Hawaii round trip for $182.24

A reader challenged me recently to help him find a way to quickly earn more Membership Rewards points.  He’s planning on taking advantage of the current bonus offer in which Membership Rewards points can be transferred to British Airways Avios miles with a 50% bonus.  That is, until May 31, for every 1000 Membership Rewards Points transferred, you get 1500 British Airways miles.  Below is the plan I suggested.  It’s not easy, but if you want British Airways miles this will do the trick.  It will also help quite a bit with meeting minimum spend on an Amex MR card if you need to do so.

Prerequisites

To do this trick, you need an American Express card that earns Membership Rewards.  You also need a nearby Kmart that sells BP gas cards.  And, you need nice cashiers at that Kmart.  Oh, and patience and attention to detail would be helpful too.

The Plan

The plan is to buy Sears gift cards through the Membership Rewards shopping portal, upgrade them to BP gas cards, and then sell them to get most of your money back.  The end result is that you will have bought Membership Rewards points for about 1.07 cents each.  Once you convert those points to British Airways miles with the 50% bonus, you will have bought British Airways Avios for .71 cents each.  Here are the steps:

Step 1: Buy Sears gift cards

Go through the Membership Rewards shopping portal to Sears and buy Sears gift cards for yourself.  Currently the portal offers 4 points per dollar for Sears so you will earn 4 points from the mall and one point from your credit card for a total of 5 points per dollar.  Note that you can buy either physical gift cards or e-gift cards, but the physical ones are a bit easier to use at Kmart so I recommend those.

NOTE: A few readers have reported that Sears only shows 3 points per dollar through their view of the Membership Rewards shopping portal.  Apparently, the bonus points you get depends upon which Membership Rewards card you have.  If you only see 3X, then this trick is not for you.

CAUTION: Reader Kathy stated in the comments section that Amex bonus points are inclusive of the regular points you get for credit card spend.  That is, when the mall says 4X it really means 3 bonus points plus 1 regular point.  If true, this kills this opportunity.  Rats!

Step 2: Upgrade the gift cards

This is the painful part.  Hopefully you pre-checked that your local Kmart carries BP gift cards.  If so, go to Kmart and buy BP gift cards using your Sears gift cards.  I’ve done this many times and only once was told no.  Since then I’ve only bought 2 or 3 at a time and usually load up my cart with staples I needed anyway (tissues, cereal, dog food, etc.) to obscure the gift cards.  That has always worked for me.

Step 3: Sell the gift cards

Go to the TopCashBack portal and find PlasticJungle.  PlasticJungle currently buys BP gift cards for 91 cents to the dollar.  You’ll get 4% (of 91%) additional cash back from TopCashBack.

Add it up

Suppose your goal is a round trip ticket to Hawaii.  You can go from LA to Hawaii using British Airways miles for 25,000 miles round trip.  To get that many miles, you’ll need 17000 Membership Rewards points.  To get that many points with this plan, you’ll need to buy $3400 worth of Sears gift cards.  Now, let’s do the math:

  • Buy $3400 in Sears gift cards via the Membership Rewards shopping portal.  Receive 3400 X 5 = 17,000 Membership Rewards Points.
  • Upgrade to BP cards and sell cards to PlasticJungle via TopCashBack.  PlasticJungle will give you 91% of $3400 = $3094 cash back.  TopCashBack will give you 4% of $3094 = $123.76 cash back.
  • Total cost: $3400 – $3094 – $123.76 = $182.24
  • Transfer Membership Rewards points to British Airways and you now have enough mile to go to Hawaii!

Considerations

Note that the trip to Hawaii was just an example.  BA also has great short haul redemptions such as Detroit to New York City for only 9000 miles round trip.  With this technique, a trip like that would only cost about $65!  Will I do this?  Honestly, probably not.  I already have a boatload of BA miles and I don’t really cherish the idea of virtually living at Kmart for the next few months.  Also, my favorite points are Ultimate Rewards, so I’ll continue to focus on schemes to buy those.  This trick is tempting though…


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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. Membership Rewards portal includes the points that you earn from the credit card. If the portal says 4x = 3 points from the portal and 1 point from the card. The portal also displays different prices based upon the card that you have. Platinum Amex has a higher earn ratio than the green card.

  2. Beware that British Airways charges high fees for long haul trips. Short haul trips have small fees. So always check the itinerary and the fees related to that trip before embarking on a gift card hunt.

  3. A problem could be that if you flood the gift card websites with Sears gift cards… and they don’t sell them quickly enough.. they may lower their purchase % on the gift cards.

  4. Too bad this hack didn’t work. As Ben recently pointed out, MR is a great value when transferred into SQ KF miles, which requires 140K for First Class from SFO to HKG. This hack could have generated the required MR for about $2000. Oh well – maybe Sears will up the bonus in future months?!

  5. Everyone of you that attempts this or any other gift card sale will get burnt. Please make sure to reserve a day on the blog when you can all report how you lost all of your profit on a bad transaction….

  6. How long does it take for MR points to post on my account after purchase date? Or is it after statement closing date?

  7. You can get a round trip to Hawaii from anywhere Hawaiian Airline flies from the mainland U.S. for $79 by getting one of its two credit cards for 35,000 up front miles after spending $1,000 on the card in 4 months. 30,000 miles gets you a saver award, 40,000 gets you a coach flex award. You can get both the Bank of American and the Bank of Hawaii cards for a total of $158, giving you 70,000 miles.

    These offers have been around for a long time, and are currently on my website, FreeFrequentFlyerMiles.com, on the Credit Cards > Annual Fee Cards page.

    • Gary Steiger: Thanks for the info. I like to present ways to earn miles cheaply that don’t require credit card signups — just to be different. Yes, credit card signups are still the best way to get lots of miles for free or cheaply.

      ORD-TGU: I have no idea. I have a lot of experience with UR shopping, but I’m new to MR shopping.
      .
      ace: Good idea. I could definitely imagine hosting a “when things go wrong” series of posts

      Bangkokiscool: Yeah, too bad! Let’s keep an eye on Sears and see if it goes up. I’d still rather buy UR points, but MR points do have their uses!

      Brent: Yes, if too many people sell too many BP cards to PlasticJungle, they’ll eventually lower their buy price. The thing is, though, that it is very hard to find discount gas cards for purchase. They get snapped up very quickly. Also, I think there are relatively few readers here with nearby Kmarts that sell BP cards AND the willingness to visit Kmart over and over. So, I think it is likely that we are safe with this one.

      Mariana: Yep, good tip. Look to use BA miles on short distance American Airlines or LAN flights within North, Central, and South America. Flights overseas tend to be bad deals due to the fuel surcharges.

  8. I called amex rewards center to ask that if I use my amex centurion card (or any amex card that gives airmiles) would I get the 4 points PLUS the airmiles and she said yes. Airmiles can be sold for 1.5 cents each (if you know where to sell them) so that means if I use my amex card I will get 4 points plus an airmile for each dollar spent, so that’s 5.5% for me.

    Also, in comment to those who think that plastic jungle will offer less than 91% for gas cards, I doubt that will change, discounted gas cards are in HIGH demand right now and that probably ain’t gonna change.

  9. Question: I noticed that when I shop at the amex reward mall if I try to buy kmart cards it says that gift card purchases do not qualify for the 4 points, when I looked at sears cards it did not say whether they do or not, I”m assuming that based on this blog they DO FOR SURE qualify for 4 points per dollar spent on them, right?

    • Niko: Great question. I believe that Sears gift cards qualify because the Sears T&C say that anything on sears.com with an “add to cart” button qualifies. However, I don’t yet have proof. You might want to wait a few days for me to see the results of my own test before plunking down much money. Also thanks for checking with the amex rewards center. On that point too, if I were you I’d wait for confirmation. I’ve had Chase reps tell me things that were completely wrong about the UR mall. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amex reps have similar issues.

  10. FYI: in the T/C it says “Bonus points will be credited to your Program account within 8-12 weeks after charges appear on your billing statement Membership Rewards Express® and Membership” it may take a while before you know if the Sears gift cards will give 4 points. Keep us posted though.

  11. Also at Sears.com when I added Sears giftcards to my cart I noticed this in the T/C “Terms & Conditions
    This card is issued by SHC Promotions LLC and is redeemable for goods and services at participating Sears, Roebuck and Co., Lands’ End, The Great Indoors, and Kmart store locations in the U.S., P.R., Guam and U.S.V.I., and at sears.com, kmart.com, landsend.com and Lands’ End catalogs. Not valid for purchase of third party debit or prepaid cards.”

    Humm, but you said you have used Sears cards many times at Kmart to purchase BP gas cards. I guess that even though the terms say you can’t buy prepaid cards they just do not enforce it. Thoughts? Perhaps a BP card is not considered a prepaid card, not sure.

    • Niko: I believe the T&C about prepaid cards refers to bank cards: amex/visa/mastercard. BP cards and the like would usually be referred to as “merchant gift cards” or something like that.

  12. “Unlike almost every other shopping portal in the world, the rates shown by Amex are inclusive of your standard credit card points. So, 4X means you will get 1 regular point from your credit card spend and 3 bonus points. ”

    I feel like amex is wrong for not making this more clear and out in the open. Thanks for doing THEIR job and helping us understand the rules.

    • james: ThePointsGuy has a few posts showing how to do this. Basically, find low level award flights on AA.com and then those same flights should be available via BA (since AA is a partner), but for fewer miles than AA charges.

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