Published on January 19th, 2015 | by Chuck10
Amex Offer at Staples.com – Gift Cards, Level 3 Processing, and Thinking Out of the Box
This is our first post in a new weekly series called Manufactured Mondays. (See more details on the new series here.) We’ll try to provide additional insight into manufacturing spend options and techniques each Monday. You can view all future posts in the series by clicking here.
We often see AmEx Offers which give discounts on purchases made at Staples.com. Most recently, there’s a targeted offer of $25 off $100 at Staples.com.
When we find ourselves without needing anything from Staples, we turn to Plan B – buy gift cards at staples.com…
Level 3 Processing
Recently, people have been noticing that when purchasing gift cards from Staples, it shows up in the Amex login exactly what they purchased. This info is called Level 3 Processing, in which the merchant relays more detailed info on the purchase to the card issuer. It’s been reported that this has nothing to do with gift card purchases; all purchases from Staples show up with Level 3 data indicating the goods purchased. A few other merchants also give Level 3 data to Amex, notably Sears. The main reason some merchants provide Level 3 data is because it reduces their credit card processing fees and they get faster payment from the card issuers. We wrote more about this here.
I checked some old Staples purchases in my Amex account, from April 2014, and they’re showing all the details. Here’s a look at an online purchase:
And here’s a look at an in-store purchase:
Some people may not like Level 3 Processing for privacy reasons, but the specific concern for us is that Staples recently started adding in the Terms & Conditions that gift card purchases are not eligible for the Amex Offer credit.
Here’s a look at the new T&C:
And here’s one of the old T&C:
Reportedly, the T&C in the most recent past Amex Offer did not say the gift card exclusion. Meaning, that this is a completely new phenomenon. Since Amex has the exact details of what was purchased, the concern arose that they could code gift card purchases not to trigger the credit.
It Still Works
There’ve been tons of confirmations that the “Congrats” email is coming through properly when purchasing gift cards at staples.com. In my experience, when the email comes through, the credit invariably follows. However, since they’re apparently trying to crack down on gift card purchases, I wanted a confirmation that the credit actually posted.
I finally found a confirmation with a screenshot from a slickdeals member, confirming that s/he received the $25 credit on the purchase of $100 Visa gift card. And travelwithgrant confirmed that third-party e-giftcards trigger the credit. For now, it appears that we’re okay, and the credits should post with gift card purchases. The downside is that we won’t be able to get the credit manually, in the (unlikely) event that the credit doesn’t post automatically.
Looking more in the long-term, it’s possible that they’re still working out the process of coding gift cards not to work with Amex Offers, which would be bad news. This could possibly affect all Amex Offers, not just Staples. But hopefully, it won’t hinder other merchants who don’t have Level 3 Processing agreements with Amex.
Another possibility is that this has nothing to do with Amex – it’s just Staples trying to discourage people from using the Amex Offer on gift cards, since they lose money on that. If this is true, then it could be this new development won’t affect anything at all.
Tips to Maximize
In any event, currently the Staples credits seem to be posting properly with gift card purchases. That being the case, conventional wisdom is to jump straight over to the Visa gift card page on staples.com. Staples sells $100 Visa gift card for $106.95, and $200 Visa gift card for $206.95. I’d like to add a little spice to our options.
Staples.com recently revamped their checkout system. Under the new system they began allowing us to use Staples gift cards for online purchases. (Yup, until recently Staples gift cards only worked in-store.)
Along with that they added another positive change. You can now split the payment between a prepaid card and a regular credit card. You can not split the payment between two credit cards, but you can split it between a prepaid card and a credit card. For example, suppose you’re making a $200 purchase, and you have a $50 Amex gift card or Visa gift card. You can enter in the prepaid card info and a second regular card. The system will “drain” the prepaid, and charge the $150 balance onto the regular card.
Now, here’s our tip to consider: Suppose you have 4 Amex cards with the Staples offer on it. Instead of shooting off 4 orders of $100 Visa gift cards, order two $100 Visa gift cards. After receiving those two $100 gift cards, make another two orders of $200 Visa gift cards. Apply the $100 Visa gift card towards the order, and pay the remainder with the Amex card. The staples.com system will “drain” the $100 gift card and charge the remaining $106.95 to your Amex card. The advantage with this approach is that you’ll end up with half the amount of Visa cards to deal with when unloading at Walmart or wherever.
This isn’t a huge gain, but since Staples offers are something that comes up often, I thought it was worthwhile pointing out. It can be useful for ending up with less cards to deal with, and – in general – for unloading small balances from prepaid cards.
This point is especially useful to keep in mind when there’s an Amex Offer for Staples which is available via Twitter. Those offers can be had on Serve and Bluebird as well. You can minimize the amount of orders and the cost, by arranging that only $100 exactly is in your Bluebird/Serve account – you can transfer the rest into Reserve – and then you’ll be able to get two Amex credits with one order.
FrequentMiler recently posted A New Way to Increase Rewards Beyond 5x. The main novelty in that post is that Chase Ink seems to be giving 5x on eBay, or at least for certain purchases on eBay. Big news indeed.
But I was almost as surprised from a small tidbit that FrequentMiler stuck in at the beginning of the post. He notes that shopping portals pay out for third-party gift cards purchased on staples.com. Any portal-aficionado knows that not long ago Staples stopped paying out on gift card purchases. Reportedly, portals were going to stop paying out on all gift card purchases, even third-party merchant gift cards. That didn’t happen, apparently, and they only stopped paying out on Visa and Mastercard and Staples gift cards, but third-party merchant gift card still get portal points. I headed over to the FrequentMiler Laboratory, and I saw a report of a gift card (an e-gift card, no less) working to trigger Southwest portal points.
This is great news because it seems to be a conscious decision by Staples to leave portal points for third-party gift cards.
Reconsider: With this in mind, we need to reevaluate our whole assumption of heading straight over to the Visa gift card page. Is Visa gift card the route to go? Or could we possibly find a better option by buying third-party gift cards and selling them to a gift card reseller?
We can often get 5% or more from shopping portals at Staples. In the past, we’ve occasionally seen as much as 10% back at Staples. If we can get a high-value gift card, and add the portal cashback, it may be worth it to buy merchant gift cards and not Visa gift cards.
The Plan: At first glance, we’d go the Whole Foods route. Staples sells $100 Whole Food electronic gift cards, and Whole Food gift cards have a high resale value of around 90%. If we can get another 5% from the portal, we’d come out slightly better buying Whole Foods gift cards versus buying Visa gift cards. And it’s *arguably* simpler to sell merchant gift cards than to unload Visa gift cards.
The Problem: The problem here is that e-gift cards aren’t too easy to deal with. Most gift card resellers either don’t accept e-gift cards, or they pay out significantly less for e-gift cards. See The Complete Guide to Selling your Unwanted Gift Cards.
Plan B: When browsing the Staples website, I noticed that they now sell Target e-gift cards. I’m fairly certain that this is a new thing; I don’t believe they carried these back a few months ago. (See Target Gift Cards at Rite Aid.) Target gift cards also have a resale value of around 90%.
We reported that target.com now allows us to buy Target gift cards with Target gift cards. We mentioned this as a way of turning electronic Target gift cards into physical Target gift cards. In our case, we can order $100 Target e-gift cards, and turn them into physical Target gift cards at target.com. We can then sell them for 90% of their value to a reseller. And we’ll get the 5% back from the portal.
Note: If you don’t have a Target REDcard saved in your target.com account, there’ll be a $1.95 shipping fee for the Target gift card. However, if you have a REDcard saved in your account shipping will be free, even though there’s no charge being put on the REDcard. I ordered a $25 physical Target gift card with a $25 Target e-gift card, and when I added my REDcard to my target.com account they gave me free shipping, despite no charge going on the REDcard. (I don’t think this will work on a broader scale, but for our purposes it works. In-as-much as there’s a $1.95 fee, it will get charged on the REDcard, but once it’s getting charged on the REDcard, there’s no fee. It’s a catch-22, so they don’t charge shipping.)
Let’s Compare: Assuming you’d buy a $100 Visa gift card for $106.95, you’re ending up with a profit of $18.05, after receiving the $25 Amex credit. On the flip side, if we’ll go the Target route, we’d end up with a $20 profit. And, some people may consider it easier to liquidate merchant gift cards via USPS, versus liquidating Visa gift cards at Walmart or by spending them down.
- There’s always a very real risk of the portal not tracking properly. Since it’s a gift card purchase, they likely won’t honor any missing-cashback claims.
- Additionally, I’ll add, that while I’ve twice had success buying Target gift cards with Target gift cards, I can’t vouch for how tolerant target.com is with this. I know from walmart.com experience that they’re quite tolerant of using Walmart gift cards to buy Walmart gift cards, but the Target phenomenon is new, so there is a small chance that they’ll start making problems after a few orders.
At the end of the day, most people will probably opt for the more familiar route of buying Visa gift cards (and possibly going for the $200 denomination in order to maximize credit card points), but with the portal working on gift cards, there’s really more to consider. This is especially true if we can get more than 5% from the portal, which would increase the value of merchant gift card option.
Those who order gift cards on staples.com with a credit card which pays out 5x on office supply stores would usually be better off purchasing Visa gift cards on staples.com, since we can purchase $200 Visa gift cards for $206.95. Our discussion here was specifically for the scenario of an Amex Offer or the like, that we’re trying to spend $100 on staples.com. In that case, there’s room to consider buying $100 Target gift cards instead of $100 Visa gift cards, since the $100 Visa comes with a $6.95 fee attached.