Gift Card Churning – Letting You In On My Huge Secret

Regular readers of Chasing The Points may have already picked up on this secret, but I am going to spell it out in this post. This is not a plug to pump and dump the gift card as it would only increase the supply, thus pushing down prices.


January 2013

Office Max ABC Gift Cards GiftCards.com Gift Card Zen Plastic Jungle PJ + TCB PJ + OPEN + TCB Gift Card Rescue Gift Card Monkey
The Home Depot 88% 86% 87% 86% 88.50% 98.50% 88% 89%
Nordstrom 87% 87% 80% 81% 83.50% 93.50% 80% 81%

In January, I began playing with the numbers and saving the data from Gift Card Granny. The Home Depot offer looks attractive, but even at those rates, I never bought through Office Max and use my American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card because I would be buying at $.015/point and that is too expensive for me.

May 2013

This is sorted descending order on Cardpool from May 2013. As you can see, Home Depot decrease and Nordstrom increased.

Store Name Cardpool ABC Gift Cards GiftCards.com Gift Card Zen Gift Card Rescue Monster Gift Card Gift Card Monkey
Exxon 92% 92% 90% 92% 92% 85% 85%
Mobil Gas 92% 92% 0 92% 92% 85% 85%
Safeway 92% 92% 86% 92% 92% 85% 86%
Walmart 92% 92% 92% 91% 92% 85% 88%
Apple 91% 91% 72% 90% 85% 80% 80%
ARCO 91% 91% 72% 91% 91% 85% 85%
Whole Foods 91% 91% 86% 91% 91% 88% 88%
BP Amoco 90% 90% 90% 90% 90% 85% 84%
Target 90% 90% 89% 89% 89% 87% 85%
Best Buy 89% 89% 88% 89% 88% 85% 81%
Costco 89% 90% 0 90% 90% 81% 81%
Nordstrom 89% 89% 87% 88% 80% 87% 79%
Shell 88% 90% 89% 90% 90% 86% 82%
Abercrombie & Fitch 87% 87% 83% 87% 75% 75% 77%
Bloomingdales 87% 85% 72% 86% 80% 75% 79%
Chevron 87% 88% 88% 88% 88% 87% 80%
CVS 87% 86% 84% 87% 84% 79% 77%
Home Depot 87% 86% 86% 87% 86% 86% 82%
Lowe’s 87% 86% 0 86% 84% 85% 82%

I am missing data from Februrary to May, but Nordstrom increased for Plastic Jungle and Cardpool.  When I noticed Nordstrom increased I redid the math and found it to be profitable to churn. First with Office Max with the OPEN savings, I was buying as much as I could and sold on Plastic Jungle and profited a few dollars. When Plastic Jungle closed, it was no longer as profitable. With past success with using the Chase Ultimate Rewards mall for earning points with Staples and Plink coming along, Nordstrom became my highly coveted gift card to churn again.

The Math:

You always want to buy the highest denominated gift card because the shipping fee is $1.99 per card. As the denomination goes up, the fee as a % decreases. Thus, I always bought the $200 Nordstrom gift card from Staples using my Chase Ink Bold.

  • $201.99 for the gift card purchase
  • $10.10 for 5% back from Staples (typically, I use Discover’s portal), at one time TopCashBack had 6%!
  • $179 back for selling at 89.5% bulk rate
  • $3 back from Plink
  • $2.76 for converting Plink money into Walmart gift card and selling @ 92%
  • $10.13 total loss and fees
  • 1010 Ultimate Reward points earned
  • $.01/point

In November, Staples began accepting gift cards online and you could potentially double dip on the portal bonus. However, reader Elaine explains that Staples will cancel your order for purchasing a gift card with a gift card.

The Execution:

As long as Nordstrom or any gift card sold from Staples is 89% or more, buying Ultimate Rewards points will be about a penny a point as long as you use one of the Chase Ink cards.

17 comments… add one
  • You might as well buy $200 Visa gift cards at Staples for a 6.95 fee, instead of do gift card churning with Nordstrom gift cards. That would be a cost of about 0.7 cents per point instead of 1 cent per point.

    • +1 on that….

  • I’m not familiar with chasing the points, so do you advise that for places you normally make purchases you are better off using gift cards purchased with a rewards credit card? I just stumbled onto your blog so I was wondering if you could fill me in on the premise of this post. Thanks.

    • Thanks for stopping by! The premise of Chasing The Points is finding creative ways to maximize your credit card spend for the rewards.

  • Tons of effort AND higher cost? Easier/faster/lower cost scalable MS out there than this, so why do you do it?

  • I agree with the other sentiment here. Lots of effort for minimal gain moving GCs back and forth. Much better options out there at a cheaper rate.

  • Sorry but got to add to the chorus here… this is a comically large amount of work for no gain. Just buy $200 VGCs and liquidate through MO/BP. There are ways to liquidate even in the big cities. And I actually got a little excited with the “Big Secret” thing

    • I’ve easing my way into Travel hacking using my normal spending to build up UR; currently have the CSR, CSP, Chase Freedom, and the Costco Citi.
      I’ve been looking for a fool-proof simple way into MS. It’s easy to get lost in the rabbit trails of these forums, so your comment caught my eye. What would you suggest for an entry level MS strategy?

  • I am glad you’re all asking the question!

    For me, I personally don’t mind paying a slightly higher premium if I can do the following:

    – batch the process and handle it all in one instance
    – all of the buying and selling while not leaving the house/do everything online

    Other tidbits relevant to scenario:
    – dislike for like $100 or $200 VGC cards
    – once lost a $800 MO and caused a lot of panic
    – sell a large quantity per month to a gift card exchange and achieve preferential rates, for the future you could lower the average cost
    – rarely go to Walmart

    • I love your posts and feel that you can be the next FM; however, in this case others have raised a very valid point. Nothing wrong in saying that your readers have pointed out a better approach.

      As an MS lover you do not dislike GCs and MOs. That’s blasphemy.

      • Thanks! You’re right. The readers have raised very valid, correct, and cheaper options and points.

  • This certainly isn’t the *first* approach i’d use, but I has value for the people who really really push the MS. When you get into really really big numbers for money orders you can get into issues with money laundering controls, so at some point it makes sense to diversify if you are already buying money orders and maxing out your bluebird every month. I’d probably want to get a little cheaper than a penny a point though.

    • It is a little bit on the expensive side, more than I’d like, actually. The max I will pay for points is $.01, unless I am testing and I have paid as much as $.05/point

  • Just noted an Amex Sync offer for $25 off at Staples per $100… changes the math significantly!

    • That’s the second time I wasn’t targeted for the offer from AMEX! It makes me sad


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