Sears 15X: Leveraging the deal

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15 Southwest points per dollar is a fantastic return for Sears purchases.  In this post I’ll list numerous ways to leverage this deal including some opportunities for people who don’t like to fly Southwest.  I may write a series of posts on this subject today, but this will be the master post.  Please return to this post for updates and comments.

Background

The Southwest Airlines shopping portal (Rapid Rewards Shopping) is offering 15 points per dollar when shopping at Sears.com (hat tip to Ford Prefect). The deal is only good through 5/23 (Wednesday).

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Leveraging the Deal

There are many ways to capitalize on this opportunity.  In this post I’ll give highlights of a number of ideas and then I’ll follow up with in depth posts to flesh out some of the ideas.  When I do so, I’ll update this post with links to the new ones.

Shop
This is almost too obvious to write down, but I need to put it here for completeness.  If you have Sears’ purchases you were going to make anyway, shop through the Rapid Rewards Shopping portal before the end of day tomorrow.

To get free shipping, you can get a free 3 month Shop Your Way Max Membership with the promo code MAXFREE4.  Make sure to cancel before 3 months are up to avoid potentially getting charged $79 for the membership.  Great tip, thanks Nikki O!

Buy gift cards
If you do not currently have a need to buy stuff from Sears, consider buying Sears gift cards instead.  The beauty of this is that you will get 15X now and have plenty of time to make purchases later.  The other big advantage is that Sears’ gift cards can be used in a variety of additional shops: Lands’ End, KMart, Sears outlet, My Gofer, etc. 

Does the purchase of gift cards count for 15X?  I believe the answer is yes.  See the accompanying post “Sears 15X: do gift cards count?

Buy gift cards and upgrade
I have used Sears gift cards many times in Kmart and Sears to buy other gift cards.  In the past I’ve bought BP cards and EBay cards, although I noticed recently that my local Kmart no longer carries those.  Kmart does still carry Marriott and Southwest cards though…

Double Dip for 30X
This is one of my favorite tricks which I’ve done successfully at Sears.com many times (but not previously with the Rapid Rewards Shopping portal).  The idea is to go through the portal once to buy eGift cards, then go through the portal again to use the gift cards for buying merchandise (no, you can’t buy gift cards with gift cards online).  The net effect is that you end up earning 30 points per dollar for your purchases!  The downside is that you won’t get purchase protection or extended warranty coverage that is given by some credit cards.

Buy points for less than a penny
Southwest points are worth a penny each when used for anytime fares and are worth 1.67 cents each for highly discounted “Wanna Get Away?” fares.  So, any opportunity to buy points for less than a penny each is a good deal if you fly Southwest.

There are two primary ways to buy points for less than a penny with this deal:

  1. Buy and sell gift cards.  Buy physical (not electronic) gift cards for 15X, then go through TopCashBack to PlasticJungle to sell the cards.  Plastic Jungle currently offers 83% cash for Sears gift cards (physical cards only) and TopCashBack will add 4% of 83% = 3.32%.  Your total cash back will come to 86.32%.  Your cost per point earned will be .912 cents.  And, that doesn’t count points earned from your credit card!  If you use a basic 1X rewards card, your cost per point goes down to .855 cents.  If you use a trick to get 5 points per dollar, your cost per point goes down to .684 cents!
  2. Double dip, buy and sell merchandise.  By finding deals at Sears.com for merchandise that can be easily resold via EBay, Amazon Marketplace, or Craigslist, you can potentially do even better than buying and selling gift cards.  The idea is to first double dip (buy gift cards for 15X), then buy re-sellable merchandise with the gift cards (for another 15X).  When Sears was last at 10X in the Ultimate Rewards Mall, I earned almost 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points by doing this trick.  See “Mileage Run Shopping: Buying 162,000 Miles for $500” and “Mileage Run Shopping Results.”  In that escapade, due to the costs of buying and selling (taxes, merchant fees, shipping, etc.) I lost 17% of the money spent, but the points earned more than made up for that.  With this 15X deal, even a loss of 25% will result in such a large number of points that you will have effectively purchased points for .83 cents each.  Again, your take will be even better if you use a valuable rewards credit card for the initial purchase.  Also, if you are a member of Sears’ Shop Your Way Rewards program, you’ll earn 1% back in the form of Sears credit!

Buy a Southwest Companion Pass
Southwest has a fantastic program in which a designated companion can fly free on all flights you take.  To qualify for a companion pass, you must earn 110,000 points within a calendar year.  Once you qualify, you designate a companion and that person then can fly free anywhere you go on Southwest for the rest of that calendar year and the next calendar year.  You may change your companion up to 3 times during the validity period of the pass.  Full details of the pass can be found here: rapid_rewards_program_terms_and_conditions_faq.

Million Mile Secrets has written about how to earn a Companion Pass through credit card sign-ups.  However, if you are already maxed out on Chase sign-ups (who isn’t?), don’t want to blow your valuable Chase sign-ups on Southwest credit cards, or have other reasons not to sign-up, then this 15X deal may be the way to go.

To earn the pass, you need to earn 110,000 points.  To get that many points through this deal, you will need to make $7334 worth of Sears’ purchases or $3667 of double-dip purchases.

Do points earned in the Rapid Rewards Shopping portal really count towards the Companion Pass?  Yes!

For details of how to buy a Companion Pass for free, see “Sears 15X: Free Southwest Companion Pass.”

Using points

If you’re thinking of amassing huge numbers of points with this deal, you might want to know ways to use them first…

Using points for Southwest flights:

For tips on how to get the most out of your points for flying, see MileValue’s post “How to exploit the Southwest-Airtran Merger.”  If you don’t want anything so complicated, using Southwest points for “Wanna Get Away?” fares is a great option which gives you 1.67 cents per point of value.  If you combine this with a Companion Pass (see above), each point doubles the amount of travel it gives you.  So, 110,000 points can give you $3674 worth of flights!  If you buy 110,000 points for as much as .91 cents each, your total cost will be barely over $1000.  In other words, $1000 can result in almost $4000 worth of flights!

Using points for other stuff:

Southwest lets use use points for international flights (any carrier), hotels, gift cards, and a few other options.  I examined a few of these options:

  • Using points for International flights: Using points for international flights looks to be an OK option.  In a few examples I looked at, I would have received about .93 cents value per point.  Not great, but not horrible.
  • Using points for hotels:  I looked at a couple of hotel bookings to see if I could get good value when using points in this way.  Unfortunately, the answer was clearly no.  Points were worth less than .7 cents each in the two options I looked at.  Your mileage may vary.
  • Gift cards: Southwest has a surprisingly complete selection of gift cards you can buy with points and in most cases points are worth exactly a penny each when used this way.  That’s pretty good!  It’s not nearly as good of a deal as using points for “Wanna Get Away” fares on Southwest, but it’s just as good as using points for their “Anytime” fares.  Gift cards available include Alamo, Avis, Hertz, Amazon, Best Buy, Carnival Cruise lines, Lowes, Marriott, Sears, Starbucks, Walmart, and many more.

Cashing out points:

If you just want your money back, you can do that too!  Use your points to buy Walmart gift cards.  110,000 points would get you 22 $50 Walmart gift cards.  Plastic Jungle will currently buy them for 92% of their value.  By going through TopCashBack, you will get another 3.68% of their value for a total of 95.68%.  In other words, 110,000 points will translate into $1052.48.

Meet minimum spend and cash out bank gift cards

Another twist on this deal is that you can combine opportunities listed above to meet credit card minimum spend requirements and get all of your money back AND get a companion pass!  If you have Visa or Amex gift cards you bought in the past, you can also use these opportunities to cash them out!  See the sections above: “Buy points for less than a penny”; and then “Cashing out points”.  By doing both of those things, you could theoretically spend lots of money on your credit card, get it all back (eventually), and earn a companion pass.  How sweet is that?

Cautions and Risks

Everything written in this post carries some risks.  Don’t do this unless you are prepared for the worst.  Here are a few obvious risks:

  1. You shop through the portal, but don’t get any points.  To minimize the chance of this, please see my post “How to ensure your portal points”.
  2. Purchases of gift cards don’t receive points.  I think this is unlikely, but it is possible since I’ve never tested this portal.
  3. Southwest may devalue their points at any time.
  4. Southwest may change the redemption rates for gift cards.
  5. If selling gift cards, Plastic Jungle may reduce the payout amount, or TopCashBack may reduce the cash back amount.
  6. If selling gift cards, cards might get lost in the mail or improperly cataloged by Plastic Jungle.
  7. If selling merchandise, you may have trouble finding buyers, you may find merchant fees and other costs to be higher than expected, etc.

 

Reactions

OK, so that’s an overview.  As I mentioned, I expect to dive into a few of the options above with detailed posts.  What do you think: will you jump into this deal?  Did I miss any big opportunities?

I’m not a Southwest flyer, but I’m strongly considering the double-dip, buy and sell merchandise play…

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