February 3, 2012
I’ve received a number of reader emails recently that go something like this:
I am about to spend a lot of money at [merchant name goes here], can you tell me the best way to save money / double dip / earn miles?
I’m always happy to do my best to answer these questions as best I can, but let me now give a general answer that should work in most circumstances: Buy gift cards at a discount, and (if possible) spend the gift cards through the best online shopping portal available. Here are the details:
Buying Discount Gift Cards
There are many companies that buy and sell discounted gift cards. I’ve found that the easiest way to find the best deals is through a site called Gift Card Granny which aggregates prices from a number of gift card exchanges. Using their site, simply search for whichever merchant you are interested in and then sort the results by Discount % in order to find the best deals. Usually you can save at least 10% off the value of the gift card. If the merchant you are looking for isn’t available, you can sign up for alerts so that you’ll be emailed once they appear.
In some cases, you can even do a little bit better by going through a cash back portal. For example, if you find that GiftCards.com has a good price for gift cards, go through EBates.com to get an additional 1% back. Otherwise, please go through Gift Card Granny’s link so that they’ll earn a commission and can continue to provide this valuable service. Note: I do not have any financial relationship with Gift Card Granny, but they have supplied data to me that will be used in future posts so I am a bit biased here .
Using Gift Cards
Whether you plan to use your gift cards online or in-store, make sure to sign up for any loyalty program the store offers. For example, Sears / Land’s End / Kmart offers a “Shop Your Way Rewards” program in which you get the equivalent of 1% back on all purchases (savings can be applied to future purchases).
If using gift cards online, make sure to go through the best online portal available for points, miles, or cash back. I check two sites: evreward.com and nerdwallet.com/discounts/ to find the best deals. Unfortunately, the data on these sites is sometimes a bit out of date, so it is worth also logging into your favorite portal (Ultimate Rewards Mall, of course) to double check. Once you have found the best option, make sure your online shopping cart is empty before you go through the portal to the online store. Then go through the portal to the store, fill up your shopping cart, and checkout using your gift cards.
- Not all stores allow points to be earned when using gift cards. For example, Barnes & Noble will not award points for the portion of a purchase that uses a gift card.
- Some stores do not allow their gift cards to be used online at all. Staples is the one primary example of this that I know of.
- It is always a good idea to google for coupon/promo codes before checking out in order to save even more. In some cases, though, you won’t get points / miles / cash back from the shopping portal when you apply a code. Check the merchant’s terms and conditions before you proceed.
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