Stack rewards points by leveraging gift cards, loyalty programs and rewards cards
By Dana Dratch | Published: May 15, 2018
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What’s better than the gift of free money? How about a little something extra, along with that money?
That’s the idea behind points, rewards and cash back programs attached to various gift cards. Some operate like loyalty programs, through gift cards for specific merchants. Others are more general and return rewards for spending at a number of different places.
While it’s not a new idea, technology may have given it a boost, says Marina Hodges, vice chair of the Retail Gift Card Association. Getting rewards or extras “in the past was challenging.” Card users had to work a lot harder than they do today, she added.
These are just a few ways to get rewards out of your favorite gift cards:
Ways to earn cash back and rewards on gift cards
Gift cards linked to loyalty programs
One of the best-known examples of pairing gift cards and rewards: Starbucks.
When you buy a gift card, load it into the retailer app and use it at the coffee giant, you accumulate 2 stars per dollar spent. And those can be redeemed for a number of goodies – such as food, merchandise and (what else?), coffee. Most drinks and food items currently can be redeemed for 125 stars.
Richard Kerr, a senior points and miles correspondent for The Points Guy, is a recent convert to the Starbucks Rewards program and a big fan.
Kerr joined the program about six months ago, and his drink-of-choice is black coffee. So, even with five or six jaunts a week, he’s not spending a ton, but Kerr is racking up the points.
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“Because of promotions, I’m getting free rewards that are good for almost anything in the store,” he says. “And since I’ve been participating, I continue to get targeted for more – I’ve come out way ahead.”
One strategy for boosting rewards: He combines credit card and gift card bonus offers.
For example, last quarter, one of Chase Freedom’s rotating bonus cash back categories was anything purchased through Chase’s e-wallet, Chase Pay, at five times the cash back.
Simultaneously, Starbucks offered him 300 extra points to reload his gift card in the store. So, he combined the two. For a $20 spend, he earned 100 Chase points and 300 Starbucks points – which he figures are worth about 2.5 foodie treats at the café.
(Chase Pay is also one of Chase Freedom’s rotating categories for the second quarter of 2018, along with grocery and PayPal purchases. For more details, see “Chase launches its cash back category for Q2 2018.”)
Other loyalty programs that pair gift cards with rewards include California Pizza Kitchen, Dunkin’ Donuts and Panera.
Visa’s Five Back gift cards
Visa has launched a gift card that offers cash back bonuses, called Five Back.
If you use the card at participating merchants (everywhere from American Eagle and Banana Republic to Yankee Candle or Outback Steakhouse), you earn 5 percent cash back, which is returned to your card.
So, after you’ve spent $100 or $200 (depending on the face value of the card), you’ve still got $5 or $10 left. And you’ll keep earning cash back until there’s less than 10 cents on the card.
Plus, with Five Back, you don’t have to worry about signing up or creating an account. You just spend and get cash returned to the card within 48 hours.
Gift card money moves
GiftCards.com also has a rewards program called G-Money. You purchase select cards through the site and accumulate points. Then you can use those points to buy cards from the site at a discount.
Most cards sold on the site participate in the program, so you can use it to earn rewards on gift cards for a number of restaurants and retailers everywhere from Target to TGI Fridays.
And, “in some cases, consumers will use their credit card to buy gift cards to get better rewards,” says Hodges. If you get the card rewards and a discount on rewards, that’s what’sknown as a “double dip.”
Tip: For big-ticket buys, stick with credit cards, which offer purchase protection benefits such as dispute resolution, chargeback protection, extended warranties and (in many cases), price protection, says Joe Ridout, spokesman for Consumer Action. Those perks can be especially valuable if you’re on a tight budget.
Using gift cards instead of store cards
Sometimes using a store gift card (especially one that you bought at a discount), is a good way to get a price cut when the item you want isn’t on sale. But a gift card also can mean giving up the retailer discounts associated with that store card.
It pays to ask before you buy.
Shelley Hunter, who blogs for GiftCards.com as the “GiftCardGirlfriend,” recently discovered that her Macy’s gift card snagged her the same discounts as a Macy’s store card.
That meant getting the same 10 percent off promotional offers that her store credit card was offering.
For someone who knows her way around a gift card that was a nice surprise. “I live and breathe my gift cards,” Hunter says.
Hunter’s time-tested strategy for savings: Layering discount gift cards, rebates and coupons.
For example, she stacked her rewards to get almost $193 worth of sportswear for $145. She scored an Athleta gift card on sale and combined it with a store coupon, plus a deal she found on the electronic-rebate website Ebates.
Final total: A sweet 25 percent discount combined. (And if you buy that gift card with a rewards card, you can add points or miles to the deal.)
Use affinity clubs to leverage gift-card rewards
Have a restaurant, movie theater or clothing boutique you love? Combine that retailer’s loyalty program with one of its gift cards. If you get those cards at a discount (or as a gift), even better.
- With AMC theaters’ Stubs program (free), you earn points and freebies. These include free refills on a large popcorn, free popcorn on your birthday and $5 tickets Tuesdays. You also get 20 points for every $1 you spend.
- In Regal Cinemas’ Crown Club, you earn 100 points for every $1, plus bonus points if you go six times per year or more. And points are good toward movie tickets, food and merchandise.
Tip: United Airlines’s mobile app United MileagePlus X is a great way to rack up extra MileagePlus miles by buying gift cards from participating merchants, including movie theaters, restaurants and retailers. See “MileagePlus X: A unique, mobile way to earn miles on United” for more information.
Tricks of the (points) trade
If you think that points professionals have a few tricks for milking the most out of reward programs when shopping for gift cards, you’re not wrong. For Kerr, the secret is Google Sheets.
He uses the app to keep track of everything – from how much is left on a card to how many rewards he’s accumulated. That’s a smart way to wring every last dime of value out of gift cards.
Squeezing maximum value out of those cards, points and rewards is “all about organization,” Kerr says. “When you get into the gift card world and the promotions world, you cannot rely on your brain to remember all these things. There are too many deals, too many transactions and too many retailers.”
See related: E-gift cards: 7 tips to pick the right digital present, 5 tools I’m using to stup up my “credit cards rewards game”
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