What’s my X?

Wow, great stuff is happening for Chase Ink fans!  Yesterday I showed how to earn 5X on all purchases without the hassle of gift cards.  I also reported that Staples has increased their Ultimate Rewards Mall bonus for Staples to 5X when you log in with your Ink card.  What does it all mean?

First, if you plan to buy any gift cards, check staples.com to see if they have what you need.  By going through the Ultimate Rewards Mall and using your Ink card you will earn 5X from the mall and 5X from your card’s office supply category bonus to earn a true total of 10X!  Yes, this means you can get 10X for Starbucks, Marriott, and Southwest to name just a few!

If, instead, your goal is to get Visa or Amex gift cards (or prepaid cards), there are some fantastic options if you use your Ink card:

  • Option 1: Go through UR Mall to Staples.com and buy $100 Visa for $105.95
  • Option 2: Go through TopCashBack to Staples.com and buy $100 Visa for $105.95 (you will get 5.5% back)
  • Option 3: Go in person to an office supply store (OfficeMax, for example) to buy a $200 Visa gift card for $206.95. 
  • Option 4: Go in person to Office Depot to buy a $500 Visa prepaid debit card (non refillable) for $504.95.
  • Option 5: Go in person to Office Depot to buy $500 reload packs for reloading Amex Prepaid cards.  The cost for each is $503.95.

The first option sort of gives you 10X points, but with a hefty 6% fee.  The second option comes very close to true 5X thanks to the cash back.  The third option starts at 5X, but with 3.5% in fees.  The fourth and fifth options have much lower fees as a percentage of the face value.

But, what are the exact numbers?  Which option is best?  The answer depends a bit on how much you value Ultimate Rewards points.  The table below computes the true “X” for each option depending on whether you value points at 1 cent each, 1.31 cents (the Fair Trading Price amount), or 2 cents each.  The idea is that some of the points earned are used to reimburse you for the card fee.  The points remaining make up the true “X”:

Gift Card Value

Fee

Points Earned

Value points 1 cent

Value points 1.31 cents

Value points 2 cents

Buy online through UR Mall 5X

$100

$5.95

1060

4.65X

6.05X

7.62X

Buy online 5.5% back TopCashBack

$100

$5.95 – $5.83 = $0.12

530

4.89X

4.91X

4.95X

Buy $200 Visa at Staples / Office Max

$200

$6.95

1035

1.7X

2.52X

3.44X

Buy $500 Visa at Office Depot

$500

$4.95

2525

4.06X

4.29X

4.55X

Buy $500 reload card at Office Depot

$500

$3.95

2520

4.25X

4.44X

4.64X

 

As you can see in the table above, buying through the Ultimate Rewards Mall is almost always the best “X” unless you assign low value to points, in which case TopCashBack is the winner.  Of course, with both of these options the largest denominations available are $100, which can be a hassle to spend.

To get larger denomination cards, the best option is to go in-store and you’ll get over 4X when loading $500 at a time, regardless of the approach you take.  For convenience, I much prefer the reloadable American Express card option (for more on that card, see “One card to rule them all”).  However, sometimes you do need a Visa or Mastercard so luckily that option works well too!  For more about that option, see “Almost too good to be true.”


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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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  1. […] If you don’t mind using non-reloadable cards, there are plenty of great alternatives: Buy $500 Visa cards at Office Depot (5X); Buy $200 Visa cards at Staples or OfficeMax (5X); Buy $100 Visa cards at Staples.com after clicking through the Ultimate Rewards Mall (10X).  With all of these options, the card fees reduce the true “X” a bit.  To see more about these options, including the “true X”, see: “What’s my X?” […]

Comments

  1. I’ve found that I my gift card orders (as well as my past TrendMicro FAR orders) have all been cancelled. Has anyone else experienced this problem? I’m wondering if it has something to do with being a Texas resident, but I’m curious if anyone else has had the same problem.

    Fortunately I have an Office Depot within 2 miles of my home; so I’m able to get in on the higher denomination cards there!

  2. How does this sound? …

    1. Buy $500 Visa for $503.95 from Office Depot with Ink Bold.
    2. Use Visa to buy Staples gift cards through Topcashback.com (when they come available).
    3. Use gift card through UR to buy whatever gift card you want at Staples.

    • Jack: Have you checked that your contact info at Staples is correct? Sometimes they need to contact the buyer to verify orders and will cancel if they’re unable to do so.

      jcmitchell21: That sounds great except that Staples gift cards can’t be used online.

  3. FrequentMiler: I’m 99% I’ve got the contact info correct!

    mrredskin: That’s another option I’m worried about. It’s not the end of the world by any means, but seems weird that Staples would blacklist someone for FAR orders! I even went so far to create a secondary account with a different email address (but same shipping address) and had that cancelled as well.

    I guess they don’t like me! Oh Well, off to a brick and mortar Office Depot.

  4. I see a lot of posts on various blogs talk about “how I value points/miles”. I would like to figure out my own value but am not sure how to go about doing so. What’s the best way to figure out my personal points/miles value so I can properly evaluate the promos and deals that keep popping up?

  5. what formula do you use to calculate the X values, I been trying to replicate your numbers and they arent coming out

  6. Can I double dip with kohls. That is, go through UR mall to Staples to buy Kohl’s giftcard then go through UR mall to Kohl’s and spend the gift card? T&C says not valid on GC for Kohls but I think that’s just purchasing the GC. Anyone have experience?

  7. I always love your analyses. I would like to see another column with the CPP, cost per point, for an easier comparison. Thanks!

    • Victor, here’s the formula:

      GC face value (shown in table)
      GC fee (shown in table)
      Points Earned (shown in table) [formula depends on whether going through UR mall or not]
      Points To Pay Fee = GC fee (in pennies) / Value of points
      Points Remaining = Points Earned – Points to Pay Fee
      X = Points Remaining / GC face value

      Please let me know if I made any mistakes!

    • Bobbi: Yes, the double dip you propose will work. Note that sometimes there are glitches with the UR mall and points don’t record. In those cases it is difficult to get your points if you didn’t pay with a Chase credit card.

      Kadence: I’ll see if I can figure out a good way to do that, but it’s fairly complicated because it depends how you use the gift card as to the cost per point. For example, if you use a gift card at a restaurant where you would have earned 2X (with the Sapphire Preferred, for example), then the cost per point is higher than if you use the gift card for a 1X category. Unless you simply meant to calculate the cost per point of the gift card fee?

  8. In useage Is there any difference between buying $200 Amex gift card and the visa debit gift card in person at staples? The fees are both the same at $6.95.

    • Jo C: Yes

      Victor: That one is confusing. The points earned are based on the fee before subtracting out the TopCashBack rebate. The rest of the formulas are based on the 12 cents remaining after the TCB rebate. In other words, you only need a few points to pay back the 12 cents.

  9. I jusg want to warn everyone who is thinking of buying more than 2 $500giftcards at office stores a month with your chase ink card. Chase has stepped up their Blacklisting programs of those who make abnormal large and same purchases. I have read at least 150 different stories of card closures his year alone by chase and this is one of the top five reasons in blacklisting history. It doesnt matter u pay on time or have long history with them. I will write more next time.i am at mcdonald now

  10. Has anyone used their citbank card? i know its not the best use but I need some spend. Just want to make sure it doesnt get coded as a cash advance.

  11. Any issue with buying Staples giftcards with Ink Bold through the UR shopping portal to get 10x, then buying other merchant gift cards that are not offered on Staples.com (such as Shell) with the Staples gift card at a B&M Staples? Will this work?

  12. sam,

    I agree. That’s why try to stager the denominations every month (i.e. $495, $450 483, 422, etc) and add a stick of gum or something to the order. Seeing a charge of $504.95 from OD is just drawing attention. Which leads me to the question: Does Chase even have a sophisticated system to know what you are purchasing? If it does, staggering the denominations and adding a stick of gum will not matter if they know exactly what is itemized in your sale.

  13. Sam, do you care to show some references/sources? You mentioned you have seen 150 or so different references of closure this year alone..Thanks

  14. @FrequentMiler Surely there is a mistake in the formula. If I value the points 2x vs 1x should almost double “my X” when I pay a small $3.95 fee for $500 face value in last row. A change from 4.25X to 4.64X corresponding to points value change from 1c to 2c doesn’t make sense.

    Correction:
    X = (Points remaining * Value of Points) / GC face value

  15. I realize now that your definition of “My X” does not include the value of points, it is purely number of points remaining and value is relevant only for redemption. Yet you use value of points to pay for the GC fees. This was not intuitive for me.

  16. Just came back from local home depot here in San Francisco. They would not let me pay the amex gift card with credit card. Only debit or cash accepted. does that mean the deal is dead?

  17. The cashier actually checked with the manager, and they were firm that payment forms for gift cards are debit/cash only. very disappointing. 🙂 the risk is that office depot can easily stop this deal if they want to.

    • mux: Yes, that is exactly the top risk for shutting down the deal overall. I’ll try to find time to run back out to OD to make sure it hasn’t changed here…

  18. My low-priced grocery store only takes debit cards (yes, shopping here is still at least 15% cheaper than other options). will the reloadables or other gift cards work?

    • james: if you need to enter a PIN for the debit transactions, then no they won’t work. If a PIN isn’t required, then the Vanilla Visa cards from Office Depot and/or the Staples Visa gift cards will probably work since they are labeled as debit cards.

  19. any FAR offers at Staples right now? Trying to hit my minimum spend on my new Ink Bold car! Thanks in advance 🙂

    • Nicole: No FAR deals right now. I’m hoping something good pops up on Sunday!

      reeder: Does Costco have its own points program? I’m not sure I followed…

      Preacher: I expect that would work if you divide the purchases up in smaller increments (I’m not sure what Staples would do with a $5K order of Visa cards). Personally I wouldn’t do it because $100 cards are a hassle. How about going through Big Crumbs to buy Amex gift cards in larger denominations? You could buy one $2K card and one $3K card and get 1.4% cash back from Big Crumbs.

      Mars: Correct. Sapphire doesn’t give 5X for office purchases and when you log in with your Sapphire to the Ultimate Rewards Mall, it only offers 2X for Staples.

  20. Instead of using my IB to buy the $100 Visa GCs, what do you think of me using my SPG AMEX through my IB portal to meet my 5K spending requirement for my 15K Starpoint bonus? It would mean I’d be paying, round numbers, $300 ($6 fee per card X 50 cards), but I’d be getting 26.5K UR points. 1.13 cents per point. Any thoughts?

  21. Used $200 Amex Gift card today at procuts, to pay my dish bill and most of the rest through the AA Mall for FTD Flowers at 30 Miles for every $1 spent. So flowers should net 35 miles for each $1 spend! GoWallet tip worked great for tracking but Staples Amex GC don’t automatically update balance and you cannot register them either with GoWallet. Do you already have a past post on how to zero a GC with a small balance on it? I have like $2.51 left on it. Maybe using it on a split transaction? Just curious

    • PerryPlatypus: Use them at a big box store or big chain grocery. The registers automatically drain the card and wait for you to swipe another card for the remaining balance. I’ve done that successfully at Whole Foods, Target, and Lowes, for example. Alternatively you could buy yourself Amazon.com credit for the exact amount remaining.

  22. Thanks for your input. My situation in this case is a bit unique. Without going into details, the place I’ll be using the Visa GCs don’t accept AMEX, plus it’s not a problem using them in small increments with this institution. The bigger question I have, for all of you, is paying 1.13 cents per point an OK deal, considering the specifics of my scenario I outlined above?

    • Preacher: Assuming the math is right (I didn’t check it), 1.13 cents per point is a bargain. Consider that if you use points to book travel they’re worth 1.25 cents each. Use the points with United for an international trip and you’ll do much better than that!

  23. Thanks again! Just can’t wait to make it to office depot later this week and pickup the $500 Re-loadable Amex. But it’s nice to know I have the Staples option too which is up the street.

    • kim: Not directly. It might be possible to buy reload cards with the Vanilla gift cards, but I’m not sure. Best bet is to simply use them until they run out. They’re still very handy for places that don’t take Amex!

  24. So has anyone gone today to Office Depot to buy some reload cards? I was there yesterday and got them no problem.

    If people start having a problem I might have to go buy like 10k worth and slowly cash them out 😀

  25. OD didn’t have any reload cards. it says VANILA visa gift card but they are $25 for $3.95 and up to $500 for $4.95 fee

    • Richard: The current version ofthe Chase Ink Classic does give 5X for office supplies up to $25K per year, so yes.

      rob: Which OD did you try? The Vanilla visa is a good deal too if you put $500 on it. It’s not re-loadable though

  26. Note that I have not seen the actual Vanilla reload card packaging, however from the Amex Prepaid website it is VERY clear that these Vanilla reload kits can only be purchased with cash. So basically this whole loophole revolves around being able to trick the Office Depot store clerk into letting you use a credit card to purchase the Vanilla reload pack? Wow, had you kept this to yourself as I recommended, this could have been your own personal PPM had you been able to keep tricking the clerks into letting you pay with your CC. But now that the whole world knows about it, the leeches will kill this deal extremely quickly. I am going to give this deal even less shelf life than an above poster did and say this loophole will be shut within 2 weeks as an internal memo will go out to all Office Depot clerks NOT to allow the purchase of these Vanilla reload kits with CCs.

    Hopefully when this happens you will learn to keep your next “PPM” to yourself (even though this loophole clearly hurts Chase and likely Office Depot as well, so not really a PPM by your definition).

  27. @dan (Comment #49): Yes, I would suggest you go out and buy $10k of these ASAP as this loophole will not last very long IMHO.

    As long as you have bought $10k (or $50k assuming you have $50k liquid cash available to pay off your CC next month) of the Vanilla reload kits, then you should be good to go as you can slowly reload the Amex prepaid card over time.

    Once a memo goes around to Office Depot clerks though, this loophole will be shut really quickly, and if you haven’t gotten any Vanilla reload kits by then, you will be shutout of this whole deal.

    That said, the $500 NON-reloadable Visa prepaid debit cards sold at Office Depot SHOULD continue to be buyable with a CC I would think, so you SHOULD still be able to buy those, you just won’t be able to have the $2500 prepaid Amex with your name on it that you can cash out at an ATM.

  28. i can guarantee some of these people’s chase ink bold card is gonna get closed with other chase products for life and loss all the existing points you have.
    you buy $500 of these purchases monthly or over purchase and you will be told GOOD BYE by chase.

    the moment chase finds you unprofitable = having to award you lots of points for abnormal , large purchases at same stores, you will get all your chase cards CLOSED just like so many others who are getting their bu** k*i*ked by chase. DON’T BUY MORE THEN $500 OF THIS AT OFFICE STORES A MONTH if you want to stay with chase !

    • gregorygrady: I have no interest in a PPM that I keep to myself. I do know of a few that I’m sure would be killed if published, so I keep it quiet. I also don’t participate in them. The fun for me is discovering new ones and sharing with others. If it dies, so be it, there will be more. It’s a bad idea, though, to recommend to people to run out and buy thousands of dollars worth all at once. If the Office Depot part of the deal dies, OK, no one is hurt. If people get shut down by Chase for going crazy at Office Depot, then people truly will be harmed.

      edward: I agree that people have to do this in moderation to stay under Chase’s radar. There is no known threshold, though, for safety. $500 might be the right number for people with low credit limits and/or short credit history, but others could most likely safely get away with more.

  29. While moderation is ideal, I am not sure I agree with some of these limits people are screaming about.

    I understand Chase is giving 5x bonus for these cards, however, I am sure there are plenty of people buying 5-10k a month in office supplies from these stores. You really think all of those accounts are getting closed?

  30. I keep seeing folks referencing Chase shutting people down(Comments 55 and 21), but I haven’t seen any documented cases of this happening; I’ve only run across anecdotal hearsay.

    Who is getting shut down?

    That being said, I’m sticking to $1K a month until we start seeing a track record established.

  31. JACK,
    can’t believe you dont know anything about CHASE BLACKLISTING.
    just google and you will hear countless stories. there are countless posts about getting blacklisted on fatwallet and also flyertalk

  32. @FrequentMiler: Well in that case I sure hope you never discover a “new” PPM that I already know about and then go and expose that to all the leeches. You can bet that there were people that already knew about the Office Depot Amex prepaid loophole and more than likely you just ruined it for them over the past few days by posting the results of your big discovery. I’m sure they are very happy with you now.

    Also, if Chase Ink Bold’s big selling pt is 5x pts at office supply stores, then I would think that they would assume that they will get some people applying for that CC that are going to be doing large spend on that CC AT OFFICE SUPPLY STORES. I don’t see if as unreasonable for somebody with the card to charge several thousand dollars per year at an office supply store. If it were me, I personally would be getting in on this bigtime right now before the house of cards falls down.

  33. Hey, PerryPlatypus,
    If you have a cellphone, you can put those random $1.12 or $5.45 amounts as one-time payments on your cell bill. I do this all of the time with my Verizon Wireless bill. I also put the Staples prepaid VISA balances right on there. (Though lately, I’ve been opting for checks from them instead, as they “spend” anywhere!)

  34. Despite the higher fee % tacked on for the lower denomination cards ($5.95 for $100), the 10x points you get from Staples.com through UR mall definitely makes this worth it. What’s even better is Staples.com has Starbucks and itunes – two things that I do purchase fairly frequently and those have no fees so you would be truly getting the 10x rate on those purchases.

    Btw, thanks for your blog posts – new reader and I’m loving it!

  35. Stupid question…how do you log into ultimate rewards mall with the ink card? I have a sapphire card and it automatically is logged in. My ink card is not associated to my online profile, because I don’t have a business checking account”. Any ideas?

  36. Where are the Amex refills or $500 cards in NYC? I went to the OD store on 41st St. and they only had $100 and $200 cards.

    • New Yorker: Unfortunately, they’re not sold online either. The best you can do online (that I know of) is to buy $100 visa gift cards at Staples. Sadly, they have a hefty 7% fee.

  37. Thanks, FM. I see $100 Visa cards on the Staples website, but the fee is $6.95, where the above grid has them at $5.95. I figure it’s still a ROI of 4% after the topcashback rebate.

  38. New Yorker: Not only has the fee increased since I wrote this post, but Staples has also begun charging shipping and handling for gift cards. I haven’t tried to recalculate the X, but clearly it’s not such a great deal anymore

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