I was pretty surprised to see myself on top of the first #MileMadness leader-board, I guess I managed to sneak in just enough of those gift cards at Office Max to keep up with the cool kids. Still I guess I was even more surprised to see some of the reactions on blogs and on Twitter. It appears some were expecting to see magic new tricks never revealed before on how to increase your MS. I am not sure how realistic this is. I often get asked by people “how do you scale up?” and the simple answer is you do everything the same, you just do a heck a lot more of it. So yes you spend a lot of time running between grocery and pharmacy stores, or asking friends, relatives and random strangers on the street if you can open Bluebird accounts in their name. And yet I think there is one simple “magic trick” that everyone can use that will significantly improve their success rates in manufactured spend.

This one is particularly useful for those of you who have trouble convincing a store clerk to sell you a gift card using a credit card, or let you use a gift card as a debit card to buy a money order. It is so simple anyone can do it – at least in theory. So what is the magic??? Always say “Please” and “Thank You“. That’s it!

I am guessing I lost a lot of you at the end of that paragraph, and those grumpy miserable souls who I did lost will continue to run into problems with their big attitude. Ironically I think it’s likely the same people that have been complaining about the lack of magic tricks. But I genuinely do not mean this flippantly. In fact I am very purposeful in having good manners. I’d like to think I have decent manners in general, but I tend to exaggerate it in this game as it is an extremely disarming tool. Cashiers are naturally nervous and suspicious when you want to buy several thousand dollars worth of gift cards or money orders in one transaction. Anything you can do to relax them is going to help you succeed rather than walk out empty handed.

Let me give a real life example. Last week while I was out West having a great day with fellow contestant MilesPointsAndMaiTais, and later in the evening we hit up a WalMart to unload some of those goodies we’d picked up en route from OfficeMax. We both ended up using different cashiers and I was with a supervisor who was having a lightly heated debate with a co-worker about some kind of problem. So I was getting the “authority” figure and she was already edgy from dealing with some problem. So I asked to buy a money order for $799.75 and that I’d like to split the payment four ways. And then I paused – deliberately – and said “… please“. I then made a joke about how I always teach my kids to say please and thank you so I should make sure I do the same myself. I got a full on smile from the lady serving me. Now don’t get me wrong this was a friendly Walmart anyway, but now I am cruising, and after finishing up my first batch I manage to do another batch, and then finally I get to do a couple more $1k’s on a regular miles-earning debit card (off the books for the competition), but now I have a highly co-operative cashier I am going to milk it for all I can. I have had plenty of similar situations where I have started off with a highly skeptical cashier and ended up all smiles and thank-you’s.

So always remember, no matter how frustrated you might be at your lack of success, things will work out much better if you always Keep Calm and remember to say Please and Thank You.

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  • Marathon man

    I agree with this wholeheartedly and am always polite and upbeat to clerks. As well I tend to promote them to take care of other customers first, like some old lady in line behind me who just wants to buy a lottery ticket or return a newly purchased shirt.

    Nevertheless there are times when one just runs into a “No” clerk or store.

    Seems no matter what you do there will be times when nothing helps. I have had to debate many a manager about the legitimacy of my transaction request and even of myself. It is in fact part of what we MSers do

    • MilesAbound

      It’s very true sometimes you just hit a wall, but no matter how frustrated, tired, pissed off etc I might be, I always just try to smile and say “ok, thank you, no problem”. If I think it’s just because they are not sure how to do something, and I happen to do know how, then I will try to politely guide them with something like “oh gosh yes these computers make life so difficult right!? I did this once before and I remember the cashier did this, this and that, if that helps?”. Rather than, for example, “You should do this way”, with an implied “moron” at the end of the sentence.

      • ABC

        I assume you have a charming British accent. Surprisingly, ladies tend to love that in the US. Interestingly many villains on TV have British accent… I haven’t quite figured out the connection. On that note, ziguess is that a Russian accent has less positive associations.

        • MilesAbound

          ROFL. Thanks bud this gave me best laugh of the day so far. You should try this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6k2fKeHi7jI

          Yes the British accent helps. Not necessarily doing MS but I have had cashiers at various stores ask me where I am from with eyes fluttering, leaning forward, smiling etc… it actually cracks me up because I really think the British accent sounds dull and much prefer American ones. I guess we all like what is different! But yes if you show up with Russian accent pretty sure 99.9% of people will assume you are a drug dealer 😉

          • Hey! I am Russian!

          • MilesAbound

            I should have been more specific and say if you are Russian and Male, you are pretty much screwed 🙂 I was very pleasantly surprised by how nice the NYC cashiers were tonight I have to say. I had written the place off

  • 1. Are you a guy?
    2. Are you at least slightly attractive and/or do you have a nice smile (aka no meth teeth)?

    If you answered yes, then the odds are forever in your favor. I know some older ladies around here who work as drugstore clerks and they might actually give you VRs and money orders for free if you flirt politely:)

    But seriously, I totally agree with being nice and polite in all situations. More flies with honey yadda yadda…

    • MilesAbound

      1) Yes
      2) I’m pretty much bald and >40 years old so I am not some hot rock star! But I’m clean and confident and I fixed my “European” teeth when I moved to the USA 🙂

      You are of course absolutely right though I think this works even better for women than men. Personally I will freely admit I try to avoid male cashiers. Much easier for me to be polite, flirt and joke with members of the opposite sex (actually I find the younger ones really go giddy, maybe the Brit accent works there) On the flip side if you are a nice looking lady, all those men are going to be very happy to please you. This is simple human nature.

      Oh I also bring my kids in with me from time to time. Drug dealers and terrorists don’t go around with 9 year old middle class kids wearing t-shirts backing their swim/soccer/karate teams. Once they’ve seen you with the kids, they are again “dis-armed” and next time everything is cool. Oh and I guess playing into your suggestion I do read that women find men with kids more attractive, and so while I am not trying to hit up any WM cashiers for dates it does not harm my MS efficiency if they are sub-consciously thinking I’m a wonderful guy 🙂

      • Ok, a bald British accented dad with good teeth…I’m not sure it gets much better than that, for real:) I too bring my kids with me (usually because I have to run my errands with them in tow) & it really does help. Not that a mom with 2 youngish kids can’t be a drug smuggler or a money launderer…

        • MilesAbound

          Ha so it IS true that the British accent overcomes all other issues 🙂

          And for sure I think moms with kids are favored targets as drug mules lol

        • Paul


  • smay

    Couldn’t agree more about being polite and friendly with clerks. They are often treated poorly by rushed consumers and aren’t exactly at the top end of the pay scale so they appreciate (as most people do) respect and kindness. I have also worked to cultivate familiarity with stores in general. I make a point notice the name tag and greet them by name. I also try to use the same people when possible, (pretending to be on my phone and letting the person behind me use the unfamiliar employee is an easy go to!) but if that doesn’t work the people that know me have often jumped in to smooth things out. Of course those that are on the road are left with power of kindness alone!

  • smay

    By the way – I have no front teeth, smell like shit and weigh 500 pounds.

    • Smay – It sounds like you have overcome those obstacles with your kind and courteous ways. Keep up the good work:)

      I totally agree about being polite and friendly with clerks (and most everyone) because retail is tough and there are so many rude customers out there. I always do better with ManSpend efforts when I am the one smiling face in a crowd of complaining and demanding grumpy customers. I know from my own job in working with people, it is much easier to go the extra mile to help those who are kind and appreciative.

      Good advice.

    • MilesAbound

      Double ROFL! You are beating ABC’s funny comment above 🙂 I do the exact same thing BTW with name tags, read the name and then next time I come in I open with “Hi Freda, nice to see you again, hope all is good with you?”. And even on the road being nice helps. I was in DFW area earlier this week, ended up in a super-sketchy WM, police outside, everyone inside looked like extras from The Walking Dead. Cashier at MC was new, not really sure what she was doing, big line behind me. I politely helped her through it, made a few jokes, left with a big smile and thank you from *her*!

  • johny

    Excellent advice. We need to always remember that although it may be the job of the cashier to cash you out, a lot of what we do in the MS world can be perceived as a similar illegal activity. Smiling, saying thank you, being patient, letting the retired customer go first, and sometimes even walking away without arguing go a long way. MS is a marathon and not a sprint (sometimes it could be a sprint). Burning bridges will only lead to headaches down the line.
    It is also important to remember that often a lot of decisions on policy for stores are made without consulting the daily managers. Often things are out of the hands of the cashiers and even managers. Lastly, remember it is not easy to deal with the general public in a retail store. Some people are unreasonable and a few people can never be pleased. Be that easy going customer that either they do not remember or they see you after a long day and realize you will be an easy customer and they can take a breath.

    • MilesAbound

      Very well said

  • Paul

    Reality is the average MSer is likely top of the economic/educational food chain when it comes to WM shoppers. And thus most MSers are likely to be better behaved/are less stressed (not coughing up half a lung while demanding a few packs of the Generic 100 Menthols and a MO to pay their overdue utility/rent bill).

    I have one cashier who says it is the highlight of her day when I show up – because we can talk travel (it distracts her from the boredom).

    The younger girls are definitely more friendly on average – the older ones seem beaten down from life and are forced to work at WM out of desperation.

    The few males seem like low end college grads and WM “management” seems about the only job they were able to get.

    So if you are the “travel guy/gal” who goes to all those “exotic” places, pleasant to talk to, you tend to be viewed positively.

    That said, I’ve seen a few other MSers and they act nervous/shady. Not chatting up the cashiers, strictly business, hit and run types. They are the ones who ruin it for others.

  • jordan

    I currently handle 2 bluebirds, mine and my wifes, but was curious the best way to liquidate the bluebird funds if i were to add say my parents into my routine? Currently I just them to pay rent/car payment/ and just pay off my credit card. Would it be weird to have money sent from my parents blue bird to pay off my credit card bill?

    • MilesAbound

      I do nothing but bill pay back to the funding credit card. I would not worry about multiple bluebirds going to pay the same account

  • This is good life advice, if you smile say please and thank you then CSRs are going to go out of their way to help you because 90% of people don’t bother to do it.

    You shouldn’t just be doing this when you want something though, customer service sucks big time and if I can make their day a tiny bit nicer by being polite then I’m going to do it.

    • MilesAbound

      Absolutely. I like to believe in karma, and treating others the way you’d want to be treated. Still at times I put in a little more than “normal” if it helps my game 🙂

  • jamie

    I was just thinking about this again the other day… I’m a light MSer and have only started getting to know my WM CSRs. Our WM was just replaced with a new one (hooray! working registered and hopefully they’ll get that ATM up and running soon). I got into the line and there was my usual cashier and another cashier, older-ish woman who I hadn’t seen before. When I said I was going to pay for the MO with multiple debits, she said to the other woman “XXX I’m going to need your help here”. My usual cashier helped her out, things went mostly smoothly with a few times of needing to swipe a card again, either it didn’t read correctly or I started entering info too soon? The whole time I’m doing my best to be confident, friendly, grateful… this was obviously not in her comfort zone… then at the very end I said something like, “thank for your help, looks like we got into the groove by the end.” and she replied, “i’m always so nervous splitting the payments like that, I’m afraid I will do it wrong and too much money will come off of the card. I know how much trouble it would cause if it happened to be.”
    I will always remember that encounter… first of all how much it helped for me to be confident, open, friendly and thankful to her. But then also that her reluctance at the start wasn’t coming from her being annoyed with me giving her a difficult task, it was coming from her lack of comfort with a task where she felt like if she pushed a wrong button, it would suck a bunch of money out of my account and cause me trouble. You just never know where people are coming from. I’ll never hesitate to get in her line again. It won’t be long before both of us are old pros at this. 🙂

  • Gaurav

    Hi–I would love some advice if you have a moment. I’ve been doing a few more money orders at WM to liquidate some AmEx gift cards (via OV Visa cards from CVS). I usually get two money orders when I go to the customer service desk split over four cards but the last time I went there I asked if they would do six cards for three money orders worth 999.30 each. They tried to run it through but apparently it kicked back the order because they can only accept four debit cards per order. I asked them to split the order into one of 2 money orders and another with one money order and they suddenly got cold feet and proceeded to call MoneyGram (I think they might have been worried about structuring or something akin to that). I stayed calm and pleasant throughout. I wasn’t privy to the conversation they had but the upshot of the conversation was that MoneyGram did not want them to issue any more money orders to me without me calling them to discuss the situation with them. Has this happened to anyone before? Just call and be honest with them? Make up some other explanation? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • smay

      2 Walmarts I use on Long Island no longer even load Bluebirds at customer service desk. Both told me “corporate” told them they can no longer do it. Fortunately the kiosk and registers sill load BB and Serve. I would NOT call because less attention to this the better.

      • Gaurav

        It’s really not my first choice either but the next closest Walmart for me is 20 miles away. I could do it if I had to but that is a lot of miles and cash. Any other suggestions?