Gift card PINs

The miles and points community is abuzz with talk about the fact that some Visa and MasterCard gift cards now allow you to setup PINs so that they can be used as debit cards.  Here’s why we care… 


Last week a reader reached out to me with exciting news.  He had bought a $500 Visa gift card at Safeway, and along with the receipt was a piece of paper saying that these cards can now be setup with PINs.  The notice was explicit that the PIN could not be used for ATM withdrawals, but it did not exclude other ways of getting money from debit cards (reloading Bluebird, buying money orders, etc.).  Not long after receiving that email, a new thread was created on FlyerTalk with similar information (here).  Then, on Saturday, Million Mile Secrets published a well researched post on the topic: Breaking News: You Can Now Use Gift Cards For Cash Back, Loading Bluebird, and Buying Money Orders!

Why we care

There are many ways to get points and miles when buying bank gift cards. The problem has always been figuring out what to do with those gift cards once you get them.  Sure, you could use them for everyday spend, but in many ways they’re inconvenient.  Most of us would rather turn them directly into cash, if possible.  Now, with PIN numbers, there are several ways to convert bank gift cards to cash (or to pay bills that usually can’t be paid by credit card):

  1. Pay for Bluebird swipe-reloads at Walmart.
  2. Buy money orders.
  3. Pay bills at the Walmart Money Center.
  4. Get cash back at certain stores when paying with a debit card.
  5. Get a cash advance at a bank.

Details about most of these techniques are in Million Mile Secrets’ post on this topic.  Note that these are ideas that might work.  I have yet to personally test any of them.


  • Not all gift cards are PIN enabled. Be careful about which ones you buy.  Million Mile Secrets was able to setup a PIN with a card from U.S. Bank National Association.  This is the one that has you register at  The reader who had contacted me, had bought a gift card issued by Metabank.  This is the one that has you register at or
  • Not all stores accept gift cards for PIN transactions.  Again, see the research done by Million Mile Secrets.
  • Please use restraint.  If you spend too much on gift cards you may be flagged by your credit card company’s fraud department for possible money laundering.  They could subject you to a financial review or simply close all of your accounts.

Credit card bonus categories

Bank gift cards charge a fee on top of their stored value so buying a gift card with a rewards credit card isn’t necessarily a good deal.  Often the purchase fee will more than offset any gain you get from your credit card.  A great trick is to use a credit card that earns extra points or cash back at certain types of stores.  Here are some of the best options:

  • Citi ThankYou Preferred: A special sign-up offer exists that will give you 5 points per dollar at grocery stores, drug stores, and gas stations for 12 months.  See details here.
  • American Express Blue Cash Preferred: 6% cash back at grocery stores, up to $6K per year in spend.
  • US Bank Cash+: 5% cash back at electronics stores.
  • Fort Knox Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum: 5% cash back at gas stations.
  • PenFed Platinum Rewards: 5 points per dollar at gas stations.
  • Citi Forward: 5 points per dollar at book stores.
  • Chase Ink: 5 points per dollar at office supply stores.

In order to reduce costs, always look for the highest value gift cards available since the gift card fee will then be just a small percentage of the overall value of the card.


Update: For more info on up to date opportunities, see: Beginner’s guide to buying & liquidating Visa & Mastercard gift cardsBest options for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards.

Here are a few opportunities that jump out to me:

Grocery Stores: Many grocery stores offer fuel points, and they sometimes offer extra fuel points when purchasing gift cards (see “What is a fuel point worth?“).  With the right credit card, it’s possible to earn 5X points or 6% cash back in addition to fuel points!  Not all grocery stores will give fuel points for variable load gift cards, though, so watch out for that.

Merchant Rewards: Similar to grocery store fuel points, some stores have rewards programs in which they give you a percentage of each purchase back as rewards dollars to be spent in the future.  Try to find a merchant that offers such a program, sells bank gift cards, and gives rewards for gift card sales.  There aren’t many with this combination, but I can think of at least one.

GiftCardMall: GiftCardMall sells Visa gift cards online with values up to $1000 each and with only a $3.95 fee.  Even after accounting for shipping costs, your total purchase cost of a $1000 card should be less than $10.  In other words, your costs will be less than 1%.  You can eliminate the 1% cost altogether by first buying Amex gift cards via BigCrumbs (for 1.4% cash back), and then buying the Visa gift cards with the Amex gift cards.  If you’re interested, please consider using my BigCrumbs referral linkYou can also go through TopCashBack to Amex for 1.5% cash back, but I’m still waiting for my own cash back to become payable from TopCashBack before I’ll feel comfortable recommending that approach over BigCrumbs.

Rebates and promotions: Every now and then a store will offer a rebate or discount on Visa or MasterCard gift cards.  Watch for those promotions and jump on them when they’re available.


Reload cards are still a much easier option for those of us still able to buy them with credit cards.  For others, though, gift cards with PINs can be a great option for meeting credit card minimum spend requirements, buying points & miles cheaply, or working towards big spend bonuses.

Some of the best opportunities for cashing out gift cards require visits to Walmart.  If you frequently visit Walmart anyway, gift cards with PINs may be a great new opportunity for you.

I have not yet had a chance to test any of the above ideas, so please do your own research before jumping in.

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  1. […] Now that it is possible to set PINs on Visa gift cards, my interest in reloading Bluebird at Walmart has been rekindled.  Until now, I’ve found it to easier and more rewarding to load my Bluebird account with Vanilla Reload cards.  Now that giftcards have PINs, though, Walmart swipe reloads have become a fantastic way to turn gift card balances into cash (see “Gift card PINs“). […]

  2. […] The end of fee free Mint Coins didn’t end the practice of manufacturing spend.  Far from it.  But there was no longer one single unlimited and free approach.  Instead, people branched out into many approaches: funding new bank accounts with credit cards; buying money orders; loading prepaid card accounts; etc.  Then, in 2013, Visa and MasterCard gift cards suddenly became PIN enabled. […]


  1. Another read brought this up on Million Mile Secrets but do you know if Lowe’s sell $500 denomination gift cards? Would be helpful for the current Chase Freedom bonus.

  2. FM – what’s a safe amount of regular spending of GC for the chase ink based on your experience? Thanks!

    • avidtraveler: It really depends on your own circumstances: charge limit, income, spending habits, etc.
      Sil: No, Home Depot doesn’t sell any gift cards except their own as far as I know.
      FoodEater: Citi doesn’t code them as cash advances if you buy them in a store. A drug store or grocery purchase is coded as a drug store or grocery purchase regardless of what exactly you buy. Don’t use Citi cards to buy Amex gift cards from Amex though.

  3. I see that you list a couple of Citi cards as “opportunities”. I thought Citi always coded GC purchases as a cash advance. Is that not the case?

  4. Thanks for the tip, FM. I’m aiming for 25-30% of my CL each month. Perhaps this is pushing it too much. Do they count my spend in other Chase cards, where I do make large amount of legitimate transactions. Do you think it’s wise to start moving all of other spend/transactions on the ink? Thanks again.

  5. Ash, that isn’t good to hear. I was hoping that One Vanilla would be the best since it says on their site that you set the PIN with the first time that you make a purchase. Enter anything and that is your PIN. Seemed like the easiest way and those cards look the most professional with raised numbers and don’t say “giftcard” on them.

  6. When I look at my TYP preferred statement, I see how purchases are coded, but I don’t see if points are awarded for the specific purchase. Is there a way to see if a transaction definitely earned the 4X bonus?

    • Not that I’m aware of. The best option I can think of is to put all of your transactions into a spreadsheet and calculate the bonus points you expect and see how it matches up to the points earned.

  7. I find this post to be more succint and understandable than MMS, despite the lack of graphical enhancements. My takeaway though is to just keep using VRs as $3.95 < $5.95.

  8. Don’t see a huge opportunity here right now other than meeting minimum spend. From a cash back perspective, it does not seem worthwhile.

  9. Are we safe to assume that the Visa Gift Cards purchased via giftcardmall are ones that work with a PIN? Has anybody actually confirmed this? Which issuer’s GC do they sell?

  10. FM, how do you load bank gift card to Bluebiard at Walmart? Can it be done automatically (eg. atm or machine) or do you have to take it to the cashier? Will they load 5 x $200 at once?

    • Pete: My understanding is that you can use 4 per transaction. So, split your 5 cards between two transactions. I’m sure you can load at the cash register, but I’m looking forward to trying it at the Walmart ATM to see if it works there too. I don’t see why it wouldn’t.

  11. FM: I agree that Vanilla Reloads are easier to get load onto your Bluebird. However, I’d argue that this new debit/PIN becomes more lucrative in terms of paying bills you normally couldn’t pay via CC. My analysis: Let’s say you have a $2k mortgage payment. You could go via charge smart, pay ~$35 in fees and thus end up “buying” points at 1.72 cents/pt. You could go with the standard VR cards, spend $15.8 in fees (3.95*4) to net $2k spend (2016 points) at a cost of 0.783 cents/point. However, now you could buy 10 $200 GC’s @ a $69.50 in fees with an Ink card @ Staples for 10,348 points at a cost of 0.67 cents/point. Not only is it *cheaper* but your points bucket will grow 5 times as fast as well.

  12. @ FrequentMiler

    I think you need to add in a paragraph stating that you are limited to $5k in loads on the bluebird. So if you have already hit $5k in a given month with Vanilla Reloads… you won’t be able to load pin-enhanced gift cards to your account.

  13. I potentially take what I said back. Seems MMS says it is combined, but that is not what I remember from the terms of BB. $5k per mo for sure on vanilla but was pretty sure you can also do $5k per mo debit. Even FM previous posts comparing to serve show this.

  14. I was in my local lowes yesterday and they did not sell any visa or mastercard or anything that would count as an all purpose gift card.

  15. what is the highest amount GC that OfficeDepot or OfficeMax sells and we can deplete easily now?

    Can we buy visa/master GC from them online thourough TopCashback?


  16. I am trying to buy a $3k amex gift card through topcashback and the order keeps getting denied. I think it’s because it is a business gift card and it asks for employer ID. How to get around this? is there a personal gift card that has a $3k limit?

  17. @Gabriel

    why not use Miler’s Gift Card mall trick and get two thousand miles for free? that is how I read this. Why?

    Using the amex gift card trick, I calculated that for each $1000, you are about $11.50 “ahead.” (BC rebate – fees) If I get the gift card mall visa, I am now still about $150 ahead. I then load onto Bluebird or, what I like even better, buy a Wally MO. Now about even. It is basically, dare I say, a perpetual point machine?

  18. Quick question. Does anybody know if AMEX will freak out if you use one of their cards to buy a $1k gift card from I ask because I’m considering using my SPG Amex for that method of visa gift card/reload occasionally. I’m still quite happy with my 0.67 cents/UR pt method as I’m buying a round trip flight to New York from Denver on SW Points for $80 (and best part, my wife flies for free!)

  19. Has anybody confirmed buying a 1k GC from and successfully loading it to BB at WM? FYI, I’ve successfully loaded 2 types of cards onto my BB at WM. The $200 metabank visa’s from Staples and a $500 variable Visa from US Bank which I purchased at Kroger (tricky part on that one is that you have to call-in to set up a PIN).

  20. I just purchased a vanillavisa gc.
    When I called to get pin, the rep said I need to swipe it and it’ll give me the option to set the pin at point of sale.

    Anybody done this yet?

  21. success was mentioned on comment section of MMS blog of using One Vanilla giftcards to reload bluebird. I have not tried it personally

  22. In your section describing using Amex gift cards to buy Visa gift cards via GiftCardMall, is it assumed that you’re using Amex e-gift cards?

  23. Here is one reason OD got so “tetchy” about gift cards and scams! Whew!

    On February 19, cashing crews stood at the ready at ATMs across Manhattan and in two dozen other countries. This time, the hackers infiltrated a credit card processing company based in the US that also handles Visa and MasterCard prepaid debit cards. The company’s name was not revealed in the indictment.

    After securing 12 account numbers for cards issued by the Bank of Muscat, in Oman, and raising the withdrawal limits, the cashing crews were set in motion. Starting at 3pm, the crews made 36,000 transactions and withdrew about $40 million from machines in the various countries in about 10 hours.

    Read more:

  24. Just wanted to report my first effort at using a gift card PIN to load Bluebird. I had to call to get a PIN for my purple&gold “present” MC, but it went smoothly. I went to Walmart money center and with some help from a knowledgable clerk, got the card to load. The next day my Bluebird account was suspended for suspicious activity. I also received a courtesy call from Bluebird telling me my account would be closed if I loaded it with another gift card. How did they know? Is this option dead to me? Please share your thoughts on my encounter.

  25. Mike: That’s too strange. I’ve never heard of that happening before. I guess you could try using it in other ways for a while before doing gift cards again. Or, stick with Vanilla Reload cards instead.

  26. Thanks so much for your reply on this dormant thread! That says a lot about the care you take as a blogger. Thanks also for your response. VRs aren’t an option out here in Fort Collins, CO (only cash-only walgreens). As with so many things, i seem to be a trend-leader in weird, unpleasant experiences! =)

  27. Mike: I am also from FC. Thx for sharing your experience. My BB card arrived today and I was going to load with a GC at Walmart tomorrow for the first time so will be ready now.

  28. I have sucessfully loaded gift cards with PINs to my Bluebird multiple times in June and May. Last night was the fist time I tried in July and it failed!

    The first WalMart I went to, the clerk took one look at the gift card (the purple and gold MC) and said that a “memo from Bluebird” had told them not to allow loads, so she wouldn’t even let me try.

    Then I went to a Walmart Neighborhood Market. The clerk there was going to let me do it but she said the system only recognized the card as credit, not debit, so it couldn’t go through.

    I am trying in Denver, btw.

    Has anyone else had a similar experience?

  29. 1. Do NOT “register” the gift cards. 2. Buy them in grocery stores. Merely follow the instructions to get PINs. Metabank requires online, if I remember correctly. US Bank requires an automated phone call for each card. (“To change PIN, punch (X)” and then set a PIN.) I never had a problem with either VISA or Master Card in buying Walmart money orders for deposit. 4. Since I learned about One Vanilla DEBIT cards, I use any PIN when I swipe them. It is simpler.

  30. I have the Chase Sapphire card and a Travelocity card: I’m looking to buy $25 reloadable gift cards for my kids with low fees. Any suggestions would be welcome.

  31. I’m curious about your last caution “please use restraint” if you purchase too many gift cards with a credit card you may be flagged for money laundering and have your account shutdown. How do credit card companies know you are purchasing gift cards? I thought that all they see is the amount of the purchase and where it was purchased. I am asking because this past week I have been buying a lot of visa gift cards at Office Depot and office max with their $20 off a $300 purchase promotion since I can no longer load redbird with credit and had a lot of minimum spend to meet. Now I’m worried because I have already purchased about $4000 in VGC.

    • If a credit card company has reason to audit an account, it probably isn’t hard for them to identify suspicious purchases. For example, many $2,000+ CVS purchases may look suspicious. Plus, some stores provide detailed info to the credit card company with info about what was actually purchased.
      In your case, my guess is that large purchases at an office supply store don’t look too suspicious and probably wouldn’t be cause to review your account.

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