What is ‘Manufactured Spend’ – And Does It Really Make Sense In The UK?

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In the context of points/miles and other credit card rewards, ‘manufactured spend’ (MS) is short-hand for a variety of different methods that all revolve around spending money on a rewards-earning credit card on things that you can convert back to cash, and then using that cash to pay off your credit card balance.

Essentially, the aim is to generate as many points/miles (or as much cashback) as possible, while incurring as little cost (ideally zero) as possible.

With a bit of creativity, there are many ways to manufacture spend, but is it really worth the effort?

Some people, particularly in countries like the USA that have very lucrative credit card rewards, take manufactured spending incredibly seriously – putting £100,000s of spend through their cards every month.

In the UK, the situation is different. Since the interchange fees were capped a few years ago, non-Amex credit card rewards just aren’t particularly lucrative. For various reasons, it can be tougher to manufacture spend on an Amex compared to a Visa or Mastercard.

If I wanted to engage in MS, my current (non-Amex) options right now would be:

  • 2 Hilton Honors Points per £1 on my free Hilton Barclaycard (no longer available to new applicants). I value Hilton Points at about 0.4p each, so that’s roughly equivalent to a 0.8% return.
  • 2 IHG Rewards Club Points per £1 on my IHG Premium Card (which has a £99 annual fee). I value IHG Points pretty much the same as Hilton Points.
  • 0.5% cashback on my free MBNA Horizon Card.

With a maximum return of 0.8%, I would have to be able to scale my MS to a very significant level to really make it worthwhile – £10,000 of MS would generate a maximum of just £80 worth of benefits.

The Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card is a more interesting candidate, given that it earns 1.5 Virgin Flying Club Miles per £1. I value Virgin Miles at 1p each, so would be generating a return of about 1.5%. There is a £160 annual fee to factor in as well though, so I’d need to MS ~£11,000 just to level that off (if we set aside the other benefits of the card for now).

Does manufacturing spend make sense?

I’m sure there will be a range of views on this in the comments, but I’m not really convinced that long-term MS is worth the effort and potential risks it involves.

Let’s take a ‘reasonable best case scenario’ as an example.

If you had a Virgin Reward+ Card, a credit limit of £10,000, and the ability to MS £120,000 worth of spend at zero cost each year, you could earn 180,000 Virgin Flying Club Miles per year. That’s worth about £1,800 – £160 for the annual fee = £1,640 ‘profit’.

That doesn’t sound bad if it’s really ‘free’ miles/money – but even if you know a (sufficiently scalable) zero-cost MS method, in reality there are still costs in terms of your time and through tying up money each month. There are also (at least) three different types of potential risk:

  • Raising red flags with your credit card company – or worse. MS is completely legal, but the activities involved can look a lot like the sort of thing money launderers might do. Investigations could take a long time to be completed and might be stressful, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. During that period, assets could conceivably even be frozen. On the less dramatic end of the spectrum, the credit card company might just decide it doesn’t like what you are doing and ditch you as a customer – whether your relationship with that particular issuer matters much to you or not would depend on a range of factors.
  • Messing up somehow. Everybody makes mistakes and when you are juggling large sums of money, those mistakes can be expensive. Imagine that you got your dates mixed up, or got ill, and didn’t pay off your balance on time. Alternatively, perhaps your money got tied down longer than expected somewhere in the MS process. Regardless of how it happens, the interest and fees for missing a payment on a £10,000 balance could wipe out a lot of your MS ‘profit’.
  • Potential damage to credit score. One of the factors that helps make up credit scores is ‘credit utilisation’ – the proportion of your total credit in use. I wouldn’t personally worry too much about any long-term impact, but it’s something to be aware of.

There is a place for manufactured spend though…

The arguments I’ve made above are mostly in relation to long-term, quite intensive manufactured spend, where the main aim is the consistent accumulation of points/miles/cashback. For short-term specific targets, I actually think MS can make a lot of sense.

The classic example is if there is a spending threshold you need to hit in order to trigger the sign up bonus offered by a credit card. Sign up bonuses can be lucrative, but most cards require £1000-£3000 worth of transactions to be made within the first 90 days before they hand over the bonus. That isn’t always easy to do through normal spending, so being able to do a bit of MS can be useful.

Another example is if a card offers a benefit for hitting a specific amount of spend each year. The IHG Premium Mastercard, for instance, grants cardholders a free night certificate at any IHG hotel if they spend £10,000+ on the card in a year. A certificate like that is easily worth £250 – and that’s on top of the standard 20,000 IHG Points you would also earn from the spend. MS could be a very good of ensuring you hit the target in time, without wasting money buying things you don’t really need, or by tying up money for months bringing future necessary spend forwards (buying supermarket gift cards or whatever).

As regards the risks, the relatively small amounts of MS required each month to hit those sort of targets is much less likely to catch the eye of anyone who might take a dim view of it. Similarly, if you make a mistake, or your MS process takes longer than anticipated, it is much easier for most people to ‘float’ ~£500 for a while than £10,000. Credit utilisation isn’t likely to be an issue whatsoever when dealing with just £100s at any one time.

Bottom line

I think manufactured spend does have a place in the toolkit of points/miles collectors here in the UK. I’m just not convinced that the rewards are big enough to justify the effort and risk involved in really pushing it hard.

I would love to hear your thoughts though – let me know what you think in the comments.

P.S. If you were hoping for some MS tips, I couldn’t possibly share anything like that here on the front page… surely that’s what the friendly forums are for! 😉


  1. Tilly71 says

    Got my first Credit Utilisation this month. I’ve only used 10% of my available credit over all cards?

    • Andrew M says

      I believe Experion and perhaps others check credit utilisation accross your accounts at the end of each month. If the card is paid off by the 30th or 31st it should look better on your report.

  2. Ben says

    Apart from the question of “is it worth the effort” which is personal, there is the question of “is it possible in the UK” and I would argue that it isn’t.

    • Joe Deeney says

      It’s certainly possible. Most people could do £50K of zero cost MS over the course of a couple months quite easily (assuming decent credit limits), if they knew how and wanted to. Beyond that, they would need to be a bit more creative.

        • Joe Deeney says

          Impressive! At a million a month, MS would definitely make sense even at 0.5% cashback – clearly I still have an awful lot to learn 😉

          If you can answer without giving anything away about your process, have you ever had any problems with the credit card companies (or government agencies) querying what you are doing?

          • Craig Sowerby says

            Surely a typo. 1 million is 50k per business day. Even if you are running several credit cards and have far higher than average credit limits that you manage to pay off daily, somebody somewhere is going to notice what’s going on and not like the look of it…

            All for a 0.5% skim or a handful of hotel nights? With money that most of us couldn’t pay off if the cycle jammed up? Yikes…

          • MSPro says

            I did mean £1m/month but not in this calendar month… £1m in 10 days would be pretty insane! My current setup pretty much plateaus at c. £1m/month and doesn’t scale further.

            No govt agencies have come knocking yet but I have a clear record of all transactions if that day comes and won’t hide anything. As you can understand, I do have a lot to hide from other potential MSers though!

        • Andrew M says

          Do you mean you’ve spent one million in this month alone or is that total spend over several months? Either would be impressive.

        • Roos says

          Unless you are doing this as part of a business I have no clue how you would do 1 million a month at all unless you have the Amex Black Card, so must be talking about 1m cumulative as were only 10 days into the month

          Most cards are limiting in the fact of a credit limit and time taking for transactions to post and usually payments to go through, so I would expect you’d need at least a 300k limit.

          The Amex Business Gold charge card often has a limit of 100k and it can take 3 days to post sometimes excluding weekends so in the best situation I would struggle to spend the limit 10 times in a month even if I had something to spend it on.

          When you start getting into high figures of spend you have to question how many points you want vs the cash back potential as its hard to turn miles into cash, the Virgin card is great but I have so many miles that I have cancelled the card as their flights are zero in Europe right now.

  3. John says

    I have a total credit limit across my cards of around £500k. However I have no idea how to manufacture spend in the UK. If anyone can shed some light I would be forever greatful!

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