I heard more feedback from yesterday’s last bullet point about the dangers of opening a checking account with American Express than I’ve heard on any single topic in the past, which I guess means Larry won the churning prize? The tone of the feedback was all over the place like a Nine-Inch-Nails jazz fusion concert put on by a collaboration between N’Sync and Taylor Swift, so I think more discussion is in order.

The General Rule

Holding deposit accounts at banks with valuable credit cards typically can’t do you much good, but it can do you plenty of harm. This is especially true at Chase, Citibank, and Capital One, and probably other banks whose first letter starts with a “C” (if correlation equals causation). At these banks, there are dozens of reports of shutdowns on the credit card side of the business after investigations started on the banking side.

Why might banking get involved and look at your account?

  • Lots of transactions
  • A SAR form filled out by an employee
  • An insufficient or returned funds transaction
  • Too many phone calls
  • A deposit from a new source
  • Too many ACH pulls from the account

But, there are less obvious reasons that you can get eyes on your gaming, even if you haven’t made a single transaction in your bank account. These are the insidious ones:

  • Escheat and unclaimed property laws
  • Routine Know Your Customer checks
  • A fraud alert from a credit card charge that triggers an internal system
  • A general audit
  • The results of a periodic soft-credit pull (Chase is especially notorious for this)
  • In response to an inquiry from the IRS, regulator, or law enforcement

Deposit fraud investigators are typically quicker to shutdown and more easily triggered than their credit card counterparts. I believe this is principally because deposit accounts are by-in-large a necessary cost-center at a bank, while credit accounts are largely a profit-center. Of course regulation and federal funds requirements also play into this too.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are times when deposit accounts can still make sense. For example, Bank of America deposit accounts help a churner because:

U.S. Bank deposit accounts can also make sense because:

PenFed deposit accounts can make sense because:

And, you may find that to get a great credit card at a local credit union you may first have to hold a deposit account. In that case though, a shutdown is rarely catastrophic.


In case you’d like an ELI5: Holding deposit accounts at popular churning banks is probably bad, but sometimes it can help you churn enough to make the risk worth the rewards.

Pictured: What the sound of N’Sync and Taylor Swift riffing on jazz inspired by NiN looks like.

“United/Delta/Southwest/Alaska/Breeze/Whatever Air cancelled my flight from RNOLBB, what does the airline owe me?” This question pops up on Flyertalk, reddit, Quora, and other random internet forums all the time, and the responses are often mostly wrong. If a carrier cancels your US domestic flight, you’re entitled to exactly one thing only by US DOT rules:

  • A full refund to your original form of payment

What about a hotel if I’m not rebooked until the next day? What about meals? What about booking me a new ticket on another airline? What if they rebook me on another flight number with the same departure time and the same arrival time as my canceled flight, on the same airline? What if I lost a multi-million dollar deal because I wasn’t there? What if I got divorced because I missed my flight?

Every single one of these questions has the same answer, and it was above: You’re entitled to a full refund to your original form of payment, and absolutely nothing else (this can be advantageous if you’re trying to turn a flight credit into a refund). Of course you may be able to sweet talk an airline customer service representative into plenty of other options but there’s no obligation for them to do anything but refund to your original form of payment.

If you’re ever stuck dealing with this you’ll probably find that quite a few customer service agents either don’t know the DOT rules, or they’ve been trained to never offer a refund and only give one when a customer pushes and knows their rights, so prepare for frustration if a refund is what you’re after.

Of course, cancelled flights on an international itinerary can give you more rights than you’ve got the in US, especially if your itinerary includes a stop in the European Union, so double-check the rules for any countries included in your itinerary too.

Of course plenty of credit cards offer trip interruption insurance provided you paid for the flight with that card (Chase Sapphire cards, American Express Platinum cards, Citi Prestige, etc.). Don’t grab one of these cards just for the insurance though, consider it an ancillary benefit if you already hold one.

Update: Justmeha reminded me that the Citi Prestige card no longer has trip interruption insurance.

Making the most of being stuck in a hotel gym, waiting for a new flight.

Starting a year or two ago with a slight murmur, which then turned into a rumbling, and now into an earthquake, sportsbooks have the hit the manufactured spend community and churning world in force, now at peak with an exposé article at Bloomberg. Whether or not you’re a gambler or have any interest in gambling, sportsbooks ought to be a part of your manufactured spend and churning toolkit because:

Sounds a lot like the manufactured spend and churning playbook, eh? With that in mind, a few notes:

  • Even if sportsbooks aren’t legal in your state, you can still participate anytime you’re in a state where they are legal
  • You can play both sides of a bet on two different sportsbooks to avoid losses (betting arbitrage sites help make this easy)

Great. So, let’s chat about how to avoid shutdowns:

  • Bet all the money you add before cashing out (just play both sides to avoid losing)
  • Bet in roundish numbers like a normal person would

Good luck, and have a nice weekend!

How is this related to sportsbooks? I’m not sure, but it had to be published so here we are.

A popular and eerily strange idiom says “when others zig, you should zag.” You know the advice is good because it’s shared on LinkedIn all the time by random strangers and also Gary Kelly. (In case you don’t know the phrase, zig-zagging is going back and forth, so a zig is going one way and a zag is going the other way.)

Let’s bring this into context with the current unfortunate zig at Plastiq (from now on, let’s agree to call this the zigening). There were definitely multiple games being played, but one obvious variation was combining the Nearside Debit Card 2.2% cash back with Plastiq’s 1.85% discount from its normal 2.85% fee on debit cards for a net profit of 1.2% on payments. On Wednesday though, Plastiq started charging 2.85% which killed any deal potential.

So, let’s take the advice of internet randos and consider this an annoying opportunity to zag. Remember:

  • Nearside is not the only card out there
  • Plastiq is not the only way to pay bills
  • Bill payments aren’t the only way to effectively use a debit card
  • Different BINs behave differently in general

Happy weekend friends!

Weekend puzzlers.

Note: I’ll be on a mostly disconnected vacation this week, and while I’m still planning on posting M-F, expect slower than normal responses from me. If you do write a note though I will get back to you.

Unlike most credit card issuers that deal checking accounts and mortgages, American Express’s main business is cards and it shows: They consistently have the highest sign-up bonus offers, weird authorized user offers, $19,000+ cash back offers, and of course coupon book offers galore. Let’s focus on the first of those today, sign-up bonuses.

When you visit American Express’s website to look at card options, they offer different sign-up bonuses based on:

  • Your browser (Chrome, Brave, Safari, Edge)
  • Your operating system (Windows, macOS, Android, Linux, iOS)
  • How you got to the site (direct, google, bing, baidu)
  • Your browser’s cookies (incognito)
  • Where you’re coming from (mobile network, residential, business)
  • Whether you clicked on an ad
  • When you visit
  • Maybe a dice roll?

If you systematically vary each of the above, you’ll almost certainly find a different sign-up offer. In my quick tests, I was able to see sign-up bonus offers for the American Express Business Platinum card of between 110,000 and 150,000 Membership Rewards by switching my browser and visiting incognito through a search engine on a particular week. But then the next week, no matter which option I chose, the minimum offer for the same card was 110,000 and the maximum was 120,000 Membership Rewards.

What’s the takeaway? When it’s time for a new American Express card, make sure you try several different methods to get the best sign-up bonus. This is true of both Membership Rewards earning cards and co-branded cards like Delta, Hilton, and Marriot AmEx cards. And a final note: never assume that a link from an article will be the best offer. Experiment!

Breaking: The American Express algorithm for sign-up bonuses.

Note: I’ll be on a mostly disconnected vacation this week, and while I’m still planning on posting M-F, expect slower than normal responses from me. If you do write a note though I will get back to you.

There’s a deal that’s been floating around the travel hacking and churning underground since fall, and while it’s a bit fragile for public consumption, I have no doubt a handful of you are taking advantage of it to generate real cash-back (especially Patreons). One of the problems with the play though is that volume eventually gets you shutdown, and because the deal involves a real bank, it’s natural to assume that a shutdown applies to a person and not just to that account.

You can see where this is going from a mile away, right? Sometimes a shutdown is only tied to a particular account login, and all you need to get going again is another login. There’s rarely harm in trying to open a new account after you’ve been shutdown, so don’t be afraid to probe. You might end up with a new account and new spend limits.

This image should really be the site’s mascot. Anyone wanna print up a few mousepads?

Let’s get a little meta today:

1. In manufactured spend, usually deals don’t outright die. If they do die, they usually come back in a subtlety different way, like Season 6 Buffy. In just the last couple of weeks we’ve seen several examples:

In fact, most of my best plays have been taking advantage of a deal after it died, or at least after everyone said it did (and some time passed). Always be probing.

2. Emirates devalued their business class awards without warning yesterday. Any time your points currencies are parked outside of a flexible bank ecosystem like Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Points, or Membership Rewards, they’re subject to unannounced devaluations that can make US dollar inflation look extremely tame in comparison.

At this point, the only time I’m directly acquiring airline miles other than by flying on a paid ticket are:

  • Credit card sign-up bonuses
  • As a byproduct of spending for status
  • Shopping portals

The devaluation risk of collecting them through any other method is too high for me. Because banks are subject to banking regulations and enforcement action from the Federal Reserve, FDIC, New York state, and potentially the SEC (to name a few), the likelihood of an overnight devaluation by 35% is small, and if it were to happen we’d likely see changes previewed months in advance.

Happy Wednesday!

Goggles to help you find deals that aren’t really dead. Ok, they’re not strictly necessary but they make you look cool, trust me.

As I’m sure you know, many applications and techniques in our hobby require a mobile phone and maybe a particular application running on that phone. When it’s time to scale a deal that needs a mobile platform, don’t let the hardware you carry around with you be a limiting factor. You probably already know that I’m a big fan of burner cell phones, but that doesn’t mean that I carry six phones everywhere I go (even though I might use six phone numbers to scale a deal).

Even if you’re not trying to scale, even a single cell phone is annoying for lots of reasons: copy and paste are hard, you don’t have a full size keyboard, sometimes you get a phone call in the middle of a transaction, or your toddler wants to play a game on your phone.

Scaling and working around mobile phone limitations is easy with three Android emulators that run on Windows, Mac, or Linux:

Each one of these will let you:

  • Emulate multiple devices
  • Have multiple profiles
  • Set your “GPS location” to hide that you’re on The Skies over Texas for the fourth time
  • Use your computer’s keyboard, mouse, and monitor
  • Cut and paste like a human

I’ve heard from a couple of you that a barrier to using emulators is two factor authentication: when you get a text message code as part of logging into a service or for transferring a big dump of cash. Don’t let that stop you from scaling though, there’s no reason you can’t have the physical phone nearby to receive the code and then type that directly into the emulator.

Have a nice weekend friends!

Pictured: An interactive map to set your location in an Android emulator.