Since the demise of Vanilla Reloads, I’ve written about several manufactured spending alternatives. When a reader reported that Walmart was no longer accepting gift cards for money orders, I wrote up Plan C in my manufactured spending strategy. It looks like I’ll need to draw up even more plans, because this weekend I experienced a rude awakening. If this keeps up, I’m going to run out of letters to name my plans after.
Plan B was to use American Express Gift Cards purchased through shopping portals to buy Visa gift cards at grocery stores, then unload those via money orders at Walmart. A reader told me recently that she had been to several Bay Area Walmart locations and got rejected when she tried to buy a money order with a Visa gift card. I hadn’t had this issue, so I figured it was just a problem at specific locations. I headed to my local Walmart and first tried to load my gift cards onto Bluebird at the kiosk. The ever-present “out of order” sign was gone, so I assumed it was safe to use. Nope, the machine was still out of order.
So I headed to the money center to buy money orders. A cashier I’m friendly with rang me up. I asked her to split the payment method, which she said was fine. Then she suddenly asked me to show her the cards I was paying with. I did so and she said I could’t pay with gift cards – “new store policy.” I pulled out my trusty Alaska Airlines debit card, paid for the money order in full, and headed out.
Now I have about $2,500 of Amex Gift Cards to unload, so I head to Target. My back-up plan was to use American Express Gift Cards purchased through shopping portals to load my American Express for Target card. I go to the register, where a seemingly clueless cashier hesitates when I tell him I want to reload my card. I offer to walk him through the process, and he smiles and sighs in relief. When it comes time to pay, I swipe my $3,000 Amex gift card. I start reading him the last 4 digits of the card and he asks to see it. Suddenly, the same guy that didn’t know how to load an American Express prepaid card 10 seconds ago is reciting the latest store policy: “You can’t pay with a gift card.” I told him I was aware that you can’t pay with a Target gift card (every cashier makes it a point to say that before ringing me up), but he calls his colleague over. She confirms that the new store policy is that you have to pay with a credit card and Amex gift cards aren’t accepted. I paid with my Arrival card and left.
This is pretty awful because if I can’t unload Amex gift cards indirectly via Walmart money orders or directly via my Amex for Target card, my manufactured spending costs are going to skyrocket. No more $200-300 profits per $5,000 gift card.
In order to cope with this tragedy, I’m finally going to give in and try out the following methods I’ve been avoiding in an effort to keep things manageable:
1. Amazon Payments. American Express gift cards are just too lucrative to forego, so I’m going to start using Amazon Payments to unload the American Express gift card balance. I won’t earn as many miles as before, since Amazon Payments is limited to $1,000 per month.
2. Bluebird. I can load my $3,000 or so in Visa gift cards onto Bluebird without issues. I’m avoiding the register because of rumors that they’re also enforcing the “no gift card” rule. This method will involve a lot of
hits and misses, as Bluebird kiosks are notorious for being out of order half the time.
3. Evolve Money. In addition to Bluebird, I unloaded one $500 Visa gift card by paying bills using Evolve Money. The service is free to use and through April 21, you can get $5 off a bill payment when you use promo code SAVE5Apri. On Friday I sent two months worth of Sallie Mae payments and received confirmation from them on Saturday that the payments had posted. That’s lightning fast. I think Evolve estimated the payment would go through on 4/20.
I also used it to pay off the small balance on a Macy’s card. The PG&E bill just came in and I’m going to bite the bullet and pay my cell phone and cable bill through Evolve, foregoing 5x through my Ink card.
This is just a convenient way to unload some gift cards until the Bluebird kiosk is back in business, but if the payout for GiftCardMall (where I buy Visa gift cards) increases from 0.5%, this can be a lucrative opportunity to generate points, cash, and pay my bills in an efficient way. If it saves me from having to go through an annoying phone system or logging in and out of different accounts to pay bills, I’m good with that.
Have you had the same experience at Walmart and Target? Please comment below.
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