Laboratory Updates Oct 2013


imageIn the hunt for miles and points, it’s not always easy to know what works and what doesn’t.  For example, if you go through an online mileage portal to a merchant and buy a gift card, will you earn miles?  Once you have the gift card, is there a way to use it to buy other gift cards or cash out?  What if you go through a portal to use a gift card to buy merchandise?  Will you earn miles from that?  The answers to all of these questions depend mostly on each individual merchant, whether you buy physical or e-gift cards, and whether policies have recently changed.  One thing that you cannot count on is the documented Terms & Conditions shown within each shopping portal.  Often, portals will state “not valid on gift cards” regardless of whether gift card purchases in fact earn rewards.

The Frequent Miler Laboratory is a page dedicated to collecting and disseminating information about experiments in mile and point gathering.  Here are some of the latest experiment results…

American Express gift cards

With BigCrumbs currently offering 2.25% cash back for Amex gift card purchases, it is important to get a handle on what works and what doesn’t.  So far, we have the following confirmed and in-progress results:

  • Large personalized gift card orders have been cancelled by Amex for some readers, but others have reported success.    In-progress.
  • Single $3000 gift card order (via business gift cards): Order currently processing.  BigCrumbs has reported cash back.  In-progress.
  • Use of BDAY100 code to eliminate card fees: Order currently processing.  BigCrumbs has reported cash back.  In-progress.



It used to be possible to go through online portals to BestBuy to buy gift cards and get points or cash back.  Two readers recently reported that this no longer works.  That was my experience in January as well.

Home Improvement Gift Cards

It used to be possible to go through portals to Sears and/or Lowes to buy merchant gift cards and pay with Home Improvement gift cards and earn portal rewards.  The latest reader results are as follows:

  • Lowe’s: Transaction failed
  • Sears e-gift card: Success

It’s interesting to note that many people who have in the past tried to buy physical Sears gift cards with the Home Improvement card have not been able to.  This is probably because physical gift cards are processed by Kmart, and Kmart is not a valid Home Improvement gift card merchant.  Sears’ e-gift cards, though, are sold directly by Sears so it makes sense that this would work.  On the other hand, things are still up in the air as to whether e-gift card purchases will result in portal rewards any more.  See Sears, below, for details.


Purchase of a gift card resulted in portal rewards, but use of a gift card did not.

LL Bean

Purchase of merchandise with gift card resulted in portal rewards.  No news whether buying gift cards from LL Bean will also earn rewards.


Purchase of merchandise with gift card resulted in portal rewards.  Many experiments have shown that buying gift cards (OfficeMax or others) at does not result in portal rewards.


Purchase of merchandise with gift card resulted in portal rewards.  No news whether buying gift cards from PetSmart will also earn rewards.

Road Runner Sports

Both the purchase of physical gift cards and the use of gift cards to buy merchandise resulted in portal rewards.  This means that you can double portal rewards through this double dip.


For most of the past year, we have seen the following behavior from Sears:

  • Buying physical gift cards results in portal rewards (even though they are processed by Kmart)
  • Buying e-gift cards does not result in rewards
  • Using physical or e-gift cards to buy merchandise results in rewards.

Recently, Sears changed their portal Terms & Conditions to say that gift card purchases were OK.  Then, that went away.  Then, they explicitly added that gift cards were not eligible (see “Sears gift cards and the mysterious case of changing terms and conditions“).  Anyway, the end result seems to be that e-gift cards resulted in points just for a brief time.  After the terms changed back to “gift cards not eligible” I bought a sample physical and e-gift card through the AAdvantage eShopping portal.  So far, miles have posted for the physical gift card, but not for the e-gift card.  I’ll wait another week or two before declaring it a done deal, but right now I believe that we are back to where we started as shown in the bullets above.


Purchase of a merchant gift card (Kohl’s) with a combination of Staples’ Rewards and credit card resulted in full portal rewards.


Purchase of merchandise with a combination of gift card and credit card resulted in rewards only from the credit card portion of the purchase.

Finding the best portal

As I reported recently (see “The best portal finder. A new king is crowned.“), the site CashBackMonitor is an excellent resource to use to find the best current portal offers for whichever online merchant you care to shop at.

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