Gift card fees probably increasing ($7.95 for $200 Mastercards at Staples)

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We’ve been receiving periodic reports over the past couple of weeks of readers seeing $200 gift cards with increased fees on the packaging. Whereas most $200 and variable-load $20-$200 gift cards have long featured a fee of $6.95. Recently, we’ve had some readers report packaging indicating a $7.95 fee. Then, this week, Staples advertised their fee-free Mastercard gift card sale as being a “$7.95 value” and I figured that the change is probably coming. That became even more apparent to me when I visited a Staples store yesterday and I found a rack that had some cards with a $6.95 fee and others with a $7.95 fee. All of them rung up fee-free, but it looks like the more newly-produced cards will feature a higher fee moving forward.

When we first received reports of this weeks ago, I wondered whether that had been a typo on some card packaging or some other confusion since I hadn’t yet seen any cards with a $7.95 fee. However, when I was picking up cards at a Staples yesterday, I noticed that there was a difference in packaging on some of the Mastercard gift cards on the rack. Some of the Mastercard Gift Cards looked the same as they always have, but there were also several hangers with cards that had a stop sign and a hologram foil on the back:

I have noticed that same hologram on some other cards I’ve bought recently at Lowe’s. I then realized that the new hologram packaging also featured a few price — $7.95 (as shown in the picture above). I then noticed that the expiration date examples on the front of the packaging differed — with the newer sample expiration date of 3/31 on the cards with the $7.95 packaging (versus 5/30 on the $6.95 cards).

I decided to buy 4 of each type of card to see what would happen with the fee-free promotion (note: I’ve encountered several employees unfamiliar with the new 8-per-customer-per-day limit, but I walk into the store with the weekly ad up on my phone and it’s been honored for me each time). Interestingly, all of them rung up without a fee — but the receipt does reflect that I had a $6.95 savings on some and a $7.95 savings on others.

That leads me to believe that this change is here to stay. The register is obviously programmed to charge the $7.95 activation fee on the newer cards. That’s probably a non-issue for the Staples cards since Staples is still advertising them as fee-free even with the newly-increased fee. However, assuming these increased-fee cards are not produced specifically for Staples, this could reduce the intrigue a bit on deals run at Office Max / Office Depot (which would suddenly no longer be fee-free if they continue to only offer $15 off of $300 or more) and Lowe’s. That’s not to say that gift cards deals at those stores won’t still be good deals, they’ll just lose a little luster.

I don’t yet know whether this change will also spread to Visa Gift Cards, though I imagine it probably will. Neither do I know for sure that this new fee structure will move to other cards or whether “Everywhere” Visas will also be affected. Time will tell.

I imagine that most readers are only buying these cards when they are fee-free or close to it, so I don’t imagine that this change will be highly consequential for most of us (and in fact if the additional dollar fee they collect when the cards are not fee free helps to continue to fuel the fee-free deals, so be it). Still, it’s good to know where things stand — and it sounds like these fees will likely increase soon at a store near you if they haven’t already.

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JohnSF

The fee for Visa Gift Cards purchased online from staples.com increased a month or two ago so I am not surprised to see this happening to the in store cards. A $300 VGC used to have an online fee of $8.95 but it is now $9.95. After the fee went up for the online cards I made it higher priority to buy the fee free cards during the in-store sales.

Chris

Has anyone else bought an empty $200 gift card from Staples. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get a refund but no luck at all.

rdover1

I’ve been fascinated thinking about how the back-end part of this works for Staples, Blackhawk and the credit card companies.

With a 4% fee it makes sense that Staples gets to manipulate their total sales numbers and get a fee per card sold as their profit margin. (Which also funds their more frequent fee free promotions, which drives up total sales $).

Blackhawk gets the delta between 4% and the interchange fee. (I assume they also get a commission on the interchange fee that the gift cards themselves generate (a parallel to what the airlines/hotels get with their rewards cards) and they get the keep the breakage after x number of years).

The credit card companies (Chase Ink etc) get the interchange fee, but are at a loss leader for that category.

Another Jeff

Was seeing same fee increase on metabank $500 visas at HEB a month or so back 🙁

Daniel

It’s really crazy that in a high interest rate environment these fees are going up. One way these companies make money is holding on to the money until it’s spent. I can’t imagine actually paying $8 for a $200 gift card. The $500 varieties may be next.

Anthony

Do you think this will just effect Metabank cards or US Bank cards as well?

Daniel

Well, these only affect Metabank directly, but if US bank or others feel they can get away with charging a higher fee then they will follow.

Stevenson

am i able to use these $200 cards and load them onto the pre-paid debit cards sold at walmart like serve, green dot and others?
i ask bec my local grocery chain does not accept the staples/OM visa cards when buying money orders, though they do accept others like vanilla.

abc007

Even Lowe’s Mastercard activation fee was $7.95. I found an old one though at $6.95.

Aloha808

I tried to buy some Style Everywhere visas at office depot last week that had an activation price of $5.95 on the packaging (before they were $4.95), but at the register they rang up at $7.95 each.

Aloha808

Lol wasn’t mine either.

Fathiss

, your style is to pay more for the regular visas than these discounted ones? Hmm…

Fathiss

Same thing I found today. The Everywhere visas increased by a buck on the package but by 3 bucks at register. I bought 4 and the manager reimbursed me the $8.00 this time.

Fathiss

I was replying to Aloha comment. He bought at OD. So did I.
The package was $1 higher than normal. But the ring up was $3 more than normal ($2 more than package) thus $8.

Fathiss

On the OD $15 off $300 visa days, the Everywhere cards would net $5 profit on 2 $200 cards plus the free points. Looks like the profit part is gone or at least diminished.