A couple of weeks ago I presented at Frequent Traveler University in Los Angeles. One of the topics I covered was how to earn 5 points per dollar (or more) on all spend. We started with a moment of silence for the end of Vanilla Reload cards at Office Depot (see “Office Depot discontinues Vanilla Reload cards“). We then went on to discuss a number of opportunities that still exist. Below is a brief outline…
1. Buy gift cards and use them
Many grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations, and office supply stores sell gift cards. The trick is to use a credit card that offers 5X or more at one of these locations to buy gift cards that you can then use elsewhere. See “Best Category Bonuses” to find credit cards that offer the best bonuses.
Example 1: Suppose you are about to make a big purchase at Lowes. You can always stop by a different store first to buy Lowes gift cards (usually with no fee and no sales tax) and then use those gift cards at Lowes. The advantage is that, depending on which card you use, you may earn 5 or 6 points per dollar when buying the gift card compared to 1 point per dollar if you made the purchase directly at Lowes.
Example 2: Go to a store in which your credit card earns a high multiple and buy a bank gift card (e.g. Visa, MasterCard, or American Express). Use that gift card for all purchases in which you would normally have earned only 1 point per dollar. Watch out for fees, though! Most bank gift cards have very high fees as a percent of their overall value. For example, most $100 cards have $5.95 fees. That means you would be paying 6% in fees in order to earn 5 points per dollar. It’s not worth it! Instead, look for $500 cards with $4.95 fees. Losing just 1% in order to earn 5 points per dollar is often a great deal.
Caution: When you buy merchandise with a gift card, you do not get the benefits such as extended warranty and purchase protection that many credit cards offer automatically. Use gift cards only to buy things where you are sure those protections don’t matter.
2. Buy reload cards
Prepaid reload cards are more versatile than gift cards because they can be used, indirectly, to pay bills that can’t usually be paid by credit card. The way they work is that they come with a PIN number that is used online to load the money from the reload card into something else. The “something else” could be your Bluebird account, your PayPal account, or one of many prepaid reloadable debit cards. For more information, please see “The reload game is on.” Currently, reload cards are no longer available at office supply stores, but can be found elsewhere. As with gift cards, the trick is to use a card that earns a high multiple at a place that sells reload cards (see “Best Category Bonuses“).
3. Buy reload cards with bank gift cards
This is a combination of options 1 and 2, above. The idea is to buy bank gift cards at a place that offers you the best points per dollar, then use that gift card to buy reload cards at a different store. While I and many others have had success with this, it doesn’t always work. Some stores that sell reload cards won’t allow gift cards as a form of payment. Note also that you now have two fees involved: there is the initial fee for buying the bank gift card (e.g. $4.95 for a $500 card) and then the fee for buying a reload card (e.g. $3.95 or $4.95 for a $500 card). Make sure these fees are worth it before doing this!
4. Load a Target Amex card with bank gift cards
Full details of this technique can be found here: The 5X everywhere backup plan
5. Load an American Express Campus Edition card
The American Express Campus Edition prepaid card can be loaded at the register at Barnes & Noble campus bookstores. Find a card that offers a high multiple at bookstores, and you can earn points by reloading this card. Yes, it works! More details can be found here: American Express Campus Edition
5X Everywhere techniques often involve some risk and hassle. Please see my post “5X dangers and headaches.”
As shown above, there are quite a few ways to continue to earn “5X everywhere”. In my talk, I described ways to take things ever further, but I’ll leave those details for another day and venue. Is it worth the hassle? That really depends on your tolerance for this stuff. Yes, its possible to earn far more points with these techniques than without them, but at a cost of time and sometimes great frustration. I’ll follow up soon with a post about putting 5X into perspective.