Maximizing Amex Sync offers. Part 4: forget shopping, get points and cash for free

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American Express regularly hosts terrific “Sync Offers” in which you get a statement credit after using an Amex card to spend a targeted amount at a participating merchant.  For example, one current offer is for Neiman Marcus: spend $200, get $50 back.  But, what if you don’t have plans to buy anything from that particular merchant?  What if you don’t want to buy anything at all?  I’ll share here a few ways you can do well with these offers, anyway.  First, though, please familiarize yourself with the earlier posts in this series:

The general idea I’ll post today is to find ways to buy things (usually gift cards) to get Amex statement credits and sell or liquidate those things so as to get most of your money back.  The benefits of doing this can include:

 

Following are three approaches, listed from easiest to hardest…

Buy and sell merchant gift cards (difficulty: medium)

Online gift card resellers buy unwanted gift cards from individuals and resell them at a discount.  When they buy cards, they offer some percentage of the gift card’s value, depending on the merchant.  Typically they offer the most (up to 93%) for gas station gift cards and big box discounters (e.g. Walmart, Target, Costco, etc.).  An easy way to find current buy-back rates is via the site GiftCardGranny.com (select “Sell Gift Cards”). 

The basic idea, then, is to use Amex Sync offers to buy gift cards at a discount and resell those gift cards for the same price or higher.  At the very least, if all goes well, you’ll increase credit card spend and earn free credit card rewards points.  At best, you may make a small profit.

Before you invest in gift cards for resale, though, make sure to go directly to the resellers site to see if the price shown on GiftCardGranny is correct.  In some cases there may be details that you need to know.  For example, most resellers require gift card values of $20 or more.  And, often they will pay less for e-gift cards than for physical gift cards.

Also, keep in mind that things can go wrong.  Resellers can change their payout amounts without notice.  Gift cards can get lost in the mail, etc.  So, buying and reselling gift cards does incur some risk.

Finally, make sure to read the Amex Sync terms carefully.  Some promos explicitly exclude gift cards, but those exclusions are rarely enforced.  More troublesome are clauses such as with the BP promo which states that your purchase must be made “at the pump.”  In that case, I found that buying BP gift cards in-store at BP did not work because I did not pay at the pump.

Let’s walk through a few  examples of recent or current Amex Sync offers…

JC Penney, spend $50, get $10:  This offer amounts to a 20% discount.  I checked GiftCardGranny and found that JCP gift cards resell at up to 80% (at this time).  That means that one could theoretically break even with this deal.  I then checked the Frequent Miler Laboratory to see if anyone had reported success in earning portal points or cash back from JC Penney when buying gift cards.  Unfortunately, there’s no data there for that exact situation.  So, with this deal, at best one could break even and earn extra points through a portal, but the latter is very uncertain.  Since the payoff potential here is so low and uncertain, I would forgo this deal.

Walmart.com, spend $79, get $20: This one amounts to a 25.3% discount.  Via GiftCardGranny I saw that Walmart gift cards resell for up to 92%.  So, one could make a decent profit on this deal.  I then checked Cardpool.com (because I have the most experience with this reseller) and found that they would give me 92% of the card’s value for a physical mailed-in card, or 87% of the value for a gift card in which I enter the codes online.  Let’s compare the math for these two approaches:

Cardpool e-Gift card approach:

  • E-Gift card value: $79
  • E-Gift card total cost: $79 – $20 = $59
  • Cardpool cash back: $68.73.
  • Profit: $9.73

Cardpool physical gift card approach:

  • Gift card value: $79 (yes, I checked first to see if they allowed miscellaneous amounts like this).
  • Gift card total cost: $79 – $20 = $59
  • Cardpool cash back: $72.68.
  • Profit: $13.68

The physical gift card approach would earn an additional profit of $3.95 for each card bought and sold, but it would also mean more waiting (for gift card delivery) and more work (mailing in the gift card).  Personally, I would only bother with the physical gift card approach if the difference was greater.  In some cases, it could be worth it if physical gift card purchases earned portal points, but e-gift card purchases did not.  In the case of Walmart, though, in my experience gift card purchases do not earn portal points in any case.  So, I decided to go with e-gift cards.

Before settling on Cardpool as the reseller, I checked other resellers to see if anyone could do better than $68.73 for an e-gift card.  After hunting around a bit, I found that GiftCards.com offered $71.89 regardless of whether I sent a physical or e-gift card.  That’s pretty good – I would get nearly the same as with the Cardpool mail-in option, but would be able to buy and sell an e-gift card.  Plus, I found that GiftCards.com was available on BeFrugal for 2% cash back.  There’s no guarantee that selling a card to GiftCards.com would result in BeFrugal’s cash back, but it couldn’t hurt to try.  Without counting the possible 2% cash back, this buy/sell would look like this:

  • Gift card value: $79
  • Gift card total cost: $79 – $20 = $59
  • GiftCards.com cash back: $71.89
  • Profit: $12.89

Is it worth doing all of this work for about $13 in profit?  Probably not.  The key to making this valuable is to do this with a bunch of Amex cards.  For example, between my wife and I, including our secondary authorized user cards, we have 10 points-earning Amex cards.  So, if I did this buy/sell with all 10 I would earn about $130 profit, plus points & miles earned (for cards that earn 1 mile per dollar: 10 cards X $79 X 1 mile/$ = 790 miles).

I tried to test out the entire process of buying and selling Walmart e-gift cards, but each time I tried to buy a Walmart gift card, I received an email saying “Error processing your recent Walmart.com order… Unfortunately, due to an error processing payment information, we have had to cancel the following order…”  Via Google, I’ve found that many others have experienced the same problem.  Some people recommended ordering during regular business hours (which I did, but that didn’t help).  Others recommended ordering physical gift cards instead of e-gift cards.  It’s probably worth it, but I ended up giving up on this deal.  Too much trouble!

Neiman Marcus, spend $200, get $50:  This one amounts to a 25% discount.  GiftCardGranny shows payouts up to 85%.  And the Frequent Miler Laboratory shows that portals do pay out for Neiman Marcus e-gift card purchases.  On the surface, this one looks like a winner.  Several portals currently offer 10% back for Neiman Marcus, so the math works out like this:

  • Gift card value: $200
  • Gift card total cost: $200 – $50 (Amex Sync) – $20 (Portal cash back) = $130
  • GiftCards.com cash back: $166
  • Profit: $33

OK, now we’re talking.  We have a potential profit of $33 per Amex card (plus points earned).  So, with 10 Amex cards one could earn $330.  Alternatively, one could go with a points-based portal and earn only $13 profit with each buy/sell.  The AAdvantage eShopping portal, for example, is currently offering 6 miles per dollar at Neiman Marcus.  With each $200 purchase, you could earn 1200 miles, plus you could qualify for AAdvantage eShopping promotions such as the current one advertised here (Spend $250, get 3000 bonus miles).  Even though the terms of those promotions usually say that gift cards aren’t eligible, that’s not usually true in practice.  Usually, as long as you earn miles from a purchase, that purchase will also qualify for the promotion.

I tested this approach with a single $200 e-gift card purchase after clicking through from uPromise for 10% cash back.  It took almost two full days for the e-gift card to arrive.  Then, I logged into BeFrugal, found GiftCards.com and clicked through.  Once there, with very little effort, I sold my e-gift card in exchange for a promised $166 check.  It’s too early to know if I’ll earn cash back from uPromise or BeFrugal (or whether BeFrugal’s 2% will be based on $166 or $200), but I did receive confirmation from Amex right away so the $50 statement credit seems certain.  So, as long as the $166 check arrives as promised, I’ll earn a profit with this deal.

Buy and liquidate Visa / MasterCard gift cards (difficulty: high)

Instead of buying and selling merchant gift cards, it is sometimes possible to earn Amex Sync credits when buying Visa or MasterCard gift cards.  Thanks to the fact that most Visa and MasterCard gift cards now have PINs, there are various ways to convert those gift cards directly to cash.

I can think of four ways to earn Amex Sync credits while buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards:

1. Buy MasterCard/Visa gift card in-store from merchant: Amex recently ran a Staples promo for $25 back from a $75 purchase.  Staples sells $200 Visa gift cards in-store for $206.95.   While there are many variations on how to take advantage of a deal like that, a simple approach was to go in-store with two Synced Amex cards and ask to split the purchase evenly across them.  This way, you would have earned $50 back from the $206.95 purchase, for a total profit of $43.05 across two cards.

2. Buy MasterCard/Visa gift card online from merchant: Very few merchants sell Visa or MasterCard gift cards online.  Two that do are Staples and Walmart.  At Walmart.com, for example, you can buy a $100 Visa gift card for $105.38.  With the recent $20 off $79 Walmart.com promo, your total cost for this gift card would be $85.38.  That’s a quick $14.62 profit.

3. Buy merchant gift cards and use to buy MasterCard/Visa gift cards online: Again, this would only be possible (as far as I know) with Staples or Walmart.  With the current $20 off $79 promo, one could use 3 different Amex cards to buy three $79 Walmart gift cards for a total cost after statement credits of $177.  Then, those gift cards could be used online to buy a $200 Visa gift card for $206.88.  From those three Amex cards, you would earn $27 in profit and have over $30 remaining in Walmart gift card value.

4. Buy merchant gift cards and use to buy MasterCard/Visa gift cards in-store: This approach is tricky because few stores will let you buy gift cards with gift cards.  And, of those where the register will allow it, not all cashiers will allow it.  One example of this approach was to use the recent Lands End Sync offer: spend $100, get $25.  Many found that they received statement credits from this offer by buying physical gift cards from Lands End.  Then, they could take these gift cards into Sears and buy $100 MasterCard or Visa gift cards for $105.95.  Total profit from each Amex card: $19.05.

Buy and sell merchandise (difficulty: very high)

A final option for benefiting from Amex Sync offers is to use these offers to buy merchandise at extreme discounts and then resell that merchandise at a profit.  For an example of how to buy at an extreme discount, please see part 2 of this series: Maximizing Amex Sync offers. Part 2: extreme savings

Buying and selling is an extremely difficult and risky option.  You incur the risk of poor sales, price drops due to competition or other factors, customer returns, lost or damaged inventory, etc.  It’s way outside the scope of today’s post to cover buying and selling.  For more information, please see my post: Tips for selling on Amazon.

Overall Thoughts

There is no question that Amex Sync promos offer opportunities to earn pretty large profits (and/or lots of miles) as a % of spend through the techniques I touched on above.  That said, it’s not easy!  There are many risks and potential roadblocks (such as my experience in trying to buy Walmart gift cards).  If you’re a hobbyist who likes to eek out every possible opportunity for cash back or points & miles, then by all means go for it, as long as you understand the risks.  For most people, though, I’d guess you already have enough stress in your life and wouldn’t want to pile on with the inevitable difficulties inherent in gift card churning.

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