Double Dipping Data

Online shopping portals are a great option for earning extra points or cash back for things you would have bought anyway.  Before buying something online or booking travel reservations, I always start with the best portal finders to find the portal that offers the most points or cash back for the online vendor where I want to shop.  Then, by going through a portal to the merchant I would have shopped at anyway, I earn extra points or cash back.  Usually its possible to take advantage of all of sales and discount codes and still get the extra kickback (although some merchants won’t give points for certain discount codes).

Gift Card Double Dip

In some circumstances, it’s possible to double your points or cash back through a “double dip”.  The idea is to go through an online portal to a merchant and buy yourself a gift card.  Then, go through the online portal again to use the gift card.  For example, let’s say that Old Navy is offering 5 miles per dollar through an airline’s shopping portal and you plan to buy $100 worth of stuff.  In that case, you may be able to go through the portal to buy a $100 Old Navy gift card in order to get 5X or 500 miles.  Then, if you go through the portal a second time and use the gift card to buy the things you want, you may earn another 5X or 500 miles.  In total, you would earn 10 miles per dollar (1000 miles) with this technique.

Double Dip Experiments

Double dipping doesn’t always work.  Not all merchants give points or cash back for gift card purchases.  And, not all merchants give points or cash back for the use of gift cards.  The trick is to find the merchants that give points and cash back for both.  Through the Frequent Miler Laboratory I’ve been tracking my own and readers’ double dipping experiences.  Of course, we’ve only tested a small handful of merchants and portals so the lab data is only helpful if we happen to have tested a merchant of interest to you.

Portal Terms & Conditions

Often, the fine print on a portal page will say something like “Not eligible on gift cards.”  What does this mean?  Does it mean that you won’t get points for buying gift cards, or that you won’t get points for using gift cards?  In some cases, I’ve found that despite the fine print I’ve received points for both buying and using gift cards.  In other words, the Terms & Conditions are often wrong.  Where those terms mostly come into play is when you do not get points you were expecting and you try to get help.  In that case, the portal’s customer service rep is likely to point to the T&C and say “sorry, gift cards are excluded.”

TopCashBack’s Merchant Survey

The cash back portal, TopCashBack, sent a survey to each of its listed merchants asking specifically whether they offered cash back when customers bought gift cards and/or used gift cards.  So far, they’ve received 48 responses and, even better, TopCashBack offered to share the responses with us!

Caution

Before I show the results of TopCashBack’s survey, I need to point out a couple of things: First, just because a double dip works with TopCashBack, that does not mean that it works with all portals.  Usually, merchants treat all portals the same, but some do not (Staples, for example, seems to have specific rules for each portal).  Second, just because a merchant reported that they give cash back for gift card purchases, does not mean that they are correct!  Shopping portals are (mostly) automated systems, and there is often a disconnect between what people believe automated systems do and what they actually do.  Only direct experience can prove the survey results right or wrong. 

One reason, in particular, that I’m wary of the survey results is that all but one responding merchant said that they pay cash back for gift card sales, but only 12 reported paying cash back for redemption of gift cards.  In practice, I usually find the opposite.  In my experience, most merchants pay points or cash back when you pay with a gift card, but relatively few pay points or cash back when you buy a gift card.  Why are the results so far off from my own experiences?  It could be due to simple selection bias: perhaps the stores that reward gift card purchases are eager to sell gift cards and so were more likely to respond to the survey.

Another thing to watch out for is the fact that merchants don’t always treat their e-gift cards and physical gift cards the same way.  There have been quite a few times where I’ve received points or cash back for buying physical gift cards, but not e-gift cards from the same portal/merchant combination.  In general, if you have time to wait for a physical gift card, you have a better chance of getting points or cash back.

Double Dippers

The following merchants reported that they give cash back for both buying and using gift cards (current cash back rates through TopCashBack are listed in parentheses):

  • Ahnu (8%)
  • Athleta (5%)
  • Banana Republic (5%)
  • Best Western (5%)
  • EyeBuyDirect.com (10%)
  • Gap.com (6%)
  • Old Navy (5.5%)
  • Perry Ellis (9%)
  • Teva Footwear (8%)
  • The Tire Rack (6%)
  • Tsubo Footwear (8%)

Marriott (5%) was also on the list, but with the notation that gift card purchases were only awarded cash back until 12/31/2012 (i.e. not anymore), and they were unclear about gift card use, but seemed to indicate that cash back would be awarded.  In my personal experience, Marriott does give cash back for gift card use as long as you do not use a special corporate code or government rate when booking your stay.  Since Marriott no longer gives cash back when buying gift cards, you can still look to other options for double dipping.  For example, buy Marriott gift cards at a discount from Plastic Jungle (but go through TopCashBack first!), then book your stay through TopCashBack, and pay for the stay with your gift card when you check out of the hotel.

Maybe Dippers

The following merchants reported that they do give cash back for purchases of gift cards, but did not answer the question of whether cash back is given when gift cards are used.  My guess is that many of these would work for double-dipping, but only through experimentation can we find out for sure:

  • 4 Wheel Parts (6%)
  • 6pm (7.15%)
  • AutoZone (8%)
  • Bass Pro Shops (6%)
  • Canvas4Life (15%)
  • EC Research (20%)
  • Etnies (15.1%)
  • JeGem (21%)
  • Lids.com (15%)
  • Lowe’s (2%)
  • Nearlynatural.com (12%)
  • Paperstyle (2%)
  • Plastic Jungle (2.5%)
  • Portero (3%)
  • QVC (6%)
  • Restaurant.com (35%)
  • Scrubs & Beyond (8%)
  • Staples (5.5%) [Staples gift cards cannot be used online]
  • TABcom Outdoor (13%)
  • TABcom Pets (9%)

A few of the above merchants sell gift cards for use with other businesses.  Plastic Jungle, Staples, and Restaurant.com (sort-of) sell gift cards for other merchants, so hybrid double-dips may be possible through these merchants.  For example, you could go through TopCashBack to Plastic Jungle and buy a discounted Sears gift card, then go through a portal to Sears to use that gift card.

Regarding QVC, last May a reader who goes by carwag25 tested a double dip by buying and then using an e-gift card through the Ultimate Rewards Mall.  She received points for using the gift card, but not for buying it.  So, despite QVC’s presence on this list, I would use caution before buying QVC e-gift cards through a portal.  If physical gift cards are available, that would be a safer bet.

No Dippers

The following merchants reported that they do give cash back for buying gift cards, but explicitly said that they do not give cash back when gift cards are used for payment:

  • Accessory Geeks (18%)
  • Dennis Kirk (4%)
  • Discount WatchStore (8%)
  • Food Network Store (8%)
  • GiftCertificates.Com (6%)
  • Land’s End (6%)
  • Mountain Hardwear (8%)
  • Online Sports (10%)
  • Reebok (10%)
  • Revzilla (5%)
  • Shoebuy.com (17%)
  • Sony (6%) [no cash back for purchases e-gift cards]
  • Sorel (8%)
  • StreetSideAuto (7%)
  • Wetsuit Wearhouse (5%)
  • WU Pay (1 – 7%)

Note that with both Shoebuy and Sony, I have received points back when using gift cards after going through the Ultimate Rewards Mall, so my guess is that the answers for these merchants are incorrect.  These things can vary by portal, though, so I may be wrong.  Also, merchants can change their gift card policies at any time, so my experiences may be out of date.

Both GiftCertificates.com and WU Pay sell gift cards to other merchants, so hybrid double dips are possible.

Next Steps

Obviously, if you expect to make large purchases at any of the above listed merchants, this data may be useful to you to earn extra cash back.  If you prefer earning points and miles, the data above is a useful indication of what might work, but it is no guarantee. 

Many thanks to TopCashBack for sharing this information with us!

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  1. […] One of the central problems, from a consumer’s perspective, is how expensive shipping is. This is true for wine in general but Wine.com seems to be pricier than most. So this post will serve as a description of a way to get their fully loaded prices down out of the stratosphere with their Steward Ship program combined with a little trickery called The Double Dip. […]

  2. […] One of the central problems, from a consumer’s perspective, is how expensive shipping is. This is true for wine in general but Wine.com seems to be pricier than most. So this post will serve as a description of a way to get their fully loaded prices down out of the stratosphere with their Steward Ship program combined with a little trickery called The Double Dip. […]

Comments

  1. Thx Greg, the only problem is I have never bought anything at 95% of the stores listed above. I wish Staples would have some FAR deals.

  2. I can confirm that “double dipping” at sephora via the mileage plus shopping portal does, indeed, work! My points posted today! I purchased my gift card from Kroger because A. I got 4 times fuel points and B. 3x HHonors points for buying it at a grocery store. Then i got online and went to mileage plus, clicked on sephora, got transferred, made my purchase with the sephora gift card, and bam! Points posted today!

  3. I know this isn’t really the double-dip that you are talking about, but if I use ultimate rewards shopping with my Ink Plus to buy a gift card from officemax.com to something like REI, would I receive the 5X for the using ultimate rewards shopping link AND receive another 5X bonus for using my Ink Plus at an office supply store?

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