Manufacturing Money Spent: Bluebird

update: BlueBird has shut down many accounts of people who have used them to Manufacture Money Spent as in this article and others. While not all have been shut down and it is still possible to open accounts and do a bit of MMSing, it is dying and should not be seen as a guaranteed option.

Manufacturing Money Spent or MMS. What is that and what does it mean? MMS is the act of making it look like more money is being spent on a credit card than you are actually spending. Often times, as it is with the strategy I demonstrate in this post, a person will spend 1% to earn points or miles. This means, that if a credit card gives a return of anything more than that 1%, we can turn a profit. It means that when we sign up for a credit card that has a $5,000 minimum spending requirement to receive the sign up bonus, we do not actually have to spend $5,000 of our money.

Gift Cards

The first step in this strategy to MMS is to find a local store that sells Visa or MasterCard gift cards. I go to my local grocery store, where I get a 5% return on groceries, and buy their $500 Visa or MasterCard gift card. They each come with a one time activation fee of $5.95, so just above 1%. There isn’t much difference between the two, the main thing to keep in mind when buying the gift cards is that they can not be Vanilla brand, any other bank issuer is fine, and American Express gift cards do not work. The other difference is that with the Visa cards, the PIN is automatically the last 4-digits of the card number, while with MasterCard, there is either a code attached to the card, or you have to call MasterCard to set a PIN. Once I have my gift cards, I make my way over to Walmart.

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Excluding Steak and Shake, these cards all had balances of $200 or $500

Bluebird

Bluebird was created from a partnership between Walmart and American Express (Amex.) It is a prepaid card with online access, it is not a checking account and there is no credit attached or involved. A Bluebird card can be obtained in two ways, either by purchasing a temporary card at Walmart, usually for $5, or by going to their site, Bluebird.com and signing up there. Temporary cards must be registered on their site and go through the application process as well. They will mail a permanent card once the application is approved. Identity verification is required at times.

Bluebird has compliance limitations to what accounts are allowed to do. Each account can upload $1000/day at Walmart’s ATM machines or $1,500 at the Money Center. They can also only load $5,000 per month per account. With this, we can MMS $5,000/month, not a small amount, however, some, like myself, want to be able to MMS more than that. I currently manage 7 Bluebird accounts that my family and best friend have opened and allowed me to use. This means I can load $35,000/month. If I do it all at the grocery store and I use my Wells Fargo Cash Back card, which gives 5% cash back at grocery stores, I will spend $416.50, but I will receive $1750 in cash back, turning a profit of $1,333.50 per month.

Bluebirds Small

Now that I’m at Walmart, I’ve bought my Visa or MasterCard gift cards, and I have my Bluebird cards, I head over to the Money Center. If there is an ATM, I use that, otherwise, I head to the register. If I’m at the register, I hand the cashier a Bluebird card and tell her I would like to add $500 to my account, sometimes $500 to two accounts. If I have a Visa card, when the time comes, I just slide the card, enter the last 4 digits of the card number and it should go through. If I have a MasterCard, I have to hit “Change Payment” and select “debit card,” enter the PIN that came attached to the card or the new PIN I called to set and, it too, should go through. If I use the ATM, my preference because I generally don’t like telling cashiers what I’m doing or that I’m using a gift card to add money to my account, I hit the Bluebird button to start. I follow the steps of swiping my Bluebird card, entering the amount I want to load, $500 at a time, accepting the amount, clicking “Debit Card” as the payment option, and swiping my gift card. Here, it does not matter if I have Visa or MasterCard, both will work, I just slide, enter the PIN and finish.

While at the ATM, when I try to load more than $1,000 onto one account or $1,500-$2,000 onto multiple accounts, the ATM’s camera sees that it is the same person and decides that I have reached the compliance limit for the day. I have to wait until a worker comes to help or just walk away. If I wait, the associate will generally cancel the transaction and I will either have to wait until the next day to continue or go to the cashier and put a last $500-$1,000 onto an account or two. To avoid the machine showing the compliance message, after I load $500 or $1,000, I’ll walk away and either get a drink of water, use the restroom, do some shopping or let someone else use it and wait behind them. If I go shopping, I ask to load $500 at the end of the transaction. This time away resets the ATM and will allow a bit more to be loaded without the message popping up.

Once I have loaded my gift card balances onto my Bluebird accounts, I either go onto my Bluebird App or go home and pull up the accounts on my computer. Once I am logged in, I go to the “Pay a Bill” page, this is the final step in the MMS strategy. I’ve added my payee’s by clicking the “Add Payee” button, searching for whichever bank issued the credit card I purchased my gift cards on and then putting in my credit cards info so that I can send payments to it. I give the payee the nickname of the type of card I have so I can distinguish between payees without referencing card numbers when I have more than one credit card from a single bank. Bank accounts can be linked too and the balances can be withdrawn to it instead of being sent to the credit card. Since the payee is set, I click “Pay a Bill” and send the balance from my Bluebird account to the credit card.

Using this strategy, I make it look like I am spending thousands of dollars each month while only spending 1% of that. Any spending requirement is within reach and any points or miles goals can be achieved. It is essential to stay organized when doing this with more than one card, it can become complicated very quickly. Watch for my upcoming post about how to stay organized and MMS like a pro.

 

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The Answer to the Language Barrier

It’s one of the things that people worry about most when they’re about to head into a foreign land. Language. How can we travel in countries like Japan, where outside the tourist area’s locals don’t know much if any English, or France, where they may know some English but are reluctant to use it because they feel, granted, correctly, that we should speak their language in their country. The problem is that people in many countries, especially the US, only learn their native language. So, In the US, we grow up only knowing English, and while we take a foreign language in school, most of us only memorize what we need to to get past the class and then forget the bit of the only other language we’ve ever attempted to learn. On top of that, how could we possibly learn the language of each country we want to visit when in Europe alone, there are twenty three official languages and over 6,500 total languages in the world. Can we please all just forget the our languages and use Klingon?

Make a sign, someone will help!
Make a sign, someone will help!

Okay, now maybe you can get by in most of the world without speaking any other language than English, but come on, we should at least attempt the native tongue, it makes the locals feel good and often they are much more willing to try to help if an effort is made on our part. I’ve even heard that Parisians may help if something humbling is said, like “Pardonnez mon ignorance, je ne parle pas,” forgive my ignorance, I do not speak French. Again, although we may be able to get by without speaking the native tongue, it still makes traveling a lot easier if you can speak it a bit. So outside of spending months prior to your trip studying and trying to memorize and understand how a language works or buying an expensive language learning program like Rosetta Stone, what can we do to prepare to prepare ourselves to communicate in a new language?

Trying to communicate in a foreign language can be intimidating, many people struggle to force themselves to ask where the restroom is. Did you know that there are about 250,000 words in English, but with only about 250, you can create any sentence and express nearly any idea? It’s the same way in every language, learn a few hundred words and you can become conversational. Think about that, if you want to take a language further than just getting by in a country and become conversational in a language, you could learn 25 words a week and be conversational in less than 3 months. On top of that, there are many words in nearly every language that are cognates, meaning they sound the same and mean the same in a different language. In Spanish, take any English word that ends in “tion” and change it to “ción” and it almost always the same thing, like action to acción or preparation to preparación. After the cognates, there are a lot of great apps to help you memorize new vocabulary and get you started in a new language, but my favorite by far is Duolingo. This app is fun and very interactive and rewards you for completing levels of vocabulary. You earn Lingots which you can use to buy fun lessons like pick-up lines or dress up the avatar. Once you’ve completed a lesson, there’s a memory bar and the longer it’s been since you completed that lesson, the lower it goes, so it reminds you to freshen up on it.

Doulingo avatars

This information will not help everyone, many people don’t feel they have the time or motivation to attempt to learn even some of the basics of a new language. All is not lost though, one of my favorite tools while traveling is Google Translate. It’s great because we can actually download languages for offline translation. No more do we have to carry around a dictionary or worry about having WI-FI or data for translations. Translations can also be saved and starred for a quick reference. While it isn’t perfect, in most countries, locals will be able to piece together what we’re trying to say, even if the translation isn’t spot on. Also, to translate what the other person is saying, it is required to have the keyboard for that language installed to spell and punctuate each word properly, the local can help with this. While no one wants to be stuck using their phone or tablet every time they want to communicate, it’s a lot better than nothing. If you do have data or WI-FI, Google can translate words and phrases that you take photo’s of too which is great for quick translations.

When preparing for international travel in a country that speaks a language other than our native tongue, it can be overwhelming and stressful imagining the difficulties that may show up along the way. A new language can be very intimidating, it can be embarrassing to attempt to say one thing and say something completely ridiculous by mistake. These feelings can be reduced though, if not eliminated, by spending a little bit of time learning some key words and phrases that will allow us to say nearly anything you need to. Also, by understanding that locals will appreciate any attempt at speaking their language, even if it doesn’t sound perfect, we are able to relax a bit more and not worry so much about embarrassing ourselves.

If you’re interested in learning a language quickly, check out www.fluentin3months.com, where you can learn different techniques to help you in your linguistic goals.

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How to Get IHG Points for .292 Cents – Stay in Hotels for $15!

While the offer is limited, IHG – Intercontinental Hotel Group, is still offering the purchase of 100,000 Rewards Club Points for only $565 through Daily Getaways, a purchase value of .565 cents, a better value than the normal points and cash purchase value of .7 cents – 10,000 for $70, it seems most people have not realized that this is actually a much better deal than it appears.

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When purchasing getaways from the site, the purchases are coded as travel, so we are able to buy the points using the Barclay’s Arrival Plus card and earn 2 miles per dollar and then 10% back when redeeming for travel – essentially 2.2 miles per dollar spent; okay, great, we’ll get 1243 miles back – $12.43, not adding up.

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The great thing here is that we can buy Visa and Mastercard gift cards, $500 for $5.95 (at my local grocery store,) and upload them to BlueBird by American Express and Walmart and then use that money to pay Barclays. But, wait, there’s still the $1,000/day $5,000/month limit, and we need 55,257 miles to redeem for the purchase (minus the miles earned on the purchase,) and we only have 120 days to earn them.

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Here’s something I haven’t read about in any blogs; open Bluebird accounts for friends and families – it’s a prepaid debit card, no attachment to credit, I have done it with my four family members, best friend, and grandma and hope to open others in more family and friends names. This allows for a lot more miles to be earned, much more quickly, now the limit is how many friends and family members will let you open an account in their name instead of the set limitations.

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Now, during the 120 days, we can buy 55 gift cards (round to the next highest, without factoring the 10% point rebate) for $327.25 and upload each to our Bluebird accounts. Redeem 56,500 miles for the paid value of $565 and voila! Our price has dropped to $327.25, factor in the rebate and you have another 5650 miles left which you didn’t have to buy another 6 gift cards for $35.70 to get, so take that from the price and we’re at $291.55, or .29155 per point.
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Now, redeem these points for 20 nights at the IHG Pointbreak Hotels for 5,000 points per night, and you’re looking at 20 nights at a hotel for $14.58 – cheaper than a lot of shared dorms in hostels. While most of the hotels are budget ones like Holiday Inn, there are some incredible places on the list – like the beautiful InterContinental Lhasa Paradise in Lhasa, XZ, China, where rooms start at $180 when I looked, a savings of $165.42  or 91.9% every night, and a point redemption value of 3.6 cents. Another top place currently is the Hotel Indigo in San Jose, Costa Rica where the rooms start at $123.  Hurry, because these deals are almost gone.

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Credit Cards and Travel Hacking

Update: BlueBird has shut down many accounts of people who have used them to Manufacture Money Spent as in this article and others. While not all have been shut down and it is still possible to open accounts and do a bit of MMSing, it is dying and should not be seen as a guaranteed option.

Until I was twenty, when I was about to go on my first backpacking trip, I, like many, was nervous about credit cards. I was mainly concerned about having to pay interest on something i could pay cash for, rather than actually getting into a lot of debt; I never buy anything I can not afford. My dad had urged me to get one for a couple of years, telling me that as long as I paid the card off in full each month, I would never have to pay interest on any of my purchases, but for some reason, I was not convinced.

One day, I received a promotion in the mail for a cash back card with a sign up bonus of $200 cash back after spending $3,000 in three months and it got me thinking, if I am not going to pay any interest, not allow myself to get into any debt that I can not afford, and could actually help my credit score, why not get a credit card?

I looked further into it and decided that I would get one to try. I used my card to pay for things I would previously would have used my debit card for, nothing more, and I hit my spending requirement to receive the bonus after a couple of months.

I set up autopay, linked to my bank so the previous statement amount would be paid in full on the due date each month. This way I never had to think about paying it on time and never had to pay a cent in interest. I considered this a very successful test with a nice profit, so with this, I was hooked.

I applied for, and got accepted for, about four more credit cards before I started getting rejected, now that seems like it would come with a lot of spending requirements, but I got smarter as I went along, finding spending requirements of one purchase, $500, $1,000, and $2,000. It was not much more than the previous requirement from the first card and I watched as the percentage I was getting back for each amount spent increased to above 20% (I kept finding better offers.) These sign up bonuses paid for a lot of my travel gear along with some snowboarding gear.

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After my trip, as I mention in my post Introduction to Travel Hacking, I began learning about travel hacking, and that a major part of this was travel credit cards. As I researched this new topic, I began learning about different types of credit cards, cards that give bonus points for rotating or set categories (usually 3-5 points per dollar) vs. cards that give a lower, but set, amount on any purchase (usually 1 or 2.)

Cards that are used for one loyalty program vs. cards that are transferable to multiple programs. I also learned which points and miles are more valuable, therefore which travel cards are more valuable (more points does not always mean more value.) As I was learning all of this, I decided that travel cards were much more valuable, when used to travel, than cash back cards, and again, started applying.

At first I was hesitant about the annual fees on a lot of the better cards out there, often ranging from $70-100 each, with some up to just under $500! So, I stuck to the weaker, free, cards, but soon realized that cards can be cancelled before the next annual fee and that the benefits and bonuses of most of these cards vastly outweigh the annual fees. They offer benefits such as free checked bags, buddy passes, access to lounges and priority check in, and often the annual fee is waived for the first year.

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The best part about these cards is definitely the signing bonus, and it is my favorite way to earn a lot of points, very quickly. Keep in mind, as I mentioned, different programs have different values, which I will discuss in a later post, so one point or mile, more often than not, does not equal one cent.

Before I apply for a card, I will consider what benefits it comes with to decide if it would be worth keeping after the first six to nine months and paying the annual fee the next year, but I mainly look at the sign up bonus. I try to wait until a card has at least a bonus of 50,000 miles or points before applying. My highest bonus was 70,000 points with an un-waived annual fee of $89 and $5,000 minimum spending requirement in six months, but there are targeted promotions for up to 100,000 for certain cards.

There are also a few cards, like the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG, Starpoints) card, whose bonuses I have never seen reach above 30,000 points, but these cards, these points, are also widely considered the most valuable points out there because of its wide variety of transfer partners. This bonus is more valuable than some cards with a 50,000 point bonus.

Watch for the high rollers and apply without discrimination; they will all add to your mile/point balances and there is no such thing as having too many credit cards. At the time of writing, I have twenty active cards, with one more on it’s way and looking forward to many more, but I only use two to four for my everyday purchases.

Don’t worry too much about the required spending amounts to receive the sign up bonuses either, just Manufacturing Money Spent to hit them. Even with all of these cards, we travel hackers have excellent credit and pay off our cards in full each month. We are not rich, we just realize that paying the high interest rates on these cards highly outweighs the benefits of having them in the first place. Use these cards wisely, as a person would with a debit card, only buy what can be paid off, and enjoy the free travel that comes with it!

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I will go further into detail about which credit cards are best, which to apply for first, how to manage all of these new cards and rewards programs, and much more info in later posts. Please post any questions you have and I will be happy to answer them!

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Introduction to Travel Hacking

After last years six month trip through the Carribean and Central America, I returned home to work and continue school for the next six months. While I was home, I came upon a book and a few new sources of information that I soon found to be invaluable. Over the next six months, and i continue to today, I studied this new information, used it, toyed with it, varied, improved, and created my own techniques to go with this information allowing me to use it in ways that no one else (that I have found) has. I used this information and my own techniques to earn, in six months, a combined total of more than 600,000 miles and points through about seven different loyalty programs. These points, on average, are worth around $10,000-$15,000, depending on how I use them, with the possibilty of being worth even more. Most people would read this and think, okay, most loyalty programs give one point per dollar spent, he must be rich and spent around sixty million dollars to earn all of those points! Those people are wrong, I actually only spent around $500 to earn all of these miles and points!

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The information I am referring to is known throughout the community as “Travel Hacking.” Much like what is known as “Life Hacking,” techniques to make life easier, travel hacking is used to “hack” the travel industry, to make earning free travel rewards easier. There are people in the community who do not like the term “hacking” to refer to these techniques, it is a word that brings a negative feel it makes it seem that we are doing something morally wrong, or illegal. Rest assured, there is a fairly large community of “Travel-hackers,” numerous blogs and books that teach it, and even conferences about it held by credit card companies and other huge companies and organizations. It is known what we do, we are simply intelligent consumers who have learned how to use the system to our advantage, and there is nothing wrong with it. Now, to put it simply, the term “Travel Hacking” refers to leveraging the loyalty programs of airlines, hotels, booking sites, credit card companies, and anything else that rewards consumers for their loyalty.

Learn to "fill up" your loyalty accounts! Ben Earwicker
Garrison Photography, Boise, ID
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Most of us already know about loyalty programs; earn some miles for each flight, some for renting a car or staying in a hotel, points for our purchases on credit cards, but it all takes so long to earn enough points for a single flight, let alone enough to have the great problematic question of “where to next?” instead of “how much is it going to cost?”, so, what’s the secret? How does a person become a “Travel Hacker?” How can I “fill up” my loyalty accounts and earn hundreds of thousand of miles and points to be able to travel anywhere in the world for next to nothing? These are just a few popular questions that I will answer in my blog and upcoming posts.

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Barclays US Airways Credit Card to AAviator Promotion!

Hey guys, I just received a email that select current cardholders of Barclays US Airways credit card holders have received or will receive. The E-mail informs us that card holders will be receiving the new American Airlines AAviator Red card to replace the US Airways card due to the merger between the two airlines, and with this, they are offering a promotion; 50% more miles on qualifying purchases, so now instead of the usual one mile earned on everything outside of flights, you’ll get 1.5 and 3 miles on flights up to 10,000 additional miles! This offer is good begininning April 1st and ends June 30th 2015.

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This is very exciting because the qualifying purchases includes groceries. Don’t know why that is exciting? Subscribe to my blog for my future posts; Introduction to Travel Hacking and How to Manufacture Money Spent. The technique I will outline is my favorite way of earning miles and points outside of credit card sign up bonuses and how, whenever I buy a flight or take a cruise, I consider my price to be half of the listed price! Using these techniques along with this promotion, it will be possible to get over 30,000 AAdvantage miles for a mere $238. The 30,000 miles are easily worth atleast $540 in airfare, althought I used 20,000 of these miles to get a $2,000 flight from Eberdeen Scotland back to Florida for only $380 in taxes and fees; at this value, the miles are worth $2430; that’s a $2192 profit! So watch out for the e-mail and make sure to register for it by June 30th to receive the promotion. All accounts must be open, active, and in good standing during the promotional period (mine is sitting in a drawer at home, which apparently is active enough!)

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-The Travel Economist