January Lab Update

In the world of points, miles, and deals, one of the best ways to find out what works and what doesn’t is to simply try things and keep track of what succeeds and what fails.  That’s the purpose of the Frequent Miler Laboratory.  On that page, I record experiments that have been proposed, experiments in-progress, and experiments completed.  Results include both my own results and those reported by readers.

Here are some lab results that have been compiled since my last post on the subject in October (see “Mid October Laboratory News“)

DrugStore.com success

Greg Z reported a successful double dip.  He went through TopCashBack and bought a Beauty.com gift card (which can be used at DrugStore.com).  He then went through the Ultimate Rewards Mall to DrugStore.com to buy merchandise. He paid partially with the gift card and partially with an American Express prepaid card.  In total, Greg earned 10% cash back from TopCashBack and full points from the Ultimate Rewards Mall.

This result is surprising to me because, in the past, I’ve tried many portals to try to find one that would give points when using gift cards at DrugStore.com, but all of my experiments failed.  The difference may have been that I always paid 100% with gift card credit.  I now need to repeat the experiment with partial credit card payment.

It’s worth noting that DrugStore.com gives 5% back in the form of DrugStore.com dollars (usable for future purchases) both when purchasing and using gift cards.  So, Greg Z’s double dip becomes more like a quadruple dip!  See “The surprising drugstore.com triple dip” for details.

In addition to their own gift cards (and beauty.com gift cards), DrugStore.com sells gift cards for other merchants.  I have initiated an experiment in which I went through the ShopDiscover portal to buy a merchant gift card from DrugStore.com to see if I would get cash back.  I don’t have final results yet, but it’s not looking good.  I never received an email from Discover saying that I received cash back.  And, no, DrugStore.com does not allow you to buy gift cards with gift cards.

Barnes & Noble fail

I tried loading my American Express Campus Edition card at a Barnes & Noble store that was not a campus bookstore.  The cashier was unable to load it.  Unfortunately I do not know whether it was because it really won’t work or if the cashier didn’t know how to do it.

Best Buy success

Colin successfully got extra miles by going through the United MileagePlus shopping portal to Best Buy and buying an iTunes gift card. 

eBags fail

Dina tried to double dip through Ultimate Rewards Mall. She found that buying an e-gift card did not result in points, but buying merchandise with the gift card was successful.

North Face success

Chris D succeeded in a double dip here.  Chris went through the Ultimate Rewards Mall to North Face and bought a North Face gift card.  Then, Chris went back through the mall to use the gift card when buying merchandise (part of the transaction was paid by credit card).  Both transactions resulted in full points.

Pottery Barn fail

Both Jessica and Mommy Points reported that going through the Ultimate Rewards Mall to Pottery Barn to buy e-gift cards did not result in points.  Mommy Points did receive points, though, when she went through the Ultimate Rewards Mall again to use the gift card.

Sears success

As I reported earlier (see “The Sears double dip is alive but hobbled“), Sears seems to no longer give points when buying e-gift cards, but may still give points when buying physical gift cards. In my experiments I went through the ShopDiscover portal (so I earned cash back instead of points), but I suspect that the same is true for point-earning portals.

Other experiments

Results from many other experiments are listed on the Frequent Miler Laboratory page.  If you have suggestions for new experiments or results of your own, please hop over there and leave a comment.  Thanks!

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  1. One I noticed on my bill was the the Mocrosoft Store (online) seemed to get hit at 5x for Bold purposes (I’m 90% sure this is what the extra points were as the math worked out exactly). Not to shabby if you combine with UR mall and need to buy a computer or such. Did not try a triple dip.

  2. I hate it when I choose the portal with the best payout only to not have the points ever post. Delta is by far the most reliable so I always have to decide…take a chance for 3x with portal X and possibly never get miles or take the sure thing and get 1x skypesos???

  3. @FM — While running new experiments, try the Chase Freedom card, which has 5X quarterly bonus at drugstores. Does anyone know if beauty.com gift cards ring up in the Drugstore category?

    10X (Top Cash Back) + 5X (Drugstore Dollars on gift card) + 5X (Freedom bonus on gift card purchase and portion of purchase paid for with card (or maybe entire thing?)) + 7X (UR Mall) + 5X (Drugstore dollars on purchase) = 32X?!

    • Brian: Great suggestion
      Lee: Most miles-earning portals are run by Cartera commerce and so should have very similar reliability. The big difference I find is in support when things go wrong. With cash back sites, reliability does vary a lot. On that front, I find FatWallet to be excellent.

  4. Im confused. I just bought 500 dollars worth of gift cards at drugstore.com because Frequent Miler laboratory says that double dipping was a SUCCESS at that website. But in this post you say all your attempts to use gift cards at drugstore.com to get points FAIL. Am i missing something? I felt like I went over frequent milers findings with a fine tooth comb… What am i missing or misreading bc i dont want to be out 500 bucks for reading your chart incorrectly.

    • Dave H: These things change frequently, and when going through portals there is always a risk of not getting points. The latest data we have is from Greg Z who said that the double dip worked, so hopefully you’ll have the same experience! My older tests were not successful. Some of those results are visible in the Lab. Search the table for “drugstore.com” and you’ll see a few portals I tried in which using a gift card failed. The good news is that in all cases I earned Drugstore.com dollars for both the purchase and use of gift cards, so you will still be ahead that way regardless of whether you get double points (but hopefully you’ll get both the double points and the double drugstore dollars).

      And, as Daniel points out, if you can figure out how to use a combination of credit card and gift card, you may have better luck in getting double points. I’m not sure you can really control that though…

  5. Dave: he reported past failure when attempting to pay using ONLY gift cards, but that it may be a success when paying for the purchase with BOTH gift card and credit card.

  6. Good posts as always FM. How long did you wait to get cash back from discover and do they email back after every transaction?

    • Munchausen: So far, yes, I’ve received an email back from every successful ShopDiscover transaction. I think that the cash becomes available after your statement closes, but I haven’t checked that.
      TravelBloggerBuzz: Umm, what does that have to do with anything on this post? And, FYI, I haven’t been to a CVS in weeks.

  7. I see TBB again using his intimidation and threats of “Not so best of” lists to force FM to leave Vanillas for him. Charity starts at home brother. Maybe less late night blogging and Pandora listening and more Bean Trips might you that Plat Delta as fast as we got it. 😉

  8. On the Campus card – this is definitely hard coded to the register. I tried at Albany, NY Uni bookstore as I happened to be staying nearby and it didn’t work there. The manager came out and explained that only Uni bookstores that signed on have this capability and their University regents rejected joining, and B&N have to comply with that.

  9. I confirm that you can get cashback by buying Sears physical giftcards through ShopDiscover. I just got my 10% last week. I just purchased something using the gift card through ShopDiscover. I will report the results on this double dipping.

  10. @MileageUpdate, I have cut checks in the past but I just wanted to test to buy a MO to see if it would work. If Amex Bluebird ever decided to charge a fee for bill pay it would be nice to have another option besides ATM to pull money off the account.

  11. @TQiu, I used ShopDiscover to buy items on Sears using a GC and have gotten my 10%. So you tested the first dip and I confirmed the 2nd dip. This is the best portal for Sears.com right now, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they drop back to 5% next month.

  12. I’m nervous because I did not get an email confirmation from purchasing physical gift cards in the Discover store, but I have gotten a confirmation using them. Anyone else not get a confirmation email but DID get the 10% back?

  13. B Hacker: So far, with Discover, I’ve only received cash back when I also received an email. My guess is that the purchase didn’t work for you. What store did you buy from? Physical or e-gift card?

  14. Physical gift cards – my success rate has been very high using other portals but I’m getting emails on only about 1/3 of my orders although the emails have been trailing the purchases by an average of 4-5 days.

  15. Brian Hacker: yeah, I’m beginning to worry about the ShopDiscover portal. I’ve only had success with Sears gift cards so far.

    Cong: At least one reader reported e-gift cards working with North Face, so I would expect both e-gift cards and physical gift cards would work

  16. Has anyone recently got cash back for beauty.com cards? I tried this a several months ago and never got the cashback.

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