Lessons learned from Sears 12X and 16X offers

In early October, Sears ran an amazing promotion through United’s MileagePlus Shopping portal.  For two days, they offered 12 miles per dollar for Sears’ purchases or 16 miles per dollar for United MileagePlus cardholders.  Immediately after that offer expired, Sears followed up with an offer for 12 American Airlines miles per dollar through the AAdvantage eShopping portal.  Throughout that time, the shopping portal terms & conditions changed more than once.  This made for an interesting real-life experiment.  More on that soon, but first some background…

Background

Special portal offers at Sears always interest me because it has long been possible to double dip with Sears.  By this I mean that one can earn points from a shopping portal for buying Sears’ gift cards and then earn points again from the portal when buying merchandise with those gift cards.  In this way, it’s possible to double your points earned.  So, for example, a 10X offer becomes a chance to earn 20 points per dollar.  That’s the high level view.  When diving into the details, things get a bit more complicated…

When I first started writing about the Sears’ double dip about two years ago, it was pretty straightforward:  One could go through a portal and buy e-gift cards, receive them in about an hour (after a call from their security department to verify your identity), and then use the gift cards to buy merchandise.  When Sears’ ran one-day promotions the double-dip could be started and completed in that one day.

About a year ago, Sears stopped allowing portal points for e-gift card purchases.  Within all of the major portals, new terms & conditions declared “Not eligible on gift cards.”  Through Frequent Miler Laboratory experiments, we found that they still awarded points for physical gift card purchases, just not e-gift cards.  So, double-dips were still possible, but more complicated.  Without e-gift cards, it was necessary to plan ahead: Buy physical gift cards during special promotions and then hope for another good promotion to appear once the gift cards arrive.  Alternatively, one could find other uses for Sears’ gift cards, but that’s another story (see “The top five ways to use Sears gift cards“).

The 12X / 16X story

When Sears’ recently offered 12 to 16 miles per dollar through the United MileagePlus Shopping portal, Mommy Points made an interesting discovery.  The terms & conditions had changed.  Instead of saying “not eligible on gift cards”, the terms said: “Gift Cards eligible as of 10/4/13.”  Here is Mommy Point’s screenshot with these terms (posted with permission):

If you look carefully at the fine print (above) you’ll see that the third sentence says “Gift Cards eligible as of 10/4/13”.  At the time, I checked a few other portals (including the AAdvantage eShopping portal) and found that they listed the same terms: “Gift Cards eligible as of 10/4/13”. 

The fact that the terms had changed to allow gift cards was encouraging.  I took it to mean that, most likely, purchases of e-gift cards were once again allowed.  In the post “Maximizing the 2 day Sears/MileagePlus 16X promotion,” I said “It seems very likely that the new terms & conditions mean that e-gift cards are once again working!  I’ll test this out, of course, but it usually takes four or five days to get confirmation of portal purchases, so we won’t know for sure in time for this promotion.”

At that point, a bunch of us went about buying Sears’ e-gift cards.  Shortly before the United promotion ended, though, the terms allowing gift cards disappeared!  The terms were now completely silent about gift cards.  Then, the next day, the AAdvantage eShopping promotion started and, during the day, new text appeared declaring: “Not eligible on gift cards, gift certificates or any other similar cash equivalents.”  I covered the story of the changing terms and conditions in the post “Sears gift cards and the mysterious case of changing terms and conditions.”

Questions raised

The weird combination of events that happened last month with Sears, raised a number of questions.  Were the initial terms & conditions (allowing gift cards) a mistake?  If e-gift cards were working before, did they stop working when the text of the terms & conditions changed?  My speculation at the time was that the text allowing gift cards as of 10/4/13 was not a mistake.  It seemed too specific to be an accident.  So, my assumption was that e-gift cards would work.  Then, when the terms changed to say that gift cards were not eligible my assumption was that someone decided to throw that in to slow the surge of gift card orders.  I did not think that they would be tech-savvy enough to actually enforce that change in such a short period of time.  It appears that I was wrong.

Results

In my own experience, I received all of the miles I expected from both e-gift and physical gift cards purchased while the terms said “gift cards eligible.”  Once the terms changed to say “not eligible” I ran a test and purchased both an e-gift card and a physical gift card.  Only the physical gift card resulted in miles earned.  From this experience I learned, to my surprise, that Sears does seem to have the technical ability not just to change the text of the terms on a whim, but also to change the technology to respond appropriately. 

The question still unanswered in my mind is what happened to orders placed in-between “gift cards eligible” and “gift cards not eligible”?  What happened during that period of time where the terms were completely silent about gift cards?  If anyone made an e-gift card purchase during those times, please comment below (for reference, I believe this includes all orders placed between Oct 9th at around 8pm and Oct 10th around 11 am). 

Where are my miles?

Many people have previously reported that all of their miles from these promotions have posted.  What should you do if your miles did not post?  It depends on your situation.  If you ordered merchandise, then definitely contact the portal support team.  If you bought gift cards, you are unlikely to get help if you placed the order after the terms explicitly said “not eligible”.  So, with gift cards, use this guide to help you decide whether to contact support:

  • Gift card orders placed before Oct 9 8PM: Definitely contact support if you didn’t receive miles.  You can even include a link to the Mommy Points post to show that the terms explicitly stated at the time that gift cards were allowed.
  • Gift card orders placed between Oct 9 8PM and Oct 10 11AM:  During this time, the terms were silent about gift cards.  (if anyone has a screen capture of the terms from this period in time either for the AA portal or United portal, please email them to me: frequentmiler at gmail dot com and I’ll update this post with the images).  I’d recommend contacting support since there was no indication that gift cards were not allowed.
  • Gift card orders placed after Oct 10 11AM:  During this time, the terms explicitly listed gift cards as ineligible.  It can’t hurt to ask for help, but unfortunately it is very unlikely that they will help you.

Contact support

You can contact either portal’s support team by browsing to the portal and clicking “Contact Us” at the very bottom of any page.

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. Bought my E GIFT CARDS at 11:00 AM on Oct 9th, have not received any sign of points pending or posting to U A— SENT 5 E/M’S to cartera , they:

    first replied need to wait 11 more days until 30 days have past

    Cartera sent me this E/M on Nov 20th ( 40 days after purchase!! )

    I have confirmed that 30 days have passed from the purchase date. Since the reward for this order is rather large( A JOKE IT WAS ONLY $350.00), it is our policy to investigate with the merchant to find out why it was not credited and attempt to obtain payment for the order( MY CREDIT CARD WAS CHARGED THE SAME DAY AND I PAID THE BILL A WHILE AGO ) in order to pass it back to you.

    Therefore, I am sending this order to be investigated immediately. Because a third party Sears will now be involved, we ask that you please allow 4-8 weeks for a definite resolution. However, we hope to have this issue resolved much sooner than that.

    We will follow up with you periodically to let you know the status of your case

    I had the same unpleasant dealing with Cartera 2 years ago on United’s month of miles

    promised myself 2 years ago to only buy via CHASE U.R.SITE ( even though run by Cartera )but I did not have the strength to stick to my promise

    my advise to all LEARN only buy from UR CHASE

    I have a friend who is waiting for 62k on this same promo – he got the same E/M’s and the same run around

    ANY INPUT?

    • Stan: The way the portals work is something like this:
      1. the merchant reports the sale, along with the portal tracking info, to an intermediate affiliate network (and will eventually pay the affiliate network a commission for the sale)
      2. the affiliate network reports to the portal operator that they earned a commission (and eventually pays them the commission if all goes well)
      3. the portal operator buys miles (or may have pre-bought miles) from the airline and puts them in your account.

      In your case, the most likely situation is that step 1 didn’t happen. So, the portal won’t get paid for the sale until they can investigate and prove to Sears that they earned a commission. Anyway, that was a long-winded way of saying that when things go wrong it is understandable (to me) that it can take a long time to get resolved. Its true that some portals will give you the benefit of the doubt and credit you with miles (or points or cash) anyway, but that doesn’t seem to be the approach that these particular Cartera portals have chosen to take.

      • I know one thing — Cartera “always ” has unique problems on all the malls they run –EXCEPT Chase U R, I bought thousands of dollars and many transaction from chase , sometimes with a Chase card other times not -and Never had a problem — not worth the hassle to deal with any other mall–

        this is the 21 century and nothing but having a child takes 4 months

        Cartera reminds of a shop in a tourist area in the 3rd world who have people standing outside hawking and you know you will be sorry if you enter the shop – SLIMY –in my opinion

        I do appreciate all the heads up you give and think you do a great job -keep it up

  2. Bought 2 eGift cards on the 9th and, after following up with Customer Service, I am now stuck in the 4-8 week review bucket. GC Terms were not present when I purchased.

    Did get credit via the AA portal when using these eGift cards for purchases, so second half of DD worked.

  3. I bought my egiftcard during the first wave. Received my 21X and bought an Amazon gc for $100 already. See my results on my site. Should have purchased more!

  4. Do not want to be negative — if you keep buying from Cartera –you will be caught in the same situation , just a matter of time

  5. I got all my miles on both portals for Sears gift cards, but I still haven’t gotten my 2000 bonus AA miles from the September promotion.

  6. I bought a $500 physical gift card on the 8th and points did not post though I get an e-mail every couple of weeks from Cartera that they investigate the issue…

  7. I filed 5 tickets with United Shopping Portal regarding Sears points not being posted for e-gift card. Provided all documents/emails/screenshots according to their instructions. No points- no explanations, no acknowledgements. Does anyone has a United Shopping Mall customer support phone?

  8. From article: “From this experience I learned, to my surprise, that Sears does seem to have the technical ability not just to change the text of the terms on a whim, but also to change the technology to respond appropriately. ”

    In their efforts to combat people they consider to be gaming the system, they are basically gaming their customers. I would be absolutely furious if I read the terms, and thought “oh great! Gift cards are eligible!” Then a couple of days later went through the trouble of clicking on the shopping portal first etc. to make sure I did the promotion correctly. Then how many ever weeks later you’re all excited about your points coming in… Only to find out, after calling customer service and waiting on hold entirely too long, the terms of the offer had been changed!

    Do they just expect their customers to keep re-reading the terms every time they come back to the web site?

    I realize some of the guys on this blog are basically treating this stuff like it’s a business. And it’s just part of the game that you have to keep on your toes about what the rules are. But I’m not doing a fifth a what you guys are doing. I still consider myself, albeit aggressive, just a regular customer.

    And maneuvers like this really make me doubt how trustworthy Sears is.

    I’m actually fighting through a thing with AMEX now, who I thought was supposed to be the peace of mind bank. One of the things one of the reps said to me was, “you should understand that we have some customers who just repeatedly get the same card over and over…” I blew up at the lady. I’d been on the phone with them for almost an hour and they give me that as an explanation. I started yelling into the phone that this was the third card I’d had with AMEX in my entire life… and I thought about it later, it was the fourth AMEX card I’d had in my life. About five years ago they sent me a flyer in the mail that if I signed up for a gold card, I’d get 50K points, waived fee, etc.. I had forgotten about that one..

    I just feel like the way a lot of these companies are handling protecting them self from what they see as being taken advantage of is by taking advantage of all the rest of their customers. And meanwhile, the customers who are being super-agreesive about the terms, they all already know what the deal is and have moved on already…

  9. All 10 orders were placed Oct 9th throughout the day and I have received 0 points for any of them, and I had a mix of physical, print, and eGC too. Looks like I’ll be contacting them about this. Ughh, I hate dealing with portals.

  10. I think I will stick to UR mall for awhile. Purchased $1500 e-gift card from sears on the United deal, nothing shows up. Bought $3000 worth of merchandises from Neiman Marcus on the AA deal, only a $50 purchase shown after 2 weeks. They are just not reliable to spend thousands of dollars on it and wish for the best.

    • I’ve found that if you use Adblock you need to disable it before you click through the portal. I think that may be why I didn’t get anything from United/Sears.

        • @Stan – I’ve had problems with using other portals, namely Mr. Rebates when going to Kmart and Cabela’s to buy stuff. Once I disabled the Adblock the cashback started showing up like normal.

          In any case, I emailed the United portal about my missing points for 10 orders.

        • I think the problem for most people is still the make it or miss it operations from Cartera. I have been using the same browser for the past few years. UR mall, Topcashback, and partially AA usually have no problem in detecting the points. AA is very slow in some cases.

        • I do not mind waiting for miles to post , but I expect reasonable customer service and ACCOUNTABILITY in my opinion I have not had that from Cartera especially when they say now need another 4 to 8 weeks for
          ” resolution”– we bought from Cartera and we paid our bill — the problem is between them and Sears , we all sent the proof they requested

          ” it is our policy to investigate with the merchant to find out why it was not credited and attempt to obtain payment for the order in order to pass it back to you.

          Therefore, I am sending this order to be investigated immediately. Because a third party Sears will now be involved, we ask that you please allow 4-8 weeks for a definite resolution”

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