Following Amex’s second wave attack on Bluebird and Serve cardholders, it may seem strange for me to write about options for buying Visa gift cards. After all, Bluebird and Serve are/were among the best vehicles for liquidating Visa and MasterCard gift cards. Shouldn’t I be writing more about options for liquidating gift cards rather than options for buying them?
Well, yes and no. I’ve recently covered options for unloading gift cards in a couple of posts:
- Bluebird Serve Birdpocalypse: How to liquidate remaining gift cards
- Connecting the dots: Prepaid cards that allow debit reloads
As I wrote in “Credit Card Spend in 2016 and Beyond,” the days of free and easy “manufactured spend” (the art of increasing credit card spend without spending more overall) are mostly behind us. We’re left now, for the most part, with two options for increasing credit card spend: 1) pay fees; or 2) incur risk. After all, someone has to pay the credit card transaction fees involved in manufacturing spend.
In the post, “Connecting the dots: Prepaid cards that allow debit reloads,” I showed how to find Bluebird / Serve alternatives. One thing that is unfortunately true about most alternatives is that they charge fees. At a minimum, expect to pay monthly fees and/or reload fees. For example, a number of cards identified in the post “Reload Cards with Free Bill Pay” have no monthly fees, but unlike Bluebird and Serve* they do charge $3.95 to $4.95 per $500 in-store reload. Without Bluebird or Serve, we’ve added about 1% to our manufactured spend costs (a $4.95 fee is approximately 1% of a $500 reload).
* Note: Some versions of Serve do charge monthly fees or reload fees. See: Complete guide to the many flavors of Serve. Which is Best?.
With costs for liquidating gift cards going up, it is important to identify opportunities to reduce costs involved in buying gift cards. In the Bluebird / Serve world, in which liquidating gift cards was free, many of us commonly paid $3.95, $4.95, or $5.95 for each $500 Visa* gift card we purchased. In other words, we paid on average about 1% in order to manufacture spend. Today, if we can buy gift cards for free (or close to it), then we can keep our overall costs down to prior levels. Rather than paying to buy Visa gift cards, we’ll pay to liquidate them.
* Note: For convenience, in this post I refer mostly just to Visa gift cards even though MasterCard gift cards are equally relevant.
Best options for buying Visa gift cards
The best options for buying Visa gift cards change regularly. Options for buying cards online or in-store come and go. Sometimes it is possible to recover all or part of a card’s fee by clicking through a cash back portal to buy gift cards. Sometimes not. Sometimes credit cards incur cash advance fees when purchasing gift cards. Usually not. Most Visa gift cards have PINs (useful for liquidating those gift cards), some do not.
To keep up with the ever changing gift card landscape, we maintain the following page on this site: Best options for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards. It’s not unusual for us to update this page several times per week. When major changes happen in this space, we leave a comment on the page as well. If you’re interested in staying up to date, I highly recommend subscribing to comments on that page. Write something like “sub” and check the box that says “Notify me of follow-up comments by email.” Over the weekend, I completely reformatted the page to show key pieces of information more clearly: card fees, how to set PINs, whether or not cash advance fees might be charged, etc.
Among the options listed on that page, my current go-to options are:
- I order online through giftcards.com. At the time of this writing, portal rebates for giftcards.com top out at 1.5%. If you buy four $500 Visa gift cards, the total purchase price with shipping comes to $2035.25. A 1.5% portal rebate is based on the pre-shipping charge of $2027.80 and should come to $30.42. That more than covers the gift card fees and almost covers the shipping charge as well. In other words, with a 1.5% rebate, these gift cards are very nearly fee free. Keep in mind that you generally have to wait 60 to 90 days before portal rebates become payable.
- I do not buy gift cards from giftcardmall.com because they cancel all of my orders. Otherwise I would happily use my AT&T card for its 3X online shopping bonus.
- I order online from Staples.com. Staples.com sells $300 Visa gift cards, each with a $8.95 fee. That’s not cheap. And, unfortunately, portals do not pay out for gift card purchases made at Staples.com. That said, I’m happy to use my Chase Ink Plus card to buy these Visa cards since Chase Ink cards earn 5X points at office supply stores. Each $308.95 purchase results in 1,545 points. If I wanted to, I could cash in 895 of those points to reduce my net card fees to zero and still earn 650 points per $300 card (i.e. ~2.2X). That’s pretty good!
- I buy in-person… sometimes. I haven’t bought many gift cards in-person since my Serve cards were all frozen in January. However, I can’t pass up easy 5X point opportunities. Since both Chase Freedom and Discover are offering 5X at gas stations this quarter, I’ve made my way repeatedly to a numerically named convenience store that is conveniently coded as a gas station. The register allows purchasing Vanilla brand gift cards with a credit card.
Beginning in April, my Chase Freedom cards will be finding their way to grocery stores:
Beginning April 15th, my Citi dividend card will make a few appearances at drug stores (note that you can’t sign up for a new Dividend card, but you can product change from another Citi card to the Dividend card):
My Discover card, though, will stay home for the rest of the year:
I won’t use my Discover card at restaurants, movies, or Amazon.com because my Citi Forward card already gives me 5X rewards for those categories (sorry, but the Forward card is no longer available – you can’t get it by applying new or by product changing). I may use my Discover card online, though, in the 3rd and 4th quarters. At that point, I’ll hopefully be able to recreate this fun: Sears Quintuple Dip Results, and why I should have bet more on Discover.
UPDATE: As a reader pointed out, my Discover card is eligible for Double Cash Back for 12 months (through ~July). So, 5% cash back from Discover really means 10%. As a result, I will choose Discover over Forward for restaurants and movies in April, May, and June.