The latest Lab results

In the hunt for miles and points, it’s not always easy to know what works and what doesn’t.  For example, if you go through an online mileage portal to a merchant and buy a gift card, will you earn miles?  Once you have the gift card, is there a way to use it to buy other gift cards or cash out?  What if you go through a portal to use a gift card to buy merchandise?  Will you earn miles from that?  The answers to all of these questions depend mostly on each individual merchant, whether you buy physical or e-gift cards, and whether policies have recently changed.  One thing that you cannot count on is the documented Terms & Conditions shown within each shopping portal.  Often, portals will state “not valid on gift cards” regardless of whether gift card purchases in fact earn rewards.

The Frequent Miler Laboratory is a page dedicated to collecting and disseminating information about experiments in mile and point gathering.  Here are some of the latest experiment results…

J. Crew double dip appears to be mostly dead

In 2012, a reader identified as matuag reported success earning points from the Ultimate Rewards mall by going through the mall to J. Crew to buy a physical gift card.  The same reader did not earn points, though, when buying an e-gift card.  Around the same time, others reported success earning points when using gift cards (hence, the double dip possibilities).  Recently, thanks to the J. Crew Amex Sync promotion offering $25 back on a $100 purchase, many have repeated these experiments with various portals.  Here are the reported results:

  • Buy physical gift card through the AAdvantage eShopping portal: FAIL
  • Buy physical gift card through the ShopDiscover cash back portal: SUCCESS
  • Buy physical gift card through the United MileagePlusShopping portal: FAIL
  • Buy physical gift card through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall: FAIL
  • Buy physical gift card through the EBates cash back portal: FAIL
  • Buy e-gift card through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall: FAIL

The strange thing here is that one reader reported success through the ShopDiscover portal.  Usually (but not always) it is the case that if something works through one portal it will work through all of them.  So, what’s going on here?  It is possible that portal tracking of purchases made at J. Crew is simply extremely slow right now.  Maybe we will get points and/or cash back eventually.  At this point, though, I’m ready to throw in the towel on this one.  I’m intrigued though by the ShopDiscover result.  Did anyone else try ShopDiscover?  What was the result?  Or, did anyone else have success in other portals recently?

Miles for Amex gift cards success

Last month, both the Delta SkyMiles portal and the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan portal were offering 3 miles per dollar for buying Amex gift cards through their portal (both are currently down to 1 mile per dollar).  At the time, there were many reports of people waiting in vain for miles to show up from these purchases.  I speculated at the time that this was because large orders often take longer to post to portals than smaller orders.  I wrote:

In my experience, it is very common for larger purchases (e.g. $500 or more) to take longer to post to mileage portals.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see these purchases take 3 weeks or so to show up in the portals.

In my case, it took over four weeks for the miles to post, but happily they finally did.  Note too that some were concerned by Terms & Conditions that seemed to suggest that miles would be earned only on the purchase fee, not on the total dollar amount.  I’m happy to report that miles are earned on the entire amount less shipping and purchase fees.

Upgrades

Some stores will let you use their gift cards to buy other gift cards.  I call this “upgrading”.  It’s extremely useful knowing which stores allow this so that when there is a special deal on that store’s gift cards you know you can jump in, buy the gift cards, and then exchange them later for cards you really want.  Here are the latest gift card upgrade results…

In-store results:

  • Best Buy: Many have reported success.
  • GameStop: Several people have reported success.
  • Meijer: I reported success using a Meijer gift card to buy a Staples gift card.
  • Office depot: No dice.
  • Radio Shack: I reported success using a Radio Shack gift card to buy an Amazon gift card.
  • Sears: Many have reported success.
  • Staples: Reports are mixed on this one too. In my experience, the cash registers allow buying gift cards with gift cards, but many cashiers are trained not to allow it.
  • Walgreens: A few people reported success, but one person reported failure in using a Walgreens gift card in-store to buy other gift cards.  It seems that Walgreen’s registers are not coded the same from store to store.

Online results:

It’s rare, but some stores will let you upgrade gift cards online…

  • Meijer: I reported success using a Meijer gift card to buy a Gamestop gift card online.
  • Staples online: Several people (including myself) have reported success using Staples’ gift cards online to buy other gift cards.
  • Walmart: Several people have reported no longer being able to use Walmart gift cards online to buy Visa gift cards.

Other results

I’ve highlighted here just some of the more interesting recent lab results, but there is more!  To see the latest, go to the Frequent Miler Laboratory page and click twice on the table’s date column in order to sort from most recent to oldest.

Reader participation

The key to making the Laboratory valuable is the regular flow of information contributed by readers.  So, please contribute your results by commenting on that page!  I do my best to update the Lab table regularly, but sometimes you’ll find the most recent info in the comments themselves.  A good way to stay up to date all the time is to subscribe to the comments section.  Simply type “subscribe” as your comment and check the box “Notify me of follow-up comments by email.”

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.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

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  1. Around Christmas time, we decided to use the Hilton portal for the first time. We went to Toshiba and bought a computer for $800 (supposed to be 3X points). At statement closing, they gave me 8 points….you read it right 1 point for every hundred dollars I spent. I emailed them asking for more points and they gave me an additional 964 points. I have not idea how they arrived at that number; I’m through with Hilton portal.

  2. Ugh, I’ve got to remember to check the upgrading thing. I never even considered that I might be able to upgrade Meijer GCs. They had a decent deal on them around Christmas that I completely passed on, but wouldn’t have if I thought I could upgrade them to a card from a different store…. live and learn…

  3. After reading your post about Sears and the MileagePlus Shopping Portal (http://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/2013/12/17/sears-25x-via-an-interesting-confluence-of-events/), I decided to buy a bunch of gift cards and upgrade them to Visa GCs at Sears B&M. All the points from the purchases posted quite quickly, however the “500 bonus miles/$250 spent” never posted. I’ve looked EVERYwhere for customer service info for the portal, but there’s absolutely nothing but an online form to fill out. I did that about 2 weeks after the transaction (4 weeks ago, now) but there’s been no response. Any suggestions for logging a missing claim, or speaking to an actual human being regarding bonus miles not posting?

  4. As another data point for JCrew, I used the Chase UR portal to buy physical gift cards (using my Amex’s for the recent sync deal). I did not get the points, but that’s okay given I received $200 in gift cards for $150.

      • I bought 10 GCs just before Christmas with the sync deals on my 10 amexs. ShopDiscover had 10% cash back. Each resulted in an email 5-7 days later confirming the cash back. I got another Amex in January. I synced it and got another gc. Shop Discover is back down to 5% so I received just $5. All $105 earned was. Paid out when my Discover statement closed Jan 25.

  5. I appreciate the lab results! I was just about to go for 2 x $100 J Crew deals through the AA portal with my American Express cards, but you’ve saved me the time.

    I don’t know if you have these results in your lab, but in December 2013 the following worked:

    AAMall – Coach actual gift card purchase
    AAMall – Neiman Marcus actual gift card purchase
    AAMall – Wal-Mart Visa gift card purchase
    United Mall – Coach actual gift card purchase
    Chase UR Mall – West Elm actual gift card purchase

  6. I purchased 3 seperate $100 J. Crew GCs using Shop Discover and i didnt get cashback on any of them. I did it 2 days before the Amex Promo ended so maybe the stopped GCs by that time or i was just unlucky.

  7. You can combine Meijer and Best Buy for this churn:

    1. Buy meijer gift cards online, at least $5k gets 3% discount automatically. This is in addition to your CC bennies and AA portal (1x, must buy another item to get miles for GCs)

    2. Goto meijer store to buy best buy GCs with meijer GCs

    3. Goto bestbuy and buy prepaid visas (3% fee) with best buy GCs

    4. liquidate

    The 3% meijer GC discount combined with 3% visa fee means you break even before taking into account portal and CC bennies.

  8. I am having the same problem as Dave. No portal bonus points have posted yet. I am assuming they should have by now…ideas?

  9. Hey FM,

    Radio shack just shot out a memo disallowing radio shack gc purchase on amazon gcs. Well that was reported on SD.

  10. I noticed that 1800flowers.com sells gift cards which are resellable at Cardpool at a 60% discount (must be physical). If you purchase a $50 gift card with your sync’d Amex and Plink you get $15 Amex credit and $3.50 in Plink credits (no $60 increment is available) and can resell for $30. Going through TopCashBack to Cardpool gets another $2 back so you’re $0.50 in the money.

    The reason this is worthwhile is the portals are offering 30 or 35 miles/dollar on 1800flowers purchases. I purchased through the Delta Skymiles portal and can confirm the miles posted.

  11. Can I buy Home Depot or Lowe’s e-gift cards from Staples.com, and then upgrade them at those stores for gas cards? The local Staples is all out of Shell cards.

  12. Does anyone remember if their J Crew gift cards were processed right away? I’d like to order some online and want to be sure the payment posts by tomorrow. If not, I’ll head over and buy some in person, since the portals don’t seem to be paying anyway. But I’d rather order them online (oh the perils of procrastination).

      • Just tried it (buying an egift card) and it was charged by jcrew right away and I got the email from Amex thanking me for using an enrolled card within 5 minutes. procrastinators rejoice!

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