Introducing the Bluebird/Chase Ink Award Cost Charts

Manufactured spend is essentially when one purchases items using a rewards credit card and then liquidates those items (turning them into cash) in order to pay off the credit card bill for the card they used to purchase the item. The desired result is the creation of a lot of points, miles, or cash back on their rewards credit card for minimal fees or other loss.

If you read my blog or any other frequent flyer blog, you likely know that the Bluebird prepaid card is one of the best tools for manufacturing spend. Put simply, you buy Vanilla Reload cards using your credit card, load the funds to your Bluebird prepaid card, then either cash out to pay your credit card bill or pay the bill directly from the Bluebird bill-pay section. Using this method, your loss is $3.95 for every $500 spent.

There was a brief time when Vanilla Reloads could be purchased at Office Depot stores, which gave the benefit of earning a whopping 5 points per dollar when purchasing them using a Chase Ink card. This method is no longer available, and you can’t buy $500 gift cards at Office Supply stores anymore either.

But you can buy $200 gift cards.

Clearly it’s not going to be as lucrative as the $500 gift cards or Vanilla Reloads, but that definitely doesn’t mean they’re useless. Let me do some quick math: There’s a significant $6.95 fee on top of that $200 gift card, meaning using your Ink card yields 1035 points ($207 x 5) for a fee of $6.95. That means the cost-per-point is .006715, or well under a penny each. You can liquidate the cash on the gift card by loading them to your Bluebird card at Walmart.

First off, I want to say that this $6.95 fee is nothing to ignore. I’ve pointed out several times that you shouldn’t ignore the cost of prepaid cards and annual fees just because you’re earning points. See the following posts: The Hidden Cost of Prepaid Cards and Are Credit Card Annual Fees Worth It? With that being said, I also noted that there are some interesting benefits of the Bluebird card.

Points-crazed people will understand that .006715 means tremendous value, but beginners or even intermediates may not really understand what that means, but it’s extremely valuable. To prove it to you, I created what I call the Bluebird/Chase Ink Award Charts.

The two favored redemption options for Chase points are to transfer them either to United or Hyatt. I basically took the award charts for these two loyalty programs and converted them into the real cost for someone that utilizes their Chase Ink and Bluebird cards using the method I described above. Finding the real cost is a simple matter of multiplying the cost-per-point, .006715, by the miles or points required for your particular award.

 

United Airlines Award Chart

Let’ start by taking a look at the normal United Award Chart. I had to re-create the award chart since United’s published chart is “interactive.” I only listed the Saver award requirements since that’s what you should be redeeming for.

The standard United Award Chart for one-way and round trip redemptions.

The standard United Award Chart for one-way and round trip redemptions.

 

Nothing surprising here – these are the same amounts you see when you search for an award based on United’s Award Chart. To get the real cost of these awards when using the Bluebird/Chase Ink trick, all we need to do is multiply these amounts by our cost-per-point of .006715.

 

This is the true cost of awards using the Bluebird/Chase Ink trick.

This is the true cost of United awards using the Bluebird/Chase Ink trick.

 

These numbers speak for themselves, but clearly these are ultra-cheap fares. Just look at the round-trip cost of flights to places like Africa and Australia, which are usually the most expensive there are. You can essentially get 75%-90% off the actual fare price!

 

Hyatt Award/Reward Chart

Hyatt is the other favored transfer partner of Chase. If you’d rather have a hotel room than a free flight, this could be the route for you. I didn’t have to re-create the award chart, but it’s easy anyway with only 6 categories (as of right now, that is).

 

The standard Hyatt Award/Reward chart.

The standard Hyatt Award/Reward chart.

 

Again – nothing surprising here. A category 6 hotel will run you 22K points, enough to stay at top end hotels like the Park Hyatt Sydney, Park Hyatt Tokyo or the Park Hyatt Maldives. Rooms at these hotels normally cost $400-$1,000 or more. But let’s get the real cost of these awards when using the Bluebird/Chase Ink trick. Again, all we need to do is multiply these amounts by our cost-per-point of .006715.

 

Bluebird & Chase Ink Award Chart - Hyatt

This is the true cost of Hyatt awards using the Bluebird/Chase Ink trick.

 

Top-end hotels can be had at under $150 per night, and a hotel like the Hyatt Place Las Vegas would run you only $54 per night. You can even book a suite if you’re willing to pay a small premium. Basically, you see that just as with United, you can have savings of 75%-90% on top-end redemptions.

 

Avios

I decided to throw in the Avios chart as well. This one is unique since it is distance based, but earning 5x can prove to be very lucrative. The only thing you’ll need to keep in mind is that taxes can be very hefty on some of these awards depending on the airline and route.

 

The standard Avios award chart.

The standard Avios award chart.

 

As I discussed in my Beginner’s Guide to Avios (and Oneworld Alliance), shorter distance flights are much more valuable than longer flights on this award chart. Los Angeles to San Francisco or Phoenix are only 4,500 Avios each way, and Los Angeles to Hawaii is only 12,500 each way. There’s tons of other great values on this chart as well. But let’s see the real cost using the Bluebird/Chase Ink trick.

 

Don't forget to add taxes and fees to these amounts!

Don’t forget to add taxes and fees to these amounts!

 

The gems on this chart are mostly when flying on American Airlines. You can fly from Los Angeles to either New York or Hawaii for $168 round trip in Economy. You can even go Los Angeles to Tokyo round trip for $336 plus some taxes and fees. There are a lot of good, cheap redemptions possible.

 

Summary

Using Bluebird in conjunction with a Chase Ink card, you can earn a ton of points at a very, very cheap rate. It’s not as good as it used to be, but there are still massive savings to be had as you can see in the award charts above.

While I discussed the cost of the prepaid cards, I didn’t discuss the time commitment or gas required to attain these points. The time required is something that many people simply don’t have. But if you do, you can go anywhere you want!

There are plenty of other deals to be had as well. I didn’t even discuss Southwest awards, but you can save over 60% even on their revenue-based chart. Now that Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner, you can essentially earn 10X Hilton points (5x on Office stores, transfer to Virgin Atlantic, then transfer to Hilton at 1:2). That almost puts the new category 10 properties within reach once again.

I imagine most people reading this have Chase Ink cards already, but if you don’t and feel compelled to support me, you can apply for one through my Credit Karma affiliate link. If you don’t have a Bluebird card, you can order one for free online.

 

Just for Fun

I thought it would be fun to see the cost of these flights or hotel rooms back when it was possible to buy Vanilla Reloads at Office Depot. Buying a $500 Vanilla reload for $3.95 would yield 2,520 points, or a minuscule cost-per-point of .00157. Let’s see what used to be possible.

Yup...

Yup…

Yeah...

Yeah…

I know...

I know…

 

Not bad, right? Hopefully you were one of the people that got in on it and went big!

Comments

  1. Love this chart!

  2. MilesMaven says:

    Nicely done

  3. This was well written and succinct, thank you. I am trying the Bluebird card for the first time and this really helps me understand the value of these points. As you indicate the office supply stores only sale $200 cards now. I do find $500 cards at the local Smiths grocery store which also gives “gas” points for purchases that could offset the cost of the cards. I have the Chase Ink card now, but that doesn’t give you 5x at grocery stores, so I’m trying to find the best “grocery” credit card that would allow me to create the 5x benefit you describe. Thanks

    • Travel Summary says:

      5x is hard to get at the value that we used to have, but if you get a Amex Premier Rewards Gold card you can get 2x at grocery stores. Not exactly the same, but not bad either!

  4. Nice chart. I’ve got this down to a routine, swing through Staples to get 5x$200 Visa GC, 10 mins down the road to Walmart to swipe them into my Bluebird. Rinse and repeat 5 times a month. It’s great the MetaBank GC let you use the last four as PIN number, I never have to login or call.

    • Travel Summary says:

      Likewise, I do this about 4 times a month. The most annoying part is swiping 5 gift cards!

      • Can I earn 5x for purchases at staples.com or officedepot.com with Ink card?

        • Travel Summary says:

          You absolutely can! Make sure you go through a shopping portal for even more points!

          • I recently got the chase ink card and used to purchased prepaid MC giftcard at staples store and did not get the 5x points. Does 5x points applies to prepaid MC giftcard purchase?

          • Travel Summary says:

            Yes, it applies to all purchases including gift cards!

  5. Randall says:

    Really well-written article.

  6. Nice job on these tables, thanks! I missed out on the Office Depot 5x deal as I started this hobby only last December. It shouldn’t be seen as free but a cheaper way to travel.

    What do you think about the value of the Club Carlson card that gives you 5 points/dollar plus Gold Elite membership? I know that they have mostly standard properties in the US but awesome ones elsewhere. If this card is used in office supply stores, it gets valued the same as Chase Ink. In such case, I’ll go with Ink. However, it gets 5x everywhere so it can have a lot of potential elsewhere, perhaps more valuable than Ink if one is trying to collect points for hotel redemptions. This might be good to include on your next set of tables :)

    • Travel Summary says:

      I really like the Club Carlson card, as long as you’re traveling to locations where they have properties that you want to stay at. For me, I’d only want to stay at their very top hotels. That means I’d want to earn 100K points the first year to get two free nights. The bonus of 85K gets me close and $3K spend gets me the rest of the way.

      Then I get 50K points back from the stay and a 40K bonus at the anniversary, meaning I’m only $2K in spend away from 100K again. Rinse and repeat for two free nights per year, plus the annual fee!

      • Jonathan says:

        A reminder that the last night is free, so it is my understanding that 100K would get you 3 free nights.

      • Unfortunately, their “very top hotels” are mid tier product compared to Hyatt/Hilton/SPG etc. Not a program I’m interested in. But for those who only need a roof over their heads and halfway clean bed to sleep in, Carlson is hard to beat.

        But Carlson will devalue – not if, only when. I suspect it will be sooner than later.

  7. OMG, an affiliate link that does not warrant bitching as it is clear you actually put some time in this post AND it is very helpful for your readers!

    I should take a look at that CreditKarma but I am too busy going through blogs to feature to my readers:-)

    You must fix those floating buttons, I think I am hallucinating when I see them!

    • Travel Summary says:

      I thought you’d actually roast me for putting up an affiliate link at all! ;)

      I’m just getting started with credit karma so I can’t give you too much info just yet, but I’d be happy to discuss at some point if you’re interested.

    • AdBlockPlus works wonders. And I cannot IMAGINE surfing without it. Best thing since sliced bread.

  8. Jerry Mandel says:

    Avios chart. How could round trip Avios be the same number as for one-way Avios……….not double?

  9. Great post!

    The hassle factor, and more than that really — the sketchiness — is just too much for me. 60,000 miles would require 12 trips to the office supply store and 12 stops at Wal-Mart to load. I’d personally feel shady loading 5 debit cards just unwrapped in the parking lot like I’m some kind of junkie! :)

    To make this worthwhile you need to push the limits, and to push the limits — with gads of gift card purchases at the office supply store and by pushing BB to the limit each month — I’d start to feel paranoid about getting shut down. I don’t like feeling that way. I don’t like feeling shady if I can avoid it.

    If you asked whether I’d be willing to pay $0.006715 per UR point sure – I’m in. But laying it out in these terms where I essentially pre-pay $400 for a flight to Europe if I can find it at saver award levels when I want to go doesn’t feel like that great of a deal. I’d rather try to catch a good fare and pay for it or get there with credit card signups over time.

    Sure there are better redemptions out there. But like you’re pointing out here we’re talking about discounted travel not nearly free travel. When you combine the total costs and shenanigans I’m not a buyer on this one.

    • Travel Summary says:

      Everyone definitely has different limits on what they’re willing to do. I don’t mind unwrapping 5 cards in the walmart parking lot before walking in. Through various experiments I’ve learned that Chase doesn’t really care how much I spend on my Ink card, so that fear is pretty much gone for me. But I totally understand why some might not feel comfortable doing this.

    • ” I’d personally feel shady loading 5 debit cards just unwrapped in the parking lot like I’m some kind of junkie!”

      Do what I do — go home from Office Depot, and hit WalMart the next time you go past. It’s not like you HAVE to unload the same day! {wink}

  10. I tried to load $200 Vanlla Visa GC from Office Depot to my BluBird @ Walmart Kiosk and it was NOT successful. The BB balance showed that the transaction did not go through BUT the Vanilla balance showed that the $200 was debited from my card. Any one have any experience with this ? How do you convince Vanilla that its their error and how to fix this problem ?

    • Travel Summary says:

      Hold on to the Visa card and keep checking the balance – it might get put back on. If not, I hope you have the receipt from the transaction. You can then call Bluebird (which won’t be fun) to figure it out. I would call the number on the Vanilla Visa card after calling BB.

    • WM is notorious for slowly/accurately updating accounts when loaded thru the kiosk. Just give it a few minutes/hours and it eventually gives correct info. I “lost” $500 today thru the kiosk. By the time I got home, the “lost” money was correctly shown on my account.

  11. Great post, indeed. I fall somewhere between Robert Dwyer’s position as outlined in a comment above and your post. I have access to VRs and will pick one up a few times a month, but I am uneasy about doing too many, especially because the one nearby store that has them has a manager who say no to CC sales but clerks who say yes to one at a time. None of the other stores in my area will accept CC payments. I always worry he’ll notice and put a stop to it totally. Might do a little with GC sales, but always in moderation. I sign up for cards knowing my ordinary expenses can cover the minimum spend; a few VRs just get me there sooner. Alternating churns with my husband, we can then do cards every three months even if VR dries up totally. Would love to earn points faster, but this is what is comfortable for me. Still, thanks much for the post. Very informative.

  12. PS – I so agree with FFB – please eliminate those floating buttons. Very distracting and I am sure if your readers want to follow you, they will find the buttons, even if they are stationary! Thanks!

  13. Good post !!!

    The table format is very easy to understand.

    I have to echo the comments about those “floating buttons”, kind of make me dizzy.

  14. Sigh. Lay it out on a platter. Next we’ll start hearing that bloggers finally realize that SPG blows…

    • Travel Summary says:

      This was already 100% public knowledge. I just made it easy to see.

      • I’m just getting into this. Can you explain why “SPG blows”?

        • Travel Summary says:

          I think what he was referring to was that when manufacturing spend (or even with regular spend), SPG is one of the hardest points to obtain for top-tier properties. You have to spend a lot more money on an SPG card to get one night at a top hotel than with Hyatt and Hilton.

          That’s not to say that SPG is useless, because it’s not. I think it’s fantastic for mid-tier hotels (7k-12k points/night). I maintain Platinum status with them as my preferred hotel group, actually. The current 30K bonus isn’t good for nights at top-tier hotels, but it is great for mid- or low-tier ones. See my post on the new offer for my brief breakdown of the card and program: http://travel-summary.com/starwood-american-express-bonus-now-at-30k-points/

  15. Nice analysis… but don’t forget about opportunity costs and driving around. If walmart and office depot are both convenient, then it could be worth it. I already have too many UR points and not enough time to spend them :(

  16. Awesome post — I love the charts! And I thought with the demise of VRs, $1000 and $500 GCs, that $200 weren’t worth the hassle, but it seems there’s still plenty of bang for 200 bucks.

    To those wary of the hassle… It is worth nothing that not only is this method great for earning points, but an essential tool for meeting minimum spends for big bonuses in the place!

    But I’ve also heard some credit card companies like Citi treat GC as cash advances/ suspicious activity. TS, can you speak to this? For those who do this regularly, does spending $5k (max BB deposit per month) in GCs a month raise flags?

    Thanks again for another great post!

    • Travel Summary says:

      Citi can’t tell whether it’s a gift card purchase or not. I’ve put plenty of spend on the HHonors Reserve card and a Citi AA card and had absolutely no problems.

      I spend at least $15K a month doing manufactured spending, but I spread it among several cards. As long as you don’t go huge on any single card then you should be fine!

      • $15k is quite impressive — I’ll be making some GC hunting trips this week. Thanks for the reply, TS!

  17. The charts are useful but I think it is misleading to emphasize the “value” rewards since those tickets are hardly ever available. The proposition changes when redeeming for standard reward seats.

    • Travel Summary says:

      I’d push back on “hardly ever available” since there are plenty of people that redeem for just saver level awards (I’ve never redeemed for anything else). I agree that standard awards are much more (usually at least twice) as expensive, but I noted you should try to avoid those awards.

  18. Please update to reflect devals? :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] http://travel-summary.com/introducin…d-cost-charts/ Great post, with lots of info for those into/considering manufactured spend. Has an affiliate link but it is most appropriately done. [...]

  2. [...] the weekend, Travel Summary released a great post about doing something similar with Ultimate Rewards and the cost for manufacturing spend that way. Travel Summary also points out that Virgin Atlantic is now an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, [...]

  3. [...] Summary created a great chart for the cost of earning ultimate rewards from certain methods of Manufactured Spending (the [...]

  4. [...] Ink Bold and Plus cards are by far the most valuable cards for manufactured spend (see why here). The bonus has also been one of the best at 50K Ultimate Rewards points, which is why I’ve [...]

  5. [...] got a lot of positive (and some negative) feedback for my Bluebird/Chase Ink Award Cost Chart post, so I decided to do it again for one of my other favorite cards – the SPG Amex [...]

  6. [...] long ago I created the Chase Ink/Bluebird Award Cost Chart, then followed up with the SPG/Bluebird Reward Cost Chart. If a true beginner were reading those [...]

  7. [...] you don’t know why, read my Bluebird/Chase Ink Award Cost Charts post, and scroll to the “just for fun” section. That section was written to explain how [...]

  8. [...] got a lot of positive (and some negative) feedback for my Bluebird/Chase Ink Award Cost Chart post, so I decided to do it again for one of my other favorite cards – the SPG Amex [...]

  9. […] long ago I created the Chase Ink/Bluebird Award Cost Chart, then followed up with the SPG/Bluebird Reward Cost Chart. If a true beginner were reading those […]

  10. […] to have some more fun thinking about the possibilities of how much money you can save, check out my Bluebird/Ink Award Cost Chart […]

  11. […] have short memories. I write posts like this one pretty regularly, and one of my first ones was the Ink/Bluebird Award Cost Charts (a post that’s still valid today for the most part). Not only did I explain where to buy gift […]

Speak Your Mind

*