Why You Should Use Your Starwood American Express Card for Manufactured Spending

There’s a huge buzz around manufactured spending in the miles and points world. The golden goose of buying Vanilla Reloads at Office Depot with your 5x credit card days are over. What’s left now? The easiest method is buying 10 Vanilla Reloads ($500 each) per day with your rewards earning credit card.

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The best credit card used to be the Chase UR credit cards where you would transfer your Ultimate Rewards to United and Hyatt. Now that United has gutted their frequent flier program and Hyatt has jacked up their hotel redemption prices, the value is no longer there.

Now, the best credit card is the Starwood American Express Personal and Business credit card. Even though you’ll only be earning at a 1x rate, these Starpoints are very valuable. I value Starpoints at a minimum of 3 cents per point (yes, it’s high but I always get more value out of them).

Let’s say that you bought $5,000 worth (10 cards of $500 value each) of Vanilla Reloads per day ($3.95 fee per card) with your Starwood Amex. You will only be spending $39.95 in fees to achieve 5,000 Starpoints. So basically you’re spending $39.95 in fees for $150 worth of Starpoints. That’s a ridiculous amount of a value! Using this method, you are buying each Starpoint at 8/10th of a cent per point. FYI, Starwood is selling 5,000 Starpoints for $175 at 3.5 cents per point.

Even if you value Starpoints at 2.2cpp, you’re spending $39.95 for $110 in value.

Let’s say you want to redeem 20,000 Starpoints for the W Hong Kong. The room rates are an astounding $600 a night plus taxes. Well, that’s only $160 out of pocket for you.

For advanced MS’ers, I know this advice is not relevant because you’re always gaming office stores using your 5x cards or grocery stores paying with a card that is greater than 1x. This is mainly for beginners.

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  12 comments for “Why You Should Use Your Starwood American Express Card for Manufactured Spending

  1. March 7, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Wouldn’t Amex get spooked with a $5,000 charge at a drug store in a single day?

  2. Nick Summy
    March 7, 2014 at 10:08 am

    Wouldn’t you say using the Club Carlson card would be better? For $10k in spend you can get 50,000 points. If you are staying in a 300 euro room for 2 nights thats about $800 in value for $80

  3. David
    March 7, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Is this an elaborate ploy to keep people out of the miles and points game? Manufacturing spend on AMEX is a serious risk for Financial Review, especially with the numbers you’re using as examples. $5,000 worth of VRs a day? You serious?

    This is not for beginners. At all.

  4. Glenn
    March 7, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    I’m not seeing that sort of value in my SPG redemptions, but then I’m not going that far afield. Certainly before the devaluation I could get say 4.5 cents per point at the Sheraton Maui (48,000 points for a 5 night stay in a resort king room which would cost $437/night with taxes but not resort fee). But with the new category 6 rewards at 20,000 points per night its more like 2.7 cents per point. Obviously it varies depending on what you’re redeeming for. And of course I’m hoping for some suite upgrades like we got last year. This year though I don’t think the 35% off a redemption is going to help me out since the rate increase since I booked these is substantially larger than that. Anyway, I can’t see using 3 cents in my calculations.

    That said, I think using SPG Amex at CVS is a fine suggestion. BB/Beans are easy. Serve even better at $0. Certainly a good entry-level MS suggestion.

    I do think those doing advanced MS are going to want to look elsewhere though. If you’re limited in the amount of spend you can do per month, say $5,000 on a BB/Serve, then picking up $200 cards at OM/OD even without the current bonuses, at 5X with Ink will produce far more points. Certainly you’ll be out of pocket quite a bit more ($175 a month) and the ratio is actually worse than CVS/SPG at 1.9 vs. 2.1. But at the end of the month you’ll have 25,000 URs which even if they’re 1.5 cents each (onemileatatime.com) is worth $375, whereas with SPG at 3 cents you only have 3,000 SPG or $90 worth.

    That said, it all depends what works for you. Unloading those $200 cards may be a GIANT pain. Maybe you don’t have a WM with a working ATM nearby. Maybe you don’t go to WM normally. Or don’t want to stand in line a lot. The CVS option is MUCH easier. But maybe you can’t find any beans around you.

    David–the $5,000 per MONTH number he’s using is the typical limit for somebody with a BB or Serve. I don’t know what you’re reacting to.

    • David
      March 7, 2014 at 2:50 pm

      Glenn, what do you imagine a beginner is thinking when you show him a receipt with a single $5,000 transaction? “Gee golly, I’m gonna do what Jamison is doing!”

      Jamison’s example mentions being able to purchase $5,000 worth of VRs per DAY. With no disclaimers on FRs whatsoever, any beginner with more than one BB account (which is common, by the way) will try to MS this card to the moon. Shouldn’t he at least mention that large and frequent purchases are FR triggers? There’s absolutely no discussion on using BB’s billpay function to pay off the Starwood account either, which is important to point out since BB and Starwood are both AMEX products. Many people avoid paying their AMEX accounts with BB since they believe that’s also a FR trigger.

      Beginner MS isn’t just about ease of process, it’s about risk management too. And finding a sweet spot for MS on AMEX cards is something that even advanced MS players struggle with.

      The post doesn’t address any of this stuff. I understand and agree with Jamison’s message here. But as far as advice for beginners go? It’s incomplete and borderline irresponsible. That’s what I’m reacting to.

      One last thing. I think one of the most notable things about Starpoints is its versatility to transfer into dozens of frequent flyer programs. It’s the only reason I value them at 3 cents per point.

      • March 7, 2014 at 2:57 pm

        I think it’s clear it was for beginners to MSing, not people who just opened up an SPG or United account.

      • Glenn
        March 7, 2014 at 3:15 pm

        Fair points. I cede my comment.

  5. Jake
    March 13, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    I’m a beginner and I feel like I’m reading posts in a foreign language. Can someone send me a link or point me in the right direction? This sounds like a legal hustle and I’d love to make 5 extra bucks. little help?

  6. April 8, 2014 at 1:04 am

    Why not just purchase VGC’s from staples and get 5x points per $ spent?

    • April 8, 2014 at 1:10 am

      i’m just saying from a newbie’s perspective. Like I said earlier, it’s not for advanced MS’ers who have 5x card & willing to take an extra step to liquidate the VISA GC through MO’s…

    • Glenn
      April 8, 2014 at 10:48 pm

      Well, you can earn 2X at a “gas station” buying a $500 VGC for $4.95. Cost $4.95 for 2×500=1000 miles, or about half a cent a mile. Or you can buy a $200 VGC at Staples at 5X for $6.95. Cost $6.95 for 5×200=1000 miles, or about .7 cents a mile.

      Which do you think is better? Then ignoring that imagine redeeming $1,000 worth of each at WM with a cashier? Which do you think is more likely to succeed? Which will require more trips to WM costing you more gas, time and frustration?

  7. Frank
    June 12, 2014 at 2:16 am

    Yeah, I did 4K in 2 weeks and got slammed with a FR which I’m in the middle of now. Buyer beware.

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