The latest and greatest with gift cards is the news by the Federal Reserve that all gift cards will eventually come with a PIN.
Why this matters
Manufacturing spending is a great help in meeting minimum spend requirements, achieving hefty spending bonuses, earning miles on purchases you couldn’t otherwise, and buying miles on the cheap. Some people like to dabble with cash back and gift cards, but this blog focuses on miles/points so I won’t be covering that. Also, I don’t dive into money orders, because I use Bluebird to accomplish the same tasks. I feel like money orders are so 1980, but maybe I’m missing something.
Moving on…Right now, the best tool in the manufactured spending toolbox is Bluebird. And the best way to fund Bluebird is through Vanilla Reload cards. However, Vanilla Reload cards aren’t available everywhere.
But now that some gift cards have a PIN, you can load your Bluebird with them. This is a big opportunity for those who don’t have access to Vanilla Reloads, and it also opens up the ability to capitalize on grocery store category bonuses. And, sometimes you can double dip if your local grocery store gives you gas points for purchasing gift cards (a frequent promo).
This may also bring back the 5x earning potential at office supply stores, but it will take more work since $200 is the largest increment that you can buy in gift cards at Office Depot, Staples, and Office Max. This increases the cost, since each card has an activation fee. But you don’t have to go buy Vanilla Reloads anymore with your Visa gifts like I was doing after Office Depot quit selling Vanilla Reloads directly. That was a sad day.
- You can’t withdraw money from an ATM with your gift card if it has a PIN.
- Not all Mastercard and Visa gift cards have PINs, so it’s best to test the waters before diving in deep.
- It appears some people have had trouble with Mastercard gift cards and PINs, so you may want to go with Visa.
My experience from this weekend
This weekend, I ran up to my local grocery store, Randalls (a Safeway chain), to test the PIN gift cards out. I didn’t find any US Bank issued Visa gift cards, but I did find some MetaBank Visa gift cards. I bought a $100 gift card just to test it out. Randalls had up to $500 gift card options to choose from. The activation fee was $5.95 for the $100 or the $500 increment. It’s obvious what increment you would ideally want to buy, but I was testing.
When I got back to the car, I inspected the receipt and there was nothing about setting up a PIN (there is for gift cards issued by US Bank), so I googled how to assign a PIN. I came to a Hack My Trip blog post with a phone # to call that he got from DansDeal. I dialed the number (888-524-1283) and followed the initial steps, then pushed 5 and set up my PIN. Took 2 minutes, tops.
After that, I drove to Wal-Mart. Something I don’t like doing, but I’ll do anything for miles & points. [You can load your Bluebird online with a DEBIT card, but only $100 a day, and there's a $2 fee. Remember, there's also a $5,000 monthly limit when loading Bluebird (this includes Vanilla Reloads).]
At Wal-Mart, I went to the Money Center Express automated machine which didn’t have a wait or any people to deal with.
I went through the steps and within a minute, I had my Bluebird funded with the Metabank Visa Gift card. Cha-Ching. Next time I buy a gift card from a grocery store, it will be for the largest ($500) increment possible and I will use a card that I’m trying to meet a minimum spend bonus on, or a card that earns multiple points for a grocery store, gas station, or office supply store purchase.
I haven’t been to an office supply store yet, but I’m intrigued because you can still earn 5x points with certain cards. But again, the largest increment you can buy is for $200. So you would have to work harder and pay more fees, but you would be earning valuable Ultimate Rewards points. Office Max sells Metabank gift cards in $200 increments with an activation fee of $6.95. One $200 gift card would earn you 1,035 UR points that equals .671 cost per point. Not too shabby in mind.
When buying gift cards, don’t overdo it. It’s important that you stay within your means and base your purchases off of your income, credit limit, etc. This will look different for each of us.
Also, not all gift cards have PINs yet. For example, the Vanilla gift cards don’t currently, but will soon. Gift cards issued by US Bank and Metabank can be assigned a PIN. You can see which bank is backing a gift card by looking at the back of the card.
This news doesn’t actually change my manufactured spending habits yet. I can find Vanilla Reloads in my area without any issues. Sorry, not bragging. However, if I’m not meeting a minimum spend requirement, I will be checking out the 5x earning potential office supply stores gets me. That’s where the value is for me.
I hope this helps, and please comment with your experiences down below.
— Noob MasterRead More
Thanks to all the readers who emailed me their experience at their local Office Depot!
Based on the majority of emails I’ve been receiving and this Flyertalk thread – it appears that Office Depot will no longer be selling gift cards that have an open amount (up to $500). Very sad face.
Why is this news?
If you have to ask, then it won’t be heart breaking to you – but for the last year, rewards fiends have been purchasing Amex and Visa gift cards at Office Depot with their Ink Bold or Ink Plus® Business Card (or both) business cards. One of the Ink cards’ most appealing benefits is the 5x Ultimate Rewards points per $1 at office supply stores. Smoking deal.
A lot of businesses will buy gift cards to give to their employees for spending instead of a credit card, but the majority of people (I’m assuming) were taking advantage of the 5x earning potential. Everyone loves Ultimate Rewards points.
After buying the gift cards, you could use them for daily spending, load them onto a permanent pre-paid card (certain Amex cards have this option), or you could use them to buy Vanilla Reloads in some situations. I’ve been buying Visa gift cards to then purchase Vanilla Reloads to fund my Bluebird account. All so I can earn points on my mortgage and auto loan (it’s worth it – that’s a lot of points!).
Office Depot used to let you buy Vanilla Reloads directly, but they stopped that a couple of months back. Other office supply stores like Staples and Office Max never let you purchase Vanilla Reloads, or variable gift cards. It looks like Office Depot is adjusting its gift cards to match the other office supply stores. Probably a smart business move.
You can still buy gift cards in $25, $50, $100, and $200 increments, but having to buy more gift cards increases your costs. There’s an activation fee that’s tied to each gift card, so buying them in the largest increment possible was the easiest, and most cost efficient option.
On Saturday, I was able to purchase (2) $500 gift cards without any problem at my local Office Depot. The manager had to come over for approval, and my ID was checked, but that’s business as usual.
The shelves were fully stocked and there was no mention of them being pulled. I will go back up there today and see what’s going on.
There’s still value to be had with your Ink cards and office supplies, but the game has changed. There are still plenty of other gift cards to purchase to take advantage of the 5x points. I haven’t checked it out yet, but Office Max even sells more Apple products now, and we all know I love Apple products. Once you go Mac, you don’t go back.
So for now, it doesn’t look good for variable gift cards at Office Depot, but the sky isn’t falling and we will figure something out. Always do. Please let me know your experiences down below and I’ll give you an update after my OD run today.
Noob it up.
[disclaimer: I do receive a referral credit for the Ink Bold and Plus.]
— Noob MasterRead More
I recently received an email from Southwest, touting an easy way to earn Rapid Rewards points. You can buy Marriott gift cards and receive a Rapid Rewards bonus until November 30, 2012. Here’s how the bonus breaks down:
- $100 Marriott gift card = 1,200 Rapid Rewards points
- $250 Marriott gift card = 3,000 Rapid Rewards points
- $500 Marriott gift card = 6,000 Rapid Rewards points
If you pay for stays at Marriott, this deal could offer some serious value for you. You can use Marriott gift cards at over 3,700 locations worldwide, and they don’t expire.
Count towards Companion Pass?
I’ve received several emails from readers asking if the Rapid Rewards earned on this deal will count towards the Southwest Companion Pass. This would be the biggest advantage of buying these gift cards. But, sadly the answer is no. The Rapid Rewards points earned from buying Marriott gift cards do not count towards the Companion Pass. The Southwest Airlines Companion Pass is a great value, and is achieved when you accumulate 110,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year. Once you do accumulate 110,000 points, you will be able to fly a companion for free on all Southwest flights you take (yep, award flights). This is a great value for domestic travel.
Most people can easily get to 100,000 by signing up for two 50,000 Chase Southwest cards (currently expired), but it’s getting the other 10,000 Rapid Rewards that can be tricky. Transferring points from Ultimate Rewards doesn’t count, and buying Rapid Rewards doesn’t count. You can transfer Hyatt or Marriott points to Southwest, and it will count, but it takes 20,000 Hyatt points or 30,000 Marriott points. So, you could transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt or Marriott, and then to Southwest. But you’d be taking a big hit on your points. Depends on how much you want the Companion Pass.
I like to save my Ultimate Rewards points for international travel, so I would suggest buying 30,000 Marriott points, and then transferring them over to Southwest. 30,000 Marriott points will cost you $375 and will net you 10,000 Rapid Rewards points. 10,000 Rapid Rewards points is worth $167, so you’re out $208. But, you will quickly make that up if you take just one flight with your companion.
Of course, you can also run $10,000 through your Southwest rewards card, or fly Southwest to earn the other 10,000 points.
Ok, sorry to go down that rabbit hole, but NO- Rapid Reward points earned from Marriott gift cards don’t count towards the Southwest Companion Pass. Boo.
Selling them on PlasticJungle.com
Many people have had the idea of selling the Marriott gift cards on Ebay or PlasticJungle.com. If you bought two $500 Marriott gift cards, you would earn 12,000 Rapid Rewards. You can then sell the two $500 gift cards on PlasticJungle for up to 87.15% (Amazon Gift cards as payment, it would be lower if you selected cash as payment). This means you would pay $128.50 for the 12,000 Rapid Rewards points. Rapid Rewards points are valued at $1.67 for Wanna Get Away Fares. That means 12,000 Rapid Rewards points is worth $200.40. But you can get another 4% cash back if you go through the topcashback.com portal, so another $5.14 in savings.
And, if you used your SW Visa, you would earn another 1,000 Rapid Rewards for the purchase (but I would suggest using the Sapphire Preferred, because it gives you 2x points on travel, which is 2,000 Ultimate Rewards points. And we all know you can transfer UR points to Southwest if you desire).
So in the end, you would be spending $123.36 for 12,000 Rapid Reward points and 2,000 Ultimate Rewards points. Is this worth the hassle? Does anyone out there have any experience selling Marriott gift cards on plasticjungle.com? I would love to hear about it!
I believe the real value in buying the Marriott gifts cards is if you already stay at Marriott properties and plan on using the gift cards. But if you stay at Marriott properties regularly, then you probably have the Marriott rewards cards, which is better to use on stays because of the points bonus.
I can’t say I recommend buying Marriott gift cards and selling them on plasticjungle. It seems like a hassle, but it may be worth it to some. The real bummer is that the Rapid Rewards points don’t count towards the Companion Pass.
Buying Marriott gift cards could also make great Christmas presents. Yeah, Christmas will be here before you know it.
— Noob MasterRead More