Are Visa gift cards at Staples still worth buying?

There was a time when $200 Visa gift cards at Staples was an absurdly lucrative deal (see this post, for example).  Then, Staples stopped paying out through portals for online purchases of Visa gift cards.  Despite that, and thanks to Visa Savings Edge, buying $200 Visa gift cards was still profitable (see:  The deal without portals).

Staples_200_Visa

Now, though, Visa Savings Edge no longer offers rebates at Staples.  So, are the cards worth buying anymore?  Keep in mind that the ability to buy $500 Visa gift cards at office supply stores with a credit card has long since passed ($500 Vanilla window slams shut at Office Depot)…

Math time!

This is the part you were looking forward to…

Assumptions:

  • $200 Visa gift cards cost $206.95 after fees
  • Payment is made with a Chase Ink card that earns 5 points per dollar at office supply stores

Cost Per Point Analysis:

  • Card fee: $6.95
  • Points earned: 207 x 5 = 1035
  • Cost per point: $6.95 / 1035 = $0.0067 (AKA two thirds of a cent)

Since points can be redeemed for 1 cent each, this is a way to buy points at a considerable discount

Points Per Dollar Analysis:

Another way to look at deals like this is to assume that the buyer uses the points earned to reimburse the card fees.  Then we can see how many points per dollar are earned without fees:

  • Card fee: $6.95
  • Points earned: 207 x 5 = 1035
  • Points required to reimburse fee: 695
  • Points remaining: 340
  • Points per dollar earned (with no fee): 340 / 200 = 1.7

Via this analysis, we can say that purchasing $200 Visa gift cards with Chase Ink cards results in a 1.7 points per dollar earning rate.

Vs. Gas Station Analyses

Suppose you have a gas station in your area (or a convenience store that codes as a gas station) and you can buy $500 Visa gift cards there for $504.95.  And, remember that Chase Ink cards earn 2 points per dollar at gas stations.  Let’s compare buying gift cards at the gas station to buying at an office supply store…

Gas Station Cost Per Point Analysis:

  • Card fee: $4.95
  • Points earned: 505 x 2 = 1010
  • Cost per point: $4.95 / 1010 = $0.0049 (AKA about half of a cent)

The gas station route offers considerably better cost per point than office supply stores (.49 vs. .67 cents per point)

Gas Station Points Per Dollar Analysis:

  • Card fee: $4.95
  • Points earned: 505 x 2 = 1010
  • Points required to reimburse fee: 495
  • Points remaining: 515
  • Points per dollar earned (with no fee): 515 / 500 = 1.03

Via this analysis, we can say that purchasing $500 Visa gift cards with Chase Ink cards at gas stations results in a 1.03 points per dollar earning rate.  Interestingly, the gas station approach is considerably less lucrative than office supply stores when the intent is to pay oneself back with points.

The $2K analysis

The above analyses seem to just confuse things. Looked at one way, $200 cards are better.  Looked at another way, $500 cards are better.  To settle this, let’s consider an example real world scenario where there is a fixed limit to how much one would really spend on Visa gift cards.  Let’s say, for example, a person plans to buy $2,000 worth of Visa gift cards per month with their Chase Ink card.  In that case, which is better?

Office Supply Analysis:

  • Total spend: $206.95 x 10 = $2,069.50
  • Points earned: 207 x 10 x 5 = 10,350
  • Points required to reimburse fees: 6950
  • Points remaining after reimbursing fees: 3,400

Gas Station Analysis:

  • Total spend: $504.95 x 4 = $2019.80
  • Points earned: 505 x 4 x 2 = 4,040
  • Points required to reimburse fees: 1980
  • Points remaining after reimbursing fees: 2,060

The $200 Visa gift approach results in 65% more points earned than the gas station approach after paying oneself back for all gift card fees.

Conclusion

Despite Visa Savings Edge no longer offering Staples automatic rebates, $200 Visa gift cards are still a good deal when earning 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar for the purchase.  Does this mean that I recommend buying $200 Visa gift cards? Not necessarily!  First, dealing with lots of $200 gift cards is a lot more work than dealing with fewer $500 gift cards.  Second, there are other 5X opportunities out there that make it possible to earn 5X while buying $500 Visa gift cards.  Here are a few posts that can help get you started:

Also see: The weird math of buying points

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. Thanks again for your breakdown and clarifying the fees. I am fortunate to have a Staples right next to a Walmart with money center ATM so I can load my bluebird without any human interaction (though the machine has been down quite a bit lately).
    The key i think is the Ink card’s 5x earnings. I do love getting 1035 UR per $200 gift card. Best is when Staples has a promotion of $20 rebate on $300 gift card purchases, I purchase $400 for me to get the rebate, $400 each for 2 family households who live near me. I wish i had a larger family 🙂

  2. While I think Visa gift cards are still worth buying if you really want to manufacture spend, I usually wait for the Staples rebates. I too have a couple of family members whose address I use:)
    This quarter I would make sure I max gift card purchases at grocery stores with my Chase Freedom first.

  3. Ansolutely for me,
    Although I try not to overdo it. I view it as a buying significantly discounted travel. For example, $7 x8 gets me a night in a modest but pleasant Hyatt. And avoids the hotel taxes.

  4. Thanks for writing this! As always, I enjoy your blog.

    Your article doesn’t mention the possibility of selling points on the gray market. I understand it’s possible to sell Chase UR points for around 1.4¢ each.

    One could also consider a minimum value around 1.7¢/pp when redeeming the points for travel (e.g. BA Avios).

    • I’m hesitant to suggest selling points since it is a likely recipe to get shut down by Chase or your frequent flyer program. I also don’t like to use redemption values in “pay back” calculations since that value is only seen at the time of redemption. You may never redeem the points or may end up with a lesser value redemption.

  5. I think your post actually makes a very good argument against doing this since you can use Barclay’s Arrival or Fidelity Amex to 2X everywhere. Granted, you can outsize your redemption like you may be able to with Chase. I just think $200/card is way too much work unless you have a specific goal in mind and don’t mind simply eating the activation fees as part of that goal. Otherwise, I am with the other poster that I wait until rebates come out.

  6. Lately, I’ve run into more and more cashiers at wal-mart unwilling to do a split tender on bluebird reloads. That’s fine when you’re doing $2k in $500 increments, but those $200 cards take a little more patience. Also, it may be possible that not all the portals stopped paying out… 😉

  7. What about the possibility of using the Amex Everyday Preferred Card at gas stations- that gives you 3points/dollar (with the 50% bonus kicked in)? Or 4.5 pts/dollar (on the first $6k) at supermarkets? Given the value of Amex points that seems the way to go.

    Also, for gas stations run by Kroger/Ralph’s etc, do those code at gas stations or supermarkets……hint hint

  8. Good math, but this would only make sense to go purchase gc from gas station if they’re willing sell you via credit card AND since most gas station are selling vanilla, only if walmart once again accept the vanilla load at the kiosk or money center.

    So it’s not necessary make sense for the gas station now days.

  9. Kinda off topic but I just made payments with my discover card on Evolve money with out any fees applied by Evolve. I made two transactions, one same day and one for the 20th, both are currently pending. My first bill was $96.83 and in the “Total Bills and Fees” it only shows $96.83. So im not sure if its a fluke, or if Evolve has gotten rid of the 3% fee on discover charges. Who knows.

  10. Could you talk about using VGCs v CCs to load your Redbird? To my mind, using a debit card where you can use a credit card is a waste because you have more places to unload debit cards. Yet I read that people love to do so, I don’t think they’re reckoning for opportunity costs.

  11. Points Per Dollar Analysis doesn’t make any sense at all, because you are cancelling out the fee by assuming 1cent/pt, which is not true for people going after these points.

    • Some people get very hung up on fees. The point of this analysis is to show that you can get the fees back and be “whole” by redeeming enough points for cash or statement credits to offset the fees. I agree that its not a best use of points to do that, but for those who are hung up on buying gift cards with low fees, I think its a necessary thought exercise.

      • The fee for 200 VGC in store is 5.95 also. Why buy it online when there is no portal CB or VSE?

        Also, I am with Sherman on the math. $206 earns 1012 points which I personally value at about $20 in travel. Negating $5.95 fee with 595 isn’t really the math for people who collect these points for travel. To each their own, but to me, it’s like buying $14 in future travel for $6 in cash now.

  12. We also need to take into account the AF for the Ink card. If these cards are mainly used for MS alone then there is an additional $95 to take care of.

    • In addition, Ink has a max 50k/yr which also needs to be taken into consideration. If one anyways is ending up to use $500 gc, then maybe there’s no need to even start with the $200 gc’s which could be a PITA 😉

    • You could always go with Ink Cash which has no annual fee. As long as you or your spouse has either Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus at the same time, points can be transferred to that card and then transferred to airline miles, etc. $25K per year cap on 5X spend though

  13. FM, I live around AA, do you know of any gas stations chains that still sell $500 VGC and code as a gas station, I haven’t found any lately…

  14. I see 500$ at Office Depot. Why dont we buy them? It is much better than buying 200$ at Staples.

    I dont know why we buy 200$ at Staples.Did I miss something?

  15. newMS, if you are seeing something for $500 at Office Depot, please spill the beans as that would be big news. You used to be able to do vanilla’s there for $500 (reload cards and gift cards) but those have long been gone. Plus, you cannot unload vanilla visa easily at Walmart.

  16. If you keep your eyes open for the Staples rebate deals that have been happening once a month or so for the past year it’s still totally worth buying them, especially if you have friends and family you can get the rebates sent to so you can get more than one. Every time they have a rebate offer I usually buy the rebate required amount 6 times. I also use the previous months rebate gift cards when doing it. This is enough to buy 3x $200 and only pay $0.85 total in fees since the rebates are usually for $20. That’s enough for 18626 UR points a month for a total of $5.10 in activation fees. You can’t beat that. Then I cash them all out for MOs at a local grocery chain that limits MOs to $300 so it’s not worth going there with normal $500 gift cards. So the total out of pocket cost to purchase and cash out the gift cards is $15.90 for almost 19k UR.

  17. Bad news! Just got an email from Evolve Money… It said that starting from next week, they charge 3% fee for using prepaid debit card (I think it means Visa gift card). 🙁 It’s getting harder and harder to liquidate Visa gift cards…

  18. @lively: “it depends” if you’re a profitable customer or not. short term you’ll probably be alright, longer-term if you don’t have any spend on Chase cards (not just that card necessarily) you’ll probably start to see adverse actions. it’s a numbers game and Chase crunches a LOT of numbers. it’s like the ppl who use amex CC to load RedBird…an amex product…short term getting away with it..longer term…there’ll be FRs in some people’s future. especially if paying your amex w/ RB…

  19. Has anyone tried bringing $500 gift cards to Staples from another retailer – say a grocery store – and seeing if they could be rung up there?

    • Staples tracks their inventory of gift cards in their own system, so it seems pretty unlikely that this would work. Also, you’d be stealing cards that hadn’t been paid for = risky move.

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