August 11, 2014
In recent weeks, I’ve been hearing more and more complaints about cash back portals. In particular, people have been reporting that they have not received cash back for purchases of Amex gift cards made through portals. Some have reported seeing cash back tracking on their portal account at first, but then later it was subtracted out. What’s going on?
First, a wee bit of background. It has long been possible to earn cash back or airline miles by going through an online portal to the Amex Gift Card store to buy Amex gift cards. And, in most cases, these purchases earn rewards from the credit cards used. There are exceptions, though. For example, never use Citibank cards since Citi treats the purchase as a cash advance (see more details here). It has also long been possible to earn portal rewards even when using a promo code for fee-free cards or free shipping. This has worked even when the portal explicitly listed that the use of codes not found on their site would void the rewards. Then things changed…
BigCrumbs emails customers about Amex gift cards
On June 24th, 2014, the cash back portal, BigCrumbs, sent out emails to many customers who had bought Amex gift cards through their site. The email said that Amex would no longer pay out rewards through portals if any promo codes were used. Specifically, they wrote (bolding is mine):
We wanted our members to be aware of some recent changes within the American Express Gift Card program. As some of you may have noticed, whenever a coupon was used to waive the service fee, American Express deducted the amount from your cash back total. In order to stay within their budget, American Express informed us that promotional codes and coupons will no longer be accepted and will void any cash back if used. Please be aware that this change will go into effect immediately.
I published a Quick Deal to report this development: “Promo codes to void cash back for Amex gift cards?”. In the Quick Deal, I wrote:
I don’t know if Amex will really enforce these new rules, but I think that the safe thing to do is to avoid using promo codes until we learn more. If you buy Amex gift cards often, I recommend subscribing to the premium shipping plan and buying cards with high denominations so that the card fees are small as a percentage of total value.
Other portals continue to publish promo codes
I think it was great that BigCrumbs proactively alerted their customers to these new developments. Many other portals, though, stayed silent. Worse, many continued to show promo codes on their site. This clearly implied that one would receive cash back (or miles) if that promo code were used.
Portal customers get burned
I’ve heard from many people who have used cash back portals in the past month and a half who didn’t earn cash back when buying Amex gift cards. In many cases, I believe that people used promo codes that were shown on those sites. When these customers contacted the portal for support, they were told, essentially, tough luck. Blogger, Giddy for Points, reported her experience with this issue here. Her experience was with TopCashBack, but I’ve heard similar stories from customers of BeFrugal and other portals.
To be fair, from the portal’s point of view, they can’t verify an order unless the merchant (in this case Amex Gift Cards) reports the successful order. I believe that, since June 24th, Amex has stopped verifying sales to portals that involve promo codes. That said, I believe that any portal that showed a promo code on their site should honor the cash back terms even if Amex refuses to pay them.
How you can help
If you placed an order for Amex gift cards through a portal anytime since June 24th 2014, please comment below. Let us know the following:
- Date you placed the order (pick one where tracking failed if you placed many orders)
- Portal used
- Promo code used (if any)
- Whether or not promo code used was displayed on the portal’s site
- Do you have a screen capture showing the date and the promo code? (if so, I might email you separately to ask for a copy of the image)
- Result (i.e. did you receive portal cash back or miles)
- If you didn’t receive cash back or miles, did you contact support? If so, what was the result?
I’m hoping to see whether or not there have been systematic and identifiable portal failures as I surmised above. If we can get enough evidence of this it may be possible to convince some of the portals to retroactively grant rewards. We can hope, anyway.