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Middle Age Miles

MS DPs – Episode 3 – $500 VGC from Central Market

manufactured spend ms data points dp vanilla visa gift card vgc central market dosh amex gold liquidate doxo
Vanilla variable-load Visa Gift Card, issued by Bancorp & serviced by InComm

In Episode 3 of our Manufactured Spend Data Points (MS DPs) series, we’ll look at a $500 Visa Gift Card (VGC) that we purchased from Central Market on July 23, 2019.

The card was a variable-load Vanilla VGC, loaded to its maximum amount of $500.

For those who don’t know, Central Market is a grocery store. It’s in the chain of HEB grocery stores, which is based in San Antonio and has hundreds of stores in many communities throughout Texas.

As always, remember that we’re total rookies when it comes to manufactured spend (MS), and we’re sharing experience far more than expertise in this series – including our own mistakes!

Acquisition

  • Total Purchase Price = $505.95
    • $500 for the card value + a $5.95 fee
  • Rewards from cards, offers and/or portals:
    • Dosh, received $10 cashback
      • This is a long story. See more info in the question section below.
    • Paid with Amex Gold card earning 4x at US supermarkets = 2,024 Membership Rewards (MR) points
      • Worth about $30.36 at our baseline value of 1.5 cents per MR point
  • VGC card characteristics:
    • Issuer: The Bancorp Bank (serviced by InComm)
    • Can be registered? No, but you can assign a zip code (but no PIN)
    • Website: VanillaGift.com
    • Card was assigned a zip code prior to any attempted use

Our final tally related to acquisition – $500 VGC, acquired at a net cost of $495.95 after the purchase fee and the cash back from Dosh, plus 2,024 MR points worth about $30.36. We’re ahead by about $34.41, pre-liquidation.

Other questions related to acquisition:

Why did we receive only $10 cash back from Dosh? Isn’t the Dosh offer for Central Market actually 5% cash back with a $20 cap? Yes, the offer is 5% cash back with a $20 cap. But when we made this purchase the Dosh cash back didn’t track. We think this is because Amex originally showed the purchase as being from “HEB Grocery Company LP” while it is pending. Upon actual posting, the merchant name changed to Central Market, but that was too late for Dosh. Anyway, after a week, I submitted a request for credit through the Dosh app. Dosh actually responded very quickly, within 1 business day, and credited my account. Unfortunately, Dosh mistakenly gave me credit as if I’d purchased from Cost Plus World Market (2% with $10 cap) instead of Central Market. I do not plan to push Dosh further on this. The good news is that the Dosh support group issued the credit quickly and painlessly, even though the charge was for a VGC purchase. The bad news is that we believe this is a recurring issue, at least for our Central Market location.

Does Amex receive Level 3 data from Central Market? Apparently not. No Level 3 data appears on our Amex Gold statement for this charge. That should help this method stay alive going forward.

Why didn’t I add some other grocery item(s) to my purchase, to obscure the telltale $505.95 purchase amount? The GCs at my local Central Market are sold at a customer service desk in a small entry area at the very front of the store, before you enter the main store where the groceries are located. I’m not sure whether it’s even possible to get something from the store and bring it back through to this front area without someone thinking you’re shoplifting. And it wasn’t clear to me whether you could even check out with other items at the customer service desk. (Stay tuned for more on that in a later episode.) In any event, there certainly wasn’t any easy & apparent way to add an item, so I purchased only the gift card this time.

Liquidation

Given that this was a Vanilla VGC issued by The Bancorp Bank, expressly excluded by Plastiq (see the chart at the bottom of this page), we didn’t try Plastiq as a liquidation option. Instead, we decided to experiment with the Doxo online bill payment service (www.doxo.com).

Doxo has some favorable features for online MS liquidation. It allows payments directly to almost any biller, including paying credit card companies such as Citi and Amex. It accepts many types of VGCs and MCGCs as payment methods. In fact, we haven’t found a card yet that Doxo wouldn’t accept. And payments seem to be made quickly. In this first experiment using the Doxo service, our payment was received and credited within 2 business days.

The downside of Doxo is cost. Processing fees are wickedly expensive. Doxo doesn’t seem to publish a fee schedule, but all fees seem to be at least 3.5% (!).

Doxo fees seem to be applied in increments. Payments of up to $100 showed a fee of $3.99. Larger payments seemed to incur additional fees for every $50 increment. For instance, fees on payments of $200 are $7.00, whereas fees for payments between $200 and $250 are $8.75 (3.5% of $250). Any payment from $200.01 to $250.00 would incur a fee of $8.75. Thus, the actual fee percentage may be higher than 3.5%. As an example, a payment of $225 would incur a fee of $8.75, which would be 3.89%.

As you can see, Doxo fees are brutal for MS purposes – and for pretty much any other purpose, for that matter!

Doxo also has a premium service called DoxoPlus. DoxoPlus is a subscription service that costs $9 per month. It purportedly allows you to make $2,000 per month in fee-free payments using certain methods. Doxo isn’t transparent at all about what payment methods qualify for fee-free payments, though. Payments using credit cards are excluded, payments using a bank account are included. Our best guess is that payments using a regular debit card are included.

For our current MS purposes, though, we’re interested in how VGCs and MCGCs are handled if you have DoxoPlus. As part of our experiment, we signed up for the DoxoPlus service. As best we can tell, most VGCs and MCGCs seem to be excluded – that is, most VGCs and MCGCs do not qualify for fee-free payments using DoxoPlus. But maybe some VGCs and/or MCGCs do qualify for fee-free payments if you use DoxoPlus? Stay tuned for later episodes in this series!

For this current experiment, we went ahead and used our $500 VGC from Central Market to make a payment using Doxo, even though DoxoPlus did not work on this transaction and we had to pay the regular exorbitant Doxo fees.

  • Liquidation method: Doxo
    • DoxoPlus benefits did not work with this Vanilla VGC
  • Payment made to Citi Cards, for an outstanding credit card bill
  • Fee: $17.50 (3.63%)
  • Payment: $482.50
  • Date Payment Requested: 7/24/2019
  • Date Payment Received & Credited by Citi: 7/26/2019 (2 days later!)

As it turned out, everything about using Doxo went very well, except for the incredibly high fee.

Final Accounting for This Experiment

We acquired and liquidated a $500 card for a net cost of $513.45 ($5.95 purchase fee + $17.50 liquidation fee – $10 Dosh cash back), leaving us with a loss of $13.45 on the cash side. However, we earned 2,024 MR points worth about $30.36, putting us in the black.

Looking at it another way, we acquired 2,024 MR points for $13.45, meaning that we paid 0.66 cents per MR point. Thus, our ultimate result was fine – we’d pay 0.66 cents per MR point all day long – but it would hardly be worth the time and effort if this was all we’d earn.

Remember, though, that we should have gotten $20 back from Dosh rather than $10. The extra $10 would help the deal a lot.

In addition, we’ll hope to find a lower-cost online liquidation option for this type of Vanilla VGC going forward.

Doing better on both the acquisition and liquidation side would help this deal a lot. Stay tuned for more episodes to see what we can learn!


We hope you’ve enjoyed Episode 3 of our MS DP series. We’ve found a new acquisition option, started to explore a new liquidation option, successfully completed the MS cycle on this card, and learned a lot along the way. Please feel free to comment on our efforts!


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4 thoughts on “MS DPs – Episode 3 – $500 VGC from Central Market

  1. Ron

    Makes me miss ChargeSmart/TIO even more with their 1.75% fee. Paypal bought them and promptly closed the company down.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      I hear you, Ron. A widely-applicable 1.75% easy liquidation option would be very nice! ~Craig

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Ryan – Great question. No luck on my end after the US Bank-issued GCs stopped working. The last of my DoxoPlus subscriptions is about to run out, so that’ll probably be the end of the DoxoPlus experiment, at least for now. ~Craig

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