The Mileage Mindset: Manufactured Spending, Part 2

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Manufactured Spending, Part 2

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Where were we? Oh, that's right, we were talking about ways to amass a genuinely scary amount of points through manufactured spending (MS). If you missed Part 1, be sure to catch up and give it a read.

I had mentioned that most MS methods can be divided into three classes: buying and selling, prepaid cards and wallets, and sending money. At the end of Part 1, we were in the middle of our discussion of prepaid products, and I promised to carry on where we left off. Well, let's go forth and conquer.

Example
If you recall, MintChip was proactive in quickly addressing the loophole in their product. A company that was decidedly less proactive in doing so is the folks over at the CIBC AC Conversion Card.

This card is meant to be used as a travel card for spending in foreign countries. The thought behind it is that you load the card with funds in any of 10 supported currencies, convert between currencies easily using the app, and spend your money conveniently when travelling.

However, the card allowed funds to be both loaded and withdrawn in Canadian dollars as well, and there were no fees for loading with a credit card (Visa and MasterCard only) and withdrawing from CIBC ATMs.

It was an absolute dream in terms of MS, since you were only constrained by the card's built-in loading and withdrawal limits. At first, you were able to load $3,000 a day per card, but at some point, it seemed like the card operator had caught on to what was happening, and they lowered the loading limits...

...down to $2,000 a day. I recall the sense of collective disbelief among those who were using the card for MS, since the card operator clearly knew what was up but was still letting users MS $2,000 a day.

It wasn't until late March of this year that, presumably, the executives at CIBC and Air Canada came to the revelation that they were hemorrhaging money on credit card merchant fees, and they reduced the CAD loading limit to $100 a day.

Discussion
The absolute most important part of the Mileage Mindset as it relates to MS, I would say, is figuring out how to scale things. The rule was the each person was only allowed to have one CIBC AC Conversion Card, but people quickly asked their family and friends to sign up for cards and allow them to MS with it.

Personally, I still can't believe how long the trick with the CIBC AC Conversion Card remained alive for. The insane window of opportunity lasted from July 2016 to March 2017, and during that time, there were people I know who had manufactured over A MILLION DOLLARS ($1,000,000) in credit card spending. That's beyond mind-boggling.

If we ballpark the total amount of MS put through on this product – across all users – at $5 million (a conservative estimate, I'd say), and assume a 3% credit card merchant fee, that's $150,000 that the card operator lost on merchant fees alone. I wouldn't want to be the project manager, that's for sure...

Keep in mind that although the loading limits have been lowered to $100/day, that’s still 36,500 free points per year, per card. It certainly doesn’t compare to what was possible in the past, but if you can get a few cards in your wallet, the AC Conversion Card can still be quite lucrative.


Sending Money

The last big family of MS opportunities involves services that let you send money to other individuals or businesses using credit cards. Often times these services will waive their credit card fees in order to attract new users, which is your cue to test it out and see if it’s a viable MS opportunity.

In the case of sending money to businesses, these are sometimes described as “bill-paying services”. Two examples available to Canadians include Plastiq and Paytm. As of the time of writing, Paytm in particular is currently waiving their credit card fees, which means that if you can pay a bill through Paytm, then somehow get your funds returned to you from the biller, you can score a decent volume of free points.

Some people have had success doing this, while others have reported difficulties, so it's up in the air. This brings me to an important point about MS: if you don't try, you don't know if it works or not. A lot of the time, successful MS is about giving life to rather unorthodox ideas, and then seeing what sticks.

Paytm-Logo

But the greatest recent example of an MS method in this category is actually a company that’s no longer in operation. I'd like to think that they were crippled by all the MS that was going on...

Example

Tilt was a service for collecting funds, as well as for sending and receiving money between individuals. You could easily “pay” huge amounts of money to, say, your spouse, using your credit card. Your spouse would then withdraw the cash and the MS cycle would be complete. Tilt caught on to that pretty quickly and began throttling the daily transaction limits of those who were clearly using the app for MS.

But one of the things you could do with Tilt was organize “campaigns” to collect money for stuff – for example, an upcoming party, event, or fundraiser. You could use your credit card to contribute to campaigns as well. So what happened?

You guessed it. People started creating "events" and "fundraisers" out of thin air, and getting their friends and family to “contribute”. Of course, there was never really a “birthday party” or a “graduation trip” – it was all for show, to make Tilt think that it was a legitimate campaign.

I’ve mentioned that “scaling up” is key to successful MS. Well, some people figured out that they could use supplementary cards on their own credit card accounts to contribute to their own campaigns, adding to the ruse even further. As far as I’ve heard, the most successful people managed to put through between 150,000 and 200,000 points using Tilt, before they were acquired by Airbnb in June of this year and shut down their money transfer operations.

Keep in mind that Tilt accepted American Express, making this MS method especially powerful.

Discussion
What made Tilt unique was the relative ease of passing off MS activity as normal, legitimate activity. Tilt was fully aware that people were likely to use their service for MS (they specifically called it out in their terms of service), but because of the nature of collecting money for campaigns, it was easy for those conducting MS to make it look as though they were altruistic users.

Again, the purpose of the article is to illustrate what’s possible for those seeking MS opportunities. Some people would be repulsed by the idea of spoofing a massive fundraising campaign in order to earn credit card points, while others might be okay with it because you aren’t really causing harm to anyone (except Tilt). Only you can decide what you’re comfortable with when it comes to MS.


The Risks of Manufactured Spending

Lastly, just be aware that MS inherently comes with many risks, the most prominent of which is that your money can easily be "held up" along the process.

If you do things right, it's extremely unlikely (almost unheard of) that you'll actually lose any money, but if you want to manufacture gigantic sums in spending, you must be prepared to part with that sum of money on a temporary basis. Let me provide a few examples to illustrate:

  • When people were putting vast sums through the CIBC AC Conversion Card, the card operator would often freeze accounts on suspicion of "fraud" and hold the money for many weeks at a time
  • Part of the cycle with the CIBC AC Conversion Card involved withdrawing money at CIBC ATMs. When you're withdrawing so much money so regularly, it's inevitable that the ATM eats your cash sometimes. This would then become an administrative headache to get your money back, involving multiple phone calls over a period of several months.
  • When people were "contributing" to fake campaigns via Tilt, it was not uncommon for Tilt to delay withdrawal of funds for weeks at a time if they suspected you were using the service for MS.

And that's just considering the recent examples of MS opportunities. The important point is that you must have the ability to float money in case things go wrong (or else you'd be on the hook for your massive credit card bills).


Conclusion

Manufactured spending is one of the most advanced topics in the world of Miles & Points, so I hope a few concrete examples of some of the best MS tricks from its recent "golden age" can help sharpen your understanding.

It's unfortunate that many of these methods have been suppressed or shut down for good. As with all deals and tricks, however, things come and go, and I'm sure the next big thing in MS is just around the corner.

As always, I’ll sum up with some of the “burning questions” you should be asking when it comes to this topic:

  • Are there any buying and selling / prepaid products / money transfer services around me that might make for a good MS opportunity?

  • How can I “scale up” a certain MS method in order to earn even more points?

  • What are the risks associated with a certain MS method? Am I comfortable with those risks?

If you want to chat more about MS, feel free to shoot me an email – or better yet, come to PointsU this November, where all of the above and much, much more will be discussed in glorious detail!