Introduction

Manufactured spend typically does strange things to your perception of dollar values. Let’s illustrate through some made-up internal monologues with corresponding made up numbers that you may encounter along your journey to mastery:

[Newbie]: $3,000 over three months for a sign-up bonus? *Overwhelmed* That’s a lot!

[Intermediate]: $15,000 for a Business Platinum over three months? Shouldn’t be an issue

[Advanced]: $50,000 for a Capital One Business card sign-up bonus? I can do that this week

[Whale]: $100,000 a day, every day for a month? 🤏

Basically as you advance, bigger numbers don’t look so big; a $35,000 ACH into your bank account looks like just another boring Wednesday.

The Deep Freeze

Of course it’s all fun and games when profits go up and point balances explode, but something tends to happen to people that operate somewhere in the advanced – whale spectrum:

  • Shutdowns
  • Account freezes
  • KYC calls

When one of these events happens, you may find your $35,000 ACH held for up to six months, and your perception of the dollar amount will probably come crashing back to reality, like Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne mission.

The Takeaway

Alright, let’s get to the concrete, actionable content for the day:

Make sure you’ve got a plan in place for if and when your exploits come to a screeching halt, and don’t ever put yourself into a position where a freeze of accounts at a particular bank or issuer will ruin you financially. Some common insurance policies for big spenders: Untapped HELOCs, margin loans at brokerages, balance transfer checks, manufactured float, and cash reserves.

Happy Wednesday!

Elizabeth Holmes says “🤏”, and she turned out ok, right?

There’s been recent discussion on both reddit and MEAB slack about American Express no-lifetime language (NLL) links, but information is scattered and not always consistent. So, let’s discuss:

Generic No-Lifetime Language Links

There are a few different flavors of no-lifetime language (NLL) business links out there. First, the generic versions which are always around and were last discussed here in April of last year:

The generic links are worth checking periodically, sometimes not a single one will work for a given account one day, and then all of them work the next day; American Express’s targeting changes quickly. It’s easy to pick out a generic link because the full URL is readable, something like:

https://www.americanexpress.com/en-us/campaigns/small-business/bundles/business-gold-employee-card/

I consider generic NLL links as completely safe for any account because they’re targeted, and American Express will prevent the application from processing if you’re not targeted.

Offer Code Specific No-Lifetime Language Links

Other times we’ll see offer code specific no-lifetime language (NLL) business links out there, such as the 250,000 Membership Rewards link that was hidden in this post. Those links look like:

https://www.americanexpress.com/us/credit-cards/card-application/apply/business-platinum-charge-card/61303-9-0/#/

The main distinguishing factor is the number at the end of the URL, an offer or marketing code. These links fall on a range from safe to scary.

It can be tricky to tell where a given link lies on that spectrum, but the scariest ones are “post-targeted” links, meaning that the link bypasses the targeting check part of an application workflow. You can typically tell if a link is post-targeted because the application flow doesn’t have anywhere for the popup to appear, it’s a single page with a submit application link at the end that doesn’t even need you to login.

Clawbacks and Shutdowns

What does unsafe mean when you’re using a link? It means one of two things:

I’m unaware of any shutdowns from using generic NLL links, ever. I am aware of of shutdowns for using offer code specific post-targeted NLL links, but the last confirmed data point is a couple of years old, which seems to mean that American Express cares less about post-targeted links than they used to for some unknown reason.

Going Plaid

This wouldn’t be MEAB if we didn’t discuss the possibility of a bit of shenanigan-like behavior, so let’s dive in friends: If you stumble upon an offer code specific NLL and you’re targeted for a generic NLL at the same time, you can probably be approved for both on the same day. Additionally, if you stumble upon a few different offer code specific links, you can probably be approved for both of those on the same day too. Always be probing!

American Express going plaid.

Newly launched rewards programs often haven’t thought about gamers, and as a result you earn outsized rewards on things like open loop gift cards, cash back, postage stamps, or other normally excluded items during the program’s early life. Typically these are added to an internal blocklist one-by-one until the program’s balance sheet approaches the Nash equilibrium and then designers and accountants move on to other things.

The blocklist approach often fails later in a mature rewards program though, because: SKUs change, new products are introduced, or entire software systems are replaced. These failures mean a deviation from the Nash equilibrium and an opportunity for gamers. For a real-world example, see yesterday’s GCG easter-egg laden post. Also note that our favorite infamous, parody-inducing payment processor is processing these products at a reduced fee.

The quick takeaway: Watch for the next 4x grocery rewards event and go probe!

The worlds lamest dual.

Remember all those times that your math teacher said “you’ll need to know this stuff when you’re an adult, so pay attention”? For me I guess that turned out to be true, but that was really a function of becoming a physicist and not because it was intrinsically necessary to survive as an adult.

It turns out that having some basic numerical sequence analysis skills can be useful though. For example, let’s look at American Express offer URLs for possibly defunct pay over time links:

  • https://americanexpress.com/activatenow38
  • https://americanexpress.com/activatenow39
  • https://americanexpress.com/activatenow40

See the sequence there? I’d squirrel that one away and try different variations of the last two digits every couple of months for the foreseeable future. Chase operates the same way:

  • https://www.chase.com/mybonus/ink2q422
  • https://www.chase.com/mybonus/inkq422

In Q1 of next year we’ll probably see inkq123 and ink2q123 for example. We can probably replace ink with hyatt, united, ihg, southwest, or marriott (shudder) too.

This trick works on offers, bonuses, applications, and in plenty of other places too, so always be probing.

The next bank anti-gamer strategy: The Fibonacci Series.

One of the famous American Express mass-shutdown events was caused when gamers paid AmEx with an AmEx through the now defunct PayPal Key and a becoming defunct bill pay service. Similar shutdowns happened at Citi when a credit card bill was paid with a Citi card, and those definitely aren’t isolated events, they’re just prominent.

I intuitively understand how people get themselves into this loop, because when a technique is simple and easy, your mental load is lower and it’s easier to push a big volume with just one or two moving pieces; The flip side is that it’s also much easier for a bank to figure out what’s going on and directly tie your activity to shenanigans.

So, avoid the death loop and always use an intermediary when playing games with a bank’s rewards earning card. To stay alive, never pay a [bank] with a [bank’s card].

“What about this one?” you say, trying to catch me in an edge case. Look, it’s simple. Never pay AmEx with AmEx, sorry.

In the manufactured spend and churning community there are plenty of us with dozens of bank accounts from churning and gaming activities. Conventional wisdom seems to tell us to close these unused accounts when they’re no longer useful. It’s decent advice because you can avoid maintaining yet another financial thing, worrying about your state’s abandoned property laws, and it helps you keep your balances more-or-less centralized.

But (there’s always a but, right?), there have been multiple times in which I’ve closed a bank account after it ceased having immediate utility, and then I later found out that a current deal works really well with that particular bank. Depending on how much I abused them in the past, they may not want to let me back in, like at all. In fact, last week I flew to Texas to try and reopen an account that I closed years ago with a bank that didn’t exactly want more of my business, because reasons both past and present.

The good news? The account was reopened after a nice conversation with a branch manager who was an advocate on my behalf, and later I got a nice TexMex meal on my day trip. The bad news? I could have prevented the need for the trip in the first place if I had kept an account open years ago instead of closing it, and I could have also avoided a few hours sitting on an unpadded United Express Regional Jet seat.

So, when you’ve got a dormant bank account, maybe see if there’s a way to keep it open with no fees and let it sit for a few years (bonus points if you run an automated $0.01 charge on the debit card with debbit or similar so that it’s always active).

Happy Monday!

What my United Express seat padding probably looked like underneath the thin layer of fabric.

We’ve been beating around the bush about fraud alerts somewhat repeatedly over the years, but it’s time to explictly call out a principle you should always be following:

Clear fraud alerts as fast as you possibly can.

– MEAB, prolly

Why? There are multiple reasons, but they all boil down to unwanted poking around on your credit card and deposit accounts by someone who’s job is to manage risk and shutdown accounts that feel risky. For specific examples, see:

When you get a fraud alert, clearing it quickly (hopefully) means no one ever looks at your accounts. Side note: If you have to talk to a person and can’t clear an alert in an automated way, you may have better luck with foreign call center customer service representatives who don’t understand exactly what thegiftcardshop.com is and how a bunch of purchases there may raise eyebrows.

Have a nice weekend!

Happy [Rebecca] Black Friday!

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.