Manufactured spend is essentially when one purchases items using a rewards credit card and then liquidates those items (turning them into cash) in order to pay off the credit card bill for the card they used to purchase the item. The desired result is the creation of a lot of points, miles, or cash back on their rewards credit card for minimal fees or other loss.
If you read my blog or any other frequent flyer blog, you likely know that the Bluebird prepaid card is one of the best tools for manufacturing spend. Put simply, you buy Vanilla Reload cards using your credit card, load the funds to your Bluebird prepaid card, then either cash out to pay your credit card bill or pay the bill directly from the Bluebird bill-pay section. Using this method, your loss is $3.95 for every $500 spent.
There was a brief time when Vanilla Reloads could be purchased at Office Depot stores, which gave the benefit of earning a whopping 5 points per dollar when purchasing them using a Chase Ink card. This method is no longer available, and you can’t buy $500 gift cards at Office Supply stores anymore either.
But you can buy $200 gift cards.
Clearly it’s not going to be as lucrative as the $500 gift cards or Vanilla Reloads, but that definitely doesn’t mean they’re useless. Let me do some quick math: There’s a significant $6.95 fee on top of that $200 gift card, meaning using your Ink card yields 1035 points ($207 x 5) for a fee of $6.95. That means the cost-per-point is .006715, or well under a penny each. You can liquidate the cash on the gift card by loading them to your Bluebird card at Walmart.
First off, I want to say that this $6.95 fee is nothing to ignore. I’ve pointed out several times that you shouldn’t ignore the cost of prepaid cards and annual fees just because you’re earning points. See the following posts: The Hidden Cost of Prepaid Cards and Are Credit Card Annual Fees Worth It? With that being said, I also noted that there are some interesting benefits of the Bluebird card.
Points-crazed people will understand that .006715 means tremendous value, but beginners or even intermediates may not really understand what that means, but it’s extremely valuable. To prove it to you, I created what I call the Bluebird/Chase Ink Award Charts.
The two favored redemption options for Chase points are to transfer them either to United or Hyatt. I basically took the award charts for these two loyalty programs and converted them into the real cost for someone that utilizes their Chase Ink and Bluebird cards using the method I described above. Finding the real cost is a simple matter of multiplying the cost-per-point, .006715, by the miles or points required for your particular award.
United Airlines Award Chart
Let’ start by taking a look at the normal United Award Chart. I had to re-create the award chart since United’s published chart is “interactive.” I only listed the Saver award requirements since that’s what you should be redeeming for.
Nothing surprising here – these are the same amounts you see when you search for an award based on United’s Award Chart. To get the real cost of these awards when using the Bluebird/Chase Ink trick, all we need to do is multiply these amounts by our cost-per-point of .006715.
These numbers speak for themselves, but clearly these are ultra-cheap fares. Just look at the round-trip cost of flights to places like Africa and Australia, which are usually the most expensive there are. You can essentially get 75%-90% off the actual fare price!
Hyatt Award/Reward Chart
Hyatt is the other favored transfer partner of Chase. If you’d rather have a hotel room than a free flight, this could be the route for you. I didn’t have to re-create the award chart, but it’s easy anyway with only 6 categories (as of right now, that is).
Again – nothing surprising here. A category 6 hotel will run you 22K points, enough to stay at top end hotels like the Park Hyatt Sydney, Park Hyatt Tokyo or the Park Hyatt Maldives. Rooms at these hotels normally cost $400-$1,000 or more. But let’s get the real cost of these awards when using the Bluebird/Chase Ink trick. Again, all we need to do is multiply these amounts by our cost-per-point of .006715.
Top-end hotels can be had at under $150 per night, and a hotel like the Hyatt Place Las Vegas would run you only $54 per night. You can even book a suite if you’re willing to pay a small premium. Basically, you see that just as with United, you can have savings of 75%-90% on top-end redemptions.
I decided to throw in the Avios chart as well. This one is unique since it is distance based, but earning 5x can prove to be very lucrative. The only thing you’ll need to keep in mind is that taxes can be very hefty on some of these awards depending on the airline and route.
As I discussed in my Beginner’s Guide to Avios (and Oneworld Alliance), shorter distance flights are much more valuable than longer flights on this award chart. Los Angeles to San Francisco or Phoenix are only 4,500 Avios each way, and Los Angeles to Hawaii is only 12,500 each way. There’s tons of other great values on this chart as well. But let’s see the real cost using the Bluebird/Chase Ink trick.
The gems on this chart are mostly when flying on American Airlines. You can fly from Los Angeles to either New York or Hawaii for $168 round trip in Economy. You can even go Los Angeles to Tokyo round trip for $336 plus some taxes and fees. There are a lot of good, cheap redemptions possible.
Using Bluebird in conjunction with a Chase Ink card, you can earn a ton of points at a very, very cheap rate. It’s not as good as it used to be, but there are still massive savings to be had as you can see in the award charts above.
While I discussed the cost of the prepaid cards, I didn’t discuss the time commitment or gas required to attain these points. The time required is something that many people simply don’t have. But if you do, you can go anywhere you want!
There are plenty of other deals to be had as well. I didn’t even discuss Southwest awards, but you can save over 60% even on their revenue-based chart. Now that Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner, you can essentially earn 10X Hilton points (5x on Office stores, transfer to Virgin Atlantic, then transfer to Hilton at 1:2). That almost puts the new category 10 properties within reach once again.
I imagine most people reading this have Chase Ink cards already, but if you don’t and feel compelled to support me, you can apply for one through my Credit Karma affiliate link. If you don’t have a Bluebird card, you can order one for free online.
Just for Fun
I thought it would be fun to see the cost of these flights or hotel rooms back when it was possible to buy Vanilla Reloads at Office Depot. Buying a $500 Vanilla reload for $3.95 would yield 2,520 points, or a minuscule cost-per-point of .00157. Let’s see what used to be possible.
Not bad, right? Hopefully you were one of the people that got in on it and went big!