Beginner’s Guide to Manufactured Spending | Part 4 – Guide to American Express Gift Cards

| Updated: May 27, 2015
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Beginner’s Guide to Manufactured Spending Series Index

Part 1   |  Introduction to Manufactured Spend: What is it?

Part 2  |  Use a Top Rewards Earning Credit Card: The Best Options

Part 3  |  How to Purchase Visa Gift Cards and Money Orders

Part 4  |  Guide to American Express Gift Cards

Part 5  |  Guide to Using BlueBird and Serve

Part 6  |  Guide to Using Evolve Money

I have extensively covered Visa gift cards in the last few posts in the series, so let’s change gears a bit and look at what other options are out there. In the beginning of this series, I mentioned that American Express gift cards are more complex and therefore this post will give you an in-depth look into how to purchase and liquidate these valuable gift cards, while possibly making a profit doing it!

It’s vital to understand that American Express gift cards are NOT pin based debit gift cards like Visa gift cards and you cannot liquidate them directly by getting a money order or loading your bluebird. In fact, AMEX gift cards are like any other credit cards except they come with a preset limit of how much you can spend based on the denomination of the purchase.

These cards also have a purchase fee of $3.95 (although there are a plethora of codes that can waive the purchasing fee)

At this point, it would not be crazy to stop and think what the point even is if you are using a point earning credit card to essentially purchase another preset credit card.

There are a couple of reasons to go this route, but perhaps, the most important one is the ability to diversify your spending. Repeatedly spending a variation of $500+ or $1000+ at gas stations or pharmacies has been reported to raise concern from certain issuing banks.

As I mentioned earlier in this series, abusing a bonus category sweet spot will only warrant unnecessary attention to your account. This is especially true when you call in to get a retention offer with hopes to nullify the annual fee of your miles earning credit card.

How to Purchase American Express Gift Cards

You can go directly to the American Express website and scroll over either consumer (may require SSN) or business (requires either EIN or Tax ID) and choose “Personalized Cards

Personal Gift Cards


The next page is straightforward where you can fill out recipient’s name, card value and choose a shipping method.


The name actually gets printed on the card just like a credit card! Not that this matters, but it does give it a better feel.

The important part on this page is at the bottom where you can enter an AMEX promotion code. Via Frequent Miler’s post, the promo code SYNCGIFT still works to waive the $3.95 purchase fee and there are oftentimes coupon codes to waive the shipping fee. However, there have been reports that some cash back portals will not credit rewards if a code is used that was not provided by their site.

If you notice on the side of the page, it states that “Your gift card purchase can total up to $5,000.” Although the AMEX website does not state the time frame of this limit, this has been verified via multiple data points as the maximum amount for personal cards for every two weeks and any further orders will be declined.

The rest of the check-out process is just like any other that just requires credit card information and verifying all details.

Business Gift Cards

The one key difference in personalized and business cards are that business cards have a much higher limit per order of $75,000.



This increased limit comes with a requirement that the gift card purchase is for an actual business since AMEX asks for the Tax ID of the business in the second page.


Why Purchase American Express Gift Cards?

Besides earning miles and points for your purchase, there is another major reason why purchasing American Express gift cards can maximize your manufactured spending. Shopping portals are a very important part of this game since they offer either bonus miles or cash back based on the portal.

Almost every major airline has a shopping portal with small differences in the payouts. Until recently, Alaska Airlines and Delta, for example, were paying out 3x miles per dollar for purchasing AMEX gift cards.

Ca$hback Monitor is a reliable and updated search engine which displays the payout for third party cash back, airline and hotel shopping portals. You can find the current cash back rates for American Express gift cards here.


One thing that should jump out is that all the airline portals have decreased their payout to 1 mile per dollar which is vital to understand that great deals won’t last long!

Since cashback portals seem to be offering a better deal let’s use, which happens to be one the more reliable ones. Let’s walk through a quick earning analysis of using where the payout is currently 2.5% cash back.

Recall that if transferred to an airline partner your Starwood Preferred Guest credit card can earn up to 1.25 points per dollar on all purchases therefore a $3000 gift card will yield:

  • Starpoints Earned = 3003.95 * 1.25 = 3755 starpoints
  • Gift Card Fees = $3.95
  • Cost per Point = $0.001
  • Cashback Earned = $75
  • Net Cash Back Earned = $71.05 ($75 – $3.95)

As you can see, not only can you earn 3755 Starpoints, but you do it while making a profit of $71.05!

How to Liquidate American Express Gift Cards

Visa Gift Cards + Bluebird or Money Orders

Since you can’t liquidate American Express gift cards directly, meaning in one step, here is where things get a bit cumbersome. You will still need to buy a Visa gift card, but now adding some extra gift card fees won’t be such a game changer since you have $71 in profit from using a cashback portal to spare.

In order to liquidate the AMEX gift card, you will need to buy 6 Visa gift cards. Five of these gift cards will be for $500 and the last one will be for $470.30 ($3000 – ($504.95*5) – $4.95 (6th card’s fees).

Taking into account the cash back earned and the additional gift card fees, the new profit breaks down as follows:

  • Net Cost for Visa 6 Gift Cards = $29.70
  • Final Net Cash Back = $41.35 ($71.05 – $29.70)

Once the Visa gift cards are in your hand, it’s business as usual with loading bluebird or purchasing money orders.

Amazon Payments

Another way to liquidate is through Amazon Payments. This service allows you to send payments for up to $1000 per month, using a credit card or debit card, to another Amazon Payments user.


1. The first thing is to sign-up for an Amazon account, if you don’t already have one, and enroll in Amazon Payments (its free!)

2. Once you login, you should be at your Amazon Payments home screen. Click on the ‘Send Money’ tab.


3. Fill out the fields as needed and make sure that ‘Goods/Services’ is selected! If you don’t select this option your credit card may charge the transaction as a cash advance which comes with high fees, the last thing you want to have when earning miles and points.

As an additional precaution, I like to add an optional note stating something generic like “Paying you back for the money borrowed”.

4. In the next screen, select the payment credit card of your choice and hit continue.


5. Then all you have to do is confirm your payment.


6. You just manufactured $1000 of spend!

Although it may take some more time since you have to wait for your American Express gift card to be delivered and then go to the store of your choice to purchase the Visa gift card of choice, it might be worth your wait given as there is a potential to earn profit while earning miles and points. In the example within the post, I would have earned $41.35 while getting 3755 Starpoints!

Quick Recap

American Express gift cards are a great way to not only diversify your manufactured spending techniques, but it can essentially nullify any gift card fees that come with Visa gift cards and if you’re lucky enough, you may be able to earn a profit.

As I mentioned earlier, with cashback portals, the payout is not always going to be the same therefore it is important to cash in while the deal is still hot. That said, remember moderation is key!

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15 thoughts on “Beginner’s Guide to Manufactured Spending | Part 4 – Guide to American Express Gift Cards”

  1. It’s hard to tell here what is still valid vs what needs updating. Is this all still valid? I was under the impression Amazon stopped doing that? Also, where can I walk in and switch out gift cards? Every time I have done any of this it’s completely sketchy. Complete side eye.

  2. I recently bought $4k of amex among 2 of my recently acquired amex cards (everyday, biz gold) to meet min spend. I just got an amex platinum too and have tried submitting $3k purchase but keep getting declined from purchase (amex says my card is fine the gc company is the one declining the orders). My suspicion is that my ss# is being blocked from ordering more in a 14 day window (supposedly $5k limit every 14 days).

    Does anyone know if my wife (who I’ve added as an auth user on my platinum) buys using her social and her card, if it’ll be a problem? Will that count towards my min spend still? Thanks.

    • Hey Alex

      Any purchases by an authorized user will also count towards the overall spending requirement of the account.

      As far as getting your gift card orders denied, I would suggest you wait because they really do implement that 14 day rule strictly. Your wife however is allowed to buy gift cards using her card (auth user) since her ssn is different from yours. I don’t believe this is a problem.

      If you do happen to try it with your Wife’s card, then please report back your findings.


  3. Hi Adam

    The math is correct because SPG offers a 25% bonus on points transferred to airline partner which is why I use 1.25x on all purchases made with the SPG card since I redeem a lot more for airline miles than hotel points.

  4. says that if I use a coupon code I wont earn the cash back. so does this mean that if i enter the SYNCGIFT code you mentioned that i wont get the cash back???

    • Hi mjtaxpro

      This has actually been a hit and miss. There are reports that this has worked however lately things have gotten a bit strict so if you can avoid using codes that aren’t listed then you should.

  5. Is there a reason you don’t recommend using a portal to buy the Visa GC’s through GCM? It’s usually .5% cash back, which is $2.46/card.

    • Hi Brenton

      GCM has shipping charges and priority shipping even costs more. AMEX gift cards allow greater denomination and priority shipping is free for a limited time through their premium shipping trial period.

      Also the AMEX GC payout is better so waiting a day or two extra can result in a much better net cost per point for you.


      • Here’s what I meant, and what I’ve been doing.

        Typically using BF for $3k in Amex
        Then using BF again with that Amex to buy ~$2960 of VGC, paying $3.95 activation * 6, but getting .5% back on the 2960. You’re right, there is a longer wait, but the cards at least come to you with your name on them, (just printed, not embossed) and some of the cards are really hard to read, so a glancing eye may not see the words “gift card” on it.

        so $3k AGC nets around $2960, and BF adds just under $15 CB. –>$2975, vs. $3000-($4.95*6) = $2970

        There’s also the added benefit of not having to leave your house to do it, but it does add a week to the turnaround time.

        is this right, or am I missing something here?

        • Brenton

          Did you include shipping charges?

          For 6 VGCs, the shipping charges are ~$18.5 therefore your net in rebates will be 75 (3k amex gc cashback through BF) – 24(VGC purchase fee) – 18.64(shipping charges) + 14.88 (VGC cashback through BF) = 47.24 which is only $6 more than my method. However it takes a longer time and there is the headache of tracking these orders to ensure cashback payment from BF for two orders.

          To answer your question though, yes you are right in your method as well. Its all about whether the extra $6 is worth a few days of your time 🙂

          • I’m really only cashing these out through Bluebird, and just finally got a second card for my wife. If I were doing higher volume of AGC’s, I’d probably add the way you’ve been doing it, but I personally don’t like the attention of buying thousands of dollars in VGC’s if I can avoid it.

          • I guess that creates a new question you may know the answer to. There are several Kroger brand grocery chains in my area that have self-checkout. I was able to buy some $50-100 actual gift cards that way. Any data points on the $20-500 VGC’s with self-checkout? I wouldn’t expect that to work, but I didn’t expect the regular gift cards to work either.

          • I don’t live where Kroger stores exist and out here grocery stores are pretty strict about anyone being able to purchase GCs through self checkout. Having said that, my guess is since variable GCs need to have an amount punched in through the system, it won’t be possible through self checkout.

            If you do happen to try or figure out a way, then please report back your findings.


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