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 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.
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
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.