The art of gift card churning in 2016

Art of Gift Card Churning

What is gift card churning?

Gift card churning is the art of buying and liquidating gift cards for the purpose of saving money, earning money, earning extra points, and/or increasing credit card spend.  Here are a few reasons it may be worth your time to manufacture spend in this way:

A simple gift card churn involves buying merchant gift cards at a discount, paying with your credit card (to get rewards), and selling the gift cards to either break even or earn a profit.

Gift card churning concepts

  • Gift card resellers: Quite a few companies exist as online pawn shops for gift cards. They buy merchant gift cards from individuals at a discount and resell them at less of a discount.
  • Gift card marketplaces: Sites like Raise, eSaving,  and eBay make it easy for individuals to sell gift cards to each other.  SaveYa offers both models: they’ll buy directly from you or let you list your gift card on their marketplace.  One advantage of selling through a marketplace is that you can set your own price.  Major disadvantages are that these sites take a cut of each sale and you have to wait until your gift card is sold to get paid.
  • Bulk sellers: Most resellers have programs that you can apply to if you want to become a “bulk seller”.  Advantages to become a bulk seller vary by reseller, but often include better resale rates, higher limits, and better service.
  • Upgrade: It is sometimes possible to use a gift card from one merchant to buy gift cards from other merchants.  Online, for example, Amazon, eBay, and Target all currently allow buying other merchant gift cards with their gift cards.  In-store, unfortunately, many chains have trained cashiers not to allow people to buy gift cards with gift cards.  Some physical stores worth trying (but no guarantees) include: Best Buy, Gamestop (although there have been recent reports of some Gamestop stores no longer allowing this), Meijer.  Toys R Us no longer works.  Sears & Kmart cash registers allow buying merchant gift cards with Sears/Kmart gift cards, but most cashiers have been trained not to allow it.
  • Make New: If you buy a gift card from an individual or a reseller there’s always a risk that a previous owner of the gift card still has the gift card number and will use the funds before you do.  One way to avoid that is to use the gift card immediately to buy a new gift card of the same type.  This is also a way to turn an e-gift card into a physical gift card, which can be handy if your goal is to resell the gift card since some resellers pay more for physical gift cards.  Note that not all merchants will let you buy their gift card with a gift card.
  • Brand Swap: Often, when a single company owns several merchant brands, the gift cards work across those brands.  For example, Sears & Kmart gift cards are indistinguishable.  When this is the case, find out which brand is selling for the highest price and sell your gift card as if it is from that brand.  Currently, Sears gift cards sell for a bit more than Kmart gift cards, so you could sell your Kmart gift cards as Sears gift cards in order to get a bit more money.

Gift card churning tools

  • Gift Card Wiki: This should be your first stop to find out how much second hand gift cards are selling for and how much  you can get for reselling yours.  The site even lets you sort or filter gift cards by “Arbitrage Rate” which is the % of money you can get back if you buy a gift card at the best current discount and then sell it at the best current resell rate.
  • EBay Gift Card Arbitrage Opportunities (Beta) by Money Metagame: This page shows opportunities for buying and selling unused gift cards from eBay.
  • Frequent Miler Laboratory: Visit the Frequent Miler Laboratory to learn which portals reward purchases of gift cards (or purchases made with gift cards); which stores let you buy gift cards with gift cards; and more.  Please contribute your experiences here too!
  • CashBackMonitor: Use this as your go-to site for finding the best portal rewards available for various stores.  With Gift Card Churning, this can be valuable in a few ways: 1) sometimes a store will offer large enough portal rewards to be worth buying gift cards directly from the source even if your intention is to resell them; and 2) Gift card reseller sites and marketplaces are sometimes available through portals. A portal rebate as small as 1% or 2% can make the difference between a gift card churn being profitable or not.
  • Best options for buying merchant gift cards: This page is updated regularly.  It lists a number of ways of saving money and earning rewards when buying unused merchant gift cards.  Subscribe to this page by adding a comment (any comment will do) and checking the box that says “Notify me of follow-up comments by email.”
  • The Complete Guide to Selling your Unwanted Gift Cards for Cash by Chuck at Doctor of Credit.  Read this post for resale recommendations and reviews of each of the major resellers and marketplaces.

Gift card churning issues and risks

A lot can and will go wrong when churning gift cards.  I used to churn gift cards several years ago as a way to manufacture spend, but I soon found that the process was so full of issues and headaches that I stopped doing so.  Instead, I use many gift card churning concepts as a way of saving money or increasing rewards.  Many of these ideas can be found in our Extreme Stacking series.

Here now, in no particular order, are some issues and risks that you may face when churning gift cards:

  • Lost in the mail: Many resellers pay more for physical gift cards than e-gift cards, so this means mailing the gift cards to the reseller to get paid.  I’ve heard multiple stories of resellers claiming not to have received these mailings.  If you insure the package*, you should be able to recoup your losses, but no matter how it is resolved you can bet it will be a major headache.  * Note: the only insurance that will work with gift cards (that I’m aware of) is with USPS Registered MailMoney Metagame has cautions about insuring gift cards here.
  • Resale price fluctuations: A reseller may offer you 85% on the dollar for a gift card on one day, but significantly less the next.  The possibility of losing a lot of money this way is very real.
  • Criminal or accidental reuse: When you buy a secondhand gift card, there’s no way to know who still has the gift card code.  The code could easily be used intentionally or accidentally before you get a chance to use it.  Or, if you resell the gift card and then the code is used, you may be accused of stealing the gift card’s value.
  • Overzealous fraud prevention: I’ve had situations where I sold brand new gift cards to a reseller only to find that their fraud prevention team later cancelled the order.  Similarly, attempts to buy gift cards with Visa, MasterCard, or Amex gift cards are likely to be turned down.  Even the use of a VPN when buying or selling can be a trigger for the fraud prevention teams.
  • Resale limits: Many resellers impose limits in how much they’ll buy from individual sellers, especially those who are not confirmed bulk sellers.  So, even if you find theoretically great gift card churns where you can buy low and sell high, you may have trouble unloading all of your gift card inventory.
  • Banned second time resales: Some gift card resellers keep track of gift cards they’ve sold before and will not buy the same gift card from you.  If you buy gift secondhand gift cards for the purpose of reselling them, it is very likely that you’ll encounter this situation.

For more, please see Shawn’s post at Miles to Memories: Why Gift Card Reselling Probably Isn’t Worth the Time & Effort.

Gift card churning in 2016

Manufacturing spend in order to earn credit card rewards used to be cheap, easy, and reliable.  Then, one after another, most cheap and easy options have fallen by the wayside.  In the past few years we lost Vanilla Reload cards, Amazon Payments, REDbird, and much more.

In the meantime, gift card churning has become significantly easier.  EBay, for example, has eased previous gift card limitations yet continues to allow buying gift cards with gift cards, and often hosts great sales of unused gift cards.  And Amex has continued to offer terrific Amex Offers which can frequently be used to buy new gift cards at a huge discount if you have access to a large number of Amex cards (including authorized user cards).

The biggest improvement of all, I think, is the development of the Gift Card Wiki site which seems to be custom built for gift card churning.  The site includes detailed resale information including how much each reseller will pay if you upload gift card codes rather than mailing in physical gift cards:

GiftCardWiki HP resale

And, for those willing to risk buying and reselling secondhand gift cards, they’ll let you sort gift card views by arbitrage rate.  It doesn’t get any easier than this to find gift card reselling opportunities in which you can theoretically earn a profit:

GiftCardWiki Sort By Arbitrage

Similarly, the EBay Gift Card Arbitrage Opportunities (Beta) page by Money Metagame makes it easy to find arbitrage opportunities for new, unused gift cards.  Buying new helps to avoid the many issues associated with buying used gift cards.

As a result of the ever declining manufactured spend opportunities, and improved access to gift card reselling opportunities, gift card churning is likely to lure in more and more people.  And, as you compete with ever more people to resell the same types of gift cards, you’ll be more and more likely to be stuck holding the gift card bag.  That is, you’ll have bought low with the intention of selling high, but the resale price in the interim will plummet.

Personally, despite the changing landscape, I’m still not interested in gift card churning in large volumes.  There is too much risk and, often, too much work, for too little gain. To the extent that I gift card churn at all, I primarily focus on opportunities for buying brand new gift cards at a large discount.  And, I usually use these to save money rather than to resell those gift cards.

That said, I know people who churn gift cards regularly, successfully, and in high volume.  Just like reselling merchandise, there is a fairly steep learning curve, but there are great opportunities out there for those willing to put in the work and accept the risk.

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. So you’re not a huge fan of gift card churning. What’s your preferred avenue for building credit card points, hitting minimums spends, etc.?

  2. What do you think about earning portal cashback for buying gift cards when you are not supposed to? I know nobody cares when the volume is low. What if the volume gets big? Will people go to jail like the Chiu brothers?

    • Interesting question! I hadn’t thought about that possibility, but yes it seems possible that a person could get in trouble if they take advantage of portal loopholes to a very large extent.

    • They weren’t actually buying anything and it was obvious fraud. People buying gift cards and paying for them is no way the same thing. Portal claw back would be the only thing I could see.

  3. This is one of those things were I feel like, “Let’s stop talking about it so much, because then it will ruin it”.

    If everyone starts doing it, it will become less profitable – which it barely is already.

    Anyway I bought a TON of 1800 flowers GCs yesterday for 50.3% off. Hoping that I can sell them for 25% off next week (Mother’s Day!).

    • I agree this is an inappropriate subject to play up…get MMS to draw a few arrows and circles and pose with the different cards to make your article complete.
      The use of the term Churn drops flags….listing every possible angle you can think of, makes a cardinal’s job easy…he can just copy and paste your info in his report to management on what they need to shut down.
      Irresponsible blogging, promoting things that should be done with discretion…..intentionally spoonfeeding people with none, then denying responsibility when opportunities die soon than later….disgusting

    • I totally agree. This blog will just kill the gift card churning soon. The profit of gift card churning is so low, and if you and MMS starts to blog it. It will be gone very very soon. I am so sad that 2016 is getting worse and worse.

  4. Has anyone else noticed that the red bullseye retailer isn’t allowing you to buy gift cards at a discount with redcard debit anymore? Is this only my account? I’d like some feedback from someone on a dummy gift card purchase with red card and the 5-percent discount not being available online.

    Thanks.

  5. I am trying to buy ebay gift cards from target.com… using my Target debit card… but no 5% discount!
    what’s going on? when did this start? is it a glitch???

    i am super concerned now. 🙁

  6. Can’t wait to kill every possible opportunity now, can you?

    I look forward to the day your blog shuts down and you end up working in the fast food industry. Some serious karma coming your way, pal.

  7. Is Bluebird dead? I haven’t tried to do a load lately because my local Walmart money machine was always broken. Also all my local grocery stores do not allow you to buy Visa/MC gift cards with a credit card anymore. I still have Staples but $5.95 for a $200 gift card is steep. Also the last Staples $20 rebate for a $300 Visa/MC purchase was a $20 Staples card and not a Visa which is not as valuable to me.

    Can you even reload BB with Visa/MC gift cards anymore?

    • Bluebird still works, but many/most cardholders have been shut down. Specifically, Amex has stopped allowing loads of new funds. If you haven’t been shut down, then you should be able to reload Bluebird at Walmart with Visa gift cards. But: many Walmart store employees have been trained to not-allow gift cards as payment. So, it also depends upon your local Walmart

  8. Has anyone ever gotten an MC999 notice from Ebay for buying too many daily deals? They said (paraphrasing) that i buy too many daily deals and that they think i’m reselling the items and it’s taking away opportunities from other non-resellers to buy them.

    I don’t want to lose my account, but I hate not being able to use gift card arbitrage to MS. It’s so dumb, what kind of company sends me half a dozen emails a day about their deals and targets me for bucks and then gets mad when i buy their stuff?? Anyone else deal with this?

  9. The profit is so low on GC churning all it takes is one fraudulent buyer/seller to kill your profit and maybe worse. All of these 3rd party trading firms (Saveya, Cardcash, etc) are just fronts for scammers to operate. I had a Walmart card that I sold to Saveya drained the next day, their buyer put in a claim (of course fraudulent), and I’m fighting with them months after.

  10. My local Stop n Shop has just changed their policy to allow no cc payment for GCs. This is hard-coded into the register. In the same area, Hannaford seems to have stopped carrying GCs entirely…coincidence? Gotta wonder.

    • Many chains have recently stopped allowing gift card purchases with credit cards because they have not yet changed over to PIN-enabled credit card readers and are therefore held accountable for fraudulent purchases.

    • Are you sure your Stop and Shop has banned credit cards for all gift card purchases? The sign in the store I went to yesterday seemed to say that it’s general purpose gift cards (Visa, MC, Amex). I had no problem using a credit card to buy an eBay gift card (and get a $10 coupon).

  11. I have tried gift card churning and faced a lot of issues as you have mentioned above. The reseller had the card details and was using them even after I bought it. I overcame the issue by finding a better way to save some bucks. I started buying new Giftcards of various popular brands from this Cashback website called Yaarlo which offers good deals and I would say it’s better than doing the churning.

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