The deal without portals


Two weeks ago, I wrote about one of the most exciting triple dip opportunities currently available:

  1. Go through online portal to Staples (5X to 6X portal rebate)
  2. Buy $200 Visa gift cards with credit card that earns 5X
  3. If credit card is business Visa card, earn back 1% through Visa Savings Edge.

Details of the above opportunity can be found in these posts:


Is the deal dead?

I didn’t think the deal described above would last long.  I explained my reasoning in the post “A great disturbance in the Force.”  Specifically, I wrote:

I would really hate to see this go, but it would make sense for Staples to stop paying out to portals for gift card purchases made on their site

And then, last week, a person who purports to run his/her own cash back portal posted on Flyertalk that Staples had sent a message about portal payouts ending for gift cards.  Voyaging wrote:

Figure i’d post here about it first

Dear ____,
In order to ensure program profitability, Staples will no longer commission affiliates sales of gift cards. We have extended you a new program term with this exclusion. Please accept your new term as soon as you receive it . As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to the team if you have any questions!
Best regards,
The Staples Affiliate Team

I don’t think the $200 vgc will vanish, but i’m pretty sure the cashback will.

Voyaging then followed up with more details that suggest the end is nigh as of May 12 (today) or earlier:

Because I’ve run my own cashback portal well before TCB, credit card portals, shopdiscover, etc. Staples has pushed out new terms to their partners which must be accepted otherwise they are expired from their contract. Here are the details on which exact gift cards are no longer going to be commissionable.

As to the exact date of when is a good question. It varies from partner to partner. For me, I have to accept terms before 5/12. If the portals have already accepted the terms, then they no longer get paid for gift cards. It doesn’t mean it won’t track and portals won’t pay out, it just means they won’t get paid by Staples.

We do not yet have evidence that the above information is true (although it appears legitimate).  Nor, do we have evidence that Staples has sent the same information to all portals.  That said, I think it is likely that our portal options have closed or will close in the near future.

Is the double dip worthwhile?

With the full triple-dip in play, we’ve been making a profit while also earning 5 points per dollar spent.  If portals are no longer in-play, we will no longer earn a profit.  So, let’s re-do the math:

Let’s say we buy one $200 Visa card (in store or online) at Staples, and we pay with a 5X earning credit card, and we earn 1% back with Visa Savings Edge:

  • Total price paid: $206.95
  • Card value: $200
  • Card fee: $6.95
  • Visa Savings Edge rebate: $2.07
  • Fee after rebate: $4.88
  • Fee as % of card value: 2.44%
  • Miles earned at 5X: 1035 (207 X 5)

We can then easily calculate our cost per point:

  • Cost per point: $0.0045 (less than half a cent per point)

Or, we can use points earned to pay ourselves back for the fee (see “When category bonuses trump fees”):

  • Points needed to pay back fee: 488
  • Points after pay back: 547
  • Fee free points per dollar: 2.74


Quick Summary

It’s possible that the days of earning money and 5X points from Staples are already over.  If portals no longer work (and the jury is still out on that), then we are left with either buying points at less than half a cent each (which is still a very good deal) or using points to refund our fees and earning 2.74 points per dollar, fee-free.  These options are very good, but they’re no longer better than all alternatives.  For example, if you can buy $500 Visa gift cards and earn 2X or more, you’ll do just as well or better on a cost per point basis (assuming points earned are of similar value) and you’ll find that $500 cards are much easier to use.

As we go forward, please report in the comments in the Frequent Miler Laboratory if you receive portal payouts for gift cards bought at on or after May 12 2014.  Thanks!

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