Best options for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards

Updated 7/23/2015

As of April 2013, Visa and MasterCard gift cards became great tools for earning points and miles thanks to the ability to assign PINs (see “Gift card PINs“).  With this ability, it is possible to buy gift cards (to increase credit card spend) and cash them out by using them as debit cards (i.e. to load REDbird, Bluebird or Serve in-store; pay bills; etc.).

To be clear, not all stores will accept gift cards as debit cards for all transactions, but with a little research you should be able to find options that work for you. One example is that Vanilla Visa cards no longer work as debit cards at Walmart for transactions $50 and above, but continue to work elsewhere including to load REDbird.  More information and many useful resources can be found in FlyerTalk’s Manufactred Spending forum.

Gift Cards with a Customized Name

There is one major economically viable method of obtaining customized Visa gift cards and it is Agricultural Federal Credit Union.  Another option is to pay a bit more per card via GiftCards.com.  Keep in mind that there may be other ways such as through your local credit union, but the methods listed here should be available to most people.

Agricultural Federal Credit Union

Agricultural Federal Credit Union sells pin-enabled Visa gift cards. These cards can be loaded with up to $500 and cost only $3.95 each. More importantly, these cards come with your name engraved on them, so they look like any other debit card. All of the designs do have the words “gift card” printed on them, but some are more pronounced than others.

Like with most credit unions, Agfed does have specific requirements to join. Thankfully you can join the The Friends of City Dance Association for $20 to become eligible. This is still a relatively new method, so it may not be a good idea to join and then go crazy with purchases. You can find out more about the gift cards and how to join here.

GiftCards.com

GiftCards.com sells pin-enabled Visa gift cards issued by Bancorp. These cards can be loaded up to $500 and will include your name engraved on them. Cards issued by Bancorp have been known to have problems at Walmart, but these cards work normally at Walmart to load Bluebird/Serve and at Target to load REDbird.

The cost of these cards is $4.95 each, plus shipping.  They have a fixed $7.45 shipping option and they will allow orders up to $2500 (inclusive of card fees).  If you buy four $500 cards, the total with shipping will come to $2027.25.  That averages out to $506.81 per card.

Through the end of the year Giftcards.com is offering free shipping on up to $1,500 in gift cards with the code SHIPHAPPY. These cards are also currently earning 1% back in G-money rewards, thus cancelling out the $4.95 purchase fee. (Make sure to opt-in to the rewards program in your account before making a purchase.) The rewards earned on one order can be used on the next, so you can roll your rewards over from order to order.

Unfortunately, you cannot pay with American Express gift cards, but unlike AgFed, they do accept American Express.

Gift Cards without a Customized Name

There are still a lot of places to purchase Visa gift cards that aren’t customized. Many people have success purchasing these cards and liquidating them to Serve/REDbird, etc.

Staples

visa gift cards purchase

In addition to merchant gift cards, Staples sells MasterCard and Visa gift cards.  $200 Visa cards are available for $206.95 online and are sometimes available in-store for the same price. If you pay with a Chase Ink card, that 3.5% fee, is more than made up for by the 5X Ultimate Rewards points earned (5 X 206.95 = 1035 points per card).  In fact, if you wanted to, you could cash in 695 of those points to reduce your net fees to zero and still earn 340 points per $200 card (i.e. 1.7X).

Staples also frequently runs rebate deals on Visa & Mastercard gift cards in-store which more than offset the purchase fees. For more info see: The complete guide to Staples Visa & Mastercard deals

Grocery Stores

visa gift cards purchase

Many grocery stores sell Visa and MasterCard gift cards loadable up to $500, usually with a $5.95 fee.  Use one of the many credit cards that offer grocery store bonuses to offset that 1.2% fee (See: Best Category Bonuses).  And, make sure to join the grocery store’s loyalty program (many offer fuel rewards) since some stores will pay out rewards even for Visa and MasterCard gift card purchases (but this has become exceedingly rare).

Gas Stations / Convenience Stores

Some gas stations and convenience stores (which sometimes conveniently code as gas stations for credit card purposes) sell Visa and MasterCard gift cards loadable up to $500, usually with a $4.95 or $5.95 fee.  Use one of the credit cards that offer gas station bonuses to offset that 1% to 1.2% fee (See: Best Category Bonuses).

Drug Stores

Drug stores tend to have great options for Visa and MasterCard gift cards with fees ranging from zero (rare, but they exist) to $5.95 for $500 cards.  Use one of the credit cards that offer drug store bonuses to offset that fee (See: Best Category Bonuses).

Credit Unions and AAA

Credit unions often sell Visa gift cards to their members sometimes with no fee at all.  When they do charge fees, they’re often lower than elsewhere. One example of a credit union that offers Visa gift cards can be found here.

Another option is to check your local AAA office to see if they sell Visa gift cards. Often they’ll run no-fee promotions.

Shopping Malls

visa gift cards purchase

Many indoor shopping malls have gift card displays, often near the information desk.  Visa gift cards aren’t always on display so you may have to ask for them.  Usually, fees are $3.95 or less for cards with values up to $500 each.  Simon Mall Visa cards are now $3.95 unless you register as a valid business.

There have been recent reports of gift card purchases at Macerich Malls (not online) being coded as cash advances when paying with Visa & Mastercard gift cards. At this time it seems wise to hold off making purchases with those cards in order to avoid fees. American Express cards still seem to be showing up as purchases. You can find out more here.

A few other data points:

  • There has been at least one verified report of Glimcher cards now working successfully at Walmart as debit cards.
  • Some Simon Mall’s carry business gift cards loadable up to $1000.  Use the last 4 digits as the PIN.
  • Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any credit cards that earn a category bonus for generic shopping mall purchases.

Reader suggestions

Did I miss any particularly noteworthy options?  Please comment below.


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Comments

  1. Sometimes Discover has offered a 5% cash bonus shopping a certain malls. I’ve only seen this happen Oct-December for targeted Christmas shopping.

  2. Thanks for the good article and tips… nice to know..

    Under the Grocery header you show a card that I have had no luck loading to Bluebird recently at the Walmart counter.
    No luck with a money order either.
    I was able to load at the kiosk to Bluebird however.
    Have you heard of this?

    Also.. the Vanilla cards that you can no longer use at Walmart…. can you load them to Evolve or somewhere else?

    • I have had consistent luck with the Vanilla cards at Evolve for a few months and as recently as the 2nd week of July. I’m not doing particularly high volume, but the only problem I have had was the duplicate payment issue–always wait 10 minutes between doing payments to the same payee.

    • Vanilla debit can be loaded $500 at a time a Family Dollar. Don’t try to load more than $500 even with a different Serve card, the register will reject the second load and cause you grief.

  3. Read Kroger signs carefully – mine does not give fuel rewards on the variable load debits.

    Also, if the Mart has trouble loading dcs onto BB, ask to try the other register. One at mine will not process the transaction, but the other sails right through. Nearly had a heart attack the first time.

    • Its not necessary to wait. Its possible to have both the MasterCard and Visa version at once, or go ahead and close the MasterCard ones now. The reason: in-branch, Chase is offering 70K for Ink Plus cards right now. You wouldn’t want to miss that!

  4. Al/Jonathan –

    The benefit for applying for the new Visa versions is that you get the new account bonus again. If you switch them over, you won’t get those. So far, I’ve had the Ink Bold and Ink Plus MCs at 50K each, then the Ink Bold and Ink Plus VISAs at 60K each. I just closed each MC version AFTER getting the VISA.

    PS – I used FM’s links for all of them!

  5. Misty, I have purchased over 100K worth of the same Visa gift card that is shown under “grocery” and have loaded all of them to my Bluebird account. I’ve have loaded them via the Kiosk, Money Center, Customer Service Desk or just the plain old cash register. I’d give it another try.

  6. If I’m not mistaken, the card shown under the grocery category is a US Bank card. Does anyone know if US Bank cards have a default pin like Metabank (last 4) or Vanilla (any 4 at first use). They are easier to buy around here but it would be nice to not have to spend time calling to activate them individually.

  7. FM, your wrote “Some gas stations and convenience stores … sell Visa and MasterCard gift cards loadable up to $500″. Any statewide chain stores in SE Michigan? Speedway doesn’t seem to be selling them anymore ..

  8. FYI- gift card purchase from Staples on 05/11 through uPromise is finally getting tracked.

    I know the unofficial date was 05/12/14, but some have had purchases close to that date not tracked.

    Did take a couple of emails, but glad to say the response from uPromise has been great.

    The 5% helps offset the fees and some.

  9. Just got an email from GCM and they said if my order is for personal use they can’t process it. If it’s for business I need to give them a ton of info. FM, is this what you mean when you say GCM holds up orders while they verify? Very annoying and I never had this happen before.

    • I’ve never heard that restriction from GCM before.. I buy $9K at a time from them commonly. Has anyone else heard of that restriction?

  10. So, out of all those options, is the Staples Visa option using Chase Ink the best bet? It seems like that one gets you a net positive on fees (if you choose to cash in part of the 5x to offset). The other options – while still awesome – seem to still require a net negative on fees…

    is that correct?

    • Yes, that’s correct, unless you have a card that offers 5X at drugstores, etc. With that scenario you’ll pay about 1% in fees in exchange for 5X returns, which is a great deal.

  11. I dont think you can get cash back on the gift card mall e-gift card. I called customer service and they told me they dont offer cash back on that product since gift card mall doesnt offer it.

    bummer!

    • Unfortunately, its extremely rare for telephone representatives to know anything about what works or doesn’t work with portals. Unfortunately, rather than admit that they don’t know they often say things that are wrong. The only way to know for sure is to do a test purchase yourself.

  12. Hello. I purchased two GCs from Staples today. A $200 MC and $200 Visa. Went straight to neighborhood WM to transfer to BB. The Visa went through successfully by using last 4 digits as PIN, but the MC did not go through. Does MC require prior registration to obtain PIN before it can be used as Debit? Thank you so much! I religiously follow your blog.

    Kris from San Francisco

  13. Bought a $500 Visa GC last week at Reasor’s grocery in OK, went to WM and loaded to BB easy (just used last four digits on card). Yesterday went to Reasors to buy Visa GC but was denied. I told them “last week” but they said that person shouldn’t have let me. So now back on the hunt for stores that sell Visa GCs with credit card.

  14. Has anyone been successful getting 2% TCB from GCM for the e-gift cards lately? My purchase from 7/31 shows 2% but the others show $0 and ‘pending’.

  15. The Simon mall GCs are still working? Before I left on my 4 week trip I read about 1) the cards not working at WM to load BB, and 2) the workers at the Simon mall kiosks refused to sell Visa GCs anymore.

  16. I’m curious what you mean by Simon mall gift cards now being loadable to 1000. I just checked the website and I can only load their visa to 500. Do you mean in person at their Kiosk? Would love to load 1000 at once.

    • Also curious. I’ve made two trips to two different Simon Malls this month. Each rep said $25 to $500 in their speal. I even had one rep ask me to fill out a “Government Tracking” form since my purchase was over $1000. Don’t think I’ll be going there again for lager buys.

      • Hi,
        I’m curious if any of you know of any cards that provide more than 1x on Simon gc? The staples visa debit cards at $200 each is a huge PITA to load any decent amount, especially with Walmart cracking down recently.

    • Sorry, more info about the $1K gift cards: only some Simon Malls are offering them and, of those, I believe they are only offering them for businesses. The post has been updated accordingly.

  17. Can you still use gift cards to load Bluebird at Walmart? I was told at my local Walmart that they were not doing it anymore? Also, the $500.00 gift cards at CVS, are all Vanilla?
    I just cancelled one of my Bluebird accounts, because of this. Will now open a Serve account, but liked being able to put $5000.00 per month into Bluebird. Please let me know if I have the correct information.
    Thanks a lot.
    Carole

    • Bluebird vs Serve is not going to matter at Wal-mart. some are no longer letting you use gift cards that are debit cards to load ANY account. you can only use “debit cards linked to a bank” to load. i would try a different walmart before cancelling accounts

    • Some Walmarts have stopped allowing it, but its still possible at most of them. Yes, at CVS all of the Visa gift cards are Vanilla. Try a grocery store instead. Note that you can also load Serve at Walmart (same way as with Bluebird) so if you find a Walmart that allows it, you should still be good to go.

  18. Thanks for all of your information. I am trying to buy a visa or master gift card at QFC. It is grocery store near by my house. Is is ok to purchase by CITI AA CREDIT CARD? Because of my minimum spending requirements. Are they charge CA even if i buy at grocery store?

  19. Yesterday I purchased a $500 Visa gift card from one of my local Simon Mall’s. They raised the purchase fee by a dollar to $3.95 if using your card. The $2.95 fee remains if you pay cash (which is a moot point for us, but worth mentioning). The girl behind the counter said this was a new change starting on the 24th (yesterday), but I didn’t see any flyers or literature before yesterday. Glad I already made a few purchases this month.

    I did call another Simon Mall and inquired if their fee’s had increased, which I was told the same thing. This could possibly be a system wide change.

  20. Do you know if the $500 Visa gift cards issued by University Bank can be used to load to Bluebird? My local supermarket has these but I’ve never seen them before.

  21. I’ve called two credit unions. Both code a gift card purchase as a cash advance.

    Also, Simon Mall won’t let you get a business account without a TIN. A SS# won’t work.

  22. Does Gift Card Mall not accept any Amex credit cards at all for Visa gift cards? In trying to meet some minimum spend on a new Amex, Gift Card Mall canceled the order. It was just for one gift card, was not using a cash back portal, and I have bought from Gift Card Mall before, so nothing strange about the order.

    • Were you paying with a real Amex credit card or an Amex gift card? GiftCardMall definitely doesn’t accept Amex gift cards as payment anymore, but they should accept regular Amex cards. You could always call them to ask what’s up.

  23. So if the VGC comes with ‘Gift Card’ mentioned on the card itself, would it be a problem to load the Redcard at Target store with this VGC as a Debit card (despite it showing Gift card written on it)??

    Any comments?

    • Depends on the store. I just got back from one where the target employee required i my form of payment (VGC) to match the name on my redbird card and ID.

  24. I went to CVS today to buy a $500 GC. I want to download the “debit card” into my Redbird account. They only had Vanilla cards. I didn’t buy one because I’m not sure Vanilla will work. Will it?
    Thanks for the info.

    • Yes, at Target, you can use Vanilla Visa debit cards to load REDbird. Some stores don’t like anything that looks like a gift card and/or they insist that the debit card has to have your name on it. But, most Target stores are fine with it.

  25. I am so confused about the whole MS thing. I have just decided within the last week that I was going to get a credit card to earn miles. Then, in my research I came across all the MS stuff and I am intrigued; albeit, confused. It seems like there’s so much conflicting information, sooooo many posts and forums on this. Is there a fairly straightforward and update to date tutorial on all this? I can probably get all 3: RB, BB, Serve, getting 1 for myself and the others in my daughter’s names. Anyway, thanks for any help anyone can offer. I have been reading so many blogs, forums, posts….it’s all turning to mush and I want to be able to understand it so I can increase miles earned. Thank you!

    • Things change so rapidly with ms that I don’t think there is any one place I can point you to that would have a complete and up to date tutorial. If you’re new to this stuff then I don’t recommend jumping into ms right away. Or, if needed, start with just one redbird and see how that goes. It takes time to learn and get comfortable with these techniques

      • Yes, that’s the theme I am seeing for sure. Things that work one day might not work the next. I thank you for taking the time to respond. I will take it slow to start out and not get in over my head. I think the churning of the credit cards might be the better option. I will continue to think this this through. Again, thanks!

  26. Gas Stations no longer carry Visa or Mastercard gift cards…at least in NY and Westchester. So if for some reason you don’t have an ink card to buy them at Staples (like me, denied for having two many credit cards opened in the past two years), this is no longer a good way to earn miles. You can still use cards for CASH back at grocery stores, but there is no good way to earn miles.

    • Can someone confirm if Visa Gift cards are still being sold at gas stations? I called every gas station listed by Visa’s Gift Card page and all of them say that they stopped carrying a long time ago. Are any of the big names still doing it, like BP or Shell?

      • The best way to confirm something like that is to stop at those places while already out and about. It’s largely location dependent so it may work in one area and not in another.

  27. I just went to GiftCardMall and am only able to buy Visa Gift Cards up to $250 a piece. Just two weeks ago, I purchased 10 Visa Gift Cards at $500 a piece. The lowering of the limit to $250 makes it more time consuming and increases the fees.

    Has anyone heard of this? I’m going to give them a call and see what they say.

  28. Is Agfed now requiring that visa gift card purchases be made only by an Agfed card? Any new experiences?

    – naroowal

  29. AgFedCU: it is a hard inquiry !!!! — they’re scrutinizing every new member that wants to join. In addition, there is a new fee they are charging if you decide to “close” your accounts, of up to $300 (depending on how long you are a member).

  30. Thanks FrequentMiler for the great website. I have a question for you and your readers? Is anyone having success purchasing Visa Gift Cards at their credit unions without the charge being processed as a cash advance? Thank you.

      • No, but only because I haven’t purchased them at my credit unions/banks. When I have asked in person, without fail, each has made sure to inform me that the purchase codes as a cash advance if I use a credit card. Thank you!

        • It’s best to test for these things locally. Do a small purchase and see how it posts. They’re always going to say it will post as a cash advance since you’re basically buying money with a small fee. Or you can call and set your CA limit to $0 or something very low which will be declined if it does run as a cash advance when you buy it.

  31. Just got an email cancelling my order of $2027 for 4 GCs on GiftCards.com…I read reviews that they will sometimes ban you from the website after that. I have to see if that’s what happened.

    Anyone got any advice how to avoid that?

    • Just got rejected at GiftCards.com even after creating a separate username with separate email….this time for a simple 500 dollar order….anyone weigh in on how GiftCards.com decide to cancel an order?

      • Thanks for the reply. I decided to forego giftcards.com because of this…I may try again in a month or so.

        On a separate note, I tried reloading BB the other night and was told there was a $100 limit. The associate looked like he has no idea what is going on and I was with my wife so I decided to call it the night. Will try again tonight…but this limitation cannot be real.

  32. Do VISA gift cards bought at supermarkets earn x2 when I use AMEX Everyday? T&C says “…..do not include purchases or reloading of prepaid cards, purchases of other cash equivalents, …..” I am getting ready to buy 10+ cards in the next two months. Any confirmation is much appreciated.

  33. I am noticing fewer places here with the 25-500 variable load limit cards. Some stores carry signs that make it look like they are supplied by Gift Card Mall. I see they have a limit on their website of 250 bucks now. Is this going to be the situation in stores they service with gift cards as well? Does anyone here know?

  34. Updated the GiftCards.com section to add a free shipping code, information about their rewards and to confirm that the cards do work at Walmart to load Bluebird/Serve.

    • FYI – you put 2016 as the year this was “updated”.

      Thanks so much for updating though, this is exactly what I was just looking for.

      • Future proofing! Just kidding. Thanks for pointing that out. It has been fixed. I’m glad the resource and update are helping.

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