$200 Visa cards. Are they worth it?

Now that Office Depot no longer sells $500 loadable Visa or Amex cards (at least, for now), a number of people have asked me about $200 Visa cards. All three of the big office supply stores (Staples, OfficeMax, and Office Depot) sell $200 Visa gift cards with a $6.95 fee. And, there are credit cards that offer 5X points or 5% back at office supply stores (see “Best Category Bonuses“). If you were to use one of these credit cards to buy a Visa gift card, is it a good deal?  To answer that question, let’s look at two scenarios: the first is where you plan to use the $200 Visa cards for day to day spend; and the second is where you plan to liquidate the gift cards.

Day to day spend

Even if you ignore the fact that gift cards are a pain to deal with, the answer to whether they are a good deal is still complicated. It’s easy to look at the number of points earned and compare to the cost of the gift card, but that’s not the whole story. It’s equally important to look at the points or cash back not earned when using the gift card.

For example, suppose I buy a $200 Visa gift card for $206.95 and I pay with a  card that offers 5 points per dollar at office supply stores.  In that case, I would earn 206.95 X 5 = 1035 points. So, you could argue that I bought 1035 points for $6.95. That sounds like a good deal since $6.95 divided by 1035 points = .67 cents per point (about 2/3 of a penny per point). The problem with that analysis is that when you use the gift card, you do not earn additional points. So, when you use the $200 gift card, you forfeit the points you would have earned with a credit card. At a minimum, you forfeit 200 points, but if you use the gift card in places where your credit card would have earned bonus points, then you are giving up even more. If you commit to using the gift card only where you have no credit card bonuses, then you can estimate that the total points forfeited = 200. Then, your total points earned from buying the gift card are the points earned minus the points forfeited: 1035 – 200 = 835. Given this, the cost per point = $6.95 / 835 = .83 cents per point, or about 4/5 of a penny. Now that you have a calculated cost per point, you can decide whether the effort involved in buying and using gift cards is worth the benefit of being able to buy points for .83 cents each. 

Note that the above analysis assumes that the type of points forfeited are roughly equal in value to the type of points earned.  If you would have used a credit card that earns more valuable points, then its worth redoing the above calculations accordingly.

Buying and liquidating

Another option is not to use Visa gift cards, but to turn them into cash.  If this is your intent, its not necessary to calculate points lost from another credit card (since this is spend you would not have done otherwise), but you do need to calculate the cost of liquidating.

Let’s say that you live or work near a drug store that allows you to pay for reload cards with Visa gift cards.  Typically, reload cards come with a $3.95 fee and can be loaded up to $500.  If you use 5 Visa gift cards to buy two reload cards and load each one to $496.05, then you’ll completely use up the Visa gift cards in exchange for $992.10 which is basically equivalent to cash.  Now we can add up points and costs:

  • 5 Visa cards @ $206.95 = $1034.75
  • Points earned = 1035 X 5 = 5175
  • Cash returned = $992.10
  • Total cost = $1034.75 – $992.10  = $42.65
  • Cost Per Point = $42.65 / 5175 = .824 cents per point

 

Is it worth it?

Its interesting (to me!) to see that the cost of buying points comes out about the same regardless of whether your goal is to use or liquidate $200 Visa cards.  For certain kinds of points (Ultimate Rewards, for example), I would gladly buy points at .83 cents each all day long.  At a minimum, those points can be exchanged for cash at 1 cent each so you’re already ahead by 17%.  If you use the points for valuable redemptions, though, you could easily get 2 cents per point or much more value.

The calculations above do not include the cost for gas, nor do they account for the time and hassle involved.  For me, it’s a bit too much trouble for the gain, but its close!  How about you?  At ~.83 cents per point are you a buyer?

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. At that rate, a United biz award ticket to SE Asia would “cost” $988 and a First ticket would be $1,153 (plus taxes and fees).

  2. Not worth it for me due to hassle factor. It’s like those threads you see sometimes on fatwallet: Do a then b then c then d = PROFIT $10! LOL

  3. Like you said, depending on the type of points (ie: UR) I’m a buyer at .01/point or less any day. Although one has to remember that after a certain point, your miles-&-points travel is no longer free, just heavily discounted…and I’m personally OK with that.

  4. I think you can only argue that the VR cards are equivalent to cash to the extent you can offload to Bluebird. Otherwise you have to factor in ATM or other fees.

  5. I buy the Visa GC, load it on AMEX Target card, do some spend, and withdraw cash, deposit in bank, pay Chase, repeat. Figure 34.75 for 1000 in GCs, $3 to load, and 7.50 to withdraw 1000 ($3 per 400). Cost 45.25 for 5173 points or .87 cents per point. Worth it to me for UR points.

  6. There’s also no faster way to earn ur points. I think that’s a huge factor in getting big chunks if ur points

  7. In second case if you buy reload card using Chase credit card directly you earn 500 UR points at a cost of $3.95, I.e. 0.80 cents pert UR point. To me there is no need for the visa gift card hassle.

  8. I think most everyone forgets to factor in their time when doing $–>points–>cashing out conversions. In this case it’s a no brainer for me. Not worth it.

  9. It’s not worth the hassle factor for .01. It may be worth it if you can get a much better value for the points, at least 0.02 imo.

    Say you spend $100K. You’ve spent $820 to make $1000. So a profit of $180 in buying roughly 500 gift cards to exchange into 200 VR. Also keep in mind you’d need 2 chase ink, since the office max is $50k and 2 bluebirds, since the max annual load is $60k. I guess maybe to some that’s worth it, but I’d need a better valuation of UR than 0.01. Obviously you could do a lesser spend, say $50k, but then your profit is only $90.

  10. I’d say not worth the hassle, unless you are topping up for a specific award or meeting minimum spend. At which point you are getting more points than just the pts for each $.

  11. Worth or not worth depends on the individual.
    You are not going to travel for free but at a heavy discount.
    I have been doing this for all cash-only payable expenses like rent, car payments, loans etc. I have access to a pharmacy store where Vanilla Reloads are OK to be bought with GCs (For now, at least).
    I am willing to buy the 200$ GCs at this rate with set targets in my mind.
    One has to keep in mind that this will be a way to get discounted travel but not FREE travel.
    At FMs calculation, a Biz class trip to South Asia will be $988 which I will jump and buy since I pay way more than that in economy at given point of time.
    Also, I treat this like an investment towards future travel. But one has to keep in mind some hassles/risks when dealing with prepaid services like BlueBird. This FT thread where Blue Bird payments were not posted on a timely manner/not posted at all: http://bit.ly/119Ume7

    I always win to get bread after some effort rather than grabbing that for free since that could be a longer lasting process. Anything too good to believe will not last forever.

  12. Doesn’t this sort of depend on where your day-to-day takes you? I walk past an Office Depot 5 times a week. Stopping in for 2 minutes to buy this and then using the GC instead of my regular card really isn’t that bad. If I had to drive 10 or 15 minutes to an OD, I would feel differently.

  13. I am really low on UR points due to first class redemption to Rome, so i bought one of these. I only used for non-bonuses spend as pointed out. However, if you have a serve account, much better way is to cash $1000 a month out for free. Then, it is .67 cpm.

  14. I agree with the time&hassle point of view. It has only been worth it to me when I was trying to meet minimum spend for bonus points/miles.

  15. I actually just hopped over to my local OD (literally 1 block away from my house) to pick up $400 in Visa Gift Cards. I had a large online purchase to make with no option for cash back, and would earn the base 1 point per dollar on any credit card I used.

    I did not factor in the inability to use multiple cards online – “No Problem!” I thought. Vitamix has a friendly phone-in order service. I called in, gave all my information…and the gift cards were declined. I had already kept the phone rep until after closing, so I said I’d call back tomorrow (today). Now, I have to dig into whether it’s just because the cards were fresh, or if they add a hold on the card. They have taken the gift cards before, so it is possible…but this is absolutely not worth the time and hassle for the 2k UR points compared with the 430 I would have had anyway.

  16. Zen nailed it. Purchasing a $500 VR directly is cheaper. If you have a Chase SP, it drops to $.0073/point with the 7% bonus. ($3.95 VR fee/539 points earned)

    This math shows that the big reason to get/keep an Ink Bold/Plus is for the sign-up bonus and for store-specific gift cards (like Amazon, Home Improvement, etc.) available at office supply stores. Getting $200 Visa gift cards is not worth it.

  17. For those saying buying vanilla reloads directly is cheaper, yes technically that is true but you’re also forgoing 4/5 of the points you could be getting. If you’re ok spending a minimally smaller amount for points for 1/5 of the points, that’s fine, but you also have to take into account the lost UR points.

  18. @Paul You might have to register your card with zip code to make it work on phone or online orders.

    I do buy these $200 gift cards with sole purpose. Taking a trip to Asia next year, either biz class or 1st class (either united or Korean Air)…which will be taken by wife and mother in law. Yes, there is a cost associated to it, but hack, biz class to Asia would be far more expensive then about $1000 you spend on the fees.

    Whenever I visit OD (which is a walking distance away from my house), I pick up few other gift cards in addition: Shell gas card, Home improvement cards, as well as Amazon gift cards. All comes with no additional fees, and we use them up pretty good.

    We use the $200 gift cards for insurance premium payments, daycare payments, electric bills, doctor’s bill(which later submit for flex spending account reimbursement), etc.

    Of course I liked the $500 gift card option, but I will just roll with what options are available to me currently. With clear goal in mind as to how you are going to use the points, it will be worth it to some. For others, maybe not.

  19. Like @Jason said, you can use CSP to buy VRC directly from CVS at $3.95, 503.95 * 1.07 = 539 UR Points, 3.95 / 539 = 0.73 cents each versus “$42.65 / 5175 = .824 cents per point”. The trade off is earning 1.07 UR points vs 5 UR points. If you want to accrue more points faster, then Ink is the way to go.

  20. This process becomes even more valuable when you purchase $100 VISA Gift cards from Staples through TopCashback or the UR Portal (when it is at least 5x). It is easy to get the cost of UR Points down to around .50/point. Another option is liquidating them ($1000/month) through Amazon Payment. Or Buxx…..

  21. It was worth it back when you could get the $500 GCs but even then it was a pain in the butt to have to take those to CVS and turn into Vanilla Reloads. Now with only the $200 GCs it’s less profitable and more work. Not worth it.

  22. For trips to Europe, it makes more sense to rack up ThankYou points and use them to buy a discount business class ticket during the summer.
    ..
    For Asia and Australia trips, it’s better to use AMEX SPG card and then transfer to US Airways and use their cheaper award chart.

  23. @romsdeals, what about using INK to do a $1000 AP earning 1000 UR points for $0? Thats roughly 0.00000000 cents per point 🙂

  24. Here is a hassle story. Tried to buy 2K Visa Gift card using Ink Plus at my local Staples. The manager or some kind of “lead” told me he can’t do 2K, so have to be less, say, 1.8K. I was OK. Then he realized that I was paying with a business card. He claimed that I was going to resale them and refused to sell me any amount beyond 1K. WTF.

  25. Actually was in Office Max yesterday. Per mngr. there, they are discontinuing the $200 cards chain wide as there is “too much fraud”.
    When looking at $100 max, I will just use occassionally to extend min. spend requirements.
    I think Office Max is getting close to pulling the plug on letting you buy gc. with Office Max gc. I purchase those through UR.

  26. I wanted only one of this to give gift to my niece. The OD store i went to only has the $100 ones for $6.95 and would only accept credit card for $6.95 card fee only and $100 in cash.

    I bought it at the super market store later.

  27. For myself I try to use a threshold of 0.8c/point max for UR and MR(and much less than that for say Hilton) otherwise you end up actually spending quite a bit just to accumulate points. I found myself doing this, as this game can be addictive, until I laid all the costs out on a spreadsheet to derive a set of ‘rules’ for myself on which tactics to use and more importantly which to stop doing. It is so easy to lose track and overspend.
    ..
    For example:
    Compare AP with GC. 5X$200@OD with Ink 5x vs. 2x$500@Grocery with AMEX personal gold 2x.
    More points with INK but costs 0.7c/point, AMEX is only 0.6c/point(or put another way with INK you are out of pocket $34.75 a month, with AMEX only $11.90 a month).
    ..
    Play for the long game – always keep the costs as low as you can.

    ..
    Examples of these rules:
    No AMEX prepaid for less than 2x
    No AMEX Target with GC (0.95c/point with OD, 1.24c/point with grocery GC) – much better to do direct load with say 1.5x that comes with United Club card – Also don’t do Target with direct load at 1x as this would cost 1.29c/point

  28. If you’re looking at this from a cash back perspective, then it’s only equivalent to 1.7% CB and completely not worth it.

  29. Has anyone actually successfully used the $200 Visa cards to purchase vanilla cards at CVS? Assuming that you wanted to buy two $500 vanilla cards, you’d actually need to swipe the card six times. Would that even work?

    On a somewhat related note, I stopped by at my local OD store that was relocating to a new location. While I was browsing the aisles I came across the old variable reload Visa cards. I got excited and quickly grabbed the remaining three thinking I can reload them with $500 each. Unfortunately when I got to the register and the cashier tried to load them they all got rejected 🙁

  30. @Spencer’s comments on Staples online via $100 cards is the best way to go for me. Buy online, take to Target. To bring the cost down to match other plans, I seek out the no-fee ATMs.

    When TCB cooperates, this works well (if you can stand the glares from the customers waiting in line).

    • Larry — I’ve been out of the country for the past few months, but when the Office Max 2x$50 GCs for $90 promotion ran, I was able to swipe 20 $50 cards in a load. There was a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity with the on-duty manager calling someone higher up to make sure that this was acceptable, and the cashier asked several (what I consider) intrusive questions on what I intended to do with the cards and how I got them, but this all occurred while loading without pause. At no point did they stop the process.

  31. Russell, Love it when someone has a plan. Looks like you’ve really thought it through. In these times its easy to get confused in the “fog of mileage earning”. Glad to see others have a mapped out strategy as well.

  32. I used 3 VISA cards to pay tax last week over the phone. I had to repeat my information (i.e. SSN, name and addres)and the agent had to type them separately 3 times. I’ll not do more than 5 cards even if the agent has the patient.

  33. Staples is offering a $20 rebate on these cards for the week starting Sunday April 27, 2014.

    I will try to buy three $200 cards for a $21 fee, $20 of which will be rebated. These cards can be loaded to BB.

    That will put me $600 dollars (and 1200 miles) closer to meeting the minimum spend requirement on my Citi AA business card.

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