How to buy Ultimate Reward points for 1.05 cents

UPDATE: Once you factor in shipping charges, the real cost per point is 1.1 cents.  See comments section for details.

Barnes & Noble is currently running a promotion in The Ultimate Rewards Mall in which they’ll give 10 points per dollar for purchases (including gift cards).  At the same time, the American Express OPEN Savings program (which comes with American Express business cards) gives 5% back for Barnes & Noble purchases.  If you have an Amex OPEN card and a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you can combine these deals to get a fantastic rebate from shopping at Barnes & Noble.  If your goal, though, is not to buy books or Nooks, then consider the following approach to buy Ultimate Rewards points (and a few Amex points):

1. Buy a Barnes & Noble gift card:

  • Log into the Ultimate Rewards Mall and click through to Barnes & Noble
  • Add a physical gift card (not an e-card) to your shopping cart.
  • Check out and pay with your American Express business card (make sure it has OPEN Savings).

2. Once you get the gift card, sell it:

  • Log into ShopAtHome and click through to Cardpool.com (ShopAtHome will give you 1.6% cash back)
  • Sell your Barnes & Noble gift card to Cardpool.com for 81% of its value

3. Add it up:

Here is how the math works out with the purchase and sale of a $100 gift card:

  • Total expenses: $100
  • Total rebates: $87.60
    • OPEN rebate: $5
    • ShopAtHome rebate: $1.60
    • CardPool payment: $81
  • Total cost: $100 – $87.60 = $12.40
  • Total points earned: 1170
    • Ultimate Rewards: $100 X 10 = 1000 + 7% annual dividend = 1070
    • American Express points = 100

Total cost per point = $12.40 / 1170 = 1.05 cents per point.

Notes

  • ShopAtHome will not send you a rebate check until you have earned $25.  If you calculate the costs without the ShopAtHome rebate, the cost rises to 1.2 cents per point (which still isn’t bad!)
  • The type of points earned from American Express depends on which card is used for purchasing the gift card.  For example, you might earn SPG points, Membership Rewards points, Delta Skymiles, etc.  If you use a card that gives more than 1 point per dollar (such as the Hilton Surpass), then you will obviously earn more points with this approach.

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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. Will this work if you use Cardpool’s Amazon gift card program? If so, the return is even better. Of course you get $85.05 in Amazon gift card rather than $81 cash but if you buy a lot of stuff from Amazon anyway…

    Puts that that about 0.71cpm.

  2. And if that did work, perhaps you can score Hawaiian miles and in turn Hilton points for shopping at Amazon with those gift cards making the actual cost per point even better? 85 Hawaiian miles or 170 Hilton points.

  3. Has it been verified that you get a ShopAtHome rebate from CardPool when you SELL a GC? Logically I would have thought that you can only get a rebate on a PURCHASE.

    Matt.

    • Matt: I haven’t done it yet, but yes ShopAtHome explicitly says that selling GCs gives 1.6% back whereas buying GCs only gives .8% back for purchases at CardPool

      ArizonaGuy: These are great ideas. I’m not sure if it is worth the effort, though, over the techniques listed in the post Maximize points per dollar at Amazon.com, but I’ll run the numbers and see! It could be a great alternative for people who don’t have the Ink Bold, but do have both the Sapphire Preferred and an OPEN card.

  4. So, even though the Chase UR mall link to a merchant says “Check out with your Chase card and your extra points will automatically appear on your statement.” – I don’t actually need to use my Chase card to get the bonus points?

  5. @jules and @frequentmiler I strongly suggest you do use your chase card. I didnt use it for a UR purchase during the 10x Best Buy promo on Black Friday and despite my repeated calls to Chase they refuse to credit my UR account for the $500 Best Buy purchase since Chase reps insist that a Chase card be used(I used Spg Amex). YMMV but please be aware.

    • BothofUs2: Thanks for the warning. Yes, to be safe it is best to use your Chase card, but as I’ve said, I’ve been successful using other cards many, many times. The risk is, as BothofUs2 pointed out, if you don’t get points you won’t get anywhere by contacting Chase.

  6. Thanks, everyone. I guess I won’t risk it unless there’s a specific post describing a situation where a blogger has already been successful.

  7. Hi, long time lurker here, and I really appreciate your insights on frequent miles.

    I have two questions.

    1) When I tried purchasing the gift card, they charged the shipping fee of 95c. How did you get away with it?

    2) I don’t have Chase Sapphired Preferred yet. I’m waiting a few more months before I apply for it. If I use the Ink Bold card, is the math same except the extra 7%?

    I’d appreciate your response.

    Thank you,
    Ruben

    • Ruben:
      1) I didn’t notice the 95 cent shipping fee! That’s very unusual for a store to charge a fee for their own gift card. I see now, though, that you can put as much as $1000 worth of gift cards into a single order (e.g. four $250 cards) and only pay 95 cents once for the whole order. That keeps the cost per point down to 1.07. I see now that even without the 95 cent fee, the cost per point is really closer to 1.06 than 1.05 as I reported. Anyway, I think the new number 1.07 cents per point is the right number (really 1.0675).
      2) Without the Preferred 7% dividend, the cost per point goes up to 1.135 (with the 95 cent fee included in the calcs, assuming $1000 worth of cards purchased). Still a great price! Also, some people have reported getting the 7% dividend on points transferred from other cards to their Sapphire Preferred! I wouldn’t bank on this, but once you do get the Preferred you might as well transfer your Ink Bold points over to it and see if you get the dividend next Feb!

      Thanks for the great questions!

    • arye: I haven’t tried that portal, but I’ve tried 3 others and it hasn’t worked in any of them. The AA portal, by the way, says “Purchase of a gift card/certificate is eligible for rewards but a purchase made with a gift card/certificate is not eligible.”

  8. Not only does B&N charge 95 cents to ship its own GCs, that’s only good up to $200 orders. Anything more than that, you must pay for expedited or express shipping (minimum $7.95) per order.

    • Bangkokiscool: Ugh! Thanks for pointing this out. The new info ($7.95 shipping on cards over $200) leads to the following cost per point results:

      Assuming $1000 in cards purchased at once (4 $250 cards):
      With Sapphire Preferred dividend: 1.12 cents per point
      Without dividend: 1.2 cents per point

      Assuming 1 $200 card purchase with 95 cent shipping:
      With Sapphire Preferred dividend: 1.098 cents per point
      Without dividend: 1.17 cents per point

      So the best bet is to buy these $200 at a time for about 1.1 cents per point.

  9. Hi,

    Thanks for the previous response.

    Is there any particular reason you don’t recommend purchasing e-card? You can save shipping fee, and cardpool purchases electronic gift card as far as I understand.

    Thank you,
    Ruben

    • Ruben: Unfortunately, Cardpool only offers 76% for an e-card instead of 81% for a physical card. Actually, the distinction they make is between cards you mail in vs. enter the code online. I guess you could try picking the mail-in option and then print out the B&N gift card and mail that in. See what happens. 🙂

    • MR H: Yes, I’ve done this at least three times now: I went through UR mall to B&N and bought e-gift card using my Amex OPEN credit card. Every time I did this I received both the UR points AND the OPEN 5% savings! Very nice double dip!

  10. Would the chase card issue be solved if you used Ink Bold (5x) in your Sapphire UR Mall link (7% dividend)? I’ve been keeping an eye for UR mall merchants that qualify for Freedom’s 5x categories. Anyone tried this yet?

  11. Hi FrequentMiler,

    Just wanted to give you a heads up.

    I purchased 5 batches of $200 of B&N gift cards in a set of 2x$100 gift card to sell easier.

    For some reason, Chase system acknowledge $100 worth of transaction for each purchase rather than $200. I think it’s safer to purchase one $200 gift card.

  12. I’m hesitant in contacting Chase, because I’m afraid they’ll retract the points if they realize I used AMEX to make the actual purchase. I don’t know if they have access to such info, but I’d rather not take the risk. I’ll just make sure I get one single GC.

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