A couple of days ago I logged into my TopCashback account and found something disturbing. My pending cash back for Amex Gift Cards had dropped to negative $195.
I clicked the dollar amount to see the details. There, I found that I had one pending payout of $30 (which will surely be reversed soon) and a negative payout of $225. Yikes.
I hastily shot off a (nicely worded) “WTF” support ticket to TopCashback.
Then I realized what must have happened. I searched my email archives to confirm it. The February 3rd order had been declined:
One of the most frustrating things about buying Amex gift cards online is that they will often decline your order because “We could not verify your order information and cannot approve your order at this time.” Of course, that makes no sense since I’ve often been declined after using the exact same order information that had previously been approved. Calling to ask doesn’t help. Phone agents seem to invent random reasons just to get you off the phone so that you can have a nice day.
Regardless of why orders are often declined, you’re not supposed to earn portal rewards when this happens. Amex had a glitch a couple of years ago in which they routinely paid out to portals for declined orders, but that issue has long since been corrected.
It seems, though, that one of my declined orders from February of this year had slipped through the cracks, and I had earned portal rewards when I wasn’t supposed to. Somehow, at the time, I didn’t even notice!
Since I had no right to this cash back in the first place, I cancelled my TopCashback support ticket.
Amex cleaning up?
Currently, buying Amex gift cards through portals is a useless activity. The reason? Amex has recently imposed a new rule: only gift card denominations of $200 or less can qualify for portal rebates. When you factor in the usual $3.95 cost per card, its simply not worth buying $200 Amex gift cards to get 1.5% or even 2.25% cash back. Even if there were no fee per card, I wouldn’t bother. Small denomination cards like these are more trouble than they’re worth.
In the post “Amex gift cards: Is the deal done?” I conjectured that Amex’s new rules may be a new variation of a “quiet period” similar to what Amex has done each year in the past. Does this new data point add weight to that conjecture?
It’s possible that Amex withdraws from portals each year in order to balance their books. Perhaps they take this time to look over the past year’s costs and earnings. And, perhaps in the course of all this they find and correct discrepancies like my declined order payout.
I checked through my (admittedly poor) records and couldn’t find any other examples from this year where I had received portal rewards from a declined payout so its hard for me to check for trends. How about you? Have you recently had any Amex gift card order payouts reversed?