How to buy Ultimate Rewards Points for less than a penny each

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Last month I wrote a post titled “How to buy Ultimate Rewards points for 1.05 cents”.  The scheme involves using an Amex business card to buy Barnes & Noble gift cards through the Ultimate Rewards Mall where you gain 10 points per dollar. Next, you sell the gift cards for a slight loss, but the points gained make up for the loss.  In my original write-up I hadn’t properly taken into account gift card shipping fees charged by Barnes and Noble.  It turned out that the real cost for points came to 1.10 cents each if you limited your purchases to one $200 physical gift card at a time.

A new discovery has changed the math for the better.  As I mentioned a couple of days ago, a reader told me about TopCashBack which offers 4% back for selling gift cards to PlasticJungle.  Previously I had advocated using ShopAtHome for 1.6% back.  This new finding sweetens the pot considerably!

Prerequisites

To get in on this deal, you need a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card and the intention of keeping it at least until annual dividends are paid in early 2013.  You also need an American Express business credit card with OPEN Savings.

Risks

  • The trick here involves going through the Ultimate Rewards Mall to Barnes & Noble for 10 points per dollar, but paying with your Amex business card.  Does this work?  Usually, yes. See my post “Ultimate Question” for more.  However, there is a real risk of not getting points so do this only if you accept that risk.  The reason you need to pay with your Amex business card is that this trick relies on the 5% cash back you’ll get from the Amex OPEN Savings program that is available only to Amex business cards.
  • Another risk is the possibility of PlasticJungle lowering the rates that they give for Barnes & Noble gift cards.  The current rate of 81 cents to the dollar has held steady now for many months, though, so I believe this risk to be low.  The easiest way to view current rates is via GiftCardGranny.
  • Finally, I have no experience with TopCashBack.  Are they reliable?  Only time will tell.

If you’d like to proceed despite the risks, here’s what to do:

1. Buy a Barnes & Noble gift card:

  • Log into the Ultimate Rewards Mall and click through to Barnes & Noble
  • Add a single $200 physical gift card (not an e-card) to your shopping cart.
  • Check out and pay with your American Express business card (make sure it has OPEN Savings).  The total should come to $200.95

2. Once you get the gift card, sell it:

  • Log into TopCashBack and click through to PlasticJungle (TopCashBack will give you 4% cash back for selling gift cards to PlasticJungle)
  • Sell your Barnes & Noble gift card to PlasticJungle for 81% of its value.

3. Add it up:

Here is how the math works out with the purchase and sale of a $200 gift card:

  • Total expenses: $200.95
  • Total rebates: $178.53
    • OPEN rebate: 5% of $200.95 =  $10.05
    • PlasticJungle Payment: $162
    • TopCashBack rebate: $6.48
  • Total cost: $200.95 – $178.53 = $22.42
  • Total points earned: 2352
    • Ultimate Rewards: $200.95 X 10 = 2010 + 7% annual dividend = 2151
    • American Express points = 201
  • Total cost per point = $22.42 / 2352 = .95 cents per point.

Notes

  • The type of points earned from American Express depends on which card is used for purchasing the gift card. For example, you might earn SPG points, Membership Rewards points, Delta Skymiles, etc. If you use a card that gives more than 1 point per dollar (such as the Hilton Surpass), then you will obviously earn more points with this approach.
  • Theoretically you could make many individual purchases in this way.  Don’t be surprised, though, if you get a call from Barnes & Noble investigating this “suspicious” activity.
  • Barnes & Noble has offered 10X bonus points via the Ultimate Rewards Mall for several months now, but the terms say “Special increased earnings now through 3/31/2012!” so the deal may expire soon.

Disclaimer

I have not yet tried this trick all the way through.  There are several risks as shown above.  As always, proceed at your own risk.


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