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Gift Card Churning Dilemma: Cash or Miles?

Update: It appears Barclay Rewardsboost has removed American Express gift cards from the portal. Hopefully this is temporary, but until it comes back, Option #1 below is out for now.

Since I began churning American Express gift cards, I’ve focused on cash back portals as a way to off-set purchase/shipping fees and to turn a profit. With the possibility of earning upwards of 6% cash back, this is a pretty lucrative option. However, some folks are opting for earning miles over cash back. What is the best option and can you have both? To answer that, let’s take a look at the current highest payout for American Express gift card purchases:

BeFrugal – 4% cash back

  • FPDAD – $0 fee by 6/16/14
  • FSGRAD – Free shipping through 6/30/14

Lucky Rewards – 4% cash back

  • FPDAD – $0 fee by 6/16/14

Barclay Rewardsboost – 4 miles per $1

  • FPDAD – $0 fee by 6/16/14

Alaska Airlines Shopping – 3 miles per $1

  • FPDAD – $0 fee by 6/16/14

Delta Skymiles Shopping – 3 miles per $1

  • FPDAD – $0 fee by 6/16/14

Fees for $5,000 worth of gift cards add up to $7.90 and shipping costs vary between $5.95-$8.95. You can get free shipping via a premium shipping plan trial, otherwise it may make the most sense to use the BeFrugal portal if it’s cash back you’re after.

There are three scenarios we’re going to examine to determine which is the most lucrative:

Option 1: Barclay Rewardsboost portal with the Barclay Arrival Plus Card

If your shipping costs are low (under $7.90) or free then using your Barclay Arrival Plus World MasterCard via the Barclay Rewardsboost portal is the best option. The portal lists the same FPDAD promo code, which waives card fees through June 16. With the Arrival Plus card, you’re essentially earning 6.6% cash back, since cardholders get 10% of their redeemed miles back. So that $5,000 American Express gift card purchase is worth $330 in travel rewards.

Earned: 30,000 Arrival miles/$330 travel rewards

Option 2: Cash back portal with the Fidelity American Express cash back card

The 2% cash back from the Fidelity American Express card combined with 4% cash back from a cash back portal is a great option if you want to maximize cash back. If you’re wondering which portal to use, that depends on whether you have a free shipping trial and what your shipping cost will be. I’ve never been given the option to choose anything other than 2-day $8.95 shipping. If that is the case for you, it’s best to go through BeFrugal and use the FSGRAD promo code at check out, which waives shipping (good through June 30).

If free shipping isn’t a concern for you and you prefer LuckyRewards, then by all means use that portal and the FPDAD promo code, which is good through June 16.

Earned: $300 cash back

Option 3: Cash back portal with a cash back card

If you have a standard cash back card that earns 1-1.5% cash back, stacking your earnings with BeFrugal or LuckyRewards shopping portal would amount to $250-$275 in cash back per $5,000 order.

Earned: $250-$275 cash back

Option 4: Cash back portal with a mile-earning credit card

This option allows you to both boost your mileage balance and off-set the cost of manufactured spending. With a standard mile-earning card, you’re looking at 5,000 miles (or 7,500 if you have a United MileagePlus Club card) and $200 cash back. In this instance, you’re earning $50-$100 less than if you were using a cash back card in exchange for 5,000 – 7,500 miles. This is certainly a good option if you want to earn a cash profit along with a decent amount of miles.

Earned: $200 cash back and 5,000-7,500 miles

Option 5: Mile portal with a cash back card

At the current payout level of 3 miles per $1, the maximum of $5,000 you would earn 15,000 miles and $50-75 cash back with a card that earn 1-1.5%. The cash back amount is enough to off-set about half the cost of unloading the cards. This method allows you to earn maximum points at minimum cost, but it isn’t for those looking to earn a profit.

Earned: 15,000 miles and $50-75 cash back

Option 6: Mile portal with a mile-earning credit card

If you want to earn the maximum number of miles without concern about cost, this is the best option for you. At $5,000 you’ll earn 20,000 miles with a standard mile-earning credit card, or 22,500 miles with a MileagePlus Club card. This will cost you about $158 in unloading fees, in addition to shipping/card fees. It’s not easy parting with that cash, but considering some folks will gladly pay $1,800 for 100,000 miles and this method allows you to “purchase” those miles for just under $800, this is relatively cheap.

Earned: 20,000-22,500 miles

So who’s the unequivocal winner? If you’re simply looking to bulk up on a large number of points, Option 6 is your best bet, though 5 works better if you are ok with earning slightly fewer points at a lower cost. Looking to make manufactured spending a part time job? Option 1 – 3 are your best bet. Personally, I would rather use a mile-earning card with a cash back portal than a cash back card that offers just 1%. Other than that, if you want to earn some miles while keeping your costs low, Option 4 is good for you.

As usual, the answer is “that depends on what you’re looking for.” Option 2 has been working great for me, though I will probably venture into 4 to boost my Alaska Mileage Plan balance a bit.

Which of these options is most appealing to you?

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Ariana Arghandewal

25 Comments

  1. Very nice analysis. Buying Amex GC is the first battle. Next is liquidating them and besides Amazon, other options will further drain your benefits.

  2. Love the post. Buying GCs (at least for me) isn’t the problem. It’s the liquidation of it. Other than Amazon and Wally (which isn’t anywhere close/feasible for me), there really isn’t anything else that would help with in liquidation.

    • You could load them onto Amex for Target and cash out via ATM.

      • Can I use Amex for Target to paid bills through Evolve? Or will Evolve treat it like a credit card?

        • Unfortunately not. You can, however, cash out via ATM or Amazon Payments.

  3. I am so freaked out at the prospect of liquidating so man gift cards. I know there are plenty of ways to do it, but I’m scared to get stuck with them!!!

    • Yeah there’s always that risk, but if you do this in moderation even getting stuck with $1-2k in cards won’t be a problem because you could just use them to pay household bills.

  4. Unfortunately, just today, AGCs are no longer available thru Option #1, which was the most lucrative for me. So I will need to find an alternative. Perhaps Barclays arrival + lucky rewards is the equivalent payoff.

  5. I just tried to find American Express on Arrival portal….and it seems to be gone. I used the search button at the top of the screen. Am I looking in the wrong place?

  6. i also tried the barclay arrival portal and the is no american express gift card selection whereas i looked last night and it was there…..i also want to try and sign up for the american express premium shipping plan trial and can not figure out how to sign up. can you send a screen shot or post how to sign up. thanks

  7. Looks like AmericanExpress gift cards are gone from Barclay Arrival’s RewardsBoost site. Bummer!

    • Not necessarily. Some people prefer to earn points at low cost, in which case it makes more sense for them to use a cash-back card and go through a mileage portal or the other way around.

      • If you’re doing any sort of volume, you’re going to quickly have too many points/miles. If you don’t think this is a problem, then you’re not doing enough volume.

        I can’t redeem fast enough to use all the miles I’d get by selecting a non cash back portal.

        • Since you’re capped at $5k every two weeks, the max you can generate from mileage portals is 30,000 per month/360,000 per year. That’s enough for two first class tickets to Asia and a round-trip in coach to Europe. If you’re taking two trips a year and traveling with a companion, it’s not enough miles. But I guess if you’re only earning for yourself, then it’s more than enough.

  8. I thought it was not possible to liquidate Amex GCs at WM. Can you explain or link me to how to do that? Thanks.

    • You’ll need to use your Amex gc’s to buy Visa gc’s and then load those onto your Bluebird card at the Walmart Bluebird kiosk.

  9. I would be interested in hearing of your experience with various cashback portals. My experience, so far, is QUITE variable. Using the FIA Amex at a strict 2% cash back (with no portal bonus) does not pencil out on making money.

    • That’s actually a post I’m working on and will have up soon. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

    • Yeah they all go up and down from time to time. I’m sure we’ll see it back up to 4% soon.

  10. I just looked at befrugal and it says you wont earn cash back when buying a GC (buying AMEX GC on staples.com).

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