NOTE: I’ll be going on a blogging vacation between December 18 and 31, during which there may or may not be any posts. But, we’ll ring in the new year on January 1, 2024 with the 2023 version of Travel Hacking as Told by GIFs though, so no need to be up in arms. What’s this “may”, you ask? I’m soliciting for guest posts and I’ll use those during the regularly scheduled newsletter. They should be non-sponsored, non-promotional, non-political, and at least travel hacking or churning adjacent. Please reach out to me if you’re interested, it’ll be the third easiest gig you’ve ever gotten!

In person manufactured spend has multiple potential points of failure, but the most silently insidious is buying a Visa, Mastercard, or third party gift card and discovering that it’s been tampered with after you’ve bought it. Time isn’t on your said when that happens because it gives the scammer more opportunity to drain the card before you’re able to act.

Most tampering scams require the scammers to check cards at least daily to see if they’ve been activated, so you’ve got an expectation value of a few hours time between when you buy the card and the moment that a scammer discovers it’s been activated. That means a stack of gift cards on your desk waiting to be liquidated has an increasing likelihood of issues, and a decreased expected net value over time.

The obvious takeaway? Open and inspect cards you buy immediately and liquidate as soon as possible (whether or not you’ve been scammed, but obviously especially if you’ve been scammed.)

Stay safe out there!

The rule also applies to this, err desert, the longer you wait between eating and the food exiting your system, the higher the risk to your digestive health.

Card issuers like American Express and Chase famously have cards with:

  • Statement credits that reset every calendar year
  • An annual fee that posts on the 12th statement
  • The ability to cancel a card and refund the fee for 30 days after it posts

Taken as a whole, these three bullets mean that late November and December are the ideal times to get a credit card with annual credits. For example, the American Express Business Platinum card has:

  • $200 airline incidental credit every calendar year
  • $200 Dell credit every six months
  • $189 Clear credit every calendar year

If you get the card on December 1, 2023, then your 12th statement won’t generate until (at the earliest), December 15, 2024, and thus you can get an annual fee refund through January 14, 2025. That means as long as you hit spend early and cancel the card before January 14th, 2025 you’ll get:

  • $600 in airline incidental credits (2023, 2024, and 2025)
  • $800 in Dell credits (2H2023, 1H2024, 2H2024, 1H2025)
  • $450 in Adobe credits (2023, 2024, and 2025)
  • $567 in Clear credits (2023, 2024, and 2025)
    (though you should discount those Adobe and Clear credits significantly)

There are a few gotchas to watch for, such as how Bank of America’s annual fee refund after an annual fee posts isn’t guaranteed, or how the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s travel credit is tied to cardmember year, not calendar year. But, you’re enterprising people, right?

Good luck!

The triple dip visualized as jello. From top to bottom, red (2023), white (2024), and confused (2025).

The deluge of promotions between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is waning like the Joyland Amusement Park in Lubbock, TX, but that doesn’t mean that your favorite promotions will die when they’re supposed to. Famously in November 2021 for example, had fee free Visa gift cards using code SHOPEARLY2021. That code was scheduled to last for a couple of weeks (which should also be obvious from the name), but it didn’t actually stop working until Summer of 2022.

This isn’t an isolated occurrence either, it’s happened to multiple promotions over the weekend and some of them will no-doubt continue throughout the end of the year, or if you’re lucky into next. What’s the lesson? Companies don’t always bother with expiration dates. Always be probing.

Clearly Lubbock’s amusement park outlived its expiration date.

Credit card agreements are full of goodies. For example, we often find value by looking for holes in what the Terms and Conditions say, for example by navigating Citi’s T&Cs, we discover a way to earn multiple Citi Premier bonuses back-to-back.

Consider though, that Terms and Conditions also provide a roadmap for where to go looking for new manufactured spending opportunities by virtue of telling you what sorts of transactions “may” not be eligible for earning points. American Express’s boilerplate says something like:

Eligible purchases do NOT include: fees or interest charges; purchases of travelers checks; purchases or reloading of prepaid cards; purchases of gift cards; person-to-person payments; or purchases of other cash equivalents

Next time you’re looking for new opportunities, look to your card issuer for ideas.

Happy Wednesday!

Navigating the landscape by flipping your view.


Before we dive back into the time value of points, there are a few relevant and leading news items to discuss:

Not only does maximizing the value of your points require burning early and often, but it also necessitates hitting smaller products with outsized value harder than products with average value.

Revisiting the Time Value of Points

With those notes in mind, we can derive an equation for the time value of points. If it doesn’t render correctly in your email client, see the website here. (And yes, I’m sorry to put you all through this, but sometimes I can’t won’t help myself):

FV = PV \times (1 + r - (q \times d) + i)^n \times (1 - p)


FV = future value
PV = present value
r = any promotional increase of value in a given period
q = the probability of a devaluation in a given period
d = the rate of devaluation in a program in a period
i = interest on points earned in a period (there is a program that does this)
n = the period (time)
p = the probability a program shutting down and wiping out all value

(Thanks to Jon for noting that the original version of this post lacked a definition for i)

The Point?

Is this formula useful? Sort of. It’d be more useful if someone would write a quick calculator web site. Do I actually expect anyone to use this formula? No, not really for anything other than mental gymnastics.

Points and miles still devalue, and sometimes they devalue a lot. Don’t forget that the second part of this site is titled “And Burn”.

Pictured, left to right: MEAB with glasses; The entire churning community after this post.

Financial goons will be quick to tell you about the time value of money, which is a basic concept in economic theory that says money is worth more now than it is in the future, in part because:

  • You can earn interest immediately on money you have now
  • Thanks to modern monetary policy, inflation will always eat away at money’s value
  • Opportunity cost (which is sometimes added directly into either or both of the above)

The same concept applies to points and miles, but the factors aren’t quite the same. In the case of points and miles, they’re worth more now than the future because:

  • Devaluations happen
  • The redemption value of points is often tied to the cost of tickets (inflation bites here too)
  • Currencies get washed away
  • Miles and points don’t earn interest

What’s the takeaway? Burn those points as soon as practicable. Can you come up with a formula to describe this, asked no one? Yes we can, but no, I’m not going to do that today.

Have a nice weekend friends!

Yes, it’s time for the quarterly MEAB math nerd joke. Sorry, not sorry.

Editor’s note: My mail software was daylight savings naive and thus didn’t update yesterday’s delivery time with the time zone change, probably because it was developed by zonies according to reader Jim. You can access yesterday’s post here.

Chains popular with manufactured spenders often have limits on how many times a card can be used in a given time frame, for example, famously Kroger will usually decline a credit card after six swipes in a rolling 24 hours, chain-wide. That obviously means you’re limited in total manufactured spend at Kroger for a specific card, unless of course you aren’t:

  • Apple Pay looks like a different credit card
  • Many bank issuer’s authorized user cards have a different account number

A little creativity can go a long way.

Of course there is such a thing as being too creative.

The Main Question

A common manufactured spend and churning question is, “how am I going to spend $15,000 in the next three months to meet my sign-up bonus?” This question is especially prevalent when you’re getting started, and focuses primarily on what methods you can use to meet your target.

At some point, your capacity for manufactured spend may grow substantially with experience. When that happens the question often becomes, “what cards do I have that support $100,000 in spend today, and how can I pay them off tomorrow without fraud locks, ACH kiting, or SAR reports?” When you’re asking this question, you’re no longer focusing on methods to meet spend, but instead on how you can increase throughput and move money and credit lines to meet the demand.

When You’re Operating with Big Numbers

The relevant follow-up questions for someone operating in the latter regime become:

  • How do I cycle money through my accounts without kiting?
  • Which card issuers are going to be upset by this kind of spend?
  • What’s the best return I can get on a workhorse card?

The last question is interesting because it shows a big shift in how churning works. Realistically you can’t hope to get enough new cards with sign-up bonuses in a month to support even a few days of six-figure spend. So, the percentage of your profit from sign-up bonuses becomes small, and to an extent unimportant because the proportion of them that you can earn relative to your spend is negligible.

What’s Your Point, Poindexter?

When offers like 99 bonuses of 15,000 Membership Rewards for $4,000 spend come around, several readers typically ask me why anyone cares. The question usually means that the reader hasn’t developed a huge manufactured spend volume, and that’s ok; not everyone wants or needs to hit that volume to be successful. If they do however attain big volume, then the reason becomes instantly clear: it’s a way to increase your return on large spend that’s repeatable 99 times, or maybe even 99*n times.

Have a nice Tuesday friends!

The MEAB Tuesday morning coffee mug.