Is Staples’ gift card gravy train coming to an end?

Staples has been an awesome option for buying gift cards online.  It has been possible to go through portals such as the Ultimate Rewards Mall or TopCashBack to earn extra points or cash.  And, when you use a credit card that offers extra points or cash for office supply purchases (such as the Ink Bold), you can do even better!  Last month, the Ultimate Rewards Mall offered 5 points per dollar for Ink Bold customers shopping at Staples.  When you combined that with the built-in 5 points per dollar earned by the Ink Bold in office supply stores, you ended up with an outstanding 10X return! 

Staples sells merchant gift cards (e.g. Marriott, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Lands’ End, etc.) at face value and charges no fees for purchase or for shipping.  With Visa gift cards, they do charge a fee, but the bonus options I mentioned above have been more than enough to outweigh those fees.  But times they are a-changin’…

Visa fee increase

A reader named Adam alerted me to this.  Staples has increased the fee for $100 Visa gift cards from $5.95 to $6.95.  Ouch!

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Ultimate Rewards Mall T&C Changes

CodeAdam10 brought this to my attention.  The Staples Terms & Conditions in the Ultimate Rewards Mall now appears to disallow gift card purchases from earning points:

Not eligible on gift cards, gift certificates or any other similar cash equivalents.

That wasn’t there before!

TopCashBack payout coming to an end?

A great alternative to the Ultimate Rewards Mall for Staples purchases has been TopCashBack.  They have been paying out 5.5% cash back for all Staples purchases including gift cards.  Unfortunately, it looks like the deal is ending soon:

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It will be interesting to see what changes are in store.  Will TopCashBack extend this offer?  Will the Terms & Conditions change to match the Ultimate Rewards Mall?  Natasha (head of TopCashBack’s USA site), care to comment below?

uPromise to the rescue?

If TopCashBack lowers the Staples’ payout or stops accepting gift cards as valid purchases, it looks like uPromise is still a great option.  They give 5% back for all Staples purchases.  I’ve successfully tested purchasing gift cards via uPromise in the past, so hopefully this still works.  By the way, uPromise gives 5% back for almost all online vendors so it’s a great option for merchants that rarely give good payouts (Apple store anyone?).

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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. Not sure I trust Topcashback. I sold several gift cards to coupons race.com going through them and I never got the rebate TCB offers. They also haven’t responded to my email about the issue from four days ago.

  2. Quig69: Did you mean coupontrade? I’ve had trouble getting paid for coupontrade transactions as well. Did you file a claim through their system? It takes a while, but that has worked for me.

    Gene: I’ve received the Radisson 10% back (at least it shows as pending) and so have others I’ve talked to. If you’ve completed your stay and it still doesn’t show on your Topcashback account, file a missing cash back claim.

  3. AMEX is giving 4x for Staples, although I haven’t read the T&C’s yet. 4x is worth around 6 cents, so it’s a decent alternative if it works for non Chase cards.

    • Ray: Just note that when Amex says “4X” they mean “1X from your card plus 3X from the shopping portal” so Amex 4X is really more like 3X from most other portals.

      mommypoints: Thanks. Looking forward to the results.

  4. I did a test purchase for a gift card from Staples via the UR mall yesterday after this was discovered, so will keep you posted. Fingers crossed…….

  5. This sucks. In one month, I had milked 25K points out of Chase largely Inking points with those gift cards….

  6. I still can’t beat buying gift cards from Kroger with 4x fuel points and $2/gal up to 35 gallons off gas (using Amex prepaid filled with myvanilla from Office Depot of course!), compared to extra points from Staples.com. $500 in gift cards gives $70 back (14%) when filling both of our cars. Not to mention that you can also buy $100 visa cards with $5.95 fee there (using Amex blue to have the $6 fee rebated to you), and then use those to buy gift cards to actual stores, thus getting you 8x fuel points :).

  7. Not that much of a loss. You can usually do better buying ebay GCs at grocery stores with vanilla reloads (or amex blue if you prefer CB as Curtis notes) and then use the ebay GCs to buy gift cards you want on ebay at a discount. Hard to beat 2% ebay bucks, 4x fuel rewards, 5x vanilla less fee, plus additional ebay discount. I buy REI GCs on ebay this way to net a minimum 20% off.

  8. I did mean coupon trade.com. Damn auto correct. That’s what I get for commenting so early in the morning. I did file a claim five days ago but nothing.

    • Curtis, HikerT: Great suggestions!

      Quig69: I have to admit TCB’s claim investigations seem to take forever

      dealswelike: I didn’t realize that. Thanks for the info. Hopefully it’s a glitch that will be fixed!

      alan: Yeah the technology exclusion is big. I should have mentioned that. I’m not sure about the “promotional item” clause. That’s always been there.

  9. There are many reports on FlyerTalk of TopCashBack not paying out the 10% back for Club Carlson. I went into my account and saw the same thing. Got paid for one of my stays, but not the other. Filed a claim so will keep you posted on the outcome!

  10. @ Curtis- how are you earning fuel points at Kroger buying Visa GC? I have always seens those cards as an exclusion to the fuel points.

  11. United’s MP mall also says not valid on GCs at Staples now. 🙁 That’s a shame… I spend a lot in Staples stores, and would order GCs online first to get my bonus. Staples GCs can’t be used online, so you’d think at least letting you still earn for Staples GCs and not for third party ones would be reasonable. Oh well… guess it’s almost time to get an Ink Bold to make up the difference.

  12. Even worse, for me… software, technology, and electronics are now all excluded. Also “promotional items.” Does that mean anything on sale?

  13. @Stevedealin – the variable reload cards are the ones excluded, NOT the ones that are preset amounts. Unfortunately the largest that I can find are $100, so $5.95 fee is 6% cost. However at 4x fuel points and with Amex Blue 6% back at grocery, AND that I can use those to further buy gift cards again and turn that into 8x fuel points, it’s worth it to me to not earn any other miles/points on the deal.

    I usually take the train to work, but in Dallas walking in 105 degree heat for 2 miles is not something you can do over summer, so filling up my tahoe all summer long with this 4x and $2/gall off promo is a huge deal.

    4x ends TODAY everyone…. $2gal/off ends 9/30 though, and you can get enough points today to last you through the end of July.

  14. I’ve made half a dozen orders that included merchandise plus Staples-brand gift cards and have never received cash back for the gift card portion of the purchase from TCB. Did receive CB from Chase URM.

    • John Doe: When did you make the purchases? It wasn’t long ago that TCB changed their relationship with Staples to allow gift card and other purchases to all count for 5.5%

      Chris L.: Agreed!

  15. @alan – my thoughts too. I would think the FAR items at Staples will be starting up again next month as the back to school cycle starts. Not getting UR points on Staples purchases through the UR Mall for these will be disappointing.

  16. FM: CB is from mid-May thru present. Used URM before the downgrade to 2x. TCB netted out coupons (expected), but did not include GC in calculating total spend for CB.

  17. There is a FAR (Free after rebate) deal for McAfee Internet Security 2012 on Staples website weekly Ad. Good for people looking to get it.. Unfortunately I am not able to post the link here 🙁

  18. Help me out here, since I’m new at the Chase Ink game: Why can’t I buy a Starbucks gift card for $100 through TCB or Upromise, getting 5-5.5% back from the site, 5X points on the credit card, and the Staples points? Then, I could sell the gift card on eBay for almost full value or use it myself? Either way, a huge win.

    • Michael: Yes, you can do most of that. You can buy the Starbucks gift card and get 5-5.5% back and 5X on the Ink Bold. You won’t get Staples points for gift card purchases. Also, selling gift cards can be a pain in many ways especially on EBay where there are many fraudulent buyers. If you use the card yourself, it’s absolutely a big win. Note that when selling, you have to pay EBay + Paypal about 12% in fees. CouponTrade charges 10% + $1.50 to sell the cards.

  19. It gets worse: the UR Mall includes the same language for Barnes & Noble:

    “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.”

    There goes double-dipping and using amex for the 5% back…

  20. I ordered a gift card from Staples along with some other items. I only received points for the other items. Also, at drugstore.com, I only received points for nonmedications (I didnt know that was an exclusion). They are getting smarter at Ultimate Rewards!

  21. Ordered $100 Staples GC through UR shopping mall and received regular 5x points and extra promotional 4x. Still works.

  22. I just bought some Visa gift cards along with Starbucks gift cards at Staples through UPromise and was only credited for the Starbucks gift cards. I’ll try contacting UPromise but I’m doubtful.

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