Playing 5X everywhere Whack a Mole


A long time ago, in the post “One card to rule them all,” I wrote up a guide for earning 5X everywhere.  The trick, at the time, was to sign up for an American Express prepaid card and a Chase Ink card.  Then, take your Ink card to Office Depot to buy Vanilla Reload cards (where your Ink card earns 5X for office supply purchases) and use the money from those cards to load your Amex prepaid card.  And, voilà, you had 5X everywhere.  Use your Amex prepaid card for regular purchases or even ATM withdrawals and it was like earning 5X everywhere because you already earned 5X when buying reload cards at Office Depot.

Things got even better when Bluebird came along (see “Bluebird takes flight and changes the game“).  Bluebird was (and still is) a better alternative to the old Amex prepaid cards because it allowed bill pay, check writing, and even withdrawals directly to your bank account.  With Bluebird it became possible to earn 5X not just for credit card payments and ATM withdrawals, but also for mortgage payments, daycare, taxes, or even to pay off the same credit card with which you bought the reload cards!

The initial Bluebird golden period was short lived.  Office Depot pulled Vanilla Reload cards from all of their stores (they later restocked, but with rules against allowing credit card purchases).  There was a workaround that involved buying $500 Visa cards and using those to buy reload cards at other stores, but that too ended when Office Depot stopped selling those as well.  Next, we noticed that reload cards were widely available at drug stores, so we looked for cards offering good drug store bonuses.  The most commonly available at the time was the Amex Hilton Surpass card that earned 6 points per dollar at drug stores.  Then, not only did Amex remove the drugstore benefit, but Hilton massively devalued their program to where even 6X was hardly worth bothering with anyway.

The best alternative 5X everywhere trick then became a Citi ThankYou Preferred card that offered 5X at drugstores, gas stations, and grocery stores for the first 12 months of card ownership.  This offer died a few months after it was rediscovered, but those of us who got in on it are still enjoying it (if we weren’t shut down by Citibank).  I still have two months of “5X everywhere” to go.  Thank you Citibank.

What’s left?  There are a few cash back options:

  • TD Cash Rewards Visa offers 6 months of 5% cash back “on eligible purchases including dining, groceries, gas and cable, phone and utility bill payments.”  This list doesn’t include drug stores, but many have found reload cards or gift cards at grocery stores and/or gas stations that work just as well.
  • Wells Fargo Cash Back card offers 5% cash rewards on gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases for 6 months.  There is also a version of this card that offers points instead of cash, but from most reports, cash back is a better option.
  • American Express Blue Cash (old version) offers up to 5% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations & select U.S. drugstores (Everyday Purchases). Up to 1% Cash Back on other purchases. For your first $6,500 in purchases in a reward year, you will earn 1% on Everyday Purchases (5% thereafter), and 0.5% on other purchases (then 1%).  NOTE 10/22/2014: There have been reports of Amex shutting down accounts of those who use this card heavily for 5% spend.

Links to the application pages or to posts about how to apply for these cards can be found on my “Best credit card offers” page.  I do not receive a commission for any of these 5% everywhere cards.

How big is 5% cash back?  Imagine buying $5,000 worth of Vanilla Reload cards per month (which is the most that can be loaded to a Bluebird card per month).  At 5% cash back, that would amount to $3000 cash back per year minus $474 in reload card fees for a net profit of $2,526 per year.  With the Amex Blue Cash card, the 5% earnings don’t kick in until you’ve completed $6,500 in spend, so the profit with that card drops to $2266 per year, which is still pretty nice!

What’s the downside?  You would run the very real risk of the credit card company shutting down your account (without paying you), or with Amex you may suffer through a financial review.  Also, you won’t earn airline miles, so this technique won’t help you fly international first class at a huge discount.  And, with Wells Fargo and TD you would be dealing with banks that might not quite have their act together (See, for example, this post).  And, some have reported getting credit limits of only $1,000 which would, of course, make this overall 5X technique pretty difficult.

Since I still have a couple months left with my ThankYou card, I’ll wait a bit before trying to snag the Wells Fargo card.  I did, though, go ahead with an application for the Amex Blue Cash card (status is currently pending).  Someone had recently stumbled upon this old offer and so I think it is likely that Amex will shut down the application link soon now that it has received wide exposure through Flyertalk and many blogs.

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