In one form or another, this question comes up repeatedly:
Can I buy a gift card to make use of an Amex Offer deal? Will purchasing a gift card trigger the offer credit?
Like everything else in life – it depends. Some offers allow it and some don’t. And the terms will often differentiate between physical gift cards and e-gift cards.
Read the fine print of the offer terms carefully. If it doesn’t specify a gift card exclusion, you should be fine. If it says that e-gifts are excluded, then physical gift cards will work.
Here’s an example of a gift card exclusion on an offer at Best Buy (gift card details are highlighted):
In-Store vs. Online
An important distinction to keep in mind is the difference between in-store offers and online offers. Some offers are valid in-store only, some online only, and many are valid both in-store and online.
When taking advantage of an offer in-store, gift cards are rarely excluded. Since the charge is running over the same checkout system as all other goods sold at the store, the system usually won’t be able to differentiate between gift cards and other goods, and they’ll all trigger the offer credit. And it won’t make a difference whether you are purchasing store’s own gift card or a third-party gift card. Even cash-like gift cards, such as a Visa gift cards, will usually work.
As an example, if there’s an Amex Offer to get $30 off $100 in Walmart stores (old offer), it shouldn’t make a difference whether you purchase $100 of products in Walmart or $100 of gift cards in Walmart. And it shouldn’t matter if it’s $100 of Walmart gift cards, Starbucks gift cards, or Visa gift cards (assuming the POS allows the purchase of these gift cards with a credit card).
If you do bump into an offer which has terms excluding gift cards in-store, it might be that their checkouts code gift cards separately, and thus the offer credit won’t come.
Regardless of the reason, if the terms disallow gift cards, and the offer credit doesn’t post automatically, you won’t be able to follow up with Amex to get the credit.
Online – Physical Gift Card
We’ll occasionally see an online offer that excludes all gift cards, even the physical variety.
Such an exclusion can be for one of two reasons. Sometimes it might be that gift cards (even physical ones) are processed through a third-party processor, not the retailer itself, and thus the offer credit won’t work. In other cases, the reason might be that the retailer has gift cards coded differently than ordinary goods in the checkout, and the offer credit is coded to only trigger for ordinary goods.
A physical gift card exclusion isn’t very common.
Online – E-Gift Card
The more common scenario we see is an e-gift card exclusion. As in the Best Buy screenshot above, the terms indicate that e-gift cards will not be eligible for the offer but physical gift cards are eligible.
Usually, the reason for this distinction is that the e-gift card purchases don’t run through the retailer itself, rather through a third-party website.
Most often, the third-party is Cashstar.com, a major player in the electronic gift card market. Even major retailers like Best Buy and Petco don’t process their own e-gift cards – Cashstar does it for them.
Despite the seamless integration, if you look carefully at the URL you’ll clearly see that you are now on Cashstar’s site and not the original retailer’s site. For example, if you see: https://bestbuy.cashstar.com/, it’s clear that the site itself is Cashstar, not Best Buy.
Since the gift card is not being processed by Best Buy themselves, the checkout won’t trigger the offer credit.
Note, however, that there have been documented cases of Cashstar purchases working to trigger an Amex Offer.
Test it Out
We should note that even when the terms do exclude gift cards or e-gift cards, that doesn’t always mean that it won’t work.
One common example of this is Amex Offers at hotels, e.g. Marriott. They’ll often exclude gift cards in the terms, but, in practice, if you buy a gift card at the hotel desk it will work to trigger the offer credit. Similarly, some online offers might exclude gift cards, yet they’ll work anyway.
Test it out.
If there’s no obvious reason for it not to work, it might be worth giving it a shot and seeing for yourself. You should know immediately whether it worked or not since Amex usually sends out an instant confirmation email. Another option is to search around on blog comments or on forums like Slickdeals to see if people are having success with gift cards.
Always take a good look at the URL on the checkout screen. If it looks different than the regular checkout of goods, it’s likely that it won’t trigger the offer credit. It might be, for example, that gift cards are processed under unique code and will be excluded. Or they might be processed by a third-party vendor, and not the merchant themselves, as in the Cashstar example mentioned above.
Corporate Gift Card Exclusion
A common concern people have is when the Amex Offer terms exclude: “corporate gift cards,” as in the above screenshot for the Best Buy offer. Does that mean that gift cards are excluded? What exactly are these mysterious ‘corporate gift cards’?
In fact, ‘corporate gift cards’ does not refer to the company’s own gift cards purchased with the regular checkout system, and it’s not something any of us will likely ever bump into.
‘Corporate gift cards’ refers to bulk orders which companies make to incentivize workers and similar programs. Here are some links to major retailer’s corporate gift card programs:
In most cases, corporate gift cards are purchased outside the ordinary checkout system, and therefore won’t work to trigger Amex Offer credits.
In short, don’t worry about the corporate gift card exclusion for your ordinary purchases. To the contrary, whenever we see the corporate gift card exclusion, I grow more confident that gift card purchases will work since they clearly thought about the gift card angle and only excluded corporate gifts from the offer.
Want to learn more about Amex Offers? See 13 Things to Know about Amex Offer Deals.