A couple of days ago, GiftCardMall suddenly disappeared from cash back portals. I had listed GiftCardMall as one of the best ways to buy $500 Visa cards in the post “Best options for buying $500 Visa gift cards,” but they pulled out of their affiliate channels the same day I posted. Luckily, they’re back!
1% cash back, but terms exclude Visa gift cards:
2% cash back for regular gift cards. 1% cash back for Visa gift cards:
Sign Up Links
You can find links to sign up for the above cash back portals and others on my “Sign-Up Links” page (which can also be found under the Resources menu of any page on the Frequent Miler site).
UPDATE: Code BLOSSOM15 is no longer working. Kohl’s charge card holders can still get 30% off with code SAVE30, but it is no longer possible to get 40.5% off in total.
Until May 22, Kohl’s has two stackable coupons that total to 40.5% off everything (except gift cards) at Kohl’s. There is both a 30% off coupon (SAVE30) and a 15% off coupon (BLOSSOM15). The trick is that you do need to have a Kohl’s charge card to qualify for the 30% off coupon. When you apply both coupons, you’ll get a combined discount of 40.5% off. The great thing is that this discount is applied to sales & clearance prices as well! If you spend more than $75 (after discounts), you’ll also qualify for free shipping.
The picture above shows an example of stacking both coupons with a product that is on sale. The purchase comes with free shipping because the total order (before taxes) is greater than $75. This is just and example and is not meant to be a recommendation to buy the product shown.
In addition to this 40.5% discount, you will qualify for $10 of Kohl’s cash for every $50 spent (after discounts, but before shipping and sales tax). That sounds like an additional 20% rebate if you buy in multiples of $50, but its not really. When you pay with Kohl’s cash, the portion of your order paid that way does not qualify for discounts and does not count towards totals needed for free shipping. Regardless, Kohl’s Cash can be used to buy stuff, so it’s a nice extra perk! Plus, Kohl’s Cash is deducted before sales tax is calculated, so you do get a small discount by not having to pay tax on that portion of your purchase.
When shopping online, it’s always a good idea to start with a portal that offers points or cash back for your purchases. I’ve always had great luck with Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall, and they offer an amazing 10 points per dollar for Kohl’s purchases! In my experience, the points are earned regardless of what coupons have been applied.
You can save even more (or earn more points) by buying Kohl’s gift cards before making your purchases. If you want to get the gift cards quickly, the simplest approach is to go to a store where your credit card earns bonus points and buy Kohl’s gift cards there. One great example is to use a Chase Ink card at an office supply store to get 5 points per dollar. Another similar option is to double dip at Staples.com. Start at a cash back portal such as uPromise and click through to Staples.com. Buy Kohl’s e-gift cards and pay with a Chase Ink card (5X). The e-gift cards should arrive overnight or early the next day. Note that Kohl’s only allows up to 4 gift cards to be used per order. Finally, if you’d rather save money than earn points, consider gift card resellers. Search GiftCardGranny.com for deals on Kohl’s gift cards. If you’re in a hurry, opt for electronic gift cards rather than paper ones.
Thanks goes to this SlickDeals thread for finding this deal!
Club Carlson recently announced their new summer promotion: stay two nights and get 10,000 bonus points. There’s no doubt that this is a nice bonus if you plan to stay two nights anyway. The question I have is whether this promo is good enough to go out of one’s way for. Is it worth booking a weekend stay just for the points?
Stay two or more consecutive nights anytime between May 13 and July 21, 2013 at any of our more than 1,000 participating Carlson Rezidor hotels worldwide to earn 10,000 bonus Points for each eligible stay.
Details about Club Carlson’s new promotion can be found here. Make sure to register, just in case! You can also read Mommy Points’ view of the promotion here; Points, Miles & Martinis’ view here; and Lucky’s view here.
In 2011 and 2012, Club Carlson ran promotions in which it was possible to earn up to 50,000 points for a one night stay. There was no doubt then that it was worth booking a cheap stay just for the points. This promotion, though offers only 1/5 the points and requires a two night stay instead of one. So, this promotion requires deeper analysis…
Near Optimal Earnings
In the post “Earn 70 points per dollar at Club Carlson hotels” I showed how it is possible to stack multiple Club Carlson points earning options onto a single stay. Almost all of the possibilities are unlocked simply by getting a Club Carlson Premier Rewards Signature card (or its twin Business card). With either card, you’ll earn 10 points per dollar at Club Carlson properties when you pay with the Club Carlson credit card, and you’ll earn bonus points as a Gold elite member (which is an automatic perk of the credit card). You could do slightly better with top level Concierge status, but for most people that is out of reach since it requires 75 nights or 30 stays to achieve.
Another way to boost earnings is to sign up for “Club Carlson for Business.” If you are a business owner, you can get a business account and earn an additional 10 points per dollar for bookings made online. You will also qualify for a 5% discount off their standard rates.
Here is a full run-down of points earned for a regular stay (without the summer promotion) if you have the Club Carlson credit card and a business account:
So, even without a promotion, it is possible to earn 50 points per dollar plus 2000 points per stay (not per night) for booking online.
10K Promotion: 110X
By stacking the points earned as shown above, with the summer 10K promotion, you can now earn up to 50 points per dollar plus 12,000 points per stay.
Ignoring taxes, with a $100 per night stay, you would spend $200 and earn 22,000 points. In other words, you would earn 110 points per dollar!
How much are points worth?
A few months ago, I looked at Club Carlson hotel prices and redemption rates in a number of cities. I found that, in my sample, the per point value of Club Carlson points ranged from .22 cents to .89 cents each. The average point value came to .43 cents. So, 110 points per dollar is like a 47% rebate.
The math gets better with the Club Carlson credit card which offers a free night with each reward stay of 2 nights or more. In other words, if you stay two nights on points, you only need to pay for one night! For details, see “Club Carlson rocks our world… Again.” So, by focusing on two-night stays, your points can be worth twice as much! The value of points then (based on my sample) goes up as high as .44 to 1.78 cents per point with an average value of .86 cents each.
If you value Club Carlson points at .86 cents each, then 110 points per dollar is like a 94.6% rebate! Clearly, if you’re planning to travel anyway and if a Club Carlson hotel is a viable option, then you will do very well with this promotion.
Taxes vs. Cash Back
It’s hard to estimate how much you’ll pay in taxes since that varies from State to State and from city to city. Credit card points will be earned for the full cost of your stay, but other point multiples shown above will be based on the stay cost before taxes.
It’s worth noting that there are a number of cash back portals that include Club Carlson properties such as Radisson, Park Plaza, and Country Inn & Suites. For example, TopCashBack currently offers 9% cash back for those hotels. If you start your booking from a cash back portal and click through to one of those Club Carlson web sites, you will still be eligible for all point earnings and online booking bonuses. For a list of cash back portals to consider, please see my Sign-Up Links page.
Overall, rather than trying to estimate the effect of taxes and cash back portals, for the sake of this analysis let’s assume that they cancel each other out. In other words, I’ll calculate the value of mattress runs without factoring in taxes or cash back.
The point of pure mattress runs is to book a hotel stay just to earn points or elite status. In this case, we’re just talking about point earnings. If you really don’t value the stay at all and just want to get points, then the goal should be to get points at a cost lower than their redemption value and lower than they could be bought elsewhere.
Club Carlson outright sells points to consumers for just .7 cents per point. So, even if you value points higher than that, it wouldn’t make sense to do a mattress run if you end up paying .7 cents or more for your points.
Personally, I wouldn’t consider a Club Carlson mattress run unless the full cost was less than .4 cents per point. The idea, after all, is to get a bargain. However, if you are working on building up your points for a specific high value redemption (Radisson Blue Paris, for example), you might be willing to set a higher bar.
Here then are the calculations for the cost per point for mattress runs for Club Carlson hotels at various price points with the 10K promotion included:
* Points earned: This column assumes that you achieve near optimal point earnings as described above (e.g. 50 points per dollar plus 2000 points per stay before including the 10K promotion).
As you can see in the table above, booking a $50 per night room just to get points would cost .59 cents per point. This is better than buying points outright at .7 cents per point, but not by a wide margin. And, it doesn’t come close to my “buy” target of .4 cents per point.
So, go ahead and book a two night stay if you value both the points and the stay, but don’t book it for the points alone.
Second night add-on
Suppose you have a planned one night stay at a Club Carlson property. Is it worth adding a second night to qualify for the 10K promotion? The second night would get you up to 50 points per dollar for the cost of the second night, and 10,000 bonus points thanks to the summer promotion. Here are the calculations for the cost per point for adding a second night to your stay:
* Extra points earned: These are the points earned for the added-on second night. This column assumes that you achieve near optimal point earnings as described above (e.g. 50 points per dollar before including the 10K promotion).
As you can see in the table above, tacking on a second night to a $50 per night stay would result in “buying” points at only .4 cents each. As room prices go up, the cost to buy points this way increases as well. So, if you are planning a one night stay in an extremely cheap Club Carlson hotel, it may be worth it to extend your stay to two nights depending on how highly you value Club Carlson points.
Background: Million Mile Madness was the mad quest to earn a million points in one month. Throughout March, I did everything I could to earn as many points as possible while keeping within my ethical boundaries. During the month, I tracked all of the points that I expected, and I declared victory when the expected total topped one million.
Million Mile Headaches
Not everything went smoothly during my million mile quest. Last week, for example, I wrote about problems I had with SunTrust (see “Million Mile Headaches: SunTrust“). And, in March, I wrote about some issues I had with Sears (see “A setback from Sears“). Also in March, I published “Bumps in the road” where I told the story of my botched attempt to get 15 points per dollar when buying items from Lowes. This is a continuation of that story…
Recap of what went before
I started the month with a plan to earn 75,000 points from Lowes as follows: 1) Use credit cards that earn 5X at office supply stores to buy Home Improvement gift cards at Office Depot; 2) Go through an online portal that offers 5 points per dollar at Lowes and buy physical Lowes’ gift cards. Pay with the Home Improvement gift cards; and 3) Go through the 5X portal again to buy $5,000 worth of merchandise and pay with Lowes’ gift cards. If all had worked as planned, I would have earned 15 points per dollar and therefore 75,000 points from buying $5000 worth of merchandise (which I would then resell).
The first $3500 worth of gift card purchases seemed to go smoothly. I bought out all of the Home Improvement cards available at my local Office Depot. I registered each card and then went online through a portal to buy Lowes’ gift cards. The gift cards arrived at my house and all portal points posted as expected.
So, with that success under my belt, I drove to a distant Office Depot to buy more Home Improvement cards and I used those cards to buy more Lowes’ gift cards. To make a long story short, a computer glitch prevented the new orders from going through, and Lowes’ re-credited my Home Improvement gift cards which I had previously thrown away thinking that they had been used up. I had to find the original purchase receipt from the Office Depot to get my money back. And, in fact, I received a refund check from InComm (the company behind the Home Improvement cards) a few weeks later.
You can read the full story here: Bumps in the road.
Preparing to buy
Once Lowes’ fixed their computer glitch, I was ready to try again. I still needed $1500 more of Lowes’ gift cards. This time, when ordering the gift cards, I paid $4.99 per card for overnight delivery. It was March 26th, and time was running out for my challenge. When the cards arrived the next day, I now had about $5000 worth of Lowes’ gift cards. Or so, I thought…
My plan had been to buy $5000 worth of Nest Learning Thermostats 2nd Generation. These were top sellers on Amazon.com so I knew they would sell quickly. With my 10% off movers coupon, I still would lose money on the whole deal (due to sales taxes and seller fees), but I had calculated that the loss was worth it given all of the points earned.
One big (and one little) break
On March 27th, I found that someone had posted several Lowes’ 10% off coupons on SlickDeals. This was great for me because I really was thinking of moving and would have liked to use my movers coupon for that move. So, I was able to use the SlickDeals coupon and keep my own for later. That was my little break for the day.
The bigger bonus came when I browsed to Lowes and discovered that the Nest Learning Thermostat 1st Generation was on sale! The sale price was lower than Amazon’s usual price, and so I calculated that I would lose much less on this deal than I would have with the Nest II.
I clicked through to Lowes from an online portal, and added $5000 worth of thermostats to my cart. When I went to pay, I discovered a problem. Four of my $500 Lowes’ gift cards couldn’t be applied to the order. Something was wrong.
I called Lowes and learned that those four gift cards had been affected by the same computer glitch that had caused me trouble before. But, unlike those orders, Lowes had sent me these gift cards as if everything was fine. Once again, my Home Improvement gift cards had been re-credited, but I had long since thrown them away (I’ll never do that again!).
I repeated the earlier process of requesting the old receipt from Office Depot and emailing it to InComm. As with the previous time, I asked for my refund as a check rather than replacement gift cards. This check also arrived in a few weeks.
I ended up buying just $3000 worth of thermostats. When they arrived, I sent them to Amazon for their fulfillment program and they sold out quickly. I probably could have broken even or even made a profit by selling these through other channels, but I was happy to have the Lowes chapter behind me.
Learn about Million Mile Madness:
Recently, Visa and MasterCard gift cards became great tools for earning points and miles thanks to the new ability to assign PINs (see “Gift card PINs“). It’s now possible to buy gift cards and cash them out easily by loading them to your Bluebird card or other means. In other words, buying debit gift cards is now like buying cash and paying with a credit card. One can earn points and miles and pay only the fee associated with the gift card (if any).
Size Matters: When buying gift cards in order to earn points & miles, the best cards are those with the lowest net cost as a percentage of card value. High value gift cards tend to have the lowest fees (as a percentage of their value) and they are easier to deal with. For example, a Bluebird card can be loaded up to $1000 per day at Walmart (via “Swipe Reloads”) for free. With $100 gift cards, you would have to do 10 swipes to get to $1000. With $500 gift cards, it takes only 2 swipes. And, while $1000 gift cards exist (at least, they used to!), they’re very hard to find. So, currently, $500 gift cards are the sweet spot to look for.
Visa vs. MasterCard: While it is now possible to set PINs with both Visa and MasterCard gift cards, people have reported more issues in trying to use MasterCards with PINs than Visa gift cards. Until that changes, I’d recommend favoring Visa gift cards whenever you have the choice.
Here is a roundup of the best options I know of for buying $500 gift cards:
Grocery store gift cards with fuel points
Some grocery stores have rewards programs in which they give fuel points that can be used to get a discount when filling up your car at a participating gas station. Of those stores, some will give fuel points for the purchase of variable load gift cards. For example, I’ve had success buying $500 Visa gift cards at Kroger and I earned 500 fuel points each time. The value of fuel points is directly proportional to how much fuel you pump at one time (see “What is a fuel point worth?“). Since I drive a car with a fairly small tank and I don’t try to game the system, fuel points are worth just over a penny each to me. If you have a large fuel tank and/or practice tricks to increase how much you pump at one time, fuel points can be worth much more to you. At the minimum, though, I’d say that the fuel points earned are worth at least the fee associated with the gift card ($5.95, for example). So, with this approach you can basically buy $500 gift cards with no net fee (as long as you actually use the earned fuel points). The $500 gift cards I’ve found at Kroger are issued by U.S. Bank and do require that you call in the number on the back of the packaging to set the PIN. When I’ve setup the PIN this way, I’ve had no problem using the cards, but when I tried other approaches (such as trying to use the last four digits of the card # as the PIN without calling first), it not only didn’t work, but the card still didn’t work for debit purchases after I called to set the PIN.
Chase Gift Cards
Currently, Chase is offering their Visa gift cards fee-free. You can order the cards online at chase.com/gift-cards. The current message on the website says:
This is a great way to buy gift cards up to $500 each, but Chase only accepts Visa or MasterCard for payment.
Until recently, GiftCardMall offered $1000 Visa gift cards which were perfect for loading to Bluebird. Sadly, they recently lowered the top Visa gift card amount to $500 and they raised their fees slightly. Even with those changes, though, GiftCardMall can be a good deal, especially when you start your purchase from a cash back portal.
TopCashBack offers 1% cash back for GiftCardMall Visa purchases. If you click through from TopCashBack to GiftCardMall and buy two $500 Visa cards with standard non-trackable delivery, your credit card will be charged $1,015.38. If all goes well, you’ll get back $10 from TopCashBack, so your net cost will be $5.38 which is a very reasonable net fee of .54% (and if you follow the Frequent Miler Laboratory closely, you can do even better…)
Note that GiftCardMall sends the Visa gift cards in one envelope and sends activation codes in another. I think that this helps make delivery of the cards more secure and so I would be willing to accept non-trackable delivery. If you prefer trackable delivery, the total price goes up only $2.
OneVanilla Prepaid Cards
Certain OneVanilla cards can be loaded up to $500 with only a $4.95 fee each. This is $1 cheaper than most competitors. $500 OneVanilla cards can be found at certain gas stations, drug stores, and grocery stores. In my experience you can use these cards without ever setting up a PIN. The card simply uses the first PIN you type in.
Have you found any better deals than those listed above for $500 gift cards? Have you had any experiences to add to (or contradict) what I wrote? Please comment below.
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