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Middle Age Miles

MS DP Series – Follow-Up Part 1 – Reviewing Episodes 1-4

manufactured spend ms data point dp visa gift card vgc mastercard gift card mcgc plastiq doxo ebates rakuten dosh staples amex american express
Mastercard Gift Card issued by MetaBank (featured in MS DPs Episodes 2 & 4)

Introduction

Our recent Manufactured Spend Data Points (MS DP) series proved to be very popular. As regular readers will recall, we started off as total rookies on the subject of MS with Visa Gift Cards (VGCs) and Mastercard Gift Cards (MCGCs). We explored a number of different options for purchasing VGCs and MCGCs.

We also experimented, as best we could, with online liquidation options. In general, online liquidation is more costly than in-person liquidation through Serve/Bluebird reloads or money order (MO) purchases. But many people either don’t have the access or desire to chase around town liquidating GCs under circumstances that might require a certain level of deception.

We published 10 episodes of our MS DP series (not including introductory “Episode Zero“). In each episode, we tracked a GC purchase all the way through the MS process from acquisition (including reviewing all of the offers, portals and bonuses we used) through final liquidation (including assessing different online liquidation options).

It’s been about 6 weeks since we undertook most of the activities that led to the articles in our MS DP series, so we thought it would be a good time for a recap and update. We’ll break up the recap into pieces – this article will recap and update MS DP Episodes 1 through 4, and later we’ll publish one or more additional articles recapping Episodes 5 through 10.

1. Recap and Update of MS DP Episode 1 – $200 VGC from Staples

Review the full episode here: MS DPs – Episode 1 – $200 VGC from Staples (July 30, 2019)

In Episode 1, we acquired a $200 VGC issued by Sunrise Bank, from Staples:

  • Purchased during a Staples no-fee promo
  • Used an Amex Offer of 10% statement credit with a total cap of $50 (received $20 on this transaction)
  • Used a Dosh offer, 3% cash back up to a $5 cap
  • Paid with an Amex Blue Business Plus (BB+) card for 2x Membership Rewards (MR) points earning

As total rookies, we had difficulties liquidating this card. We tried to liquidate through Plastiq but failed. Eventually we semi-panicked and redeemed the VGC on Amazon to purchase $200 in Amazon credit.

Here’s how things have developed since then on the acquisition side:

  • Staples has continued to run no-fee promos for VGCs and MCGCs off-and-on for the past several weeks (as has Office Depot/Max), including as recently as last week. More and more stores are enforcing the 1-card-per-customer limit (including our local Staples). We’ll hope the Staples promos continue into the future.
  • The Amex Offer for 10% statement credit at Staples has now expired. We do, however, routinely see Amex Offers, Chase Offers, and BankAmeriDeals for Staples. In our experience (and in general, as best we can tell), VGC/MCGC purchases at Staples trigger these offers and credits are received.
  • We received our Amex Offer credit and MR points-earning on our BB+ card, with no issues.
  • We received our $5 Dosh credit and successfully cashed it out.
  • However, Staples is no longer on Dosh. That’s too bad, as it was a very useful deal.
  • Without an Amex Offer/Chase Offer/BankAmeriDeal, the best card to use for purchases at Staples is the Chase Ink Cash (CIC) card, which earns 5x Ultimate Rewards (UR) points. We started this process with 1 CIC card in the family, and we’ve already increased to 3 CICs in the past few weeks (the CIC has an annual cap of $25,000 on 5x earning).

Turning to the liquidation side – As we identified in the episode, using VGCs/MCGCs to purchase Amazon credit can be a good option. It doesn’t incur any fees at all. But it’s only scalable to the extent you spend at Amazon. At scale, and given what we’ve learned since that time, we’d now be liquidating this card through Bravo to a “friendly” bank account, with a 2% fee.

2. Recap and Update of MS DP Episode 2 – $200 MCGC from Staples

Review the full episode here: MS DPs – Episode 2 – $200 MCGC from Staples (July 31, 2019)

In Episode 2, we acquired a $200 MCGC issued by MetaBank, from Staples:

  • Purchased during a Staples no-fee promo
  • Used an Amex Offer at Staples, 1,000 Membership Rewards (MR) points when spending at least $40
  • Used a Dosh offer, 3% cash back up to a $5 cap
  • Paid with an Amex Business Platinum card for 1x MR points earning

On the liquidation side, we made one of first truly useful discoveries of our MS experiments. This particular MCGC could be liquidated with a 1% fee through Plastiq, to pay down a credit card account (in this instance, Citi).

Here’s how things have developed since then on the acquisition side:

  • As we mentioned above, Staples has continued to offer no-fee promos off-and-on; however, the Staples offer on Dosh is no longer available.
  • The Amex Offer that we used for this deal is still alive, if you have it on one of your cards and haven’t used it yet. It’s good through 9/30/2019.
  • We received our Amex Offer credit and MR points-earning on our Business Platinum card, with no issues. We were also working on a minimum spend requirement on an upgrade offer on the Business Platinum card. We haven’t hit the spend threshold yet, so we can’t say for sure whether this purchase counted. We suspect that it did.
  • We received our $5 Dosh credit and successfully cashed it out.

As for liquidation – These MetaBank-issued MCGCs that are registered at www.mcgift.giftcardmall.com have continued to work flawlessly on Plastiq with a 1% fee. We’ve used them to make paper check payments to a multitude of credit card accounts, including Amex, Barclays, Chase, Citi and US Bank. These payments take a while to post – roughly 8-12 days. But so far, the payments have all been received by the credit card company, they’ve all been applied correctly, and we haven’t faced any backlash from either Plastiq or the credit card companies.

All that said, we’re acutely aware that there’s some risk involved here and that this strategy may not be sustainable. But so far, so good. Keep your fingers crossed!

3. Recap and Update of MS DP Episode 3 – $500 VGC from Central Market

Review the full episode here: MS DPs – Episode 3 – $500 VGC from Central Market (August 2, 2019)

This was one of our very best deals on the acquisition side. Unfortunately, it didn’t last.

In Episode 3, we acquired a $500 Vanilla VGC issued by Bancorp, from Central Market, a local grocery store that is a subsidiary or division of Texas-based grocer HEB:

  • Purchase fee was $5.95
  • Used a Dosh offer, 5% cash back up to a $20 cap
  • Paid with an Amex Gold personal card for 4x MR points earning at US supermarkets (up to an annual cap of $25,000)

We liquidated this card through the Doxo online payment service, at an exorbitant fee of $17.50 (3.63%). It hurts to type those numbers. Remember, at the beginning of these experiments we were total rookies. Plus, our experiments with Doxo ultimately turned out to be extremely valuable, albeit fleeting (see Episode 8 and our subsequent Update to Episode 8).

Here’s how things have developed since then on the acquisition side:

  • This Dosh offer had a weird history. The purchase did not initially track. I contacted Dosh customer service, they reviewed the purchase, and they credited my Dosh account. Unfortunately, the agent mis-credited it as having been made at Cost Plus World Market (2% with a $10 cap) rather than Central Market (5% with a $20 cap). Thus, I only received $10 through Dosh on this purchase.
  • We successfully cashed out this $10 Dosh credit.
  • We made 2 subsequent purchases of $500 Vanilla VGCs at Central Market. Each time, the purchase did not initially track and we had to contact Dosh customer service. For each of these 2 purchases, though, the agent (who was terrific, by the way) correctly credited $20 to our Dosh account. We successfully cashed out these credits.
  • This would have been a sledgehammer of a deal if it had lasted. Unfortunately, the Central Market offer disappeared from Dosh in mid-August and has not returned.
  • We actually had some hope that Central Market would return to Dosh. Just before the Central Market deal went away, Dosh announced that Central Market’s parent company, HEB, would be on Dosh at a 2% cashback rate with a $10 cap. This deal was available for a few weeks (unfortunately for us, the nearest HEB is about 40 miles away). But as of today, we’re not seeing any HEB offers on Dosh.
  • We received our 4x MR point on our Amex Gold personal card, with no issues.

On the liquidation side, the good news was that the payment was made to Citi, on a credit card account. The payment was applied and posted correctly by Citi, within 2 days. We also made successful payments using Doxo to Amex and Chase on credit card accounts (in those cases, using Doxo’s subscription service, DoxoPlus).

We believe that these Vanilla VGCs issued by Bancorp still work on Doxo. They did not work for fee-free liquidation using DoxoPlus (in fact, we’re not aware of any VGCs or MCGCs that work on DoxoPlus any more). With our 2 subsequent purchases of Vanilla VGCs from Central Market, we liquidated through Bravo to a “friendly” bank account, with a 2% fee. And we’d liquidate in the same manner today.

4. Recap and Update of MS DP Episode 4 – more $200 MCGCs from Staples

Review the full episode here: MS DPs – Episode 4 – more $200 MCGCs from Staples (August 2, 2019)

Episode 4 was very similar to Episode 2, in that involved $200 MCGCs issued by MetaBank, from Staples. But there were 2 separate purchases on back-to-back days, and we stacked more offers with these purchases:

  • Purchased during a Staples no-fee promo
  • Used Amex Offers at Staples, $10 statement credit when spending at least $40 (one offer on each purchase)
  • Used an additional Amex Offer for Staples, 1 extra MR point per dollar
  • Used Ebates/Rakuten in-store offers for Staples, each loaded to MR-earning accounts – one for 2x MRs per dollar, and the other for 4x MRs per dollar
  • Used a Dosh offer, 3% cash back up to a $5 cap
  • Paid for one MCGC with an Amex BB+ for 2x MR points earning, and the other with an Amex EveryDay card earning 1x MR points

Here’s how things have developed on the acquisition side for this deal:

  • As with the corresponding MR-earning Offer, the Amex Offer for a $10 statement credit is still alive if you’ve enrolled in the Offer and haven’t used it. It’s good through 9/30/2019.
  • The Amex Offer for an extra 1x MR per dollar at Staples is also still alive and well through the end of this year (12/31/2019).
  • The statement credits from our Amex Offers posted with no issues, and our MR points from these purchases, including the “extra 1x” bonus points, also posted fine.
  • Our MR points earned through Ebates/Rakuten have properly posted to our account. At this time, though, they’re still pending. Rakuten pays out MR points quarterly, about 6 weeks after the close of the quarter. This quarter won’t end until 9/30/19, and the transfer of MR points into our account won’t occur until mid-November. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the MR points remain intact and are transferred over to our Amex MR account in November. (As always on Rakuten, the points show as “Cash Back,” but they’re really MR points at 1 point per cent (that is, $8.00 Cash Back shown below equates to 800 MR points).)
  • As of today (9/10/19), Staples seems to be completely gone from the list of Ebates/Rakuten in-store offers. It’s not showing on any of our accounts. With the past few weeks, the Staples offer on Rakuten had been limited to 4 times total/lifetime use, and it had been capped at a maximum $1,000 purchase. We had been bemoaning the fact that we’d used two of our four shots on these piddling $200 purchases, and one of them when the earning rate was only 2x. As of today, with the Staples offer completely gone, we’re happy to have gotten anything yet sad that we didn’t hit it harder while it was alive.
  • Staples also used to be on the in-store offers list for the Alaska Mileage Plan and United MileagePlus shopping portals, at 1.5 miles per dollar with each program. But like with Rakuten, Staples is completely gone from those portals as of today (9/10/19).
  • The Dosh $5 cash back correctly posted and we’ve cashed it out successfully, but as we mentioned, that offer is now gone.

Liquidation of the MCGCs purchased in this episode went exactly like Episode 2 – payment of credit card accounts via Plastiq with a 1% fee. In this case, the payments were made to Citi and Amex, and they were delivered, applied and posted correctly after the now-expected 8-12 day time period. This continues to be one of the great finds of our MS DP experiments.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this follow-up recap and update on Episodes 1 through 4 of our recent MS DP series. One thing that we’ve learned for sure – things change quickly in this area. You have to keep on top of the deals, and when you see a good opportunity, you need to hit it as best you can while it’s alive.

Good luck with your own efforts, and we’ll be back soon with the recaps and updates of MS DP Episodes 5 through 10!


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8 thoughts on “MS DP Series – Follow-Up Part 1 – Reviewing Episodes 1-4

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Grant – It’s not a promo rate. 1% is the normal Plastiq rate for debit cards, and these certain types of MCGCs get that rate. Why these specific cards and not others? I don’t know. It just is what it is … for now at least. Although it’s my understanding based on my reading that it’s been this way for quite a while. Hope this helps! ~Craig

    1. TimmyD

      The plastiq 1% route is far less tedious in my opinion than buying money orders with those$200 gcs, especially since no place here is supposed to let you buy money orders with gift cards. I’m only doing it when they’re a special deal at the office stores, but that 5x UR is pretty good for a little bit of plastiq effort

      1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

        Hi TimmyD – Agreed. Our series is directed to cherry-picking deals and online low-effort/low-stress liquidation. The big-scale MS guys, by necessity, have tricks that are more advanced and can commit far more time to the task.

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