Amex gift cards: Is the deal done?

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Last Thursday I made a big mistake.  I published a Quick Deal before drinking coffee.  From past mistakes that were caused by my caffeine starved brain, I should have known better.  While my coffee brewed, I noticed a reminder to myself to check to see if TopCashBack was offering a one day increased bonus for Amex gift cards.  I checked and sure enough they were.  Since this happens every two weeks, I simply grabbed the contents of a prior Quick Deal, updated the deal image, and published the thing: Amex business gift cards 2.25% via TopCashBack today only.

I should have checked the terms before publishing.

Amex gift cards

Readers and Twitter followers were quick to alert me to a change.  Now, instead of allowing gift card denominations up to $2000, the new rules limited gift card denominations to $200.  Suddenly there was no point to buying these things. The gift card fees and shipping charges would easily exceed cash back earned.

I drank my coffee and published an update: TopCashBack limits Amex gift card cash back to $200 denomination cards [Developing…]

In that post I listed a couple of important questions:

  • Is this $200 restriction limited to today’s increased rates?
  • Will other portals add this restriction?

I reached out to TopCashBack and was told that the new rules were sent to them from Amex early that morning.  And, they believed that the changes were permanent (until Amex changes its policy again) and that all cash back portals had received the same new rules.

And, sure enough, as the day went by, other portals began to add the new terms or to drop Amex Gift Cards from their site (presumably to change the terms before putting it back).

Background

Via cash online portals, it has been possible to earn extra rewards from buying Amex gift cards.  You would earn rewards from your credit card for making the purchase and (usually) cash back rewards from a portal.  Then, the Amex gift cards could be used for everyday spend or could be liquidated via various options for increasing spend.  This was a good deal as long as the portal cash back rates far exceeded Amex gift card fees and shipping charges.

For example, it was possible to use a 2% cash back card (such as the Fidelity Investment Rewards Amex) to buy Amex gift cards and average about 2% cash back through portals.  Then use those gift cards for day to day spend.  In total, you would average 4% cash back for all spend through this approach.

With the new rules, this is no longer a good deal.

What’s next?

It’s possible that the processes of increasing rewards through Amex gift card purchases is a thing of the past.  It could be that the deal is done.  Put a fork in it.

But, maybe, not.  Reader, ed, reminded me that Amex often removes their gift cards from portals around this time every year:

This is normally the season when Amex places limits or even removes all cb from these portal orders. Last year there was no cb from any portal for any denoms for about 2 months which last year began weeks earlier than now. I’ve deemed this dreaded season as AGC Dead Zone when the trade winds die dramatically. Slow ms sailing for a bit, but hopefully will return to better seas by October or sooner. This is a phenomenon much more dreaded by me than El Nino.

And, in fact, not so long ago I wrote something similar:

If my memory serves, I believe that Amex gift cards disappear from portals for a few weeks each year – usually late in the year (see this 2014 report and this 2013 report, for example).  When they return to portals, the standard portal rebates are often different than before (sometimes more, sometimes less).  My guess is that Amex has an annual process in which they evaluate whether portal marketing is working for them and they decide how much money they’re willing to offer up for that marketing.  My guess is that we’ll see a similar thing happen this year in the September / October timeframe.

The Question

Have we entered a new version of the annual AGC (Amex Gift Card) Dead Zone?  Regardless of the reason for the annual dead zone, it makes sense to me that Amex would decide to restrict cash back options rather than withdraw from portals altogether.  If this is what’s going on, then we are likely to see Amex gift cards portal rules ease up after a month or two.

The other option is that Amex has simply decided that providing cash back to portals for high denomination gift cards is too expensive.  That makes sense to me too.

My bet (for what it’s worth)

My best guess is that Ed is right.  If so, Amex gift card portal terms will return to a new normal after a month or two.  Mid October seems likely.  Keep in mind that my guess is just that – a guess.  I have no more inside knowledge than you do, but I tend to be optimistic about these things.

What’s your best guess?

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