The latest Lab results


Invalid request error occurred.In 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…

J. Crew double dip appears to be mostly dead

In 2012, a reader identified as matuag reported success earning points from the Ultimate Rewards mall by going through the mall to J. Crew to buy a physical gift card.  The same reader did not earn points, though, when buying an e-gift card.  Around the same time, others reported success earning points when using gift cards (hence, the double dip possibilities).  Recently, thanks to the J. Crew Amex Sync promotion offering $25 back on a $100 purchase, many have repeated these experiments with various portals.  Here are the reported results:

  • Buy physical gift card through the AAdvantage eShopping portal: FAIL
  • Buy physical gift card through the ShopDiscover cash back portal: SUCCESS
  • Buy physical gift card through the United MileagePlusShopping portal: FAIL
  • Buy physical gift card through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall: FAIL
  • Buy physical gift card through the EBates cash back portal: FAIL
  • Buy e-gift card through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall: FAIL

The strange thing here is that one reader reported success through the ShopDiscover portal.  Usually (but not always) it is the case that if something works through one portal it will work through all of them.  So, what’s going on here?  It is possible that portal tracking of purchases made at J. Crew is simply extremely slow right now.  Maybe we will get points and/or cash back eventually.  At this point, though, I’m ready to throw in the towel on this one.  I’m intrigued though by the ShopDiscover result.  Did anyone else try ShopDiscover?  What was the result?  Or, did anyone else have success in other portals recently?

Miles for Amex gift cards success

Last month, both the Delta SkyMiles portal and the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan portal were offering 3 miles per dollar for buying Amex gift cards through their portal (both are currently down to 1 mile per dollar).  At the time, there were many reports of people waiting in vain for miles to show up from these purchases.  I speculated at the time that this was because large orders often take longer to post to portals than smaller orders.  I wrote:

In my experience, it is very common for larger purchases (e.g. $500 or more) to take longer to post to mileage portals.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see these purchases take 3 weeks or so to show up in the portals.

In my case, it took over four weeks for the miles to post, but happily they finally did.  Note too that some were concerned by Terms & Conditions that seemed to suggest that miles would be earned only on the purchase fee, not on the total dollar amount.  I’m happy to report that miles are earned on the entire amount less shipping and purchase fees.


Some stores will let you use their gift cards to buy other gift cards.  I call this “upgrading”.  It’s extremely useful knowing which stores allow this so that when there is a special deal on that store’s gift cards you know you can jump in, buy the gift cards, and then exchange them later for cards you really want.  Here are the latest gift card upgrade results…

In-store results:

  • Best Buy: Many have reported success.
  • GameStop: Several people have reported success.
  • Meijer: I reported success using a Meijer gift card to buy a Staples gift card.
  • Office depot: No dice.
  • Radio Shack: I reported success using a Radio Shack gift card to buy an Amazon gift card.
  • Sears: Many have reported success.
  • Staples: Reports are mixed on this one too. In my experience, the cash registers allow buying gift cards with gift cards, but many cashiers are trained not to allow it.
  • Walgreens: A few people reported success, but one person reported failure in using a Walgreens gift card in-store to buy other gift cards.  It seems that Walgreen’s registers are not coded the same from store to store.

Online results:

It’s rare, but some stores will let you upgrade gift cards online…

  • Meijer: I reported success using a Meijer gift card to buy a Gamestop gift card online.
  • Staples online: Several people (including myself) have reported success using Staples’ gift cards online to buy other gift cards.
  • Walmart: Several people have reported no longer being able to use Walmart gift cards online to buy Visa gift cards.

Other results

I’ve highlighted here just some of the more interesting recent lab results, but there is more!  To see the latest, go to the Frequent Miler Laboratory page and click twice on the table’s date column in order to sort from most recent to oldest.

Reader participation

The key to making the Laboratory valuable is the regular flow of information contributed by readers.  So, please contribute your results by commenting on that page!  I do my best to update the Lab table regularly, but sometimes you’ll find the most recent info in the comments themselves.  A good way to stay up to date all the time is to subscribe to the comments section.  Simply type “subscribe” as your comment and check the box “Notify me of follow-up comments by email.”

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