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10 Best Credit Cards for Non-Bonus Category Manufactured Spending

Last Year I wrote about the 10 best credit cards for manufactured spending. My rankings were based on a combination of both rewards currency value and bonus categories offered by these cards. It was a good, comprehensive list at the time. But I realize a lot of people don’t earn their miles via  category bonuses. Their gift card churning activities extend to Giftcards.com and Simon Mall Visa gift card purchases. People like that will want to earn the most points possible at merchants that aren’t eligible for category bonuses. Based on that criteria, here is my ranking of the best credit cards for non-bonus category spending:

1. Discover It Miles Card – 3 miles per $1 spent during Year 1 (1.5 miles thereafter)

Some of you are crying foul right now. “Why is the Discover It Miles Card ranked #1 over the Freedom Unlimited andAmex Blue Business?!?!? Because this isn’t a ranking of the best rewards credit cards. It’s a ranking of the best credit cards for manufactured spending, and there really isn’t a better card out there than the Discover It Miles Card. For starters, the card earns 3 miles per $1 spent during the first year, which is worth 3% cash back. Not only can these miles be redeemed in the form of statement credits towards travel purchases, but you can even transfer them directly into your bank account.

Discover It Miles Credit Card 3% Cash Back Bonus First Year

Maximizing the 3% Cash Back Bonus with Five Discover It Miles Credit Cards

But what makes the Discover It Miles Card so great for manufactured spending isn’t just the standard mile-earning rate; it’s the fact that Discover remains an ms-friendly bank. In my first year, I was able to earn over $3,000 cash back on my Discover It Miles card via gift card churning. Not only did Discover not seem to care how many times I cycled my credit line, but I hardly ever had issues with incessant fraud alerts or shut-downs after using Walmart Bill Pay. This enabled me to churn gift cards faster and keep my utilization rate low. If you’re going to get a Discover It Miles card, I highly recommend you do so only if you’re ready to really milk that first year bonus. Otherwise you’re letting a really amazing manufactured spending tool go to waste.

2. Chase Freedom Unlimited Card – 1.5% cash back/1.5 points per $1 spent

We’ve all heard the rumors about Chase possibly discontinuing the ability to transfer rewards from the Freedom Unlimited card to other Ultimate Rewards accounts at a favorable ratio. It’s all hearsay at this point, so I’m still going with the Chase Freedom Unlimited card as my #2 pick. It has no annual fee, yet still earns 1.5% cash back. If you have another Ultimate Rewards account, you can transfer (and effectively convert) these cash back rewards to valuable points. This works out great if you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and are book travel through the Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal. With the 50% bonus added through the Reserve card, your 1.5% cash back earnings convert to 2.25 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent. Or 2.25% cash back.

It’s important to note that while the Chase Freedom earns generous rewards on non-bonuses categories, you shouldn’t use it excessively for manufactured spending. Chase has been known to shut people down for excessive ms, plus they are not to be messed with when it comes to money order deposits or Walmart Bill Pay.

3. Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard –  2 miles per $1

You can make a drinking game out of the number of times I’ve mentioned my Barclay Arrival card shut down. It sucks. And I’ll probably keep mentioning it until I find a replacement. But the fact is, the Arrival Plus is a great credit card for manufactured spending. You’ll not only earn 2 miles per $1 spent (the equivalent of 2% cash back) but you’ll get a 5% rebate on travel redemptions. Yes, the card has a $89 annual fee, but it’s worth it if you earn and redeem enough points. Plus, Barclay was totally cool with me cycling my credit line. My downfall, as I’ve mentioned time and again, was Walmart Bill Pay.

4. Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card  –  2% cash back

The Fidelity Rewards Visa is a solid choice for manufactured spending because it has no annual fee. And it’s not affiliated with a major bank (in the sense that Fidelity isn’t up there with Chase when it comes to their credit card lineup). The fact that it earns 2% cash back at $0 annual fee puts it at a higher ranking than others..

5. Amex Blue Business Plus Credit Card – 2 points per $1 spent on the first $50,000 spent per calendar year

Frequent Miler dubbed the Amex Blue Business Plus Card “The New King of Everyday Spend.” There is certainly merit to the fanfare. The card has no annual fee but still pays out 2 Membership Rewards points per $1 spent. However, this bonus is limited to the first $50,000 spent per year. And you’re earning Membership Rewards points. Maybe it’s because had to spend $15 transferring 20,000 Membership Rewards points to Delta (don’t ask). I’m just not a fan of the lack of really great transfer partners and the fact that they tack on fees for transfers. Why invest in a rewards program like this when there are better options?

6. The Business Platinum Card from American Express – 1.5 miles per $1 spent 

Purchases of $5,000 or more earn 1.5 miles per $1 spent on the Amex Business Platinum Card. This bonus is capped at 1 million additional points per year. Please don’t put that much manufactured spending on this card!

7. Club Carlson Rewards Visa Business Card and Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card  –  5 points per $1

I get it, you’re all still bitter about the numerous Club Carlson devaluations. And the fact that the last night free benefit on these credit cards has been discontinued. Along with any meaningful use of the annual free night certificate. But Club Carlson remains one of the best rewards programs for earning free nights. When it comes to the Club Carlson Rewards credit cards, they also rank as the best cards for earning free hotel nights. It takes just $14,000 worth of manufactured spending to earn enough for a free night at a top-category hotel.

8. Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express  –  3 points per $1

No eye-rolling please. The Hilton Honors program is tied with Club Carlson as the most generous hotel rewards programs out there. Manufacturing spend on an American Express credit card can be tricky and I would recommend doing it in moderation. However, you’ll be well rewarded in points and top-tier elite status for your credit card spending. It takes just $40,000 worth of manufactured spending on the Hilton Honors Suprass card to earn Hilton Diamond status.

9. Chase United MileagePlus Club Card  –  1.5 miles per $1

The United MileagePlus Club Card earns 1.5 miles per $1 spent and carries a $450 annual fee. Is it worth it, considering Chase isn’t the most ms-friendly bank? Not really. Why is it a Top 10 post about credit cards? To round up the list and because I knew it would come up if I didn’t list it. 😉

10. Bank of America Virgin Atlantic WorldElite MasterCard  –  1.5 miles per $1

Bank of America is a fairly safe (ish) bank to manufacture spend with. That’s probably because they don’t have as big of a market share as Chase and Amex when it comes to rewards credit cards. Regardless, those who use Bank of America cards for manufactured spending generally experience fewer shut-downs. That’s not to say it won’t happen to you, but I would say it’s less risky than ms’ing with Chase. And if you do get shut down, there’s not much you’re missing from their rewards credit card line-up. Being able to earn 1.5 miles per $1 spent through the Virgin Atlantic MasterCard isn’t so bad – especially if you know how to put Flying Club miles to good use.

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Ariana Arghandewal

12 Comments

  1. For non-category spend…

    1. Alliant 3% (straight 3%)
    2. Discover IT miles 2*1.5x (effective yet delayed 3%)
    3. JCB Marukai 3% (limited by low CL, MS aversive, acceptance issues)
    4. USAA 2.5% (not as good as 3% but generally MS tolerant and large CL)
    5. Amex BBP 2x (limited by 50k cap and need for Schwab Plat to achieve 2.5%)
    6. Chase FU 1.5x (effective 2.25% via CSR)
    7. Cap1 Spark 2% (redemptions applied immediately rather than at statement)
    8. Blispay 2% (applied as statement credit and no min redemption requirement)
    9. Citi DC 2% (half now, half later)
    10. SPG 1x (Marriott travel packages and subjective yet generally accepted redemptions >2cpp)

    Cards issued by Elan and USB should not have any variable load MS on them unless you are ok with high risk of losing your whole portfolio issued by them. They are not tolerant to mainstream MS methods. You may get away with it but many ppl get the banhammer.

  2. Ariana how would you pay your Barclay Arrival cc without Walmart bill pay? Isn’t that a large amount of mo’s to deposit into a bank account? Or do some banks allow that much per month?

  3. what about PenFed Cash Rewards Card? It earns 2% cash back like the fidelity but has the advantage of no foreign transaction fee + redemptions start at just $5, so why no mention of this card?

  4. When you say not to over do it with MS on a card, what does that mean? A dollar amount, a percentage of income, a percentage of CL etc.?

  5. Ariana. Love ur blog. I recall another blogger recently mentioned to be careful with Club Carlson card because US Bank is quick to shut down MS. Ur experience and comments please.

    • I haven’t really ms’ed with them too much lately because I don’t need Club Carlson points, but I’ve generally been careful with them and you definitely should too (with any bank).

  6. You should be aware that US Bank(Club Carlson) has really been cracking down on MS’ing. People who got the Altitude Reserve were shut down for buying one gift card!

  7. You prefer the United cc over Capital One Venture? The Venture comes with a $400 credit the first year, no fee the first year and earns 2x points for spending.

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