Last week I ran a big giveaway contest to celebrate 5 years of blogging. I gave away free Club Carlson nights, 5 Fitbit Zip wireless activity trackers, 5 $75 Nike gift cards, 5 surprise mystery gifts, and 99 Award Wallet upgrade codes.
All of the winners have been selected. And all of the prizes have been booked, ordered, or delivered.
They say that giving is its own reward. And it is. It feels great to do nice things for others. For every gift you give, your life is richer… [editor: insert other banal stuff about the joy of giving].
But let’s be honest here. This blog is all about how to earn rewards. The truth is that if you’re going to give gifts, there’s often an opportunity to get stuff for yourself at the same time. This post is a case study in how I used Extreme Stacking techniques and earned over 60% back in rewards for all of that stuff I gave away…
Nike Gift Cards
I gave away 5 $75 Nike e-gift cards. Why did I pick Nike?
First, there was this Amex Offer available on most of my Amex cards:
That resulted in a nice 20% rebate for each gift card:
And, there was a fantastic portal offer for United cardholders. 21 miles per dollar at Nike!
Usually you don’t earn portal rewards when buying gift cards through portals. However, the Frequent Miler Laboratory shows that people have had good success:
My miles haven’t posted yet, but it’s not unusual for portals to take a while to reflect new purchases, so I still think that I have a good chance of earning the miles. If so, each $75 gift card should result in 1,575 United miles!
But wait, that’s not all! The United portal was also offering 1000 bonus miles for spending $350 through September 9th:
The Nike Math
Assuming the portal pays out as expected, I will have spent $375 and earned:
- $15 x 5 = $75 Amex rebate
- 8,875 miles from the United portal
If we assume the miles are worth about 1.5 cents each, then the total rebate comes to $208! (55% rebate)
UPDATE: Based on a couple of reader comments, it may be that Nike has recently stopped paying out through portals for e-gift card purchases. If so, my actual rebate % is much lower: 20%.
I gave away 5 mystery gifts (recipients should get them today!) worth “approximately $50 each”. The truth is that I was sitting on some 1-800-Flowers $50 gift cards that I had bought earlier in the year and I saw this as a great opportunity to use them. Fortunately, I know “How to buy stuff that doesn’t suck from 1800Flowers.”
I didn’t know in advance what I was going to buy. When the time came to order the prizes for delivery, I scoured the 1-800-Flowers website along with partner sites such as Cheryl’s, Wolferman’s, Harry & David, etc. I was looking for something good that would appeal to almost anyone and that cost about $50. There were many great looking food options, but without knowing the recipient’s food preferences I decided to go with something likely to appeal to a wide group… I hope.
Everyone likes coffee and/or tea, right? I found that the deluxe version of the Starbucks Coffee Break Gift Crate was on sale for just over $50.
Of course, similar to the Nike gift cards, I stacked many deals:
There was the Amex Offer to Spend $50, Get $15:
By combining both of the above deals, I earned $33 back from each $50 gift card purchase!
When I placed the orders, I would have liked to have used a promo code to earn miles (such as TB20 which offers 20 JetBlue points per dollar), but the Starbucks item wasn’t valid for use with promo codes. Instead, I opted to get portal cash back. The best option at the time was Splender for 15% cash back.
1-800-Flowers did not charge for shipping and handling for this order, but if they had I could have easily avoided the charge by using my Shop Runner membership (free for Amex cardholders) or my 1-800-Flowers Celebration Passport membership. I did have to pay sales tax on one of the 5 shipments.
The 1800Flowers Math
I spent a total of $268.66 and earned:
- 5 x $15 = $75 back from Amex Offers
- 5 x $18 = $90 back from ShopAtHome
- 15% of $264.95 (pre-tax amount) = $39.75
My total rebate on $268.66 spend = $204.75! (76% rebate)
I gave away 5 Fitbit Zip Wireless Activity Trackers. At the time that I posted the contest, Sears was offering these trackers for a very good price of $49.97 each. When I went to order them, though, I found that they were on further sale for only $39.97 each.
I was interested in good deals from Sears because I was sitting on a pile of Shop Your Way Rewards points which were due to expire soon.
Unlike the items described earlier in this post, I can’t give an exact breakdown showing what kind of rebate I earned from these purchases, but I can estimate…
Step 1: Buy Sears gift cards at a great discount or with a large rebate. I am constantly on the look out for great deals on Sears gift cards (or on reloads of existing gift cards)…
- Simple Example: Sears’ gift cards are often available on eBay for up to 20% off face value.
- Complex Example: The Discover Deals shopping portal sometimes offers 10% back at Sears. And, even though it shouldn’t work, I have repeatedly found that reloading Sears’ gift cards earns portal rewards. For those in their first year of card membership, Discover doubles all rewards earned, including portal rewards. So, the 10% portal rebate becomes 20%. And, it gets better: Discover It offers rotating 5% cash back categories and Sears is included both with department stores and with home improvement stores. And this gets doubled at the end of the year too. When the stars align for all of these things, it is possible to reload Sears gift cards and get 30% cash back!
Step 2: Buy 100% back in rewards items in order to earn extra portal rewards.
Both Sears and Kmart occasionally offer items for 100% back in Shop Your Way Rewards. Via coupons or other deals, it is often possible to get more than 100% back in rewards. Long ago I setup an alert on SlickDeals so that I get an email whenever these 100% back deals are reported. Then I use CashBackMonitor to find the best current portal option, click through the portal, and buy the 100% back in rewards items.
Once the 100% back in rewards items arrive, I then decide what to do with them: give them to friends and family as holiday gifts; use them myself; sell them; or donate them to a charitable organization.
The biggest downside to this approach is that, unlike gift cards, Shop Your Way Rewards points expire. Normally they take a year to expire, but with these 100% back in points deals the points usually expire much sooner: 30, 60, or 90 days is typical.
Another potential issue is the possibility of Sears going bankrupt. If that happens, we don’t know if there would be a chance to use earned points (or gift cards for that matter) before its too late.
Step 3: Use Shop Your Way Rewards points to buy what you really want.
The selection and prices for merchandise at Sears and Kmart are not exactly top notch, but it is usually possible to find some stuff you need. I wrote up suggestions here: How to buy stuff that doesn’t suck with Shop Your Way Rewards.
When using points, it is often possible to use coupon codes to reduce total costs a bit. Commonly available coupons include:
- SEARS5OFF50: Extra $5 off Sears.com orders of $50 or more
- SEARS35OFF300: Extra $35 off Sears.com orders of $300 or more
- KMART5OFF50: Extra $5 off Kmart.com orders of $50 or more
- SPECIALK10: Extra $10 off Kmart.com orders of $100 or more
- KMART10PSAVINGS: Extra 10% off Kmart.com orders of $75 or more
With most sale items, though, you can’t apply those coupons. This was true of the Fitbits.
Instead, you can save a little bit by shopping through a portal. Most portals state that items purchased with Shop Your Way Rewards points are not eligible, but I have yet to find a single situation where that has been enforced.
When I went to order the Fitbits, I found that the best portal options at the time offered 7% cash back, or 6X miles via the AAdvantage eShopping Portal. My usual go-to portal is Discover Deals at 5% (which becomes 10% at the end of my first year), but Sears had temporarily disappeared from that portal (that happens now and then — no need to worry).
I went with 6X AA miles, and it posted as expected:
With this one I have to estimate since I don’t know exactly where my Shop Your Way Rewards points came from. So, here are conservative estimates for my $200 in spend:
- 15% off when buying Sears gift cards: $30
- 10% cash back when buying 100% back in rewards items: $20
- Value of items purchased for 100% back in rewards (assuming 30% of face value): $60
- 1,199 AA miles worth ~1.5 cents each = $18
My total rebate/discount on $200 spend = approximately $128 (64% rebate)
2 Nights Almost Anywhere
I had promised to give away two free Club Carlson nights at any eligible Club Carlson property in the world. There were many worthwhile entries, so I ended up giving away 7 Nights instead of just 2:
- Brett and his wife will celebrate two nights of their babymoon in Rome at the Radisson Blu
- Meaghan is looking forward to 2 nights and the Country Inn & Suites near Hershey Park
- Jessica intended to surprise her boyfriend with a stay in New Orleans. Those plans fell through, though, and they will instead enjoy a romantic weekend in Connecticut.
- Andrew will be celebrating his wife’s 30th birthday for one night at the London Park Plaza County Hall. Hopefully his wife will be there too!
You may recall that I had a free night certificate that needed to be used up and I was planning to use points for the other night. Well, I have plenty of Club Carlson points, so I decided that there was no reason to stop at just one extra night!
It was tough picking winners. Many worthwhile contenders wanted to stay at the Radisson Blu Chicago, but unfortunately only premium room awards were available on any dates of interest. I wasn’t able to use my free night cert for a premium room, and I realized that I wouldn’t be able to afford as many giveaway nights if I paid that 105K per night premium room rate. I had similar issues with several other properties as well.
So, I narrowed it down to the following winners…
- I picked Brett for his babymoon because becoming parents is an awesome thing, and… Rome.
- I picked Meaghan for her trip to Hershey Park for her creative comment (a poem)
- I picked Jessica because I thought it was cute how her boyfriend was first to enter the contest with the written intent to surprise Jessica; and then she entered and wrote that she secretly reads this blog too and would like to take him for a not-so-surprise trip.
- I picked Andrew because spousal 30th birthdays are worth celebrating and… well, to be honest, I really wanted to use my one free night certificate for a property at the top of Club Carlson’ Award Chart. His London hotel would have cost 70,000 points for the night, but I was able to apply my cert instead.
Unlike the other giveaways described above, I don’t expect to get any kind of rebate from these free nights… except maybe for one. I’ve heard from a number of people that those free night certificates (the ones that US Bank gave some of us when we complained about changes to their credit card perks) result in earning Club Carlson points as if they were paid stays. I don’t know if this will work with the London stay since my name isn’t on the reservation, but we’ll see. Just in case, I did register for the latest Club Carlson double/triple points promo…
Not counting the free nights part of the giveaway, here are my expected totals for this giveaway:
- 5 Nike gift cards: $375
- 5 Surprise gifts: $269
- 5 Fitbits: $200
- Total: $844
And I earned the following rebates (in cash, miles, and stuff):
- Nike gift cards: $208
- Surprise gifts: $205
- Fitbits: $128
- Total: $541
Total rebate as a percent of spend: 64%
Of course, other than the free nights, all of the gifts I gave away are legitimate expenses for my blog business, so I will save on taxes too. In the end, I might actually come out a bit ahead! And, of course, there was the joy of giving. I’m clearly way ahead.
To learn more about stacking deals for great savings, please see our Extreme Stacking page.