How to buy Ultimate Rewards Points for less than a penny each

Last month I wrote a post titled “How to buy Ultimate Rewards points for 1.05 cents”.  The scheme involves using an Amex business card to buy Barnes & Noble gift cards through the Ultimate Rewards Mall where you gain 10 points per dollar. Next, you sell the gift cards for a slight loss, but the points gained make up for the loss.  In my original write-up I hadn’t properly taken into account gift card shipping fees charged by Barnes and Noble.  It turned out that the real cost for points came to 1.10 cents each if you limited your purchases to one $200 physical gift card at a time.

A new discovery has changed the math for the better.  As I mentioned a couple of days ago, a reader told me about TopCashBack which offers 4% back for selling gift cards to PlasticJungle.  Previously I had advocated using ShopAtHome for 1.6% back.  This new finding sweetens the pot considerably!

Prerequisites

To get in on this deal, you need a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card and the intention of keeping it at least until annual dividends are paid in early 2013.  You also need an American Express business credit card with OPEN Savings.

Risks

  • The trick here involves going through the Ultimate Rewards Mall to Barnes & Noble for 10 points per dollar, but paying with your Amex business card.  Does this work?  Usually, yes. See my post “Ultimate Question” for more.  However, there is a real risk of not getting points so do this only if you accept that risk.  The reason you need to pay with your Amex business card is that this trick relies on the 5% cash back you’ll get from the Amex OPEN Savings program that is available only to Amex business cards.
  • Another risk is the possibility of PlasticJungle lowering the rates that they give for Barnes & Noble gift cards.  The current rate of 81 cents to the dollar has held steady now for many months, though, so I believe this risk to be low.  The easiest way to view current rates is via GiftCardGranny.
  • Finally, I have no experience with TopCashBack.  Are they reliable?  Only time will tell.

If you’d like to proceed despite the risks, here’s what to do:

1. Buy a Barnes & Noble gift card:

  • Log into the Ultimate Rewards Mall and click through to Barnes & Noble
  • Add a single $200 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).  The total should come to $200.95

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

  • Log into TopCashBack and click through to PlasticJungle (TopCashBack will give you 4% cash back for selling gift cards to PlasticJungle)
  • Sell your Barnes & Noble gift card to PlasticJungle for 81% of its value.

3. Add it up:

Here is how the math works out with the purchase and sale of a $200 gift card:

  • Total expenses: $200.95
  • Total rebates: $178.53
    • OPEN rebate: 5% of $200.95 =  $10.05
    • PlasticJungle Payment: $162
    • TopCashBack rebate: $6.48
  • Total cost: $200.95 – $178.53 = $22.42
  • Total points earned: 2352
    • Ultimate Rewards: $200.95 X 10 = 2010 + 7% annual dividend = 2151
    • American Express points = 201
  • Total cost per point = $22.42 / 2352 = .95 cents per point.

Notes

  • 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.
  • Theoretically you could make many individual purchases in this way.  Don’t be surprised, though, if you get a call from Barnes & Noble investigating this “suspicious” activity.
  • Barnes & Noble has offered 10X bonus points via the Ultimate Rewards Mall for several months now, but the terms say “Special increased earnings now through 3/31/2012!” so the deal may expire soon.

Disclaimer

I have not yet tried this trick all the way through.  There are several risks as shown above.  As always, proceed at your own risk.


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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

    • Bender: No, Barnes & Noble does not give points for the part of your purchase that is made with gift cards. Believe me, I’ve tried.

      John W: Thanks for sharing that info! Great to hear that top cash back is working! Sorry to hear about that experience with GiftCardGranny. I haven’t come across a wrong number with them yet, but let me know if you see a specific example and I’ll report it to them.

      Ryan: Great find! Try looking at other portals (ebates, mr rebates, big crumbs, etc.) to see what the rules are for cash back at Old Navy. Usually if one says gift cards aren’t allowed, then that’s a rule imposed by the merchant for all affiliates.

      • Ryan: I found this restriction on the Mr Rebates site regarding Old Navy:

        Cash Back Rebate Restrictions:
        Purchases of Old Navy gift cards do not qualify for cash-back rebates.

        I think this likely means you won’t get TopCashBack money for buying gift cards as well.

  1. I don’t think gift card granny always has up to date prices for plastic jungle. But you can find their current rates here.

    https://spreadsheets.google.com/spreadsheet/lv?key=0Ao782GRE_a1ZdDJyUWpCZVlxSFdwNlQ4U2kwbDcxUlE&hl=en

    I purchased about 1500 worth of gift cards with the plan to sell them to plastic jungle for profit based on the numbers on gift card granny but they ended up being wrong. Fortunately I didn’t lose money because they paid me the same amount I purchased them for. Actually I did make 4% from top cash back.

    By the way, I just received $104 from top cash back into my paypal account so I can confirm it works!

  2. As John W. stated, there are opportunities to make money here. Check out Old Navy…you get 16% cash back for your purchases, you can sell for $83 per $100, plus the 4% cash back on the sell, so you are making 3% plus the credit card spend. I didn’t see anything in there that didn’t state you couldn’t buy gift cards to get the 16% back…but maybe i’m missing it.

  3. @Ryan: I tried looking up but couldn’t find 16% cash back on GCs at the UR mall ? Where should I be looking for the 16% cash back ?

  4. @Rajesh: I’m on the topcashback site. If you search there for old navy, you will find the 16% cash back. It will take more spend to get the UR points if you are using your chase cards, but you are getting 3% back instead of losing money, much better.

  5. @FM: I bought a $50 gift card to check it out and see. I’ll use the card regardless, so no risk. I’ll report back what happens…just not sure how long it should take for the funds to post.

    • John W.: Thanks for the specific example. As of this morning GCG reports plastic jungle at 80%. I’ll try to get more info from them about the lag time here.

      Anita: Thanks for sharing that caution. It’s important for people to understand that the risks I pointed out are real.

      THEsocalledfan: Yes, Ink Bold is easier. Some readers don’t have the new Ink Bold. Even those that do may be tempted to do this to meet Amex minimum spend or to pump up Amex spend to get bonus points or elite benefits that are given to high spenders.

      MJLouise: Good question. I don’t know. I do know (now) that when the MR portal says 3X it really means 2X bonus + 1 regular point. Not a good deal at all.

      Daniel: I admire your bravery. Let us know how it goes.

  6. In the past month, I’ve had five large transactions (for a combined 8333 UR points) fail to post bonus points on the UR Mall. None of the transactions were paid with the Chase Sapphire card, and 1 SM and 3 calls to Chase have yielded no love.

    Be careful putting a lot of money on the line when not using the Chase cards at the UR Mall. They might post; mine have at times in the past. But if they don’t, you might be like me…wishing you had a small pile of AA points instead of no UR points.

    Anita

  7. Back to the basic premise here:

    1. You can do all of this that is a ton of work.
    2. Or, you can go back to your basic idea of buying Visa gift cards with the bold on-line through the mall at staples and rack up over 900 points for $5.95 in cost for a card you can use anywhere for any expense….

    Hmmmmm, guess which one I am doing…..

  8. Trying to meet minimum spend on Gold AmEx Open. Thx for the idea here, I didn’t know about the 5% back at B&N.

    I’ve noticed the AmEx MR portal offers 3X points if you go through them with the disclaimer “Gift cards purchased through cardways.com not eligible.” Is that the vendor / processor that B&N uses?

  9. Just checked Topcashback’s site this morning and old navy is down to 4%…it shows Banana Republic at 16%, but when you click on it, it goes to 4% as well. Seems to be some glitches, and I won’t be holding my breath for 16% cash back on my order.

  10. Another update, I did get the cash back for the gift card, I have $8 pending (16% of $50), so on one hand, that’s great, on the other hand, dang, I should have bought hundreds, since it is down to 4% now.

  11. John: Plastic Jungle provides us with a data feed of all their sell percentages. It is suppose to be updated every day on their end. This is the first I’ve heard of the rates on our site not reflecting what is on their site. Be assured, we will look into this and make sure our information is accurate.

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