The deal without portals

Two weeks ago, I wrote about one of the most exciting triple dip opportunities currently available:

  1. Go through online portal to Staples (5X to 6X portal rebate)
  2. Buy $200 Visa gift cards with credit card that earns 5X
  3. If credit card is business Visa card, earn back 1% through Visa Savings Edge.

Details of the above opportunity can be found in these posts:


Is the deal dead?

I didn’t think the deal described above would last long.  I explained my reasoning in the post “A great disturbance in the Force.”  Specifically, I wrote:

I would really hate to see this go, but it would make sense for Staples to stop paying out to portals for gift card purchases made on their site

And then, last week, a person who purports to run his/her own cash back portal posted on Flyertalk that Staples had sent a message about portal payouts ending for gift cards.  Voyaging wrote:

Figure i’d post here about it first

Dear ____,
In order to ensure program profitability, Staples will no longer commission affiliates sales of gift cards. We have extended you a new program term with this exclusion. Please accept your new term as soon as you receive it . As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to the team if you have any questions!
Best regards,
The Staples Affiliate Team

I don’t think the $200 vgc will vanish, but i’m pretty sure the cashback will.

Voyaging then followed up with more details that suggest the end is nigh as of May 12 (today) or earlier:

Because I’ve run my own cashback portal well before TCB, credit card portals, shopdiscover, etc. Staples has pushed out new terms to their partners which must be accepted otherwise they are expired from their contract. Here are the details on which exact gift cards are no longer going to be commissionable.

As to the exact date of when is a good question. It varies from partner to partner. For me, I have to accept terms before 5/12. If the portals have already accepted the terms, then they no longer get paid for gift cards. It doesn’t mean it won’t track and portals won’t pay out, it just means they won’t get paid by Staples.

We do not yet have evidence that the above information is true (although it appears legitimate).  Nor, do we have evidence that Staples has sent the same information to all portals.  That said, I think it is likely that our portal options have closed or will close in the near future.

Is the double dip worthwhile?

With the full triple-dip in play, we’ve been making a profit while also earning 5 points per dollar spent.  If portals are no longer in-play, we will no longer earn a profit.  So, let’s re-do the math:

Let’s say we buy one $200 Visa card (in store or online) at Staples, and we pay with a 5X earning credit card, and we earn 1% back with Visa Savings Edge:

  • Total price paid: $206.95
  • Card value: $200
  • Card fee: $6.95
  • Visa Savings Edge rebate: $2.07
  • Fee after rebate: $4.88
  • Fee as % of card value: 2.44%
  • Miles earned at 5X: 1035 (207 X 5)

We can then easily calculate our cost per point:

  • Cost per point: $0.0045 (less than half a cent per point)

Or, we can use points earned to pay ourselves back for the fee (see “When category bonuses trump fees”):

  • Points needed to pay back fee: 488
  • Points after pay back: 547
  • Fee free points per dollar: 2.74


Quick Summary

It’s possible that the days of earning money and 5X points from Staples are already over.  If portals no longer work (and the jury is still out on that), then we are left with either buying points at less than half a cent each (which is still a very good deal) or using points to refund our fees and earning 2.74 points per dollar, fee-free.  These options are very good, but they’re no longer better than all alternatives.  For example, if you can buy $500 Visa gift cards and earn 2X or more, you’ll do just as well or better on a cost per point basis (assuming points earned are of similar value) and you’ll find that $500 cards are much easier to use.

As we go forward, please report in the comments in the Frequent Miler Laboratory if you receive portal payouts for gift cards bought at on or after May 12 2014.  Thanks!

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 »



  1. So who should get the blame here?

    1) Readers of this blog and others than pounded this deal extra hard and bought 10k, 20k, 30k, of gift cards thus bringing this deal to the attention of Staples; or

    2) Lazy bloggers who can’t come up with unique content of their own and just reposted FM’s hard work to attract readers.

    Gotta say, both groups irritate the hell out of me. If I were FM I would definitely be holding back the truly amazing points earning technique because I know that there are people out there whose greed for instant gratification through obscene sums of points outweigh the patience of those of us looking for steady reliable sources of large but not crazy sums of points.

  2. FM
    Even at about 0.5c, it is a good deal.
    Understand that the Pudding Guy got 1M AA points for 3000$ = 0.3 cpm
    The TIB 2009 deal was 0.7c and 0.4c if you deducted the cost.
    The 100k Citi AA offers are really at 0.4c each as well (110k for 450$ fee, minus 200$ cash back and add 200$ for lost opportunity cost).
    I, for one, do not think 5X will last for very long either.

  3. SB had the terms on their website early Sat. morning for Staples when you went to the page. They also reduced their %age from 6% to 4% for Staples(not incl gift cards and gift wrapping).

    A LOT of Staples purchases were/are in limbo and in a congo line awaiting fulfillment. If they are fulfilled post Staples’ new terms, guessing a screw job for those ppl.

    FT had ppl bragging how they racked up $40k+ in GCs in the last 2 weeks in order to meet their $50 5pts/$ for the year, with many stories of $10k in GCs in the past week.

    Chicken and egg though. Did the dissemination of the deal spur them to go hog-wild before it closed b/c of the blog post or vice-versa. I think an innocent comment in a post about SB alerted you to them and the deal which was quietly getting pounded by the serious MS’ers, and brought to light their machine…

    Oh well, every time I go to a seminar there is some deal that got closed….it is all a cycle.

  4. I think the culprits are the people who bought 10K+ of these gift cards. However, I don’t think anyone is really to blame.

    This is a tragedy of the commons scenario. If everyone just buys VCG in moderation, the deal lasts for years and everyone wins. However, everyone assumes other people are going to buy as much as they can in as short a time as they can, which would result in the deal not lasting long. In order to avoid missing out, they then go all in themselves to maximize their personal gain. Thus, the deal is over exploited and is killed.

    In my opinion, assigning blame is essentially arguing against a well-proven economic theory that has withstood a few hundred years of testing. Yes, it would be nice if everyone acted for the common good but that just has not proven to be a viable economic model.

  5. Just wait until chase either lowers the point earning ability in 2X instead of 5X on Ink. Or caps it at 10 or 20K. Or both. Since the start of the Vanilla reloads at OD this has been probably a money loser for them. We will see who blinks first, staples or chase.

  6. The surprise is it took this long to die. Not that it died. Plastered everywhere. Guys announcing in hours they’d bought 25K. Frankly I’m glad it did die. A lot of jerkoffs have been showing up at WM with fistfuls of $200s and pissing everyone off creating long lines.

    It’s not a minor Staples deal that comes and goes that should bother people, it’s the added pressure an already overloaded WM is seeing from VR fallout and the inevitable WM response (local managers are already refusing gcs – just wait until that is nationwide – then you’ll hear whining!). That day is coming, sooner than later.

  7. Posting this multiple times was reckless. Buying 10s of thousands of dollars in GCs was reckless.

  8. There is already some anecdotal evidence that chase is researching changes to the INK bonuses via targeted surveys. In reading some blog feedback chase has already started making it much harder to get an Ink card via a sole proprietorship.

  9. Man, do I feel like an amateur…only did 3k in GCs through TCB. Went this morning and the T&Cs say GCs don’t qualify for cash back. Is that a change, or has it always read that way but still paid out?

  10. No one is to blame for this deal ending. Once Staples started selling the $200 cards, it just became too lucrative. No one can afford to just give away money, and when you’re giving away money, people will take it — lots of it. Such activity is going to prompt a response from the merchant.

    I personally was going slow on this one so as not to tick any of the players off (Staples, UPromise, Chase). I was typically ordering $1000 at a time. I haven’t yet received cashback for a May 8 order. Hopefully, it will show up.

  11. I ordered $3,000 on Saturday. Today at 12:01pm I got an email from Staples thanking me for contacting them to cancel my order and confirming that it had been canceled. Assuming this is probably related to the portal fall out. Anyone else get canceled?

  12. I’ve received all my gift cards from orders on 4/28, 5/1 and 5/3. But only the 4/28 order has shown up at UPromise. The others, nada. So, pretty sure its dead as of around 5/1 at Upromise. Sucks. I bought $1800 to pay mortgage.

    • Simply not true. many ppl have been doing this for over a year. Its just wasnt published on any/many blogs. I think its the fact that Staples was made aware that they are losing money of the transaction that forced this to end. Cant rub their face in it publicly and expect it to continue

  13. Sad to read comments from the supposed high horse mentality some folks here have. The less avenues there are the more demand the remaining ones see. Supply and demand.

  14. Looks like Swagbucks may not be paying out for Staples Visa gcs anymore: I have 1242 SB pending for my 5/1/14 purchase of one $200 gc but 0 SB pending for my 5/8/12 order.

  15. They’ve been doing a LOT more than just “surveys”. I own a legit biz for many years and applied for one of the ink cards. I was grilled pretty hard about GC purchases on a different Chase card, b/c of a “we’re not sure if you get the CC card” decision upon submission. I have a fair amt. of biz travel/purchases on the other card so it isn’t pure GC purchases by a long shot. And the amts. weren’t anywhere near the abusers of the GC purchases.

    The chase rep can see ALL your chase accounts/interactions. ALL. And looks to be taking a more holistic approach to their C offerings. Yes, I have a few chase cards, but use them for hotel, air, office purchases, etc. So I’m sure that factored in. I still got a $25k limit on the new card, so it wasn’t like I was borderline and yet I still was grilled.

    So, I’m sure in the coming year those abusers will start whining about Chase doing FRs on them and/or closing accounts….for them, I almost hope they claw back their points. It’d really go a long way in keeping the people who ascribe to “the long play” not having to continually change strategies.

  16. I placed an order for a few $200 GC on 4/30, the cashback showed up in Upromise (pending) on 5/7. Upromise’s T&C for Staples has not changed from the 30th, no indicating that GC’s aren’t eligible.

  17. All, we won’t know for sure whether the portals have stopped paying out until some orders have been placed post 5/12 and then we have to wait and see whether or not they pay out. I made a uPromise order on 5/13. If I don’t get confirmation in about a week I’ll believe that the uPromise route is dead.

    • FM, I made orders on 4/28 and 4/30, both of which showed up as pending in Upromise about a week later.

      All orders after that (on 5/5, 5/6, 5/7, and 5/8) have still yet to show up as pending. I’m suspect.

      Has anyone gotten order to show up in Upromise as pending for orders 5/5 or later?

      • That’s helpful data. Prior to 5/13, my most recent uPromise order was 5/3 (and that did show up as pending). I also have a 5/5 order via SwagBucks that shows pending.

        • I also did orders thru upromise, 4/28 posted normally, but 5/2 and 5/8 have not. At this point, the normal posting time for the 5/2 has passed, but it is encouraging to hear that FM received credit for his 5/3 order, and the 5/8 order should be posting by the end of this week. I plan to submit a support ticket early next week if these orders don’t go pending by then. Upromise has not changed the T&C on their Staples page, so until they do so, they should pay in my opinion, especially since their T&C encourage the purchase of gift cards “give the gift of easy gift cards at Staples”. However, I don’t plan any more orders for now.
          Also, I am still awaiting the activation codes from the 5/2 order, although the cards arrived last Saturday.

        • Same boat here, received a pending for the 4/28 and 5/2 , but not the 5/8 order. I’m still hoping the 5/8 will get a pending post. Same on the activation codes envelope, awaiting for the 5/8 order.

  18. I noticed that my local Office Depot has $500 visa gift cards again, which I think have a fee of ~$5, maybe ~$6, which works out to ~1-1.2%. Some web searches suggest that they reappeared in July 2013, and are purchasable by credit card. If that’s true, that now seems like a better use of the Chase Ink family of business payment cards (5 points/$ at office supply stores).

      • @adam, the variable load gift cards ($20-$500) have been cash only for a very long time. The fixed value gift cards ($200) are purchasable with credit cards. If the cashier says otherwise, tell them to try anyways.

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