Buy Ultimate Rewards Points for less than a penny

Now that Barnes & Noble is back to 10X in the Ultimate Rewards Mall (see “Ultimate Rewards Mall June Edition”), this trick is once again viable.  I first wrote about this on March 23rd in the post “How to buy Ultimate Rewards Points for less than a penny each.”  Today I’ll rehash the same stuff with minor updates.


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.


  • Earn Ultimate Rewards points at a very low cost!
  • Increase spend on your American Express business card.  This can be a great boon if you are working off a minimum spend requirement for a sign-up bonus, or if you’re working towards a big-spend bonus.


  • 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. However, if many readers start doing this, they may indeed lower the offer.  The easiest way to view current rates is to view this spreadsheet from PlasticJungle.  Technically, this is PlasticJungle’s volume seller price list, but they usually offer the same prices to individuals.
  • Finally, TopCashBack may, at any time, lower the cash back given for PlasticJungle sales.

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 with your Sapphire Preferred account 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.


  • 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 terms in the Ultimate Rewards Mall say “Special increased earnings now through 6/30/2012” so the deal may expire at the end of this month.


There are several risks as shown above. As always, proceed at your own risk.

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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. it says it’s not eligible for giftcards:
    Not eligible on customized gift cards, eBooks, digital magazines, digital newspapers, and any other ePeriodical. Portion of the transaction paid for by a gift card is not eligible. Orders where customer selects shipping method “buy online, pick up in store” are not eligible. Not eligible on NOOK Warranty. Promotional codes or coupons not listed on this site are not eligible.

  2. no, it always gives 5x at bookstores (and restaurants) with no limit. It’s one of the few cards that never leaves my wallet.

    • Steve: you won’t get the 5% back + 1 point per $ from Amex, so you would need to value TY points > 1 cent each for that to be a better deal. If you don’t have a business Amex, though, it would be a good way to go.

  3. True. Fortunately, I value TY points at 1.33 cpp.
    The regular cashback option for Citi Forward is in the 0.7 cpp range. It’s 1.0 cpp when redeemed for mortgage or student loan payment.

    However, when coupled with Citi Premier card + redeemed for airfare through Citi TY travel center, the redemption = 1.33 cpp.

    So 5x TY points can easily be worth 6.65 cpp.

  4. Sorry, typo in that last post.
    “So 5x TY points can easily be worth 6.65 cpp” should be
    “5 TY points can easily be worth 6.65 cents.”

  5. 1.38 cents/point is still a great deal by purchasing with a Sapphire Preferred Card instead of the AMEX biz cards with OPEN, with a peace of mind.

    • Steve: Yes, good point about using the TY points to book travel

      nelumbo: Yes, that’s a decent option too. I’ve done this many times with my Amex, though, without trouble.

      Joe: Yes, that should work. You’ll have to run the math on that one on your own… 🙂

  6. Is it still safe to use non-UR cards for shopping at UR Mall? It worked for me in the past, but last my two purchases using AMEX cards did not result in UR points (and complaining/asking Chase didn’t help), so I would be very concern to use it for large purchases.

  7. I got a question and I would appreciate if anyone can help me out.

    I have an amex business (with OPEN) but no sapphire. My wife does have a sapphire but no amex business.

    What should I do?

    Should I let her log into her account and use my amex business card to purchase and where the billing details come up use my name


    Get my wife an additional card ASAP and let her do the transaction in her name.

    • Sergey: It continues to work for me, but it is a real risk

      ketelone: You can log into the UR Mall with your wife’s account, but then pay for the Barnes & Noble gift card with your credit card. Please make sure you understand the risks here before you jump in though.

  8. Is there a benefit to buying $200 denomination gift cards? Also, I assume you can buy as many gift cards as you want, up to $1000 per order?

  9. FM, do you think this will work if you buy an e-gift card from B&N and sell it on-line to Carpool via TopCashback knowing that you’ll lose an additional 5 cents by doing it electronically? I guess the second question is whether it’s worth losing the extra money for the ease.

  10. Nick: no, B&N will not award points for the part of a purchase made with a gift card

    HikerT: just buy 1 $200 card at a time. If you buy more, they charge more for shipping. 1 card for $200 for 99 cents shipping seems to be the least expensive option as a percent of total card value.

    Piecerate: I think it will work, but I’m not sure it is worth getting less cash back. I sold a physical card to PJ yesterday and they didn’t even require me to send it in! They paid me just for the card number and pin. I received the money via PayPal today. Super easy.

  11. Another great post FM, thanks! I have another scenario for you and your readers. Buy $200 worth of Exxon/Mobil GC at OD using Ink. Get $184.80 at PJ (92.4%). Get $7.39 from TCB. Total loss is $200-184.80-7.39 = $7.81. Get 1,070 UR point (5×200 + 7% annual). $7.81/1,070 = 0.73 cents per point.

    • Paul Ahn: The PJ spreadsheet lists Exxon/Mobil at 88%. Where did you get 92.4%? Anyway, yes you can definitely make something like that work — thanks!

      THEsocalledfan: If you try to checkout with 5, it says “Gift Card orders exceeding $200 must be shipped via Express Delivery or Expedited Delivery. Please choose a new shipping method.”

      Mike H: I think you answered yourself — do this to push up Amex spend and/or you don’t have an Ink.

  12. Why not just buy 5X $200 gift cards for $1000 and the same 95 cent shipping fee? What am I missing, Miler?

  13. This is great, but isn’t the Amex reload with vanilla still the ultimate way to go? At $7.95 for a $500 refill and $2 ATM fee… Low cpp for URs! Of course I’m doing spend on it and sometimes withdrawing odd amounts to keep it off their radar. and of course this doesn’t help the Amex spend sit.

  14. I got the 92.4% from I confirmed this with PJ just now. They state up to $97.02% but that’s only if you’re willing to get “paid” in Amazon GC.

  15. Update: I just sold $200 of Exxon GC to Plastic Jungle for $184 (92%, not 92.4%). This makes it about 0.81 cents per point.

  16. This is risky. The gift card sites aren’t stupid — they will either lower the B&N buy rate or stop accepting more cards. They aren’t going to just sit on tens of thousands of cards that will take forever to sell. These aren’t like Walmart or gas cards that sell out almost immediately sometimes. I’ve had more than one company send me back the cards I tried to sell them because they didn’t want them…it was a large amount of “low value” cards that likely would take a long time to sell.

    I desperately need $9K spend on my Delta Amex to reach a spend threshold for the bonus MQM, but I can’t risk this.

  17. This is such a mind freak. At this point, it would seem a 2% cash back card is better than the sapphire always as you can get using the exxon method 2.47 points per dollar spent.

  18. The website is accurate. I sell to PJ all the time. Anyways the drop in payout validated my concerns…they’ve probably been seeing a huge volume of B&N sales, so of course they’re going to lower the rate. This is very risky on cards with poor liquidity.

  19. Sadly, they’ve changed the T&C in MR mall today:

    Not eligible on gift cards, gift certificates or any other similar cash equivalents. Portion of the transaction paid for by a gift card is not eligible. Orders where customer selects shipping method “buy online, pick up in store” are not eligible. Not eligible on NOOK Warranty.

    • Leo: Those are the original terms. They don’t allow you to use gift cards, but they do give points when buying them. Note though that Plastic Jungle has lowered their payout so this deal is not as good as before.

  20. FM, Thanks.

    I bought gift cards one week ago and received points this week. But that was before they took away the word “customized” in the T&C about gift cards.

    Did you have any success that they still paid you points for buying gift cards, even thought it is supposed to be excluded (in UR mall)?

    • Leo: My last experience was from last week too. B&N still appears in the Ultimate Rewards Mall under “gift cards” so I expect it will still work, but it would be good to hear from someone who ordered more recently.

  21. Uh oh, I just received my Barnes & Noble physical giftcards. Now that PlasticJungle is down to 75%, what is the next best alternative for cashing out? Cardpool at 81%? What portal such at TopCashBack is best for Cardpool?

  22. Hi FrequentMiler, just read your post. very nice write-up. Hope it’s not too late for me now. Is the deal still good? I logged into the Ultimate Rewards Mall with my Sapphire Preferred account. But it appears to me that a $100 Barnes and Nobles gift card now can be bought with 2,250 UR points, not with a credit card any more. What am I missing here?

  23. Isn’t it easier to just use an UR point earning Chase card to buy Vanilla Reload card in CVS? The cost is $3.95 for $500 card which can be used to load Blue Bird to pay mortgage, etc. $3.95 gets you 504 UR points. So each UR point costs 0.78 cents.

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