We’ve talked before about getting out of the various American Express penalty boxes, which is when AmEx won’t give you referral links or gives you a pop-up telling you that you’re not eligible for a welcome bonus on new applications. Despite some noise to the contrary that keeps surfacing, the main way out still exists and it remains the same:

Spend a lot on your existing AmEx cards

What’s missing seems to be what “a lot” means, so let’s clarify based on what we know:

  • $30,000 – $40,000 a month for three months on a co-brand card almost always gets you out
  • $40,000 – $50,000 a month for three months on a Membership Rewards or cash-back earning card will probably get you out

Of course neither of these are fool-proof but based on data-points I’ve worked with, this volume of spend will work about 80% of the time. It’s also even worked even after a past bankruptcy write-off with AmEx.

What if you don’t have a co-brand card? Apply for one even if you get the pop-up with no bonus, then start spending. There are a few no-annual fee co-brand cards like the Delta Blue and the Hilton Honors card so you’ve got options.

Good luck!

Now we just need to have AmEx send these when someone spends their way out.

What defines a whale in the miles, points, and manufactured spend game? It’s hard to quantify exactly, but it’s easy to use a relative definition so let’s cheat and use one of those. For my purposes and for the purposes of this post, a whale is someone that’s spending 10x what I’m spending or more.

In my career as a manufactured spender, I’ve met dozens of whales, and the deeper I get into the hobby the more frequent my encounters become. I’ve learned something from each of them, and usually that boils down to a single lesson:

The limits aren’t usually what I thought they were.

That’s not to say that limits don’t exist, they most certainly do. Banks will shut you down when you go too hard, credit card companies often don’t tolerate heavy cycling, and too many wires or money orders can lead to the FBI, IRS, or postal inspector showing up at your doorstep (which will probably turn out to be a nothingburger, but not before you have a few sleepless nights stressed out about what might happen.)

If you’re like me though, limits are often quite a bit higher than you think, and whales can be your data-point for how much further you can push things. Whenever possible, seek out these whales and their data-points, learn from them, and step-up your game as appropriate.

I mean, you can’t tell me that this whale teacher looks less weird than your high school english teacher, and you learned something from them too, right?

I’m sure you’ve heard that United “MASSIVELY” devalued its award ticket prices in a “disappointing“, “heartbreaking“, “major” way yesterday. Yes, it sucks, and yes you should be unhappy about the situation. But, events like this are unfortunately the most predictable occurrence in travel hacking, even more so than Frontier having another failed dartboard route or LHR imposing punitive premium cabin surcharges. We know that it’s going to happen.

One of the most interesting pieces of advice I got as an adolescent was from an investment banker with a brand new Jaguar. As 15 year old grocery clerk me loaded groceries into his trunk, he said “If you can’t make a profit when you absolutely know something is going to happen, then I don’t know what to tell you”. He was completely right and the advice is sound (he was talking about death by the way, you know, upbeat and stuff like all investment bankers).

For travel hacking, we might have to stretch the definition of profit a bit when we apply the logic to award bookings, but we can do it. Here’s how we “make a profit” when we know a devaluation is going to happen:

  • Book early, book often – if there’s a devaluation, already issued tickets don’t go up in price and most award tickets are refundable for no-fee or for a very small fee
  • Keep your points in a flexible program like Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards until the moment you need to book
  • Book with alliance partner miles when prices are lower
  • Don’t let your points balances grow into seven figures and beyond, and especially don’t let that happen in multiple programs (I failed here, big time)
  • Focus on cash back once you’ve got enough points for the current booking window’s trips (it turns out cash is fungible)

Happy Thursday!

Next up: Determine whether this is a devaluation. Actually never mind, I don’t care.

My physicist brain wants to turn everything into a simple model that may or may not map well to reality. For manufactured spend it usually does though, and analogues with the physical world help too.

To illustrate, let’s set your way back machine to your high school physics class (assuming you were cursed with one) and recall the basic, simplest formula for calculating the velocity when you’ve moved some distance in some other amount of time:

speed = distance / time

Now, translate that into a formula that we should live by:

profitability = earnings / time

The profitability of a play isn’t a simple milage count or a sum of cash, unless we’ve got unlimited time. Because we don’t, doing something that earns 1% but takes 30 seconds should beat something that earns 5% but takes 20 minutes assuming infinite scalability. Of course not everything is infinitely scalable, so perhaps you can do both with the time you’ve got. But, if you’re making a trade-off, do consider that a 1% play can beat a 5% play.

Happy Monday!

No, I never had this shirt. Yes, I always wanted to make one.

It’s easy to get buried in details in the hobby, and in fact the details are usually where we find outsized value. That said, having a macro view on the space also helps us play the game. I want to focus on two specific instances of major movements in the last couple of days to illustrate the point:

Keeping your eyes on the macro can help you with the micro. Bank takeovers and acquisitions matter friends!

Tuesday inspiration, I guess?

  1. Even though it started a few weeks ago, I think I only realized yesterday that we’ve apparently all agreed that there’s a new, fifth season of the year (“no-feepril”) in which office supply chains across the US take turns offering fee-free or below cost Visa or Mastercards every week throughout the season.

    Office Depot / OfficeMax drew the short straw this week and has a sale for $15 off of $300 or more in Visa gift cards through Saturday. To maximize the deal:

    – Link your cards to Dosh
    – Look for a Chase offer for 10% back at Office Depot / OfficeMax
    – Try for multiple transactions, back to back
    – Buy the grocery, fuel, or dining everywhere varieties for lower fees

    These are Pathward gift cards but there are still plenty of ways to liquidate them both online and in person. If you don’t have a few ways it’s time to get out there and look.
  2. A public link for the Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card with a bonus of five free night certificates worth up to 50,000 points per night after $5,000 in spend in three months has surfaced. The card has an annual fee of $95, and is probably the best deal you’re going to find with Marriott. A few notes:

    – You’re still going to pay for parking and resort fees with these, because Marriott
    – If a property costs more than 50,000 points per night, you can use up to 15k award points too
    – The certificates expire after one year

    I’m famously a Marriott Bonvoy super-critic, but even I’d go for this offer if I was below 5/24.
  3. Finally, let me offer some unsolicited American Express advice for those of you with with big negative balances because reasons:

    Always keep your balances as close to $0 as possible at the end of every banking day to avoid financial reviews or problems with the risk department. This applies as equally to negative balances as it does to positive balances.

Good luck and happy Monday!

Obscure fact: Sometimes Bonvoy and Office Depot/OfficeMax team up. This is the result.

The unofficial slogan at MEAB is “always be probing because often the best deals for churning, manufactured spend, and travel hacking are those that you discover and no one else knows anything about. That said, there’s plenty of merit in “teamwork makes the dream work” in this hobby and its important to balance both strategies.

To me, balance means working in the hobby individually, but also in functional groups. Specifically, I segment all of my reading and learning in to one of a few buckets:

  • A very small group of close friends in the hobby with similar skill levels
  • A medium size group of similar interests
  • Specific topic groups (ex. Fluz, award redemption, bank bonuses)
  • Individual reading (this blog I guess?)

Each and every one of these buckets has upped my game and continues to do so; I learn important information, discover new deals, and get new ideas essentially every day.

My suggestion for you: If you don’t have something for each of the above buckets, find a way to remedy that; it’ll almost certainly up your game. If you’re not sure where to look, ask someone in the hobby or start with a basic group and network your way into small, medium, or topic specific groups from there. Good groups can be found on Facebook, Telegram, WhatsApp, online forums, slack, and discord.

Have a nice weekend and fill those buckets!

There’s more than one way to fill a bucket.


“Oh joy, another ChatGPT blah blah blah post,” you say? No, I’m not going to write yet another “how to master ChatGPT for to increase your [manufactured spend] game to seven figures!!” post. Those suck for a few reasons:

Leveling Up

Instead, here are a few ways that AI chatbots have helped me up my game, even if we’re not looking at a seven figure enhancement:

  • Bing bot: Good for aggregating data scraping searches, but often it needs plenty of refinement
    • “Can you help me find a Mastercard not issued by a big bank like Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, or Citi that offers rewards and bonuses in certain categories?” (you’ll probably need to go back and forth a few times to really get what you want
    • “Where can I find average interchange rates for grocery stores?”
  • ChatGPT: Good for decoding items in your browser’s network inspector and for coming up with reasons for dealing with a bank fraud specialist
    • “Chase’s website gave me the following blob when I looked at a charge, can you help me find interesting and significant fields: {“mcc”: “7995”,”timestamp”:”…”}”
    • “What are some reasons that legitimate businesses may purchase a large number of gift cards?”
    • “Wii you suggest a good spreadsheet template for keeping track of credit card churning and help me write some alarm functions for when I need to take action?”
  • Google Bard: I’m still trying to decide which things make Bard excel, but I’ve come up dry. It’s definitely the most hallucinogenic of the major bots, so I guess that’s something:
    • “What major travel bloggers have been accused of heavy drug use?” – it never answers this in a way that I expect
    • “How is Walmart useful for manufactured spend?” – apparently you can buy money orders with a credit card at Walmart. Capital job Bard!


Now, I was being lazy when I wrote this and didn’t write a summary, so instead I pasted everything above this line into ChatGPT and asked for a funny ending. I’d give it a 3/10, what do you think?

In conclusion, if you’re tired of the same old “how to master ChatGPT” posts, give these unconventional AI chatbot tricks a try – who knows what you might discover (or hallucinate)!

Happy Wednesday!

Stable Diffusion’s generated image for “A photorealistic render of Google Bard”. If nothing else, it does indeed look hallucinogenicy.