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Last night I got an email from a very helpful reader named Steve who shared with me some bad news that Staples.com was now charging a fee for all gift card purchases online. This is relevant to those in the miles and points world since purchases made with the Ink Bold Charge Card, Ink Plus, etc. all pay at 5x points at office supply stores. An easy way to maximize that is to purchase gift cards at office supply stores for other retailers where you were going to make a purchase anyway. For example, though I hate to admit it, I am a semi-regular Starbucks girl. So, I had developed a habit of purchasing $50 gift cards online at Staples.com to Starbucks since I knew I would use them anyway. It didn’t cost me anything extra to do so.
By doing this and paying with my Ink Bold Charge Card, I would often earn 9x-10x Ultimate Reward points per dollar (5x from the Ink Bold and often 4x – 5x via the Ultimate Rewards portal). That means that my regular $5 Starbucks coffee/snack purchase would effectively net me 50 Ultimate Reward points instead of the 5-10 points it would likely otherwise be worth. That doesn’t sound like a huge amount, but it adds up throughout the year when you do it with many retailers, on many purchases.
However, the party seems to be over (or at least not as fun) since the gift cards are now being sold for over face value at Staples.com. The $50 Starbucks gift card is now $51.99. The 500 Ultimate Reward points that I would earn from purchasing the card online are valuable, in fact I would probably value them at least $7.50, possibly close to $10.00, but having to pay some additional money for them doesn’t make me jump for joy. I may still order some gift cards through Staples.com, but the value isn’t near as good as it was when the gift cards were available at face value.
If you do still purchase gift cards in this manner be sure to choose the largest amount possible so you aren’t paying the fee more often than necessary. $1.99 isn’t the end of the world as a gift card surcharge, but it is bad news for folks like me. Let’s hope this trend doesn’t spread to some of the brick and mortar locations where many of us obtain gift cards. If you want to avoid the $1.99 fee, you are likely best served by purchasing the gift cards with your Ink cards in the physical office supply stores. You will just get 5x since you won’t be going through the Ultimate Rewards portal, but you won’t be paying the fee, so it is a pretty fair trade-off.
I’m very curious to know if anyone has spotted similar fees on retailer gift in physical store locations. I really hope this surcharge doesn’t stick, and things go back to normal, or at the very least they run specials or coupons to get rid of the $1.99 fee from time to time. I guess we will see how it plays out. Regardless, it isn’t a happy development in the world of gift cards.
-I am traveling this week, so am not able to respond to comments and emails as much as I would normally like.