In October, I sent out a Quick Deal warning Amex gift card buyers that Chase was coding online Amex gift card purchases as cash advances. Apparently American Express had changed how they coded these purchases and that led Chase (and possibly other banks too) to start seeing these purchases as cash advances. This meant that buyers were charged fees for these purchases, and those fees more than wiped out the benefit of buying gift cards through cash back portals.
Recently, a few things happened that made me question whether Amex may have solved the problem. First, several readers recently told me that they were not charged cash advance fees when using Chase cards. Second, I noticed that when I bought Amex gift cards with my Amex cards, the coding changed a bit. Here is a screen capture showing recent gift card purchases:
Notice, above, that earlier transactions read “AMEX GIFT CARD SALT LAKE CITY UT,” but beginning November 21 they read “AMEX GIFT CARDS 877-297-4438”. And, looking at the details, you can see that they changed “Doing Business As” from “AMEX GIFTING PRODUCTS” to “AMEX TRAVEL FUNDS DIRECT”:
I ordered a $50 Amex gift card using my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. My hope was that 1) It would not code a cash advance; and 2) It would code as a travel expense for double points. I had to wait until the transaction moved from pending to actual to get the full story. The results came in yesterday:
Yes, the order was coded as a regular transaction that earned points. No, it was not coded as a travel expense.
As of right now, I know that Chase and American Express cards seem to be safe to use to buy Amex gift cards online. What about other banks? Citi, in particular, has long been known as a bank that charges cash advance fees for these, but now I wonder if Citi cards would be safe? How about Barclays, US Bank, and others? If you have bought an Amex gift card online (via Amex’s gift card website) on or after November 21 2013, please report below which type of card you used and whether or not it was coded as a cash advance.
It’s always possible that cash advance fees will return even if they aren’t incurred right now. To protect yourself, call your bank and ask for your cash advance limit to be lowered to the minimum allowed. Then, make sure that your gift card purchases exceed that limit. That way, your purchase should be declined rather than you being charged a cash advance fee.
Amex gift card purchasing options
The reason that buying Amex gift cards online is interesting right now is that it’s possible to stack the following promotions so as to earn money on gift card purchases:
- BigCrumbs and TopCashBack are offering cash back when you start your shopping in their portals. BigCrumbs is currently offering 2% cash back, and TopCashBack is currently offering 2.25% cash back through Monday. BigCrumbs also pays the person who referred you and the person who referred that person .17% when you buy Amex gift cards. If you are new to either portal, you can find signup links for them here. Note that it can take several months for cash back earned this way to become payable back to you.
- You can use the code HOLIDAYCC4 to get the cards fee-free until 1/31/2014. Even though the cash back portals say that using codes from elsewhere will invalidate the cash back, I have not found that to be true in practice.
- When selecting a shipping option, you can choose to sign up for a free trial of their Premium Shipping Plan to get unlimited free next day shipping. You must be logged into your Amex account to sign up for this. If you make enough purchases of Amex gift cards it may even be worth paying the $99 annual fee for this option.
Things you can’t do with Amex gift cards
Please don’t try the following. They won’t work:
- You cannot use Amex gift cards to withdraw money from an ATM.
- You cannot use Amex gift cards (or any Amex cards) as debit cards.
- You cannot use Amex gift cards to load Bluebird or Serve.