Gift card alchemy


What follows is a hypothetical perpetual money machine.  While I’ve successfully tried each individual step, I’ve never put them all together as shown here.  Don’t think of this as a recommendation of what you should do, but rather take it as intended: a fun way to think about what is possible…


To get started, you need a Discover card account and a good rewards credit card. You can use a Discover card for both purposes… or not.  It doesn’t really matter.  You also need to be signed up for Plink.  In your Plink account, put Kmart in your Plink Wallet.

Buy gift cards

Use your Discover account to access the ShopDiscover portal.  There you can find Sears with a 10% cash back bonus.


Click through and buy a $50 physical Sears gift card to be mailed to your home.  Pay with the credit card linked to Plink and you will earn 300 Plink points since the charge looks like it came from Kmart.


Repeat buying $50 gift cards as often as you’d like, but make each one a completely separate purchase to maximize Plink rewards.  With each order, you will earn $5 in Discover Rewards and $3 worth of Plink points.

Upgrade Discover Rewards

Instead of redeeming your Discover Rewards for cash, redeem for Lands’ End e-gift cards.  These are available for 20% off and work the same as Sears’ gift cards.  This way, the value of your Discover Rewards grows by 25% (i.e. $40 becomes $50 in Sears’ credit).

Redeem Plink Points for Walmart gift cards

There are several options for redeeming Plink points, but for the sake of this alchemy, we’ll choose Walmart. 

Upgrade Sears (and Lands’ End) gift cards to Visa

Go to Sears.  Hunt down the secret gift card rack.  Use Sears’ gift cards to buy $100 Visa (or MasterCard) gift cards (each with a $5.95 fee).  You have now lost just under 6% of your gift card value, but you’ve turned it into a more useful element.

You could stop here, but for fun let’s keep going…

Buy eBay gift cards at the grocery store

Take those $100 Visa gift cards to a grocery store that offers fuel points.  Best bet is to go to one that offers extra fuel points for gift card purchases.  At Kroger, for example, they standardly offer 2 fuel points per dollar for gift card purchases and sometimes run promotions for even more.  Buy eBay gift cards.

Buy Walmart gift cards

On eBay, $500 Walmart gift cards are often offered for $485 (3% off face value).  Use your eBay gift cards to buy them.  You will earn 2% back in the form of eBay bucks which can be used towards future purchases of Walmart gift cards.

Upgrade Walmart gift cards to Visa gift cards

Walmart gift cards can be used to buy fixed value Visa gift cards.  Online, Walmart offers $200 Visa gift cards for $206.88.

Pay credit card bill

Remember that this chain started with an online purchase of Sears gift cards.  So, take those $200 Visa gift cards to Walmart to load your Bluebird card.  Use your Bluebird account’s Bill Pay feature to pay off your credit card.

Add it up

Start with a $10,000 investment…

  • Buy $10K worth of Sears gift cards, earn $1K Discover Cash and $300 in Plink points.
  • Redeem $1K Discover Cash for 25 $50 Lands’ End gift cards (they cost $40 each).  You now have $1250 in Lands’ end gift cards and $10K in Sears’ gift cards for a total of $11,250.
  • Go to Sears and use $11,230.70 in Sears’ gift cards to buy 106 $100 Visa gift cards (yeah, this will take a while!).
  • Redeem $300 in Plink points for $300 in Walmart gift cards.
  • Go to Kroger (for example) and use those 106 Visa gift cards to buy $10,600 worth of eBay gift cards.  Earn 21,200 fuel points.
  • On eBay, buy 21 $500 Walmart gift cards for $10,185.  Earn $203.70 in eBay Bucks.
  • You now have $10,500 in Walmart gift cards from eBay and $300 from Plink.  Use those gift cards to buy 52 $200 Visa gift cards.  You now have $10,400 in Visa gift cards
  • Use $10,000 worth of Visa gift cards to payoff the original $10K investment.

Here’s what you have left:

  • Two $200 Visa gift cards = $400
  • Sears gift card value: $19.30
  • eBay gift card value: $415
  • eBay Bucks: $203.70
  • Walmart gift card value: $42.24

Total profit: $1080.24!  Plus, don’t forget those 21,200 fuel points (you will need them for all those trips to Sears, Kroger, and Walmart!).  And, of course, you would earn rewards from your credit card for $10K worth of spend.


The gift card alchemy shown above is theoretically possible, but it is far from realistic.  There are many problems that would crop up in the real world.  For example, here are a few:

  • ShopDiscover cash back might not post correctly.
  • Sears’ fraud department will most likely get concerned when you place so many individual $50 gift card orders!
  • Sears is unlikely to have 106 $100 Visa gift cards!
  • Even if you could buy over $10K worth of eBay gift cards at a grocery store, they typically come in $25 denominations.  Do you really want to rub off all those silver strips and key in all those numbers?  I didn’t think so.
  • While $500 Walmart gift cards are regularly offered on eBay for $485, they typically do not ship them for several months.  Plus, you’re unlikely to find 21 of them!
  • At any time, Walmart might stop allowing the use of their gift cards to buy Visa gift cards.
  • The ability to use Visa gift cards to load Bluebird accounts may come to an end at any time.

I picked a $10K starting point just as a fun way of showing big profits.  In real life, the only way someone could make this work is to do it in much smaller numbers.  However, with smaller numbers come smaller profits.  Is it worth all of that running around and absorbing all those risks for $100?  $50?  For most people, probably not.  Still, its fun to think of what is possible…

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  1. […] “Easy” and “Frequent Miler” don’t tend to go together in the same sentence.  I tend to gravitate to the complicated stuff.  After all, why write about a simple deal that takes two sentences to explain when I can, instead, write about a complex 8 part scheme that requires a lot of risk and effort for moderate rewards and will most likely no longer work a week later (like this one)? […]


  1. Great post.
    This IS the perpetual machine that I have been waiting for you to show us!
    Almost as good as the Citi savings accounts funded by cc.
    Now to get on with my day job …

  2. I converted my Sears gift cards at KMart yesterday and got back a register coupon for $.30 off of up to 15 gallons at Speedway. Nice Bonus. The cashier said the coupon was given for every $50 purchase. I don’t think it required a Kmart Rewards or Sears ShopYourWay account but I may be wrong but as expected I got no points awarded on the purchase from either Kmart or Speedway.

  3. eBay cards were still available at my local Sears Hometown Store but these are probably limited to rural areas such as my own.

  4. It’s only a matter of time until people who have been doing the Sears-Plink-Discover-Land’s End-Walmart-Ebay-Kroger-Bluebird churn start complaining about greedy bloggers ruining deals for everyone.

  5. Going to try this?? I’ve been doing a version of this for a long time. Also be careful of the Ebay GCs you can only do 5k in Ebay GCs per acct every 6mos. Ran into that pretty quickly and was quite shocked. Had to sit on the rest of my GCs until the time reset in 6mos.

  6. Love the blog. But Ii also hate the ad captch. Fine with generic captchas, but I hate needing to type in “buy a (insert specific car brand here)” just to leave a comment.

  7. You’re right; that was fun to think about! It reminds me of the AORs on Fatwallet a few years ago. “Oh the possibilities!”

  8. Nice analysis. Though wouldn’t buying ebay cards (or anything) with a points earning card rather then a visa gc be a better idea?

    Also, at Sears do you have to interact with the cashier to use a GC, or do you simply swipe the sears GC like a credit card and the system handles it? I know you’ve had success with this, and though I haven’t personally tried it I get the impression its cashier dependent (is there a store that “officially” lets you buy a gc with a gc? I think not). Furthermore, I would suspect large gc transactions require manager intervention. What has been your experience in large volume transactions at Sears?

    @MileageUpdate – where did you run into that ebay gc limit? do you mean Ebay imposes that limit, or Krogers?

  9. At my local Ralph’s and Von’s grocery stores, I have been unable to buy eBay gift cards. When the cashier tries to activate the cards, the gift card receipt says not activated. I am not sure if it is due to a bad batch of eBay gift cards or if the eBay gift card activation server is down. I tried buying the gift cards on 2 separate days but I didn’t work, which makes it seem like its a gift card problem.

  10. To 2nd what Grant is saying. Pay attention to your activation receipt. Sometimes an ebay GC will be rung up but it will not activate. Also remember 5k per ebay acct in ebay GCs every 6mos is their limit. and also u gotta lose the advertising Captcha. makes you want to not comment IMO

  11. I like it for novelty value, but lets drill down – what you have here is a way to earn 10.80% Profit – what we haven’t clarified in the above is how long the entire cycle takes, and how much larger it could scale, as 10K is pretty hefty when dealing with small gift cards.

    Also, if you are planning to ‘wash’ through the money in time to use it to pay off the initial 10K that means you need to liquidate within a billing cycle, which might be a stretch – if you could do so that fast then we are looking at 10% per month which is pretty snazzy.

    My real concern though is the risk aspect that occurs at each stage that is disproportionate to profit. For example: it only takes one of those $500 eBay cards to be fraudulent to cut your profit by 50%, plus if it happens to be the first card you attempt to buy on you will be trapped with the dilemma of chasing your profit, after just being burned…

    I do appreciate the ingenuity, but think the more steps that link together in the alchemy, the more chance for something to go awry, and as such the risk/reward equation needs to be readdressed at each cycle through.

  12. Slow news day, eh?

    BTW: Ads in a captcha? Really? Why not just toss in a bunch of pop-up windows with ads to get-rich-quick sites and porn?

    Stay classy, FM.

  13. Dealing with Kroner, Sears and Walmart employees?? Bad enough with just 1 place but 3? That’s my deal breaker I hope someone tries this!

  14. I went to 7 kroger in the houston area and walked away with 1 25 buck ebay card. They used to be listed on kroger online and have been removed from there. I think ebay and 4x fuel points is done.

  15. Not sure why everyone is giving you grief about the ads in the captcha. Certainly not the first time I’ve seen it and I don’t expect it to be the last. In my opinion it’s pretty clever.

    Though having captchas in general is annoying since it doesn’t seem like boardingarea gets much spam to begin with.

    Back to the post, does discover reward cash back if you use a different card? I thought I read before that people said they got denied for not using a discover card. I imagine it’d be easy for discover to track down proper and improper cash back usage.

    • CAPTCHA: I was previously spending about an hour a day deleting spam comments so I asked Boarding Area if there was something that could be done about it. They proposed the captcha idea and I agreed. Since then I haven’t received any spam at all. However, if it proves to be too onerous for commenters, we’ll look for a different solution.

      Shop Discover: I’ve successfully bought Sears’ gift cards through there a couple of times in the past and paid with non Discover credit cards yet still received cash back. With only a couple of tries, I can’t say how reliable the technique is.

      EBay gift cards: I added that whole section just for fun. Anyone in their right mind would stop once they get the $100 Visa gift cards from Sears. Liquidate those gift cards and repeat. And, even that is near impossible since the secret gift card rack at Sears almost always seems to be fresh out of $100 Visa gcs.

  16. The shopdiscover site indicates that gift cards are excluded from the Sears 10% cash back. So far, has the 10% cashback bonus been reliable for gift cards?

  17. I can’t find ebay gift cards at my Randall’s or Kroger in the Houston area any more. Anyone else seen them? I don’t buy them at HEB since HEB doesn’t post as a grocery store with AMEX.

  18. Love today’s title. Shows the glimmer in the eye, while at the same time hinting at the futility of making the big sustained kill in “cash-backing”. Keep showing us that optimistic glimmer. Thanks!

  19. Great read, even if real world execution would be virtually impossible. I enjoy your outside-the-box thinking FM, it is head and shoulders above your competition.

    To the readers complaining about the CAPTCHA… find something worthwhile to complain about. People in the world wake up wondering if they’re going to eat and you have an issue because the blog you read to find tricks to earn virtuallyvFREE premium travel made you type in some advertisement? I assume you read FM because you enjoy the content. Why not help the guy make a buck?

    • Kroger details their policy about fuel points for gift cards here:
      Specifically, they say:

      Yes. Gift Card purchases count 2X toward your fuel points monthly balance, with the exception of Kroger and Kroger Family of Stores Gift Cards, Green Dot prepaid reloadable products, MoneyPaks, American Express Variable Load Gift Cards, Visa Variable Load Gift Cards, and MasterCard Variable Load Gift Cards.

  20. There is a $5000/6 month rolling period for ebay gift card purchases. Also, if you are unlucky and haven’t made a lot of purchases with ebay gift cards, they may freeze your account until you can prove that you made the ebay gift card purchase legitmately. That is you used your credit card to purchase the ebay gift card. They did it to me and my wife’s account when I discovered this trick and purchased a lot of $500 walmart gift cards on ebay. I had to upload a lot of documents along with my reciept for the ebay gift cards from Frys, along with my credit card statement to show the credit card I bought the gift cards belonged to me. They wouldn’t unfreeze my account at first because they thought I used an AMEX prepaid gift card. I had to explain that it was my AMEX blue preferred credit card. They wouldn’t have unfrozen it otherwise, or given me my money for the unused ebay gift card. They haven’t asked me for any reciepts though after the first initial freezing that they did to both my account and my wife’s account. Just a little warning that if you don’t use ebay gift cards regularly, and you make some big purchases with ebay gift cards they may ask you to prove that you bought the gift cards through legal means, and paying with a prepaid gift card won’t satisify them, you will have to link that prepaid card to the kmart reciepts, to the gift cards, that will have to be shown to have been bought with your credit card…Just a little heads up because I did do this for awhile minus the kmart gift cards. Does anyone know of a cashback portal that will give cashback on visa gift cards from walmart purchased with a walmart gift card? This can add some more profit to the above strategy if there is a portal. Thanks!

  21. Greg

    This might be great for someone who has nothing to do, but…………..why not go to CVS for VRs and load to BB

    Seems lots easier to me

    I do suspect there is some tongue in cheek here, right ??

  22. My KMart did indeed take Sears gift cards in payment for BP gift cards. The cashier swiped them on her register. And my local Kroger gave me fuel points on a $500 variable load visa gift card. So the moral is again- your experience may vary.

  23. No one has mentioned that there are large denomination of gift cards on ebay (like walmart), that are purchased with stolen credit cards. So by the time you get the card, the fraud department of the stolen credit card has reversed the charge, and the merchant has cancelled the credit card. Additionally, any card that takes weeks and weeks to get is most likely one of these.
    And yes, I speak from experience. Just be careful buying those big cards!

  24. Phil, I buy at Kroger all the time and they absolutely give fuel pts for varaiable GC purchases. As always YMMV but Ive been to Krogers at multiple states and all have earned fuel pts.

  25. Marc, I agree with your caution. I’d say 50% of all my WMT GC purchases ended up as a scam of some sort and I bought a lot of cards. Maybe 25k-30k in a 2 month period. You are protected by Ebay Buyers Protection but its a huge hassle. I was buying them when you got credit for EBay purchases thru MyPoints and then turn them into United Miles.

  26. Marc,

    When you say “no one has mentioned..”

    “My real concern though is the risk aspect that occurs at each stage that is disproportionate to profit. For example: it only takes one of those $500 eBay cards to be fraudulent to…”


    now must enter that AMEX has Superior Service via Captca, and I kinda start to believe it is true with each comment I make!

  27. I think eBay is the weakest link in this chain. To find all those Walmart gift cards is going to be challenging. But it does give ideas for people who want to think outside of the box, which is the point of the discussion – to teach you how to fish rather than giving you fish.

  28. Alchemy certainly looks like hard work, but I thought it was worth a try to consume 1 or 2 Discover HIGC’s loaded with $500 each that I have “left over” in my wallet… from you know what (over recent weeks.)
    But I found I was unable to register a HIGC with Plink site as it asks for a password to a banking website where I “manage” this card. Since you don’t “manage” a HIGC, how can I register it with Plink?
    If you can help me with this—it’s watch out local Sears stores – I’m heading over to raid your GC rack!

  29. Can I please hire someone to do all this for me? Yes, I am fat and lazy. I only have enough energy to READ about doing this, and that supply is nearly exhausted

  30. Discover can claw back reward points if you don’t use the their card. I am now sitting with minus $160 in my account because I had already redeemed the points, so they put me in the hole when they did a manual review and “Discovered” I didn’t use their card.

    I was just going to let the card die, but decided I can get the money back with a couple of $75 Disc bonus qtrs, VR at gas station and then online via AP. So that will get me back to even and can go back to using ShopDiscover, but only when using the DC if I want to be sure. I had received tons of ShopDisc earlier without using card so I am not saying this happens every time.

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