Published on August 12th, 2014 | by Chuck16
AmEx Gift Cards: Observations, Musings … and Woes
If you’re new to Amex gift cards, see FrequentMiler’s posts Everything you ever wanted to know about Amex Gift Cards and Amex Gift Cards….Beyond Everything.
The recent AmEx Offer of $10 off $200 on AmEx gift cards was a good time to experiment what works with AmEx gift cards and what doesn’t. I don’t consider myself an expert on Amex gift cards, but I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences; feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comments.
One of the best ways of increasing Amex gift card profitability has always been to use the ubiquitous AmEx codes to waive the shipping fee or the activation fee, all while getting the portal cashback. It’s been reported that Amex was going to stop paying out portal cashback when using an offer code. While this has long been the official T&C, it was never actually enforced. I can confirm from my experience going through the Topcashback portal that this is indeed the new reality. Others have also reported the same.
Interestingly, the sequence of events in my case went as follows: A number of orders were placed. A few hours later I got the pending-cashback email from the portal. A couple days later, some of the cashback – that of the orders which had been canceled – was changed to zero, as expected. A few days later, the remaining cashback was changed to zero. There seems to be two levels of canceling: one which knocks out the canceled orders, the way it’s always been, and a second which was now added to cancel the cashback on an order which used an offer code.
It’s well-known that Amex gift card orders are often rejected, seemingly arbitrarily; there doesn’t seem to be any good understanding of when orders get approved and when they don’t. I noticed one thing which may help us understand a small part of the puzzle. I placed numerous Amex gift card orders across a few different AmEx log-ins; all the orders were placed while logged in to one of a few Amex log-ins. Every order that I made, bar none, was approved on the first try when it made using an Amex card from the log-in that was being used to place the order. On the other hand, every order which was placed using a card not from the respective log-in was declined – at least on the first try. Some were successful on the second try and some were not.
I wonder if most of the cancellations people are getting is when using non-Amex cards, or an Amex card from a different log-in. I also wonder if making an order while not logged-in would have a better chance of success than an order from the “wrong” log-in. I have been making most of my orders while logged in to my main Amex account since I have the free shipping plan on that log-in.
[See an update on this in our follow-up post: Amex For Target (update)]
My plan was to unload the Amex gift cards using my Amex For Target (AFT) card. I’m pretty new to AFT, and while I’ve successfully loaded the card with Visa gift cards and Visa credit cards, I’ve never tried with an Amex gift card before. I went to my local Target with my stash of Amex gift cards, and the Target system seemed to be processing it properly. It asked me to sign and then the cashier entered the security code. Then, at the end of the process, the system shot out a rejection, “payment type not approved”, or something like that. Since the cashier was new to loading AFT’s, she called over an experience cashier, but we had the same results. She suggested that maybe AFT can’t be loaded with Amex, but I knew that couldn’t be true because thousands of Flyertalk members always talk about unloading AGC via AFT. I also tried with a regular Amex credit card (FIA), and it was unsuccessful.
Since that time, I’ve tried five cashiers, in three Target locations, across two states (NJ & MD), with no success. It’s always the same process that the system rejects it at the end. I’m successfully loading the card with both VGC’s and Visa credit cards, but Amex doesn’t work; not AGC’s and not an Amex credit card. Additionally, even the starter-card purchased in Target was hard-coded not to work with Amex credit card or gift card.
Recently, I noticed a couple other people also say that they weren’t having success with AGC’s, so I felt a little better – I’m not alone. On the other hand, many seem to still be having success. I wonder if it could have to do with the new Target POS – Target is in the process of updating their POS – maybe the new POS was coded to reject loading with Amex. Or perhaps it’s an unrelated development which rolled out in some areas. In any event, it’s possible that this will roll out to everyone soon. (Or could we hope that my Target will change soon?)
I was wondering if the following work-around would help: I’m unsure if it’s possible to purchase other items in the same checkout that you load AFT. It is possible to load multiple AFT’s in one transaction; maybe you can buy shampoo and load AFT in one transaction. If yes, then maybe the system will allow Amex as payment for the entire purchase. Similar work-arounds have worked in other cases. Will this, too, work?
Another thing I noticed when loading AFT with VGC’s, is that the Target system did not seem capable of “eating up” the balance of the VGC automatically; the cashier needed to type-in the amount before I swiped. This goes against common knowledge that the Target system automatically eats up the gc balance. That fact is definitely true with regard to regular Target purchases (I tried it out), and I don’t doubt that it’s true with regard to AFT loads in most areas, but the new system which I’ve been experiencing doesn’t seem to behave that way for AFT loads. (Note: this data-point is just from one attempt.)