Laboratory Updates Oct 2013


imageIn the hunt for miles and points, it’s not always easy to know what works and what doesn’t.  For example, if you go through an online mileage portal to a merchant and buy a gift card, will you earn miles?  Once you have the gift card, is there a way to use it to buy other gift cards or cash out?  What if you go through a portal to use a gift card to buy merchandise?  Will you earn miles from that?  The answers to all of these questions depend mostly on each individual merchant, whether you buy physical or e-gift cards, and whether policies have recently changed.  One thing that you cannot count on is the documented Terms & Conditions shown within each shopping portal.  Often, portals will state “not valid on gift cards” regardless of whether gift card purchases in fact earn rewards.

The Frequent Miler Laboratory is a page dedicated to collecting and disseminating information about experiments in mile and point gathering.  Here are some of the latest experiment results…

American Express gift cards

With BigCrumbs currently offering 2.25% cash back for Amex gift card purchases, it is important to get a handle on what works and what doesn’t.  So far, we have the following confirmed and in-progress results:

  • Large personalized gift card orders have been cancelled by Amex for some readers, but others have reported success.    In-progress.
  • Single $3000 gift card order (via business gift cards): Order currently processing.  BigCrumbs has reported cash back.  In-progress.
  • Use of BDAY100 code to eliminate card fees: Order currently processing.  BigCrumbs has reported cash back.  In-progress.



It used to be possible to go through online portals to BestBuy to buy gift cards and get points or cash back.  Two readers recently reported that this no longer works.  That was my experience in January as well.

Home Improvement Gift Cards

It used to be possible to go through portals to Sears and/or Lowes to buy merchant gift cards and pay with Home Improvement gift cards and earn portal rewards.  The latest reader results are as follows:

  • Lowe’s: Transaction failed
  • Sears e-gift card: Success

It’s interesting to note that many people who have in the past tried to buy physical Sears gift cards with the Home Improvement card have not been able to.  This is probably because physical gift cards are processed by Kmart, and Kmart is not a valid Home Improvement gift card merchant.  Sears’ e-gift cards, though, are sold directly by Sears so it makes sense that this would work.  On the other hand, things are still up in the air as to whether e-gift card purchases will result in portal rewards any more.  See Sears, below, for details.


Purchase of a gift card resulted in portal rewards, but use of a gift card did not.

LL Bean

Purchase of merchandise with gift card resulted in portal rewards.  No news whether buying gift cards from LL Bean will also earn rewards.


Purchase of merchandise with gift card resulted in portal rewards.  Many experiments have shown that buying gift cards (OfficeMax or others) at does not result in portal rewards.


Purchase of merchandise with gift card resulted in portal rewards.  No news whether buying gift cards from PetSmart will also earn rewards.

Road Runner Sports

Both the purchase of physical gift cards and the use of gift cards to buy merchandise resulted in portal rewards.  This means that you can double portal rewards through this double dip.


For most of the past year, we have seen the following behavior from Sears:

  • Buying physical gift cards results in portal rewards (even though they are processed by Kmart)
  • Buying e-gift cards does not result in rewards
  • Using physical or e-gift cards to buy merchandise results in rewards.

Recently, Sears changed their portal Terms & Conditions to say that gift card purchases were OK.  Then, that went away.  Then, they explicitly added that gift cards were not eligible (see “Sears gift cards and the mysterious case of changing terms and conditions“).  Anyway, the end result seems to be that e-gift cards resulted in points just for a brief time.  After the terms changed back to “gift cards not eligible” I bought a sample physical and e-gift card through the AAdvantage eShopping portal.  So far, miles have posted for the physical gift card, but not for the e-gift card.  I’ll wait another week or two before declaring it a done deal, but right now I believe that we are back to where we started as shown in the bullets above.


Purchase of a merchant gift card (Kohl’s) with a combination of Staples’ Rewards and credit card resulted in full portal rewards.


Purchase of merchandise with a combination of gift card and credit card resulted in rewards only from the credit card portion of the purchase.

Finding the best portal

As I reported recently (see “The best portal finder. A new king is crowned.“), the site CashBackMonitor is an excellent resource to use to find the best current portal offers for whichever online merchant you care to shop at.

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Tried to order 3K worth of Amex GC today after clicking thru bigcrumbs and using my Discover card for payment. Amex tried to run it as a cash advance – thankfully my cash advance limit was not big enough and discover declined the transaction.


Earlier reports in Aug/Sep said there were problems getting full Ultimate Rewards points when buying more than $100 in physical gift cards from Has this been resolved?


Bob: I don’t think it has been fixed. Stick to $100 physical gift cards from Kohl’s.


Definitely seems like you have to get more granular on the Sears egift card Success/failures on a portal by portal basis. Seems that egift cards earn points on United Portal but not AA portal from above comments?


ShoNuffHarlem: I don’t think it was the portals but the timing. During the big Sears 16x promo in the United portal, both portals showed that gift cards were allowed. Two days later when the AA 12x promo started, the terms in both portals changed to say not valid on gift card purchases. I’m pretty sure that if you buy e-gift cards from Sears now rough the United portal you’ll get the same results as through the AA portal


WOW…..just added Cashback monitor to my bookmarks Bar……….that is a truly great find………THANK YOU oh grand master!


Steve: thanks
Brandon: yes, purchase of physical gift cards from Sears still works. As long as a store gives points through one portal it usually works through other portals too. So, delta and Alaska Air portals will generally work the same as AA, United, Ultimate Rewards portals


My best experience has been on Chase Ultimate Rewards site as they process everything the same month………..2 months after the fact I am still waiting on AA so AA will no longer be considered………the juice is not worth the squeeze………..


Purchases of Sears gift cards through AAdvantage Shopping earn miles, even though they explicitly changed the terms and conditions a couple of weeks ago to suggest otherwise? Also, at which online merchants can I buy gift cards and earn miles from Alaska Airlines’ and Delta’s shopping portals? The laboratory doesn’t seem to have any entries about those 2 shopping portals.


The purchase of a Petsmart gift card via Ultimate Rewards portal will generate points. I purchase a $100 gift card in advance of getting my two dogs groomed.


Amex Personalized $3k+$2k BC success using APG card.


Amex GC is declining all of my orders since the cash back sites came back with “unable to verify info.” Used the same cards with same billing address etc. before September 30th, and it worked then, so who knows why. Certainly the Amex GC call center in India doesn’t. Cash back is still posting for declined orders on BC and TCB, but I highly doubt it will ultimately be paid out.


I bought a $3k and $2k personal Amex GC (not personalized) in one transaction using my Starwood Amex card. I have shipped two cards, and the bonus is showing on BigCrumbs.


I bought $2K in physical GC from Sears in the United Portal and 32K points are pending.


I bought a $3k and $2k Amex GC in one transaction and the bonus is showing on BigCrumbs. The problem is that I used Chase freedom and the transaction was posted as Cash so I have incurred 3% fee ($150.51)…Contacted chase and they told me Amex had reported them as Cash Advance (Financial Institution purchase). I am disputing the fee as it had never happend before with other Chase cards, will see what will happen as they initially were not willing to wave it as the purchase was legitimate. Stange…Anyone else had that happen with Chase? Last time I used my Chase Ink, but that was posted as Miscellaneous and whent through fine.


Oh yeah, and I forgot the ~$100 Plink amazon cards. Even bigger win! 😀


I ended up raking in 48,203 miles/points between mileageplus and AA eshopping on the sears deals. Just happened that resells for, where we were planning on buying 6 dining room table chairs from anyway so timing was great, and I have been waiting for a good sears deal to buy about $400 in craftsman tools. Altogether $1800 spent, 48k points… at 2cent/mile avg (and that’s actually pretty low for our redemptions lately!!) that’s more than 50% off effectively. Thanks Frequent Miler for the heads up on these deals!! BTW, I got miles on e-giftcards through mileageplus but NOT AA eshopping. All actual purchases with giftcards received points.


@Greg, how long does it take Plink to post points? I shopped at Staples last week with my Ink Bold and the Plink points have not posted yet.


I purchased $3000 Amex customized order received cash back reported by BC.BUT CHASE CODE IT AS CASH ADVANCE charged my account $150 fee. which is 5%. Is any one out there has the same issue.Please report as a data point


Plink posted for gift card purchases as well.


My double dip througb MileagePlus was successful. Earned points for purchase and use of e gift cards.


@Rajnish. Sounds like you got a sweet deal! I don’t really ever shop Sears – what sort of e-gift cards did you buy (or is available at Sears, for that matter?)


I also purchased a $3000 personal gift card, order approved and cash back was reported.


Larry Ordway and Dana: Thanks for that info! I’ll update the post accordingly.


In fact, i used $2000 e-gift cards to buy something, and points for that purchase is also showing up.


I bought $2000 worth of e-gift cards from sears on Oct 8th, and 32000 United miles are showing up in my account. Have not posted yet, just pending.

Larry Ordway

Ordered a $3000 personalized gift card…order approved and Cash Back reported.