A while ago I posted a series about the search for the perfect perpetual point machine (PPM). In those posts, I asserted that the following characteristics would make a PPM perfect:
- The PPM may take effort and money to setup initially, but must not take much effort or money to keep it going.
- The PPM must be able to generate hundreds of thousands of points per year.
- The PPM must do no harm.
- The perfect PPM would also somehow do some good for the world, not just for the recipient of the points.
Could the Staples Free After Rebate deals that I’ve been writing so much about qualify for perfection?
Not much effort
When the idea of a Staples PPM was first raised by Steelsnow eons ago (November 17th), it sounded like a pain in the butt to me so I passed along the info, but didn’t ever try it. In February, though, a few readers pointed out the latest deal to me and I finally gave it a try. I was amazed at how easy it was! It hardly takes more than 15 minutes to log into the Ultimate Rewards Mall, click through to Staples, buy the right items, and then submit the rebates. Done!
I’d say that this PPM easily meets the first criteria above.
Almost big enough?
Since I started publishing Staples deals in February, I’ve listed $1,905 in FAR (Free After Rebate) software downloads. That amounts to an average of about $950 per month. If this trend continues, we’ll be able to spend $11,400 at Staples each year and get all of that money back. With a Chase Ink credit card it is possible to earn 9 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar for those transactions. So, it is possible to earn over 100,000 points per year if Staples continues these offers at the pace that was set in February and March. Do I really think it will continue at this pace? No. Am I hoping? You bet.
The bar set for a perfect PPM is pretty high. It’s unlikely Staples will lead to hundreds of thousands of points, but if it leads to 100K per year, that’s awesome! If Staples continues with FAR deals at the current frenetic pace, I’d say this PPM is close enough to meeting criteria #2.
Is anyone harmed?
Usually when points are free they come at someone’s expense. There are three potential losers in this scheme: Chase, Staples, and the software manufacturer.
Chase: Chase presumably gets paid by Staples for the points given out through the Ultimate Rewards Mall so they should be fine there. They do give out a lot of points for Ink spending so one could easily argue that they are hurt by that, but since 5X at office supply stores is a standard card benefit they’ve only harmed themselves on that front. I’d say Chase is fine.
Staples: Staples most likely does quite well with these deals. They are not the ones paying for the rebates. They do provide a great service through their Easy Rebate program, but in return they make a huge number of sales. I’m betting that Staples wins big with these through lower margins but higher sales.
Software Manufacturers: Companies like Trend Micro and McAfee are the ones who pay for these deals. They must lose money on each one. Why do they do it? Offering mail-in rebates often makes sense since a large portion of customers never collect. With Easy Rebates, though, I can’t image this happens too often. My guess is that their goal is to get people to install their software so that they can advertise directly to users each year when a new version of the software is available. If that’s true, then we are foiling their plans when we buy their software but never use it. We could actually help them more by donating the software to schools or other organizations since they would then become potential customers in the future.
While a case could be made that the software manufacturers are harmed, I think that’s a stretch. I believe they know what they are getting into when they offer these rebates.
Doing good in the world isn’t really a requirement of a perfect PPM, but it’s a definite nice to have. I know that I haven’t done anything useful with my purchases, but it would be really cool to find schools or startup businesses that could use this stuff. That way it would do more good than simply earn points.
So, is it perfect?
What do you think? I’d say it’s very close!
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