I think gift cards make terrible presents — Cash is a much better gift!
The unspent balances and fees on gift cards make a tidy profit for the people selling them.
Spending gift cards causes delays at the checkout counter.
Returns are more difficult with gift card purchases.
Gift cards can be lost or stolen.
There are a million more reasons why I hate gift cards, but that is a topic for another post.
This post is about each of the gift cards I have in my wallet right now, and why.
Staples Visa Gift Card — Value $20
I got this card from Staples as a rebate for purchasing $300 in Visa gift cards during a promotion. Every few weeks, Staples runs a promotion on Visa gift cards, with a rebate that offsets the card purchase fees. Sometimes, the rebate is in the form of a Staples gift card that must be spent at Staples. This Staples Visa gift card is a cash equivalent that can be spent anywhere.
Clydes Gift Cards — Value $50
Amex was running a special promotion where you could get a $5 credit for a $25 purchase at various Washington area restaurants. I purchased two $25 gift cards at Clydes, one with my Amex SPG credit card, and one with my Amex Bluebird card. Clydes is my favorite restaurant so I know these gift cards will be put to good use.
Tara Thai Gift Card — Value $45
Tara Thai is a fabulous restaurant that participates in the Rewards Dining Program. I purchased this gift card whenUnited Mileage Plus Dining was running a special promotion. The gift card gives me the flexibility to participate in the promotion offer, while delaying my actual dine until a more convenient time. I ended up missing the deadline for meeting the terms of the promotion, so I just earned 5 times Ultimate Rewards Points on this.
Lonestar Steakhouse Gift Card — Value $40
Lonestar Steakhouse is another participant in the Rewards Dining Program. I think when I picked up this gift card I had it confused with Texas Roadhouse. Lonestar Steakhouse is pretty far from where we live so we’ll have to go out of our way to use this.
Whole Foods Gift Card — Value $6.70
Amex Offers was offering a $15 statement credit for a $75 purchase at Whole Foods. By purchasing a gift card, I am able to earn the credit, while redeeming for small purchases at Whole Foods at my leisure.
Home Depot Gift Card — Value $100
I purchase Home Depot gift cards at Staples using a Chase Ink card that pays 5 times points on all purchases at office supply stores. I give the gift cards to our contractor to purchase supplies for our home renovation.
Amazon Gift Cards — $100
I picked up an Amazon gift card at Office Depot recently, where I earn 5 times points on my Chase Ink card. My daughter started college recently and we purchase some of her textbooks on Amazon.
Home Improvement Gift Card — $200
This is another Office Depot purchase. Home Improvement Gift Cards are sold without a fee, and can be used at either Lowes or Home Depot, as well as a number of other stores.
Starbucks Gift Card — $32
I purchase Starbucks gift cards at Staples and load them to my iPhone. I usually pick up something from Starbucks if there is an outlet in the airport.
Exxon Gift Cards — $100
Currently, I am putting my gas purchases on my Chase Freedom credit card because of the quarterly 5 times bonuses on gas purchases. I purchased these Exxon gift cards at Office Depot, but won’t use them until October when the Chase Freedom bonus categories change.
CVS — $10
Honestly I can’t remember where I obtained a paper gift card worth $10 at any CVS drugstore. It will be a miracle if I remember to use it! I do know that some Office Depot stores sell CVS gift cards.
What’s in My Wallet? $700 Worth of Gift Cards
I totalled up these various gift cards and am appalled to report that I am carrying around $700 worth of gift cards. That is overkill, for sure.
First off it is way too much cash equivalent to have in my purse.
Second, that is an awful lot of money to have tied up in gift cards rather than earning interest in the bank.
It is just as necessary to keep tabs on your gift cards as it is on your bank account or credit card balances. It looks like I need to be more deliberate about slimming down my wallet!
Are Gift Card Purchases Worth It?
Let’s tote up the bonuses I earned on these gift cards.
Ultimate Reward points: 4,160 points
Amex statement credits: $25
United Mileage Plus miles: 425 miles
This is pretty small potatoes. After accounting for the time and gas spent driving around to purchase these gift cards, you might conclude that its not worth stuffing your wallet with gift cards, remembering to use them, and holding up the checkout line for such trivial bonuses.
On the other hand, you might find that small bonuses add up to big rewards if you consistently pursue all opportunities.
Where do you come down? Are gift cards part of your miles and points strategy?
Our 40-year old townhouse is in desperate need of repairs.
What with the original bathrooms, and leaks springing left and right, it was past time to take action. Of course if you defer your home repairs like we did, you find yourself facing some major expenses all at once.
Luckily, I met Carlos the contractor when I was out walking the dog one day. Carlos can fix anything and is super nice and flexible. Our arrangement was that we would pay Carlos for the labor, and that we would purchase the materials.
Since I knew we would be racking up charges, I saw this as an easy way to meet the minimum spend requirements on some new travel rewards credit cards.
My Travel Rewards Credit Card Applications
It had been over six months since I had applied for a travel rewards credit card, and there were several cards with large sign-up bonuses on my wish list.
Purchasing materials for the home renovation would be an easy way to meet hefty initial spend requirements.
Warning — if you don’t pay your credit cards in full and on time every month, you should not be in this game!
Barclay’s U.S. Air Dividend Miles Card
The Barclay’s U.S. Air Dividend Miles credit card was offering 50K bonus miles after the first purchase and payment of the annual fee. This card was on the verge of retirement due to the US Air – American Airlines merger. I had applied once before, and was not approved, so this was my last ditch effort to rack up 50K miles before the merger. I applied, and was denied once again, for having too many recent credit card applications. Fortunately, the bank did not do a hard pull of my credit report, so no skin off my back. This card is no longer being offered.
Chase’s Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card offers 40K bonus points after completing a minimum spend requirement of $3,000 within the first three months. You can get an additional 5,000 Ultimate Reward Points by adding an authorized user. Ultimate Rewards points are great because they are easily transferred to a variety of frequent flyer programs. The card pays two times points on travel and restaurants. There is a $95 annual fee that is waived the first year. I wrote yesterday how I used 45,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points earned from opening the Sapphire Preferred credit card to finance our Amtrak Auto Train trip to Florida.
Capital One’s Venture Card
The Capital One Venture rewards card offers 40,000 bonus points to new applicants who meet a minimum spend of $3,000 within the first three months. The card pays two times points on all purchases, and carries a $59 annual fee which is waived the first year. After meeting the initial spend requirement, I had 46,000 points which could be used to offset $460 in travel expenses. The Venture card is not a favorite among travel bloggers — which I think is crazy because it has a decent sign-up bonus, earns a great rate on all spending, allows flexible redemptions for travel expenses (while still earning frequent flyer miles on your purchases.) I have read numerous reports of people having success in getting the annual fee waived, sometimes for two years in a row.
Gift Card Purchases for Home Improvement Stores
The last method I used to accrue free travel to Florida was to purchase gift cards for Home Depot and Lowes at an office supply store with my Chase Ink Bold business credit card. The Ink Bold card earns 5x Ultimate Reward Points for purchases at at office supply stores like Staples and Office Depot and Amazon. My contractor used these gift cards to purchase supplies for the renovation, and we used the cards to order plumbing parts, medicine cabinets, light fixtures and more. When possible, we shopped through an online shopping portal to earn extra points and miles for our purchases.
A “Free” Trip to Florida for Spring Break
My daughter is graduating from high school this year so this was our last chance to take a spring break trip together. She asked if she could invite a friend to come along, a request that was easy to accommodate thanks to miles and points.
Our trip was not completely free, of course. But through the strategies outlined above, and prior accrual of points, we were able to enjoy our round trip travel on the Auto Train and four out of five nights hotels in Florida for free.
What’s amazing about this offer is that the limits are so high — $2,000 per e-card, $10,000 per customer. As the ad copy below says, 10 percent is more than your savings account pays in interest!
I and most people would prefer to receive their income tax refund in cash. This year, I will have to give careful consideration to how much I am likely to spend at Amazon.com and whether the 10 percent bonus is worthwhile.