Turn your Amex into Visa and Save $

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American Express has some of the most generous rewards cards available.  Some can be used to earn valuable, flexible points (e.g. Amex SPG, Premier Rewards Gold, etc.).  Others can be used to earn elite status as well (e.g. Delta Reserve, Hilton Surpass, SPG, etc.).  The only problem with Amex cards is that many merchants “don’t take American Express” (as Visa commercials like to say).  This can be especially frustrating when you’re trying to meet spending thresholds to get bonus points or elite status.

Here is a solution that not only puts the spend on your card, but saves you money as well!

The Business Card

First, make sure you have the business version of the American Express card and that it qualifies for OPEN Savings.  If you don’t already have such a card, consider signing up for one.  If you don’t have a business, that’s OK.  You can use your own name as the sole proprietorship business name, and your own SSN as the business’ tax ID. 

OPEN Savings

American Express business cards come with OPEN Savings which automatically give you money back for using your card with certain merchants.  You can see the list of merchants here.  Make sure to click through and read the terms and conditions since some have specific requirements about how much you must spend and whether or not it can/must be online.  The key to the trick presented here is that OfficeMax is one of the partners.  They offer 5% back on purchases of $100 or more.

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Buy Visa Gift Cards

The trick here is simple.  Use your Amex card with OPEN Savings, in person, at an OfficeMax store.  At my local OfficeMax, they sell $200 Visa gift cards for $206.95.  You will get 5% back from this purchase, so your total cost will be .95 x $206.95 = $196.6.  Accounting for the $6.95 fee, you will have a 1.7% savings and a visa card that can be used in places that do not take American Express!

Spending

I’ll be the first to admit that carrying a bunch of Visa gift cards around can be a bit of a headache.  For example, how will you remember how much money is on each card?  Also, some places, such as gas stations, put a hold on a certain amount of money on your card.  This can cause more headaches: the transaction may be denied because the amount on the card is less than the hold amount; and/or future transactions can be denied because the hold sometimes takes days to clear and therefore makes it look like there is less money left on the card.  Another issue is that most gift cards can only be used within the United States.  That being said, with most merchants using Visa gift cards is a painless process.

Conclusion

As is pointed out above, this trick is not without its headaches.  However, if you need to increase your Amex spending, this could be a great weapon in your arsenal! 

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About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. Great idea. Have you tested it?

    BTW, for the PPM idea that involves Staples: how did you get the Staples clerk to accept a Staples gift card when purchasing a Shell card? My local store wouldn’t allow it. (“Cant use gift cards to buy gift cards..”)

    • bluecat: Thanks! I’ve tested purchasing Amazon gift cards with an OPEN card at OfficeMax and that worked. I don’t see any reason why the Visa card won’t work. PPM that involves Staples: Do you mean the slow but viable PPM? The idea there is to use the Staples gift cards to buy Free After Rebate (FAR) items. That way, you get your money back in the form of a rebate.

  2. FrequentMiler, about the Staples: I guess I can’t remember, or am getting mixed up with other ideas (like the buy-gas-card-with-Sears-GC idea). Anyway, can’t do this at Staples (and it doesnt work at Lowe’s either).

    So, for the record, is KMart/Sears the only chain that let’s you convert their gift card into a “better” (e.g., gas card) one?

  3. justin, i know that Staples does. The good thing about buying gas cards versus a visa is that, at staples anyways, you have to pay that 6.95 or whatever it is “penalty” for getting a general purpose card. If you buy a shell card at staples, you dont pay extra.

    so what would be really good is buying a gas card at officemax with your amex open card, if they dont penalize you.

    anyone live near an officemax–go do a run and see if carry those gas cards and if so do they charge a penalty?

  4. does the 6.95 fee applies to some limit in generic visa card purchases? does the fee the same no matter the amount loaded onto generic visa card?

    why carry a bunch of small denomination generic visa gift card when you can carry just one? (don’t lost the card…)

  5. bluecat: If OfficeMax carries gas cards, then I’m sure there would be no extra fee so either trick would work: Amex OPEN at OfficeMax or Ink Bold 5X at any office store. So, yes, I agree that buying gas cards is a better value. It doesn’t help, though, if you need to buy something at a store or restaurant that doesn’t take Amex.

    nulle: The largest denomination Visa gift card that OfficeMax carries in my local store is $200. That is the one with a fixed $6.95 fee. If you buy a smaller denomination card, the fee as a percentage of the total value will be higher.

  6. RE: AmEx OPEN and buying gas cards…My AmEx OPEN is from COSTCO, and I get 4% back on gas. Am I missing something, or is this gift card churn not particulatly worth it for me, as the Office Max 5% is not that much more, considering the hassle?

  7. Jen, if you have a spend requirement to knock out, this is a great way to “time shift” your spending to meet the requirement.

    In my case, I have 2 Amex SPG cards that need 10K spend in the next 3 months

  8. Jen: yep I wouldn’t do this just to save a few bucks. Instead, it’s a great way to add additional spend on your Amex if you need to meet a minimum or if you’re trying to reach a bonus for high spend.

  9. Update: I visited 2 OfficeMaxs. Neither had gas cards. One had $200 Visa cards but the other did not (they only carried 200 Amex cards). Weird.

  10. Just activated my Amex gold business card. Need to complete 10k spending . Any suggestions to convert to Visa now that open savings are limited to officemax.com which does not appear to carry gift cards online?

  11. I am not positive where you’re getting your information, however great topic. I must spend some time learning much more or working out more. Thanks for magnificent information I was in search of this information for my mission.

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