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Student racks up ridiculous amounts of travel rewards points through manufactured spending

By SmartCoverage Team on November 15th, 2017

Leave it to a law student to craftily exploit the rules of a system and benefit enormously.

Avery Campbell is in the process of earning a law degree at McGill University, but unlike most students, has simultaneously been traveling the world in luxury—all thanks to a handful of rewards programs he has been hustling for years. His method is called "manufactured spending," and it involves making credit card transactions where the cardholder gets rewards points but doesn't actually end up surrendering anything of value.

Campbell built the bulk of his rewards points empire through the Royal Canadian Mint's Face Value program. Intended as a way to boost interest in coin collecting, the program essentially allowed and encouraged people to buy a product—commemorative coins—that was considered legal tender and worth just as much as people were paying for it. And if they used their credit cards to do so, they could collect rewards points, in the same way that they would for commodities like gas or food.

For Campbell, getting those points at no cost quickly became an obsession.

"It was an after-school thing to do: Go to the mint, buy coins and go to the bank," he said.

Even though the Mint did eventually get better at cracking down on manufactured spenders, people like Campbell got away with exploiting the system for the entirety of the Face Value program's 2011-2017 run. The mint actually lost money overall in 2015—a rarity for the organization. Campbell admitted that what he was doing hurt the companies that he targeted.

"Manufacturing spending hurts a [companies'] bottom line," he explained. "Someone has to pay for it at the end of the day and usually it's the seller of the product. And other purchasers of the product who aren't doing manufactured spending have to subsidize for people like me."

Campbell's behaviour wasn't illegal but it was certainly immoral. His first-class flights to fancy resorts in Hong Kong and Easter Island were enabled by others who unknowingly sacrificed for him. Champagne and caviar can't taste as good when they were earned in such a manner.

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