Home Improvement gift cards lose their luster. Now what?

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Last week, Home Improvement gift cards turned into gold but then lost their luster soon after.  Here’s the story, and what to do… 

For me, the story began on July 29th, when I received the following tweet:

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Points to Paradise had published this post about using the Home Improvement gift card to load Bluebird at Walmart.  This was big news because the Home Improvement card was the last reloadable card that Office Depot was allowing to be purchased with a credit card.  And, there was (and still is) no fee for buying these cards.  And, you could pay with a card that gets 5 points per dollar at office supply stores.  It was a perfect storm of free points!  My favorite reaction was this tweet:

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While I did Tweet the deal, I didn’t write a post about it because I was sure it wouldn’t last long and I didn’t want to hasten its demise.  More importantly, I thought it was risky to buy Home Improvement cards if you didn’t plan to use them on, you know, home improvement.  What if it stopped working?  You see, Home Improvement gift cards are supposed to work only at Home Improvement stores: Sears, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, etc. I was sure that the ability to use the card at Walmart was a bug that would soon be corrected.

Travel Summary initially wrote about the deal without spelling it out.  He wrote: “Hypothetical: If You Could Buy Points For Free, Would You Go All Out?”  In that post, Travel Summary suggested that the rational thing to do was to go all out – buy and liquidate as many Home Improvement cards as you could.  I disagreed.  In the comments of that post, I wrote:

Going big in this case is risky because you never know when you’ll be stuck with many thousands of dollars worth of gift cards that have lost their magic…

Points Summary apparently shared my concern and tried to warn people.  He wrote: “The Pitfalls and Dangers of the Home Improvement Gift Card (HIGC).”

Regardless of concerns about it, word about great deals tends to travel fast. It wasn’t long before the deal received widespread exposure through blogs and forums such as Flyertalk.  And then it seemed that everyone in this game was running out to buy thousands of dollars worth of Home Improvement gift cards.

Then, the deal died

On Thursday, I stopped at my local Office Depot after lunch.  There were no Home Improvement gift cards to be found.  The store manager recognized me as a frequent gift card buyer and proactively told me about their recent policy of not allowing reload cards to be purchased with a credit card (see: “$500 Vanilla window slams shut at Office Depot“).  Surprisingly, though, she also explicitly mentioned that they were out of stock of Home Improvement cards and that when they returned they too would be cash only.

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I tweeted my experience and quickly heard from several others that their local Office Depot stores had also gone “cash only” for these cards.

Not only did we lose the ability to get a 5X office supply bonus when buying these cards, but we also lost the ability to easily turn them into cash.  At around the same time that I learned about Office Depot’s new policy, reports began appearing on Flyertalk that the cards no longer worked at Walmart.  And, apparently it had lost its ability to work at other non Home Improvement stores as well (the next day, Million Mile Secrets posted: Home Improvement Card No Longer Working at Other Stores).

So, now what?

What if you’re now stuck with thousands of dollars worth of Home Improvement gift cards?  What can you do?  Sadly, one of the best options that used to exist no longer works.  I’ve been told by many readers that it is no longer possible to use the Home Improvement card online to buy Sears gift cards (this was previously useful because Sears often offers large rebates via cash back or points earning portals).  Instead, consider these options:

  • Buy stuff you need from Lowes.  Here’s how to maximize savings: Go through uPromise or ShopDiscover to Lowes to buy Lowes’ gift cards $500 at a time (use the HI card as a Discover credit card).  Both uPromise and ShopDiscover currently offer 5% cash back at Lowes. Once you get the Lowes gift cards, go through the online portal again to buy what you need.  Make sure to use coupon codes to lower your total purchase price even more.  I’ve been told that you can alternatively charge things to a Lowes AR card for 5% off any purchase, and then pay off that card with Home Improvement gift cards.  I haven’t tried that though.
  • Buy merchant gift cards from Lowes.  Lowes carries a wide assortment of gift cards in-store (department store cards, gas station cards, travel cards, Amazon.com, etc.). You should be able to find some merchant gift cards that you would actually use.  You can buy those gift cards and pay with the Home Improvement gift card (since it works like a Discover credit card).  You cannot buy gift cards with Lowes gift cards.  If you just want to get most of your money back, use giftcardgranny.com to find the gift cards that resell for the highest rates (hint: look at the gas station cards).  Then, you can buy the gift cards at Lowes with the HI card and re-sell those cards.  I don’t particularly recommend this path since you will likely lose 7% or more of the price you paid for the HI cards, but if you really need the cash its better than nothing.
  • Buy merchant gift cards from Sears.  If you can find the mysterious gift card rack at Sears, then you should be able to use the HI card in-store to buy those gift cards.  Note, however, that Sears tends to have a much smaller selection than Lowes.  The best Visa gift cards available are $100 gift cards each with a $5.95 fee.  You would be losing more than 5% of your Home Improvement card’s value by buying these, but at least they can be used virtually anywhere.  And, yes, you can use the last four digits on those cards as the PIN number at Walmart for loading Bluebird.
  • Buy and sell. This is the toughest option, by far.  If you know how to hunt deals, and you know how to resell products, it is possible to earn back your money or better by buying and reselling items from Sears, Lowes, Home Depot, etc.  Unless you’re already used to doing this, I wouldn’t recommend this risky and stressful approach.  If you are considering this, I highly recommend that you re-read my Million Mile Madness adventures to see what worked, what didn’t, and how issues with Home Improvement cards were eventually resolved.
  • Other options. In the post, “The Aftermath of the Home Improvement Gift Card Deal,” Travel Summary suggests several ideas for liquidating Home Improvement gift cards.  Please follow the link and check it out. 

Do you have any other suggestions for what to do with Home Improvement gift cards?  Comment below!

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