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.
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
GiftCardMall offers Visa gift cards with values up to $500 each. With each card, there is a $3.95 purchase fee and a shipping fee. If you buy a single $500 Visa gift card, you’ll pay $7.94 in fees, which is a total cost of 1.6%. You can reduce the fee percentage by buying more than one card at a time (which decreases shipping costs per card). For example, if you buy four $500 Visa gift cards at once, you’ll pay $28.86 in fees, which is a total cost of 1.4%.
Sometimes GiftCardMall offers portal cashback for the purchase of Visa gift cards which can offset the fee. Over the past year portal cashback has come and gone a few times so it isn’t always available. As of May, 2015 Top Cashback is offering .5% back on the purchase of Visa gift cards.
A Cheaper Option
GiftCardMall also sells co-branded Visa gift cards from Macerich Mall at a cheaper overall price. These Macerich gift cards work the same way as the normal Visa gift cards sold by GiftCardMall, but cost less. A single $500 Macerich gift card costs $3.95 with an additional $1.99 shipping fee for a total cost of $505.94. As with the normal cards, the shipping cost per card goes down as you purchase more. You can purchase the cards directly through this link. (HT: Doctor of Credit)
More about GiftCardMall: GiftCardMall sends the Visa gift cards in one envelope and sends activation codes in another. I think that this helps make delivery of the cards more secure and so I would be willing to accept non-trackable delivery. If you prefer trackable delivery, the total price goes up by $2.
- Pay with any credit card accepted by GiftCardMall.
- With GiftCardMall gift cards, you do not need to set the PIN in advance. Simply use the last four digits of the card number a the PIN.
- Your purchase through a portal may not track correctly, so you might not get paid.
- GiftCardMall often holds up orders as they investigate them. This can be a hassle.
- It’s not hard, but you do need to activate the cards online once you receive them.
- It’s unclear whether any credit card companies would treat these purchases as cash advances. I’ve never heard of this happening with GiftCardMall, but the possibility does exist (especially with Citibank cards).
- Amex gift cards can no longer be used to buy other gift cards at GiftCardMall.
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 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.
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.
Did I miss any particularly noteworthy options? Please comment below.