together

The Future

My crystal ball isn’t any better than average, but I think that as the fuel points resale market dwindles in efficacy, rates for bulk third party gift cards which are normally partially subsidized with fuel points will climb, buyers will continue to pull-back, and potentially new workarounds will emerge; frankly that was an easy prediction though because all of those things have already started to happen.

Special thanks to Eugene, DCB, and several other anonymous brokers for providing background information and consulting for this article. Good luck out there!

The glitch made gas so cheap that end-users could afford to use it to water their cement.

  1. Reader Matthew (no relation) was the first to let me know about American Express’s third annual Q4 referral bonus offer, which gives the referrer 4 additional Membership Rewards per dollar on up to $25,000 in spend in travel or transportation for three months after a successful referral. The offer is available on Membership Rewards earning cards on your account dashboard.

    If you don’t have $25,000 in organic spend in travel and transportation, I’d book some refundable travel, straddle the new year, break the correlation (which is even easier with hotels), and then refund. Alternatively, there’s a chicken hotel I’ve heard about that will also work.
  2. Do this now: Register for Wyndham’s Q4 promotion for 3x points up to 30,000 bonus points on hotel stays two nights or longer through January 16, 2023.
  3. Chase Pay Yourself Back has been extended through the end of the year. Eligible categories are still restaurant spend and airbnb. While the chicken hotel won’t work, refunding your airbnb experience booking after paying yourself back works just fine.

What a chicken hotel might look like.

  1. The Target Redcard $40 online and $40 in-store sign-up bonus is back starting on Sunday and running through October 8. Why is $80 interesting for a new card? Isn’t that way below the line? Well, normally yes, but:

    – The debit card is churnable and has no credit pull
    – The credit card is churnable and unlocks interesting games both in-store and via the phone

    For more, see Target Redcard hacks, and note that the current time between closing an old card and opening a new one is somewhere around 10 business days. (Thanks to Derthsidious)
  2. Check your American Express offers for:

    – $40 back on $200 or more at Hertz car rentals
    – $100 back on $500 or more at Marriott hotels (Edit: Brian let me know that this may be limited to Marriott Homes and Villas)
    – $60 back on $300 at Grant Hyatt hotels
    – 2% to 2.5% back on co-branded business card spend
  3. There are multiple reports of a targeted 80,000 point Bank of America credit card sign-up bonus sent directly via email with the subject “[name], don’t miss your chance at this 80,000 bonus mile offer!”. Don’t forget to read up on Bank of America churning shenanigans if you’re going to apply for this one. (Thanks to DoC)
  4. It’s apparently now possible to generate referral links for personal Citi AA cards with $100 per referral, up to five referrals per year. It doesn’t seem to work for non-AA cards or for business AA cards based on my testing. (Thanks to coole106)

Have a nice weekend!

Jumpstarting the weekend with an external battery.

Giftcards.com has a negative cost promotion running through September 11th for 5% off of the total cost of eVisa gift cards using either promo codes EOS5 or ENDOFSUMMER, which brings the total cost of a $250 eVisa to $243.45. Given the long duration and potential for scale, let’s go in depth with this site’s peculiarities:

  • Purchase limits of e-gift cards are $2,000 per rolling 48 hours per account (The T&Cs say 24 hours, but we all know that T&Cs don’t match reality much of the time, right?)
  • Most portals will pay out on no more than $2,000 in purchases per month per giftcards.com account (The CapitalOne portal currently has no total limit language but it’s too young to know how it’ll behave at above $2,000 in spend)
  • The T&Cs say there’s a limit of $1,500 in gift card purchases or $75 off per account, but again T&Cs often don’t really match reality
  • Orders under $1,000 in gift card value will track on portals very quickly, while orders of $1,000 and up will often take a couple of months to track

Given the above, how do we scale?

  • The site seems to track accounts to the same person by address, email, IP, and phone number so switch those up for new accounts (notably, they don’t seem to track by cookies or credit card numbers, and sometimes the IP tracking is minimal)
  • Their system seems to have a public records verification lookup in the backend, so keep that in mind when messing with addresses and names
  • Keep track of your rolling 48 hour spend and order again when the time is right
  • Consider a particular portal burned for payouts for the entire month when you hit $2,000 in spend through that account, unless perhaps CapitalOne Shopping really has no limits (note that via the Capital One Shopping mobile app the payout is 6% versus 3% on the website)
  • Place your gift card orders in under $1,000 face value increments for better shopping portal tracking

Sometimes Giftcards.com will make you feel like Don Quixote and decide that it doesn’t like an email address, a physical address, or a credit card and your orders will be cancelled every time. When that happens there’s nothing you can do but move on to the next iteration and try again.

These cards are Metabank gift cards so have a liquidation plan. These e-gift cards are often easier to liquidate at home than their physical counterparts, but your mileage may vary.

Pictured: Tilting at windmills can actually work; or, not all quixotic endeavors are quixotic.

Introduction

In early 2021, a churning favorite payment processor and US Bank partnered to offer up to $5,000 in fee-free payments to new accounts when using a US Bank credit card through the end of the year. At face value, this was a nice way to meet a credit-card spend bonus and move on; but if that were the whole story we wouldn’t be talking about it today, right? Enter IT.

Bad IT

The software development team’s job was essentially to:

  • Look for US Bank credit card BINs
  • Add up all payments made with those BINs in a counter
  • Don’t charge fees while the counter is less than $5,000 and the BIN is US Bank’s

The developers did something like this, but they messed up the last step; instead of not charging fees when the card is a US Bank BIN, they didn’t charge fees unless the card was a US Bank BIN. So, as long as you never used a US Bank credit card, the counter would always be less than $5,000 and payments were fee-free. Those experienced with web browser DevTools could even see the counter in backend website requests.

The payment processor figured out their coding error on September 22, 2021 and the promotion worked as originally intended from that day forward. It probably goes without saying, but some churners were able to get quite a bit of volume through the lifecycle of the bug, and it was a sad day when the hole was plugged.

Lessons

What can we learn from this? A few of these are MEAB classics but there are some specifics too:

  • Always be probing
  • T&Cs aren’t always implemented or enforced
  • Try looking outside of a partnership for partnership promotions
  • If you know how to use web browsers’ DevTools, look at what’s going on under the hood
  • When a company gets basic logic like this wrong, they’ve probably gotten other logic wrong too

Happy weekend friends!

The lead developer’s car in the payment processor’s parking lot.

Introduction

We talked about Bank of America shenanigans about a year ago, and US Bank shenanigans about six months ago. As a result I think many of you have card anniversaries and half-anniversaries to consider and it’s probably worth a re-read of both. That said, today we’re going to do the same for Barclays because they’ve just increased sign-up bonuses on three of their main four co-brand cards:

  • Wyndham Earner Business: 65,000 points after spending $2,000 in 60 days and another 10,000 points after a single purchase on an employee card (Update: corrected bonus from 60,000 to 65,000 points. Thanks to Miles)
  • JetBlue Business: 70,000 points after spending $2,000 in 90 days and another 10,000 points after a single purchase on an employee card
  • Hawaiian Business: 80,000 points after spending $2,000 in 90 days

If you live in New England or Florida, the JetBlue card is a great option. If you live near a Speedway, the Wyndham card is a stand out. If you like churning satire, the Hawaiian card can’t be beat.

Rules

Barclays doesn’t have as many loopholes as legacy banks, but there are some. Here’s what you should know:

  • Barclays will combine hard pulls in the same day
  • Barclays will approve up to three credit cards in the same day
  • Barclays business cards won’t appear on a credit report
  • Barclays’ reconsideration department will work with you more than most banks will
  • Barclays won’t let you have multiple versions of the same card

To contact Barclays reconsideration, dial (866) 408-4064 for business cards or (866) 408-4064 for personal cards. When you call, a simple “I was hoping that you’d take another look at my application and help me find away to get approved. I’m happy to provide any additional information you may need!” may be enough to negotiate your way into an approval after you’re denied.

How I’m Playing It

I don’t need more JetBlue points and I really don’t need more Hawaiian points, but Vacasa redemptions via Wyndham are hard to beat. So even though the AA Business co-brand card offer isn’t at a relative high, I’ll be pairing it with the Wyndham card application for a combined hard-pull without messing with my quest to drop below 5/24.

Good luck!

Barclays reconsideration staff is much friendlier than it looks.