February 11, 2013
Now that most of the “5X Everywhere” techniques are dead or on the ropes, what’s next?
What went before
For some, the excitement began last April when I published “Almost too good to be true“. In that post, I showed how it was possible to earn 5 points per dollar when buying Vanilla Visa cards at Office Depot for a 1% fee. The trick was to pay with a credit card that earns 5 points per dollar at office supply stores. This made it possible to earn 5X almost everywhere by buying and using these cards. The only problems were that juggling Visa gift cards was a pain, not all online-merchants would accept these cards for payment, and the cards could not be used outside of the United States. Still, this was huge. If a person could move $20K of usual spend to these cards, that translated to 100K points!
Things heated up substantially in May, when I published “One card to rule them all.” In that post, I showed how to buy Vanilla Reload cards (which are different from Vanilla Visa cards) at Office Depot and use them to load money to American Express Prepaid cards. This technique overcame the limitations of the Vanilla Visa technique in that the Amex Prepaid cards no longer required juggling gift cards, they could be used with any online merchant that accepted Amex cards, and they could be used overseas with no foreign transaction fees. Even better, the Amex Prepaid cards could be used to withdraw cash at ATM machines. So, it was possible to earn 5X points for cash. This meant that it was possible to earn points for all expenses, not just those that accepted credit cards. The only problem was that making many trips to the ATM to cover large expenses, could be a huge hassle.
Then, in October, the game became too good to be true. In the post “Bluebird takes flight and changes the game,” I revealed that the new Amex Bluebird card could be loaded with Vanilla Reload cards just like Amex Prepaid cards, but it was even better. Unlike the Amex Prepaid cards, Bluebird could be used to pay bills and to transfer money to one’s checking or savings account…. for free. In other words, once money was loaded to a bluebird card, it could be used for anything. You could even use the money in your bluebird account to pay the credit card charges that came from buying Vanilla Reload cards. This was the ultimate perpetual point machine!
It wasn’t long after bluebird appeared that things began to change. The first big blow came in November when Office Depot stopped carrying Vanilla Reload cards. That hurt, but it was still possible to earn 5X everywhere by buying $500 Vanilla Visa cards or Amex Prepaid cards at Office Depot. Unfortunately, that opportunity disappeared at the beginning of this month. As I reported in the post “Office Depot discontinues $500 Visa/Amex cards,” Office Depot withdrew all $500 loadable Visa and Amex cards over that weekend. It is still possible that those cards will be replaced with similar, higher fee cards, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
The game is nowhere near over. It is still possible to buy reload cards at other locations (see “The reload game is on“). As a result, it is easy to use these to manufacture spend towards big spend bonuses, and for meeting minimum spend requirements when signing up for credit cards (see “Best credit card offers“). Unfortunately, I think it is just a matter of time before these options dry up as well.
Searching for more
To me, finding new ways to earn miles & points, is a great game. The thrill of the hunt and the excitement of discovery are almost as good as enjoying the rewards of free travel. I don’t know what the next discovery will be or where it will come from, but I know that it will be fun searching for it!
Here are some areas in which I’m looking for new opportunities:
Shopping Portals: Online shopping portals offer a way to earn extra points & miles when buying things online. In some cases, it’s possible to get points for buying gift cards. And, in some cases, it is possible to use gift cards to buy other, more valuable gift cards such as Visa, MasterCard, or Amex gift cards. The trick is to find the combinations of portals and merchants and gift cards that come together to present new point-earning opportunities.
Category Bonuses: Office Supplies are not the only valuable category bonuses available. The trick is to find opportunities to leverage these category bonuses far beyond the narrow case in which they were intended. See “Best Category Bonuses” for a list of the best credit card category bonuses that I’m aware of.
Savings Programs: Through the OPEN Savings program, American Express offers automatic cash back savings to business card holders when they use the card at certain merchants. MasterCard offers a similar Easy Savings program. While these programs offer cash back rather than points, they can still be a great way to save money and potentially earn cash back everywhere.
Merchant Loyalty Programs: Many merchants offer loyalty programs in which customers earn points that can be used as store credit, gasoline savings, or to earn specific rewards.
The best new opportunities will likely be the ones in which we manage to stack multiple bonuses together. For example, take OfficeMax. OfficeMax.com is available through many point and cash-back portals. It is also an office supply store, so cards like Chase Ink and Amex SimplyCash earn extra points/cash at OfficeMax. Also, OfficeMax.com is part of the OPEN Savings program. So, when buying more than $250 worth of stuff at OfficeMax.com with an Amex business card, the customer gets 10% cash back automatically. By stacking all of these opportunities, it is possible to earn 15% cash back, plus portal points, plus OfficeMax MaxPerks points when buying from OfficeMax!
For those wondering, yes you can get OPEN Savings when buying gift cards from OfficeMax.com. I first wrote about that in the post “10% off everything and 7% off everything else.” Do note that many OfficeMax stores do not allow people to buy other gift cards with OfficeMax gift cards…
It isn’t hard to find great opportunities like the one I just described at OfficeMax, but it is hard to find ways to get those same benefits when buying things other than office supplies. I don’t like schemes that involve returning merchandise for cash back. To me, those tricks are just over the line. That said, if by a store’s rules (written or not) I can buy gift cards and earn portal points and/or category bonuses, I’m all for it.
Join the search
Via the Frequent Miler Laboratory I do my best to keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Many of the results come from reader reports and many are from my own research. If you have an idea, visit the laboratory to see if it has already been tried. If not, please report your experiment and results in the comments of that page. If it interests you, I also recommend subscribing to the comments of that page (add a comment saying something like “subscribing” and check the box that says “Notify me of follow-up comments by email.”).
I have no doubt that the next big thing is coming. I can’t wait to see what it is…