Million Mile Madness: Bumps in the road

860,000 points earned. 140,000 left to go.

Background: Million Mile Madness is the fun painful and foolish quest to earn a million points in one month. Throughout March, I’m doing everything I can to earn as many points as I can while keeping within my ethical boundaries. I don’t expect that a million points will have been credited to my account by March 31st: points often take quite a while to get credited. Instead, I’ll track all of the points that I expect, and I’ll declare victory if the expected total is over a million. To keep things challenging, I will try to keep my net costs below $1,000.

All points earned and expenses incurred are tracked via this Google Docs spreadsheetSee all Million Mile Madness posts (in reverse order), by clicking here.

Overview

Last week I reported that my crazy quest for a million miles in one month was going well (see “Million Mile Madness: Pending Success“).  Then, towards the end of last week I suffered some setbacks.  Here’s the story…

Kohl’s

Kohl’s seems to want me to succeed.  They were nice enough to have a second in one month 30% off sale for Kohl’s charge card holders (use code JELLYBEAN)!  The sale started last Thursday and continues until the 30th.  So, on Thursday, I jumped online and spent the day buying stuff in sub $400 increments.  Kohl’s limits customers to 4 gift cards per order so I couldn’t spend more than $400 at a time with my many $100 Kohl’s gift cards (see “Million Mile Madness: buying, selling Kohl’s“).  After each purchase, I chucked the empty gift cards into my recycle bin.

All was going well until I started receiving emails from Kohl’s saying “We’re sorry, but your order could not be processed.”  Over $1000 worth of orders had been canceled.  One of the items I had purchased (many times) had a 3 per person limit.  Oops.  Then the real fun began.  First I had to find my discarded gift cards.  After a frantic search I found them all.  Then I discovered that only a few had their balance re-credited.  After many emails, phone calls, and enjoyable hold music I learned that they were going to mail new gift cards to me for the remaining amounts.  I can only hope that they get the amounts correct.  I have no idea if I’ll get them in time to use with the current sale, or to help with Million Mile Madness.

Lowe’s

In the post “Million Mile Madness: Banking on Lowe’s” I reported how I had been successfully buying Lowe’s gift cards and paying with Home Improvement gift cards.  In that post, I said that I had bought $3500 worth of gift cards so far, but that I still wanted another $1500 worth.  The same day in which that post was published, I drove to a couple of Office Depot stores and found one with Home Improvement cards in stock.  I decided to go big and bought out all $3500 worth.

When I returned home, I used three of those cards to buy $1500 worth of Lowe’s gift cards online.  Everything appeared to work well.

A few days later, I tried to buy more Lowe’s gift cards online.  I went all the way through the checkout process to the very end before receiving error code 237 and a message saying to call.  I called and was told that it was a computer glitch and that I should try again the next day.

The next day, and the day after that, I received the same error.  A reader reported the same thing, but said that they were getting the error for all purchases (not just gift cards and not just when paying with a Home Improvement card).  So, several days later, I tried buying a small item and paying with a regular credit card.  The same error message came up.

I called again, and was again told that it was a computer error and that they would have it fixed by the next day.  They confirmed with me that they had no problem with my paying for gift cards with the Home Improvement cards.  Then they asked if there was anything else they could help me with.  Yes…  I told them that I had ordered three gift cards over a week ago, but hadn’t received them yet.  Could they check the status?  After checking into it, they reported to me that the orders had been canceled due to the same computer error.  OK, I said, here’s the problem: the Home Improvement cards I paid with have long since been recycled.  Uh oh.  The Lowe’s purchase receipts showed only the last 4 digits of the card numbers.  They said that there was nothing they could do, but they assured me that the Home Improvement card’s customer support team would be able to help…

Home Improvement Card

After failing to find $1500 worth of Home Improvement cards (see above), I searched for and failed to find my purchase receipt for those cards.  I then called the number that the Home Improvement Card’s website says to call when you have lost your card.  Ironically, the only way to get past the automated prompts is to enter a valid card number.  Luckily, I still had other cards around to use for that purpose.  I finally got a person on the phone who told me that my only hope was to go back to the store where I made my purchase and get a copy of the receipt there. 

I won’t bore you (any more than I already have) with the Office Depot story, but it ended well.  An incredibly nice store manager eventually tracked down the receipt and emailed it to me.  The receipt contained tracking information, but not enough information for me to figure out which of the seven purchased cards were the 3 missing ones.  I called the Home Improvement people again and was told to email or fax not just the receipt, but also photos (front and back) of the cards that were not missing so that they could figure out which ones were the missing ones.  So I did.

Now I wait.  I discovered that they have put all of my Home Improvement cards “on hold” until this is worked out.  Super. 

Small Successes

Prior to my Home Improvement cards being put on hold, I successfully ordered a $100 Lowes gift card (proof that they did fix the problem this time!).  I also successfully ordered a $400 Sears gift card (physical) at 6X via the United MileagePlus Shopping portal (past experiments have shown that I should get points for buying physical gift cards, but not e-gift cards from Sears).  I also successfully placed some orders at Kohls.com using my remaining gift cards.

Going Forward

While I wait for my Kohl’s and Home Improvement gift card fiascos to resolve themselves, I’ll work on meeting my Million Mile Madness target without those resources.  I’m close enough that I’m sure I can do it, but its going to be a bit harder than expected.  And, most likely, I’ll have to continue buying and selling in April in order to liquidate the gift cards once I get them.  Going forward, I’ll file all used gift cards away rather than tossing them out.

I often write about tricks for earning points and cash back through gift card churning techniques.  But, just because I write about a technique does not mean that I recommend it.  Let’s face it: gift cards are a pain to deal with.  There are very few gift card churning techniques that I’d be likely to do myself if I wasn’t a blogger who writes about this stuff!  So, read about my adventures and learn from them (both the good and the bad), but only do what you are comfortable with. 

Learn about Million Mile Madness:

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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Comments

  1. I’ve never really been able to wrap my head around gift cards – except to recognize the amounts are very small – the energy required for acquisition and use seem very high relative to the gain. Thank you for really driving home this point through your exercise.

    Sincerely though – best of luck in your quest…you’re almost there!

  2. Thanks for the update FM. This is a useful warning for everyone. Personally I always retain gift cards and the receipts for those gift cards indefinitely. I also retain every single reloadit, vanilla, green dot card along with the receipt of purchase stapled to it. I have a huge pile! You never know when something will go wrong down the road, and you always need to be able to get back to where you started. To me it’s the equivalent of putting down bread-crumbs as you go along. Given the landscape changes so frequently, it’s always useful to be able to go back to where you started

  3. We the people who stand on your shoulders to obtain miles salute you! (With apologies to the movie Gladiator”)

  4. Very good lesson about keeping those old gift cards.

    I had a couple of purchases from Lowes reversed as well. But fortunately they were small amounts that I had charged on my Chase credit cards to test the UR Mall.

    Anyone know of a creative way to get extra points on Ikea purchases? I’m going to buy about $4K and it would sure be nice to get extra points for all that.

  5. Sorry to hear about all the gift card trouble you had. That stinks. Good luck getting it resolved successfully. Happy to hear you think you can still make 1 million. VRs to the rescue?

  6. You make a great point about record keeping. When attempting envelope pushing strategies, it is a great idea to keep all cards and receipts until cash, points or rewards are reconciled. Thanks for sharing your awesome March Madness!

  7. I was wondering why I was not able to find a HI card around the AA-Detroit area anymore…I knew the answer, but now is confirmed. 🙂

  8. I never throw out my gift cards until I received the product I ordered. I keep used gift cards in a Box until item is received I have had issues on receiving the wrong product multiple times.

  9. Sorry to hear about the troubles. Gift cards can be a pain. I guess I’ve learned from your experience not to discard the gift cards until the deal is down. Did this effect your 10% lowes coupons also?

    • DaninSTL: I haven’t used the 10% coupon yet. Now that I have the remaining HI cards working again, I will get $1500 more Lowe’s gift cards before placing my one big order at 10% off.

      BigRedBears: I’ve tried to keep track of my time, but I haven’t done a good job of it. I think/hope I’ve been clear with everyone from the start that this adventure is not meant to be advice about the right way to do things. I would never go this big, this quickly under normal circumstances.

  10. I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of all gift cards.

    I also keep all physical gift cards and their receipts until I get the product.

    FM, have you incorporated the value of your time in the CPM analysis? MMM seems to be a rather extreme exercise.

  11. I may have missed it, but are you using the 30% off code through the Ultimate Rewards mall? I thought if you used coupon codes through there, you weren’t eligible for the bonus.

  12. I am getting ready to do some bathroom renovations and I can’t find those home improvement cards anywhere so I plan on going to the UR portal and buying $500 of Home Depot gift cards at 5X, then going back through the portal and buying my $500 of merchandise from HD at 3x so I should make a nice 6500 points off of purchases I was going to make anyway. If I found those HI cards I could add another 2500 to that total 🙁

  13. Are you still able to see your HI and other gift card earned points as pending in the UR mall? I’ve ordered all sorts of stuff from Lowes, Home Depot and Sears, some G-cards and some merchandise, but nothing ever shows up.

  14. I sure hope I get my double dip 5X buying a $500 Lowes GC with my home improvement card through the UR Mall. Do you think I will?

  15. Oh gawd, what a nightmare to keep track of. It’s bad enough to buy VRs with GCs and track them in case something goes wrong.

    After this fiasco, you deserve a long rest somewhere with beach service and no internet access….

  16. David: Yes, the points are continuing to show up, but sometimes they’re taking 10 or more days to show up.
    Claire: Smart 🙂
    Preacher: Yep, I expect you will.
    Paul: Thanks, I agree!

  17. I’m still getting an error today at Lowe’s. I thought the code meant the account was banned. 😉 We’ll see.

  18. @frequentMiler:
    I have a question about using Kohl’s gift cards with 30% promotion code ‘JELLYBEAN’. In the check out page, I choose Kohl’s charge card, then use two gift cards to pay. It seems fine in this page, when I clicked ‘Continue’, the coupon is removed. I got error message:

    ‘we have removed Promo Code(s) JELLYBEAN from your order because your order no longer meets the requirement(s) of this offer. (This could be because you changed your payment method, a required product has been removed or your order subtotal no longer meets the minimum value required.) Please double-check the requirements of the offer and adjust your order as necessary. Or, simply Checkout.’.

    My question is “do you have to pay some using Kohl’s credit card”? How do you avoid this?

    Thanks!

  19. I had the same issue with error code 237 ordering gift cards from lowes using HI. I also was told the same “glitch” story and when I asked about the status of my gift cards ($2500 worth) was told the order was cancelled. They didn’t know why. Interestingly, I received all the credit back on the HI cards but never received any cancellation emails and… I have received 12,500 UR points! Who knowns if they will eventually come off, but it appears that this glitch has worked out in my favor so far. The refunds were back on my cards over two weeks ago and still no cancellation emails or negative UR points pending (fingers crossed).

  20. karen: I don’t know why that is happening to you. The code works fine for me when I pay with gift cards. Strange!

    Sam: Hopefully you’ll be able to keep those points (me too). Have you tried again lately? Buying GCs now works for me, so I’m wondering if they fixed it for everyone or just for me.

  21. Sounds like you need some better organization skills. My wife is for hire, haha. I’m guilty of it too, but not willing to take any chances on losing cash, I keep almost all gift cards. Only ones I throw away immediately are Amazon.

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