Trying to get Amex gift card orders to track through TopCashBack

Online shopping portals are awesome because they provide a way to earn extra rewards for stuff you buy online.  The problem is, they don’t always work.  In order to get rewarded for clicking through a portal, a lot of things have to go right:

  1. The portal has to correctly track that you clicked through
  2. The portal has to pass along tracking information to the vendor
  3. The vendor has to report the sale back to the portal (or, often, to an affiliate network middle-man).
  4. The portal has to match up the reported sale with your initial click-through. At this point, the portal should list your rewards as “pending”.
  5. The vendor has to pay an affiliate commission to the portal (often via the affiliate network middle-man).  Often, it is not until this happens that portals actually pay out the rewards.

At any step, above, things can go wrong.  And, since starting this blog, I’ve heard often from readers who did not earn expected rewards from portals.  TopCashBack, in particular, used to be called out frequently by readers who said that they never received their expected cash back.

For about three years, I seemed to be the lone exception.  My portal use always worked flawlessly.  OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but it’s close to the truth.  Most of the time, when a portal purchase didn’t work, it was because I had done something that wasn’t supposed to work.  For example, sometimes I bought gift cards from merchants that specifically didn’t offer portal rewards for such purchases.  That was fine.  In fact, most such purchases were done as tests for the Frequent Miler Laboratory to see what worked and what didn’t.  Often, I found, even if the terms for a merchant said that gift cards were excluded from portal rewards, they would pay out anyway.  So, it has been (and continues to be) well worth keeping those results in a form accessible by readers (and myself!).

The most amazing string of successes I had was in March 2013 when I decided to try to earn a million points & miles in one month.  My challenge to myself was successful (you can find the final tally here).  I earned over half a million points from credit card signup bonuses, and most of the rest from shopping portals (full details here).  Almost every day of the month, I clicked through online portals and bought and/or used gift cards.  I still find it incredible when I think back about it – every single portal click-through was successful.  That is, every single time I clicked through a portal to either buy gift cards or to use gift cards to buy merchandise, the purchases tracked through the portal and I later received points or cash back.

My portal superpowers ended abruptly earlier this year when TopCashBack began offering 2.25% cash back for Amex business gift cards every two weeks.  As I mentioned in the post, My Amex gift card strategy, my Amex gift card purchases through TopCashBack have not tracked at all this year.  Every single time I’ve clicked through and placed an order for Amex gift cards, I’ve had to later file a missing cash back claim.  Luckily, the claims have been resolved very quickly each time, but it’s a hassle I’d really like to avoid.

Where was the breakdown?

Let’s look at the list of things that must go right, one by one:

  1. The portal has to correctly track that you clicked through: I know that TopCashBack recorded my click-throughs each time.  I know this because when I go to submit a missing cash back claim, the date and time of the click-through is selectable from the TopCashBack interface.
  2. The portal has to pass along tracking information to the vendor: I believe this is working. See #3, below.
  3. The vendor has to report the sale back to the portal:  The fact that each of my claims has been resolved within days suggests to me that TopCashBack already had the information it needed in-hand.  In other words, I believe that Amex had already reported the sale to TopCashBack.
  4. The portal has to match up the reported sale with your initial click-through: This is where I think that things are going wrong.  In each of the resolved support tickets, TopCashBack left a comment saying, in part: “We have received notification of a transaction which seems to match your claim and this has been added to your account.”  Since these comments come quickly after I submit each ticket, I believe that TopCashBack already had the necessary information. The problem has been that, for some reason, the computer isn’t automatically matching my click through to the reported sale.
  5. The vendor has to pay an affiliate commission to the portal: I haven’t had any problems with Amex gift card cash back moving from pending to paid, so I know this isn’t the issue.

Testing different approaches

In the off chance that the tracking problems are my fault, I’ve tried a number of different approaches so far…

1. Incognito mode

A commonly suggested solution to portal tracking problems is to put your browser into incognito / private mode before logging into the portal and shopping.  I tried it.  No luck.

2. Log into Amex account first

A reader told me that the trick to getting TopCashBack to track properly is to log into your Amex account first, then open another browser window to click through from TopCashBack.  In his case, the transactions tracked right away once he started doing that.  I tried it.  It didn’t work for me.

3. Buy generic gift cards

I usually buy Amex Custom Message business gift cards so that I can put my name on them.  Some merchants ask to compare the name on my ID to the name on the credit card, so the custom message cards are a great solution.  It occurred to me, though, that maybe my tracking trouble was with these gift cards.  Between that suspicion and the fact that the Amex gift card site was giving an error when I clicked on Custom Message Card (under the Business Gift Cards menu), I decided to buy generic gift cards.  No luck.  The order didn’t track.

Note: a reader named Mike reported that refreshing the page fixed the error so that he was able to buy Custom Message Cards.  And, his cash back showed pending by the next morning. 

Next Experiment?

A reader going by the name Kroozer, recently left the following comment:

I’ve never had an error when placing an AGC order and TCB has always tracked automatically, after I started following these 2 rules:
1. Use an incognito window for every AGC order. This adds extra step of logging into cashback portal and AmEx account for every order.
2. You must login to AmEx account BEFORE clicking through the cb portal. This can be a separate tab in the same incognito window of browser.
Before starting your next consecutive order, kill the incognito window and start afresh.

So, this suggestion is a combination of experiments 1 and 2, above.  It can’t hurt.  I’ll give this a try next time, but I think its very unlikely that it will work.  Another thing I may try is to use my wife’s TopCashBack account.  Maybe something is messed up with mine.

Other reader suggestions?

Do you have other suggestions for how to force TopCashBack to automatically track Amex gift card orders?  If your idea sounds reasonable, I’ll give it a try.  Please comment below.

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. This has been an issue for me for a while and after several conversations with fellow MSers and recent anecdotal experience, the following combination tracks 100% of the time:

    Chrome Incognito > Log into Amex > TCB > Amex > Purchase AGCs

    • Thanks for the suggestions. For those of us not internet savvy, what exactly does one have to do to go to chrome icognito? Also, my own experience is that Ebates, while it often pays less, is the most reliable of the portals, and the most willing to provide the rebate if an inquiry is needed, so I’ll often sacrifice rebate amount for reliability.

  2. Just to clarify my comment above, using Chrome incognito was important for the fix. I’m normally a Safari user, but purchases in a Safari Private Window did not produce the same consistent results as Chrome incognito.

  3. I use chrome incognito. I always log into Amex after clicking the link and it hasn’t been a problem. (I seem to be doing exactly the same as Aaron above) My orders track 100% of the time. If you haven’t used Chrome I would certainly suggest you try it.

  4. My understanding is that the portals utilize cookies to track the purchase. Things can go awry with cookies conflicting.

    I would google how to remove specific cookies in your particular browser and remove any associated with TopCashBack or Amex/American Express.

    Then the browser will create new cookies the next time you login to each of the sites.

  5. For those of you using these at a place like CVS to buy VGC, how does that work with the extra cost for the activation fee, ie you have a $500 Amex GC and need to pay $504.95 for VGC. Can you pay the extra $4.95 with cash, etc? Thanks

  6. My suggestion is to write a blog post calling Topcashback. Since they won’t like all the negative publicity, they will make an effort to resolve the issue. 😉

  7. I buy a lot of items through shopping portals like Barclays or Skymilesshopping and found that I have to turn off the “ad blocking” extensions I use in Chrome to be sure that they track correctly.
    You may find other ad blocking add ons in your browser that block the needed tracking cookies as well.

  8. I was able to contact TopCashBack support to investigate the missing cashback for our hotel stays. It took them a while (2 months). But eventually they credited all our stays.

  9. Stopped using TCB for buying AGC. The amount never tracks correctly. They offer 2.25 or 2.10% but gets tracked as 1.5%. I submited a claim about this and it has been several months and the claim is still pending. Rather use Ebates. They do apologize and promise things will get better but things keep getting worse. It becomes a full-time job to deal with untracked or wrongly tracked transactions.

    • Agreed. TCB lost my business for the same reason. You submit a claim and they finally give you 1.5 and not 2.25. Life is too short to battle these guys over every purchase.

    • I’ve never had that happen. They always resolve my claims to 2.25%. There was one time that a lot of blogs advertised that TCB had a high rate (it might have been 2.25%, but I don’t remember), but it turned out that it was only for a specific gift card with max value of $200 or something like that. A lot of people bought higher denomination cards and didn’t get paid what they expected, but that was more of a miscommunication than an error.

    • This has happened to me only when I was at edge of time window for promotional offer of 2.25% for one day. i.e. order submitted after 9pm on west coast. There is no mention which timezone applies for the “today only” offers. Submitted ticket, noted few months later that I’d received cashback twice, both 1.5 AND 2.25% for the same AGC transaction. LOL.

  10. @ Andy–you can pay the balance with cash or credit card. CVS will autodrain your gift card so use it first and just say OK, it will take the 500 off. Then you can pay cash or with a card for the balance.

  11. TopCashBack still owes me $90 for a September 2014 Verizon transaction. When I write them, they say “We’re working hard on it! It will be fine!” I’m wondering what else I can do to resolve this.

  12. I 2nd LonK… I had issues for every order I placed until I started disabling the ad blockers in chrome. It has tracked correctly 100% ever since.

  13. How long is it taking for everyone to receive cash back from TopCashBack? On my gift card orders, I show the cash back amounts pending and have shown that way for some time now. Just wondering if I’m being impatient about it.

    • TopCashBack usually pays there pending cash back after the 15th of the following month. So, sometimes it can seem like you’re waiting a month to get your cash back, depending on when you placed your order.

      • Meant to say: TCB pays their PAYABLE status cash back after the 15 of the month. It takes some time for the status to move from pending to confirmed to payable.

  14. I received a payout from 1 of 2 6/9/2015 TopCashBack orders earlier this week and the other 6/9/2015 and 6/23/2015 orders today. My July orders are still in pending status.

    I open Firefox without any add-ons, sign into Amex and then TCB, then place my order and I get the tracking notice within a few hours or 24 hours later. The orders usually move from pending to confirmed status in a few weeks and then to payable status a couple weeks after that.

  15. I’m wondering if anyone else out there is having this rather odd problem.

    I ordered 3 x $2000 Amex gift cards using a 2% cash back card. Yesterday I received the order, checked the balance, etc., and everything is good. Except, however, my credit card has not been billed for the charge.

    Knowing that money is never free, and that they WILL find you sooner or later, I called their customer service line (obviously somewhere in India), and was told to wait until my next statement.

    Anyone else seen this before ?

    • This is pretty common with Amex Gift Cards in my experience. It’s not uncommon for mine to post to my credit card for 5-7 days. I’ve literally received them in the mail and liquidated them before they even hit my CC statement before.

  16. When TCB increases their cash back to 2.25% on business cards, do the personalized business cards still qualify for that increased cash back?

  17. I’ve never had a AGC purchase at TCP track on my desk top. Used every browser, incognito, sign in first, all the tricks. On my last purchase I used my iPhone and it tracked within minutes after the purchase was approved by Am Ex. No idea why?

  18. I stopped using TCB as my Amex orders would never track and TCB was not helpful at all, hence they lost a customer.

  19. Last week I tried again when TCB offered 2.25%. This time I did the following:
    1) Open incognito window in Chrome
    2) Sign into my Amex account
    3) Open TCB
    4) Click through to Amex gift cards
    5) Purchased custom message cards
    Result:
    Tracked!
    But, strangely, I never received an email about it from TCB

  20. Which business Amex gift card can you get your name printed on? I ordered the “Gold Gift Sparkle” one and filled in the company info upon checkout. But the card came without my name printed on it. Did I order the wrong one?

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