Best options for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards

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 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, but continue to work elsewhere.  More information and many useful resources can be found in FlyerTalk’s Manufactred Spending forum.

Staples

gift cards

Since the summer of 2013, Chase Ink cards have been issued as Visa business cards (they used to be MasterCards).  If you have a Chase Ink Visa card, make sure to register it with the Visa Savings Edge program.  At that point, any purchase of $200 or more made in-store or online at Staples will result in an automatic 1% statement credit and, of course, you’ll get 5 points per dollar from your Ink card for making an office supply purchase. Update: Visa Savings Edge ended at Staples on December 31, 2014.

In addition to merchant gift cards, Staples sells MasterCard and Visa gift cards.  $200 cards are available for $206.95 online and are sometimes available in-store for the same price. 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, 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).

GiftCardMall.com

gift cards

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%.

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)

Amex gift cards can no longer be used to buy other gift cards at GiftCardMall.

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.

Pros:
  • 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.
Cons:
  • 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).

Grocery Stores

gift cards

Many grocery stores sell Visa and MasterCard gift cards loadable up to $500, usually with a $5.95 fee.  Use one of many other 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.

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

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 $2.95 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.

UPDATE 8/3/2014: There has been at least one verified report of Glimcher cards now working successfully at Walmart as debit cards.

UPDATE 9/1/2014: Simon Mall gift cards are now loadable up to $1000.  Use the last 4 digits as the PIN.

UPDATE 9/25/2014: 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.

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