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Middle Age Miles

MS DPs – Episode 5 – 2 $250 Vanilla MCGCs from Sam’s Club

manufactured spend ms data points dp vanilla visa gift card mcgc sams sam's club dosh amex liquidate plastiq bravo
Vanilla Variable-Load Mastercard Gift Card from Sam’s Club

In Episode 5 of our Manufactured Spend Data Points (MS DPs) series, we’ll look at two $250 variable-load Vanilla Mastercard Gift Cards (MCGCs) that we purchased from Sam’s Club on July 24.

The driver for a Sam’s Club deal, aside from continuing our GC experiments, was the Dosh offer of 5% cash back at Sam’s, with a $20 cap. Since the time we completed this purchase, though, the Dosh offer for Sam’s Club has dropped to 4% cash back, with a $15 cap.

Otherwise, buying GCs at Sam’s Club is a bit less lucrative than purchasing at some other locations, because of the lack of bonus categories on our credit card spend at Sam’s.

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! The trial-and-error process is a huge part of the MS learning experience. Also, remember that we’re exploring online liquidation methods, as we know many people prefer doing this online rather than using methods that require an in-person visit to a store.

Acquisition

  • Total purchase price = $509.76
    • The highest denomination card at our Sam’s Club were these variable-load Vanilla MCGCs with a maximum load of $250 each, so that’s what we decided to get. The activation fee for each card was $4.88.
  • Rewards from cards, offers and/or portals:
    • Dosh, 5% cash back up to $20 cap = $20
    • Paid with Amex Business Platinum earning 1x = 510 Membership Rewards (MR) points
      • Worth about $7.65 at our baseline value of 1.5 cents per MR point
  • VGC Issuer: The Bancorp Bank (distributed & serviced by InComm)
  • Can be registered? No, but you can assign a Zip Code
  • Website: www.VanillaGift.com
  • We assigned a Zip Code to each of these cards prior to any attempted use
  • Acquisition summary for these cards:
    • Acquired $500 in MCGCs (2 MCGCs of $250 each)
    • Net cost = $489.76 (after Dosh cash back)
    • Points earned = 510 MR points, worth about $7.65

Other questions related to acquisition:

Did we add any other items to this purchase? Yes, we purchased a couple of other items, so our final charge was $523.81.

Did we actually earn the MR points on this purchase involving a MCGC? So far, yes – the points are pending in our MR account (our statement that will contain this purchase has not yet closed):

Do we regret anything about this purchase? Yes. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t use our Business Platinum card. We’re in the midst of hitting the minimum spend requirement on an upgrade offer on this card. The terms of the upgrade offer exclude purchases of gift cards. And Amex seems to be cracking down by denying bonuses to people who purchase (too many) gift cards as part of their spend requirement. (See this recent article from Doctor of Credit: Is it Safe to Manufacture-Spend to meet the Signup Bonus Spend Requirement? (March 14, 2019)). On the bright side, we’ve put a healthy amount of organic spend on the card as part of our spend requirement. And as we mentioned, we mixed in other items with our GC purchase. We’ll probably be fine. But honestly, now we’re having to worry and wonder about this issue, and there was no real need to do so as we easily could have used another card for this purchase, and we also had other ways to meet our spend requirement for the Business Platinum upgrade offer.

Liquidation

We liquidated these 2 Vanilla MCGCs in different manners, so we’ll review each of the separately in this section.

Liquidation of $250 MCGC #1

First, given that this GC was a Mastercard rather than a Visa, we decided to try it on Plastiq to see if it would be eligible for Plastiq’s 1% fee on debit cards (which we discussed in Episode 2 of this series). It was not. The card would work on Plastiq, but it would be subject to Plastiq’s standard 2.5% fee.

The fact that this MCGC did not qualify for the reduced 1% fee was not surprising to us. We suspected as much due to the fact that the card could not be registered and a PIN could not be set in advance of the first purchase using the MCGC.

Next, we decided to try the card on Doxo to see if it would qualify for fee-free liquidation through our DoxoPlus subscription (which we discussed at more length in Episode 3 of this series). It did not qualify for fee-free liquidation. The card would work on Doxo, but it would be subject to Doxo’s standard high fee ($8.75 for this amount of payment, which would equate to 3.63%).

At that point, we went back to Plastiq, which at least we knew would work for online liquidation, at a lower fee than Doxo. We have some Plastiq fee-free dollars (FFDs) in our account from a promotion in late 2018. We tried to apply some FFDs, and this did work.

Another useful experiment that worked was that we were using this MCGC on Plastiq to pay one of our Citi credit card accounts.

Thus, using FFDs from a previous promotion, we were able to make a $250 payment to our Citi credit card account via Plastiq, with $0 fees.

  • Payment requested on July 25
  • Payment scheduled to be delivered by August 3
  • On August 4, we received an email from Citi confirming that they had received the check:
  • But note that as of the time of publication of this article on the afternoon of Monday, August 5, the payment has not yet actually posted to our Citi account.
    • This is a very important point to note if you’re trying to make a payment like this prior to a payment deadline. (We weren’t, thankfully.) You must allow plenty of time for the payment to arrive and post, even longer than Plastiq’s estimated arrival date.

Liquidation of $250 MCGC #2

For the second Vanilla MCGC from this purchase, we experimented with an entirely different liquidation method. As you can see above, we were able to liquidate directly to a credit card account using Plastiq, but the cost was fairly high – it would have been 2.5% if we hadn’t had FFDs in our Plastiq account to use. And we have other spend where we can use our FFDs in probably more valuable ways, so we don’t want to burn them all liquidating GCs.

Enter the Bravo app. Bravo facilitates person-to-person (P2P) payments, charging a 2% fee on all transactions made through the app (up to $499.99; larger payments incur higher fees). Its original basic business model was designed to allow people to tip or pay a service provider when they didn’t have cash. If both the payer and payee had the Bravo app, the payer could send money to the payee through the app without sharing any personal data. The pitch, when Bravo’s founders appeared on Shark Tank during Season 9, involved a person paying a tip to a street musician through the app.

Bravo’s founders Dr. Hector Rodriguez and Maria Luna appeared on Shark Tank Season 9, Episode 914 [image courtesy Bravo & ABC]

You may recall that we’ve written previously about Bravo, mostly in connection with the Citi AT&T Access More card (ATTAM). As we detailed last week, Bravo recently stopped earning 3x ThankYou Points (TYPs) on ATTAM.

As we mentioned at the end of that article, the demise of 3x TYP earning using ATTAM caused us to think creatively about what other opportunities might exist with Bravo. We promised to experiment with using Bravo to liquidate gift cards as part of this MS DP series.

And guess what? Our experiment with this Vanilla MCGC was a success! We were able to successfully edit the payment card attached to our Bravo account, to change it to this MCGC. And we were able to make a P2P payment to a “friendly” account using the funds from the MCGC, with a 2% fee:

  • Payment amount: $245.09
  • Bravo fee (2%): $4.91

Moreover, the money was available in the “friendly” account within a few days – 3 business days to be exact:

  • Payment made through Bravo: Wednesday 7/31
  • Amount of payment deposited & available in “friendly” account: Monday 8/5

We were extremely happy with the results of this experiment. We’ve found a new liquidation option available at a lower cost (2%) than the best option we’d previously known about for this type of GC (Plastiq at 2.5% if you don’t have FFDs to use).

A couple of follow-up liquidation questions about Bravo:

Will this work for everyone? We’re not entirely sure. In response to our prior article about the demise of 3x earning for Bravo on the ATTAM, reader Sideshowbob233 reminded us that Bravo had asked him to send a photo of the front and back of the credit card when he tried to change the card associated with his account. We also recall Bravo doing verification including photos when we set up our account. We’re not sure whether Bravo’s procedures have changed over time. In addition, it’s possible that our account has become “trusted” with Bravo over time, given that we’ve made numerous transactions through the Bravo app over the past year. On this front, you’ll just have to experiment for yourself and possibly “season” your account with multiple purchases on a single credit card for a while before you try to change your payment method.

Will this be sustainable? We’re not sure but we hope so. Stay tuned for more MS DP episodes to see how we’ve fared in other attempts to liquidate GCs using Bravo!

Final Accounting for This Experiment

We acquired and liquidated $500 in MCGCs for a net cost of $493.67:

  • $20 cash back from Dosh
  • $9.76 in GC activation fees
  • $4.91 liquidation fee from liquidating card #2 via Bravo
  • (We also used 250 FFDs from Plastiq to liquidate card #1, but we won’t count that for purposes of this calculation since it didn’t result in any cash in or out of pocket)

In addition, we earned 510 Amex MR points, worth about $7.65.

Hopefully, we also made progress toward meeting the minimum spend requirement on our Amex Business Platinum upgrade offer – although, as we discussed above, we have some lingering heartburn about that piece and wouldn’t recommend that anyone do this deal with an Amex card during the sign-up bonus or upgrade bonus spending period.

At the end of the day, this seems to be an OK deal – we profited by $6.33 cash plus earned 510 MR points; total “profit” of $13.98 including points, if you want to call it that. But it’s not a great deal by any means.

The Dosh offer makes the deal interesting. But, remember that Dosh has now reduced their Sam’s Club offer to 4% with a cap of $15. The fact that the variable GCs at Sam’s Club had a maximum load value of $250 doesn’t help, as this required us to pay 2 activation fees of $4.88 each. In addition, the online liquidation options for these types of Vanilla variable-load MCGCs aren’t exactly low-cost – it was either Doxo at 3.63%, Plastiq at 2.5%, or Bravo at 2% (which may or may not work for everyone).


We hope you’ve enjoyed Episode 5 of our MS DPs series. We successfully completed the MS cycle yet again, and we found a new online liquidation option that lowered our costs and may prove to be quite valuable going forward. Please feel free to comment on our efforts!


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4 thoughts on “MS DPs – Episode 5 – 2 $250 Vanilla MCGCs from Sam’s Club

  1. Rogbre

    I’m loving this series! Thanks for taking the risks for the sake of education. We’re middle aged as well and use our points to travel now that the kids are grown. MS is definitely a subject i’ve been looking into and online liquidation is exactly what I want. Thanks again.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Rogbre – I love this comment. It’s very satisfying to know that what we’re doing is interesting and helpful to people. Sounds like you’re doing the exact same thing as Philly & me, enjoying travel & seeing the world while we’re empty nesters but still relatively young. I hope you guys enjoy your travels, and if we can help add any points to your bankroll, that’s great!

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment. I hope you continue to read and enjoy Middle Age Miles! ~Craig

  2. Sideshowbob233

    I think you’re correct, once you’ve become trusted they don’t ask for card photos. I was able to swap in a gift card (thanks to your suggestion) and was not asked for card photos. They apparently trust me. Suckers!!!! 😛

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Haha! As I mentioned in my other reply to you a minute ago on a different article, this is a great confirming DP. I’m glad your result with a “seasoned” Bravo account was successful and consistent with mine. It’s nice to have this liquidation option. I hope it sticks around for a long time. ~Craig

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