Best options for buying merchant gift cards

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UPDATE 7/29/14: Please see the updated version of this post here.

If you’re in the market for gift cards, you’re probably interested in finding the best options for saving money and/or earning extra points.  Or, if you’re planning big purchases, you might want to consider buying gift cards first in order to increase your savings or rewards.  Either way, here is a run down of the best options (I know of) for buying merchant gift cards.  If you’re interested in buying Visa or MasterCard gift cards, see “Best options for buying $500 Visa gift cards.”

Ink + office supply store = 5X

Staples, Office Depot, and OfficeMax all carry a wide selection of gift cards in-store.  If you purchase these gift cards with your Chase Ink card, you’ll earn 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar.  Backup plan: pay with your American Express SimplyCash card to get 5% cash back.

For reference, Dans Deals lists all of the gift cards that he found at each office supply store here.

Ink + portal + Staples.com = 8X

Staples.com sells a wide variety of gift cards online.  They charge a shipping fee for most physical gift cards, but no fee for e-gift cards.  The key is to start your shopping in the Ultimate Rewards Mall (which is currently offering 3 bonus points per dollar for Staples), click through to Staples.com, then pay with your Chase Ink card.  If all goes well, you’ll earn 8 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar.

Staples_egiftcards_FrequentMiler

Backup plan: go through ShopDiscover or uPromise portal for 5% cash back.  Pay with Amex SimplyCash to get 5% cash back.  Total savings with backup plan: 10% cash back.

SimplyCash + OfficeMax.com = 14% savings

OfficeMax sells a variety of gift cards online.  They charge a 99 cent fee for each one, so you can minimize that expense as a percent of total by buying larger denomination cards.  Many cards have a top value of $100, so there is basically a 1% fee for ordering online (note one current exception: Nordstrom gift cards go up to $200).  If you use an Amex business card with OPEN Savings and buy over $250 worth of stuff at once at OfficeMax, you’ll automatically get 10% cash back from Amex.  With the Amex SimplyCash card, you’ll get another 5% cash back for making a purchase at an office supply store.  In total, you’ll save 14% (10% from OPEN Savings + 5% from SimplyCash – 1% fee).

OfficeMax_HomeDepot_gift_card_Frequent_Miler

Backup plan: use any Amex business card with OPEN Savings to save 9% plus earn credit card rewards.

Advanced plan: Buy no-fee OfficeMax gift cards and use them in-store to upgrade to other gift cards (Amazon, gas cards, etc.).  Warning: many cashiers will not allow this.

Portal + Plink + Sears = up to 16% savings

Now we’re getting into the finer art of gift card churning.  First, find the best online portal for Sears.  Currently, ShopDiscover offers 10% cash back.  Lately, the AAdvantage eShopping portal has been running frequent Sears’ 9X promotions as well.  Pick whichever rewards credit card you want to use and register it with Plink.  Add Kmart (yes, Kmart, not Sears, but it can’t hurt to add both) to your Plink wallet.  Go through the online portal to Sears.com and buy a $50 physical gift card.  You’ll earn up to 10% cash back from the portal plus you’ll earn Plink points worth 6% back towards gift cards such as Amazon and Walmart.

Now for the hard part (yep, you thought you were done, didn’t you?):  Take your Sears’ gift card to Sears or Kmart to upgrade to the gift card you really want.  At Sears, this can be difficult because it can be hard to find the secret gift card rack.  At Kmart this can be difficult because many cashiers won’t allow buying gift cards with gift cards.

Category bonus + Plink + 7-11 = up to 15% savings

There are many credit cards that offer bonus points or cash back of up to 5% at gas stations (find the best options here: Best Category Bonuses).  And, many 7-11 stores are categorized as gas stations even if they do not sell gas.  So, register your credit card with Plink, add 7-11 to your Plink Wallet, and buy gift cards $25 per transaction.  You’ll earn up to 5% cash back in credit card rewards and 10% back (in the form of Amazon or Walmart gift cards) from Plink.

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Blue Cash Preferred + Grocery store = 6% savings + fuel points

Grocery stores tend to have huge selections of merchant gift cards.  Some stores even offer extra rewards (fuel points) for gift card purchases!  So, buy gift cards at such a store with the Amex Blue Cash Preferred card to get 6% cash back (up to $6K of grocery spend per year) and hopefully earn fuel points as well!

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Backup plan: Use one of many other credit cards that offer grocery store bonuses.  See: Best Category Bonuses.

5X card + drugstore (or gas or grocery store) = 5X

There used to be an offer available for a Citi ThankYou card that earned 5X at drug stores, gas stations, and grocery stores for 12 months.  That offer has become almost impossible to find, but a new offer cropped up for a Wells Fargo card that offers 5% cash back for 6 months within the same categories.  See this post for details.  If you manage to get one of these cards, take it to any drugstore, gas station, or grocery store to buy gift cards.

Citi Forward + Bookstore = 5X

The Citi Forward card offers 5 ThankYou points per dollar at bookstores (and several other categories).  Find a bookstore with a gift card rack (try B&N campus bookstores) and pay with your Forward card to earn 5 points per dollar.

Second hand gift cards

There is a thriving resale market for gift cards.  It is often possible to buy merchant gift cards at a significant discount through one of many resellers.  The site giftcardgranny.com does a pretty good job of aggregating the options for you.  You can sometimes even increase your savings by going through a cash back portal to the gift card resellers site.  Once you pick a reseller, go to cashbackholics.com to see if you can get cash back when buying gift cards.

Buy from merchant

Last, but not least, sometimes the best savings or points come from buying gift cards directly from the merchant for which you want a gift card.  For example, Marriott often offers bonus points or extra value gift cards when you purchase Marriott gift cards directly from them.  With some stores, you can earn extra points by starting with a shopping portal before clicking through and buying a store gift card.  This does not work with all stores.  Please see the Frequent Miler Laboratory to see what works and what doesn’t.

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Reader suggestions

I know that I didn’t present every combination of solutions available, but did I miss any particularly noteworthy options?  Please comment below.

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