Million Mile Madness: Bumps in the road


860,000 points earned. 140,000 left to go.

Background: Million Mile Madness is the fun painful and foolish quest to earn a million points in one month. Throughout March, I’m doing everything I can to earn as many points as I can while keeping within my ethical boundaries. I don’t expect that a million points will have been credited to my account by March 31st: points often take quite a while to get credited. Instead, I’ll track all of the points that I expect, and I’ll declare victory if the expected total is over a million. To keep things challenging, I will try to keep my net costs below $1,000.

All points earned and expenses incurred are tracked via this Google Docs spreadsheetSee all Million Mile Madness posts (in reverse order), by clicking here.


Last week I reported that my crazy quest for a million miles in one month was going well (see “Million Mile Madness: Pending Success“).  Then, towards the end of last week I suffered some setbacks.  Here’s the story…


Kohl’s seems to want me to succeed.  They were nice enough to have a second in one month 30% off sale for Kohl’s charge card holders (use code JELLYBEAN)!  The sale started last Thursday and continues until the 30th.  So, on Thursday, I jumped online and spent the day buying stuff in sub $400 increments.  Kohl’s limits customers to 4 gift cards per order so I couldn’t spend more than $400 at a time with my many $100 Kohl’s gift cards (see “Million Mile Madness: buying, selling Kohl’s“).  After each purchase, I chucked the empty gift cards into my recycle bin.

All was going well until I started receiving emails from Kohl’s saying “We’re sorry, but your order could not be processed.”  Over $1000 worth of orders had been canceled.  One of the items I had purchased (many times) had a 3 per person limit.  Oops.  Then the real fun began.  First I had to find my discarded gift cards.  After a frantic search I found them all.  Then I discovered that only a few had their balance re-credited.  After many emails, phone calls, and enjoyable hold music I learned that they were going to mail new gift cards to me for the remaining amounts.  I can only hope that they get the amounts correct.  I have no idea if I’ll get them in time to use with the current sale, or to help with Million Mile Madness.


In the post “Million Mile Madness: Banking on Lowe’s” I reported how I had been successfully buying Lowe’s gift cards and paying with Home Improvement gift cards.  In that post, I said that I had bought $3500 worth of gift cards so far, but that I still wanted another $1500 worth.  The same day in which that post was published, I drove to a couple of Office Depot stores and found one with Home Improvement cards in stock.  I decided to go big and bought out all $3500 worth.

When I returned home, I used three of those cards to buy $1500 worth of Lowe’s gift cards online.  Everything appeared to work well.

A few days later, I tried to buy more Lowe’s gift cards online.  I went all the way through the checkout process to the very end before receiving error code 237 and a message saying to call.  I called and was told that it was a computer glitch and that I should try again the next day.

The next day, and the day after that, I received the same error.  A reader reported the same thing, but said that they were getting the error for all purchases (not just gift cards and not just when paying with a Home Improvement card).  So, several days later, I tried buying a small item and paying with a regular credit card.  The same error message came up.

I called again, and was again told that it was a computer error and that they would have it fixed by the next day.  They confirmed with me that they had no problem with my paying for gift cards with the Home Improvement cards.  Then they asked if there was anything else they could help me with.  Yes…  I told them that I had ordered three gift cards over a week ago, but hadn’t received them yet.  Could they check the status?  After checking into it, they reported to me that the orders had been canceled due to the same computer error.  OK, I said, here’s the problem: the Home Improvement cards I paid with have long since been recycled.  Uh oh.  The Lowe’s purchase receipts showed only the last 4 digits of the card numbers.  They said that there was nothing they could do, but they assured me that the Home Improvement card’s customer support team would be able to help…

Home Improvement Card

After failing to find $1500 worth of Home Improvement cards (see above), I searched for and failed to find my purchase receipt for those cards.  I then called the number that the Home Improvement Card’s website says to call when you have lost your card.  Ironically, the only way to get past the automated prompts is to enter a valid card number.  Luckily, I still had other cards around to use for that purpose.  I finally got a person on the phone who told me that my only hope was to go back to the store where I made my purchase and get a copy of the receipt there. 

I won’t bore you (any more than I already have) with the Office Depot story, but it ended well.  An incredibly nice store manager eventually tracked down the receipt and emailed it to me.  The receipt contained tracking information, but not enough information for me to figure out which of the seven purchased cards were the 3 missing ones.  I called the Home Improvement people again and was told to email or fax not just the receipt, but also photos (front and back) of the cards that were not missing so that they could figure out which ones were the missing ones.  So I did.

Now I wait.  I discovered that they have put all of my Home Improvement cards “on hold” until this is worked out.  Super. 

Small Successes

Prior to my Home Improvement cards being put on hold, I successfully ordered a $100 Lowes gift card (proof that they did fix the problem this time!).  I also successfully ordered a $400 Sears gift card (physical) at 6X via the United MileagePlus Shopping portal (past experiments have shown that I should get points for buying physical gift cards, but not e-gift cards from Sears).  I also successfully placed some orders at using my remaining gift cards.

Going Forward

While I wait for my Kohl’s and Home Improvement gift card fiascos to resolve themselves, I’ll work on meeting my Million Mile Madness target without those resources.  I’m close enough that I’m sure I can do it, but its going to be a bit harder than expected.  And, most likely, I’ll have to continue buying and selling in April in order to liquidate the gift cards once I get them.  Going forward, I’ll file all used gift cards away rather than tossing them out.

I often write about tricks for earning points and cash back through gift card churning techniques.  But, just because I write about a technique does not mean that I recommend it.  Let’s face it: gift cards are a pain to deal with.  There are very few gift card churning techniques that I’d be likely to do myself if I wasn’t a blogger who writes about this stuff!  So, read about my adventures and learn from them (both the good and the bad), but only do what you are comfortable with. 

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