An Easy Way Earn a Free Trip Just by Shopping for Groceries

Staples Now Sells Safeway Gift Cards
Staples Now Sells Safeway Gift Cards

According to the USDA, an average family of four spends upwards of $1000 per month on groceries.

What if you could save five percent of that cost?

Better yet, what if you could earn 60,000 frequent flyer miles each year just from your grocery spending?

Since I’ve never seen this mentioned elsewhere, I wanted point out that Staples.com is now selling Safeway gift cards.

If you purchase Safeway gift cards with an small business credit card that pays five times points on office supply store purchases, such as a Chase Ink card, you can accumulate five percent cash back or five times points for travel.

Staples.com sells two types of Safeway gift cards in several denominations up to $200 — emailed cards, and actual plastic gift cards.  There is a mailing fee of $2.00 per card for the plastic version.

I have been buying these cards for sometime, and have only encountered two Safeway cashiers that know how to use the emailed version of the gift cards.  So if you opt for the paper gift cards, be prepared to endure the wrath of shoppers standing in line behind you!

Did you know about this deal before reading this post?

Fee Free Visa Gift Cards at AAA Mid-Atlantic

Fee Free Visa Gift Cards at AAA Mid-Atlantic
Fee Free Visa Gift Cards

Twice a year,in June and DecemberAAA MidAtlantic members can buy Visa gift cards fee free in AAA stores.

The promotion is back this year from November 25 – December 25, 2016.  You can purchase these gift cards with a credit card, and can load up to $500 per card.  Typically, AAA limits purchases to two cards per member.  The cards are issued by MetaBank®, and you can set a pin.

Please note that there is a  monthly inactivity fee of $2.95 after 12 consecutive months of inactivity.

Ten Percent Off Target Gift Cards — One Day Only

10% off Target Gift Cards 12/21/15
10% off Target Gift Cards 12/21/15

Target is offering ten percent off its gift cards for one day only, on Sunday, December 20, 2015.

The discount is good for up t0 $300 worth of Target Gift Card purchases, whether made in store or online.

For online purchases of e-gift cards, there is a limit of one transaction per household.

The deal is available in Target stores Dec. 20 from opening to closing time, but quantities are limited and there are no raincheck offered.

Online, the sale runs from midnight PST December 20, 2015 to 11:59 PST December 20, 2015.

The first day for redeeming the gift cards is Monday, December 21, 2015.

HT Reddit.

$10 “Rebate” on $100 Ebay and Amazon Gift Cards at Safeway

Save on Gift Cards at Safeway through November 3, 2015
Save on gift cards at Safeway through November 3, 2015

Safeway is running a sale on “Fall Fashion” gift cards through November 3, 2015.

If you buy $100 of select gift cards, you get a coupon for $10 off your next grocery purchase of $25 or more.

The “Fall Fashion” deal is interesting because several of the participating gift cards are for merchants that sell a wide variety of goods.

These all purpose merchants include Amazon, Ebay, and Overstock.com.

If you do your grocery shopping at Safeway, you can get, in effect, a ten percent discount off a $100 Amazon or Ebay gift card — not bad.

Participating gift cards -- Buy $100, Save $10
Participating gift cards — Buy $100, Save $10

Be aware that the $10 Safeway coupon expires 7 days from date of issuance and can’t be used towards the purchase of another gift card.

Participating cards include:

  • Amazon
  • American Eagle
  • Cabelas
  • Bath $ Body Works
  • eBay
  • Macy’s
  • NIKE
  • OverStock.com
  • Sports Authority

Hack My Wallet: Gift Card Edition

The anti-giftcard giftcard
The anti-giftcard giftcard

I hate gift cards.

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 when United 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?

2 Free Movie Tickets from AAA Mid-Atlantic

Get 2 Free Movie Tickets at AAA Mid-Atlantic
Get 2 Free Movie Tickets at AAA Mid-Atlantic

I was at the local AAA office today to purchase a couple of fee-free ViSA gift cards.

The Mid-Atlantic chapter of AAA typically sells fee-free VISA gift cards in May and June of each year as a courtesy to their members.

With graduations and June weddings, lots of people are purchasing gift cards.

Travel hackers may find gift cards useful if to meet the minimum spend requirement on a new credit card, or to rack up spending to earn points.

Fee Free VISA Gift Cards at AAA Mid-Atlantic
Fee Free VISA Gift Cards at AAA Mid-Atlantic

While I was a AAA, I took five minutes to take advantage of another offer.  By learning about the benefits of membership, I earned two free tickets to the movies.

I had my choice of tickets to Regal, Cinemark, AMC, or Bowtie Cinemas.

AAA also sells discounted movie tickets.  You can see the complete list of eligible theaters here.

We maintain an AAA membership for the roadside assistance.  We also take advantage of the 10 percent discount on Amtrak tickets and on hotels.

Do you remember the days when you could request a custom Trip-Tik in advance of a road trip?

How I Leveraged My Bathroom Renovation Into a Spring Break Trip to Florida

Spring Break in Florida
Spring break in Florida, here we come!

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

My remodeled bathroom
My remodeled bathroom

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.

To compare current credit card offers, click here.  If you need a good contractor, drop me a line.

Do the Quadruple Dip for United MileagePlus Miles

Earn Extra Miles Shopping at Local Merchants with MileagePlus X App
Earn extra United miles shopping at local merchants with the MileagePlus X app

United Airlines is beta-testing a a new way to earn bonus miles when shopping at brick and mortar stores or for online purchases.

MileagePlus X mobile app lets you earn extra miles for every dollar you spend at participating merchants.

If used strategically, the new app can enable triple or even quadruple stacking of bonus MileagePlus miles.

Many readers take advantage of bonus cash back or miles by doing their online shopping through portals like FatWallet, or the United MileagePlus Shopping portal.  With MileagePlus X, you can now earn extra points when paying for in-store purchases.

Earn Extra Miles Shopping at Local Merchants with MileagePlus X App
MileagePlus X Earnings

The bonus points range from 2-4 extra points for purchases from national retailers such as Lowe’s, Sears, Gap, AMC Theaters, and restaurants chains, up to to 20-24 points for purchases at local restaurants, spas, beauty shops, exercise studios, entertainment, nightclubs, and other activiites.

Earn Bonus Points Up To Four Ways With MileagePlus X

Here’s how it works.  The app indicates participating businesses near your location, and the amount of miles you can earn.

At the register, customers enter the total dollar amount of their purchase via the app, and purchase a digital merchant gift card.

The cashier scans the barcode to complete the digital gift card purchase. Award miles instantly appear in members’ accounts in addition to any miles the customer may earn purchasing the digital gift card with a MileagePlus Credit Card from Chase.

Earn Extra Miles Shopping at Local Merchants with MileagePlus X App
MileagePlus X Earnings

Chase United® MileagePlus Credit Card holders earn a 25% bonus on the miles for purchases made through MileagePlus X.

The MileagePlus X app can also be used for online purchases with many merchants. While you are checking out, use the MileagePlus X app for the amount due and enter the gift card number and PIN that is generated to pay with a gift card at the merchant’s web site.

The Considerable Downsides to MileagePlusX

Because you are purchasing and paying with a gift card, many of the consumer protections of credit cards, such as extended warranty and loss replacement do not apply to these purchases.

Your ability to return items will also be limited, most likely to store credit.

The MileagePlus X Triple Dip

If you use your MileagePlus credit card, your purchases will earn:

Earn Extra Miles Shopping at Local Merchants with MileagePlus X AppEarn Extra Miles Shopping at Local Merchants with MileagePlus X App
MileagePlus X Earnings
  1. traditional mileage for using your MileagePlus credit card
  2. miles for paying with MileagePlus X
  3. a 25% cardmember bonus.

The 25 percent cardmember bonus does not apply to authorized users of the credit card.

How to Do The MileagePlus X Quadruple Dip

If  a merchant is included in  both MileagePlus X and the MileagePlus Shopping portal, use your MileagePlus credit card within MileagePlus X, and then pay for your purchase online with the gift card number and PIN from MileagePlus X after clicking through to the merchant at MileagePlusShopping.com.

Have you received an email inviting you to test the MileagePlus X app?  What has your experience been?  Please share in the comments!

Click here to compare current rewards credit card offers.

How Secure are Mail Orders from Gift Card Mall?

How Secure are Your Purchases from Gift Card Mall?
How Secure are Your Purchases from Gift Card Mall?

Gift Card Mall is an online vendor of various gift cards.  They sell directly, via Ebay, and they service other sellers such as office supply stores.

To enhance security, Gift Card Mall typically mails the card in one envelope, and an “activation code” in a separate envelope.  The activation code is needed to register your card online, or to use the card to make purchases.

In theory, this practice makes sense.  If someone steals a gift card from your mailbox, they will not be able to use it without the activation code.

How Secure are Mail Orders from Gift Card Mall?

Recently, I purchased a gift card from Staples. The card arrived promptly in a plain envelope from Gift Card Mall.

However, when I tried to register the card, I was informed that the card had not been activated.

After several days, I still had not received the activation code.

I called Gift Card Mall in inquire about what to do.  The customer service rep asked me for some identifying information, such as my street address, and the order number.  This information was sufficient to validate the gift card.

The hitch is that all this identifying information was contained in the enclosure that came with the gift card.

So if someone had stolen the envelope, they would have all the information needed to activate the card, sans an activation code.  Here’s a link to report any suspected mail theft to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Is mail theft something that you worry about, or am I just being paranoid?

Rocking This Month’s Safeway Gift Card Promo

Safeway Gift Card Promo 9/2014
Safeway Gift Card Promo 9/2014

Most every month, Safeway has been running some sort of gift card promotion.  This month’s promo looks to be a pretty good deal.

If you purchase two Visa or MasterCard variable load gift cards, you get a coupon for $15 off your next purchase at Safeway.  (There is a minimum purchase requirement of  $25 on your next purchase.)

My usual routine is to purchase the gift cards first, and then do my grocery shopping, so I don’t have to worry about the coupon expiring or losing track of it.

I purchased two Visa gift cards and loaded them with $500 apiece.  There is a purchase fee of $5.95 each.  The net value of the rebate is just $3.10 ($15.00 – 11.90), but I was able to earn points on my Amex Starwood card for the purchase.

The offer runs from September 10, 2014 through October 7, 2014.