Lessons learned from Sears 12X and 16X offers

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In early October, Sears ran an amazing promotion through United’s MileagePlus Shopping portal.  For two days, they offered 12 miles per dollar for Sears’ purchases or 16 miles per dollar for United MileagePlus cardholders.  Immediately after that offer expired, Sears followed up with an offer for 12 American Airlines miles per dollar through the AAdvantage eShopping portal.  Throughout that time, the shopping portal terms & conditions changed more than once.  This made for an interesting real-life experiment.  More on that soon, but first some background…

Background

Special portal offers at Sears always interest me because it has long been possible to double dip with Sears.  By this I mean that one can earn points from a shopping portal for buying Sears’ gift cards and then earn points again from the portal when buying merchandise with those gift cards.  In this way, it’s possible to double your points earned.  So, for example, a 10X offer becomes a chance to earn 20 points per dollar.  That’s the high level view.  When diving into the details, things get a bit more complicated…

When I first started writing about the Sears’ double dip about two years ago, it was pretty straightforward:  One could go through a portal and buy e-gift cards, receive them in about an hour (after a call from their security department to verify your identity), and then use the gift cards to buy merchandise.  When Sears’ ran one-day promotions the double-dip could be started and completed in that one day.

About a year ago, Sears stopped allowing portal points for e-gift card purchases.  Within all of the major portals, new terms & conditions declared “Not eligible on gift cards.”  Through Frequent Miler Laboratory experiments, we found that they still awarded points for physical gift card purchases, just not e-gift cards.  So, double-dips were still possible, but more complicated.  Without e-gift cards, it was necessary to plan ahead: Buy physical gift cards during special promotions and then hope for another good promotion to appear once the gift cards arrive.  Alternatively, one could find other uses for Sears’ gift cards, but that’s another story (see “The top five ways to use Sears gift cards“).

The 12X / 16X story

When Sears’ recently offered 12 to 16 miles per dollar through the United MileagePlus Shopping portal, Mommy Points made an interesting discovery.  The terms & conditions had changed.  Instead of saying “not eligible on gift cards”, the terms said: “Gift Cards eligible as of 10/4/13.”  Here is Mommy Point’s screenshot with these terms (posted with permission):

If you look carefully at the fine print (above) you’ll see that the third sentence says “Gift Cards eligible as of 10/4/13”.  At the time, I checked a few other portals (including the AAdvantage eShopping portal) and found that they listed the same terms: “Gift Cards eligible as of 10/4/13”. 

The fact that the terms had changed to allow gift cards was encouraging.  I took it to mean that, most likely, purchases of e-gift cards were once again allowed.  In the post “Maximizing the 2 day Sears/MileagePlus 16X promotion,” I said “It seems very likely that the new terms & conditions mean that e-gift cards are once again working!  I’ll test this out, of course, but it usually takes four or five days to get confirmation of portal purchases, so we won’t know for sure in time for this promotion.”

At that point, a bunch of us went about buying Sears’ e-gift cards.  Shortly before the United promotion ended, though, the terms allowing gift cards disappeared!  The terms were now completely silent about gift cards.  Then, the next day, the AAdvantage eShopping promotion started and, during the day, new text appeared declaring: “Not eligible on gift cards, gift certificates or any other similar cash equivalents.”  I covered the story of the changing terms and conditions in the post “Sears gift cards and the mysterious case of changing terms and conditions.”

Questions raised

The weird combination of events that happened last month with Sears, raised a number of questions.  Were the initial terms & conditions (allowing gift cards) a mistake?  If e-gift cards were working before, did they stop working when the text of the terms & conditions changed?  My speculation at the time was that the text allowing gift cards as of 10/4/13 was not a mistake.  It seemed too specific to be an accident.  So, my assumption was that e-gift cards would work.  Then, when the terms changed to say that gift cards were not eligible my assumption was that someone decided to throw that in to slow the surge of gift card orders.  I did not think that they would be tech-savvy enough to actually enforce that change in such a short period of time.  It appears that I was wrong.

Results

In my own experience, I received all of the miles I expected from both e-gift and physical gift cards purchased while the terms said “gift cards eligible.”  Once the terms changed to say “not eligible” I ran a test and purchased both an e-gift card and a physical gift card.  Only the physical gift card resulted in miles earned.  From this experience I learned, to my surprise, that Sears does seem to have the technical ability not just to change the text of the terms on a whim, but also to change the technology to respond appropriately. 

The question still unanswered in my mind is what happened to orders placed in-between “gift cards eligible” and “gift cards not eligible”?  What happened during that period of time where the terms were completely silent about gift cards?  If anyone made an e-gift card purchase during those times, please comment below (for reference, I believe this includes all orders placed between Oct 9th at around 8pm and Oct 10th around 11 am). 

Where are my miles?

Many people have previously reported that all of their miles from these promotions have posted.  What should you do if your miles did not post?  It depends on your situation.  If you ordered merchandise, then definitely contact the portal support team.  If you bought gift cards, you are unlikely to get help if you placed the order after the terms explicitly said “not eligible”.  So, with gift cards, use this guide to help you decide whether to contact support:

  • Gift card orders placed before Oct 9 8PM: Definitely contact support if you didn’t receive miles.  You can even include a link to the Mommy Points post to show that the terms explicitly stated at the time that gift cards were allowed.
  • Gift card orders placed between Oct 9 8PM and Oct 10 11AM:  During this time, the terms were silent about gift cards.  (if anyone has a screen capture of the terms from this period in time either for the AA portal or United portal, please email them to me: frequentmiler at gmail dot com and I’ll update this post with the images).  I’d recommend contacting support since there was no indication that gift cards were not allowed.
  • Gift card orders placed after Oct 10 11AM:  During this time, the terms explicitly listed gift cards as ineligible.  It can’t hurt to ask for help, but unfortunately it is very unlikely that they will help you.

Contact support

You can contact either portal’s support team by browsing to the portal and clicking “Contact Us” at the very bottom of any page.

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