1. If you’re part of a private fitness group that’s currently exploding and you’re still inside the blast zone, I’d like to offer a few unsolicited suggestions: first, archive everything and export your chat histories to a safe place in case you need them in the future. Second, double check on exposure and potential fallout with gift card brokers, buyers groups, and anyone else with whom you exchange big chunks of money.

    I have no personal exposure but I sincerely hope everyone who does is made whole. (Perhaps we’ll see a MEAB mini-rant in the future on what happened here.)
  2. Giftcards.com has a promotion for 5% off of Visa egift cards using promo code POTOFGOLD or SHAMROCK, though reportedly the latter isn’t working. The best portal offer as of this writing is Capital One Shopping at 3x, but double check other portals before buying. There’s a limit of $1,500 per order for the promo code, and a limit of $2,000 in egift cards per rolling 48 hours.

    These are Metabank Pathward gift cards, so have a liquidation plan in place. (Thanks to MattyB via MEAB slack and to H)
  3. The Amtrak Preferred credit card has an increased sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after $1,000 in spend, good for a bit over $1,000 worth of train tickets. This card has a $99 fee and earns 2x on dining, travel, transit, and rideshare.

    If you don’t live in the Eastern US between about Virginia and New Jersey though, it’s probably not worth your time because the US and trains mix about like scotch and tomato sauce.

The HBFC recovery drink: layered shots of scotch and tomato juice.

Let me share a random thought, apropos of nothing as they say: if you’re seeing the walls fall around you inside a particular, err, closed community maybe consider reading into it a bit?

With that out of the way:

  1. Virgin Atlantic increased the price of International First awards on ANA by approximately 40%. I expected this would happen sooner than it did, but it was inevitable after Virgin Atlantic announced that they joined SkyTeam in September finished the integration a few days ago.

    Currently business class flights are pricing similar to before, but expect that to change soon.
  2. JetBlue has a fare sale for its newly launched JFK-CDG Paris route with decent fares for economy and Mint (effectively a higher end business class, lie-flat product):

    – Economy: $479 round-trip
    – Mint: $1,899 round trip

    These fares are valid for travel between September 10 and December 13, require a Saturday stay-over and have to be booked by tomorrow evening.
  3. J. Pow at the Federal Reserve messaged that more aggressive interest rates hikes are on the horizon. If you’re playing games with CDs this is probably relevant to you; double check that interest rate hikes won’t outpace the gains from your shenanigans and act accordingly. As usual though, remember that I’m not a CPA or an attorney, and you probably shouldn’t take my advice about anything, ever.
  4. Do this now: Register for 6,000 bonus miles on some paid Air Canada tickets between the US and Canada booked by March 15 and flown by December 15. Yes, you probably won’t end up using this one, but what if Justin Trudeau calls you to the capital for an emergency meeting about Tim Hortons?

I know Americans don’t have any basis to throw shade at another country’s cuisine, and especially not at Tim Hortons when we’ve got Dunkin’ Donuts, but Canada: You ok up there?

It’s been an open secret that certain types of debit cards give cash back, and a slightly less open secret that some cash-back debit cards are friendly to manufactured spenders by design. Yesterday, one of the recent favorites was nerfed for nearly all useful plays and now small spenders and heavy hitters are wandering through the stages of grief from a lost revenue source. Once you’ve moved through the stages, take stock and do the following:

  • Realize that the same plays work with other similar products
  • Remember what worked here for future probing
  • Look for alternative plays that work with the nerfed product under its new constraints

I’m sure there are still opportunities with the nerfed debit card, and I’m sure that other debit cards will step up and take its place. Keep looking, and have a nice Thursday!

Remember that even the lessons of being Bonvoyed can lead to new opportunities.


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.


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


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.

UPDATE: MSN Flyer reports that American Express charged a cash advance on a purchase at vanillagift.com 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 Simon.com 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.


Stockpile has been a bastion of manufactured spend opportunities since at least 2017; let’s count some of the ways:

Underground MS

Even when all of the above died there were still several non-public ways to load Stockpile, including:

  • With a credit card masked by some digital wallets (when correctly configured)
  • Using certain widely available gift cards that Stockpile treated as debit

With the above methods, you could load $6,000 per week per payment method per player, and you could do even better if you bought anonymous Stockpile gift cards too. Well, all of that came crashing down earlier this week like it was BeachBody stock, with a new $100 per rolling 24 hour purchase limit with any card for funding your account. Currently the only way I know of to get more volume is via ACH, which obviously is a non-starter for manufactured spend.


It’s no secret that I love FinTechs for manufactured spend, and lessons from Stockpile apply to other companies:

  • Try everything when a platform takes cards (Credit cards, gift cards, rewards debit cards, digital wallets, crowbars, etc)
  • Limits can be per-funding type
  • Limits can be different than advertised
  • There are often backdoor ways into scaling
  • When a company has been good for MS and something dies, that doesn’t mean stop probing, a very patched ship probably still has a leak somewhere

Have a nice weekend and go pound those FinTechs like you’re Gallagher and they’re watermelons.

A car bumper that's broken but held together with shoelace stile stitching.
Stockpile’s repair job to keep credit cards and gift cards out of its system.

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.

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.


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.