Bad News for Ink Bold “Gift Card” Fans

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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. 

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  1. I was doing something similar with buying gift cards at Kroger. I would buy them for stores (or gifts) I knew I would use in the future. I’d get 2x or 4x Kroger gas points for the cards and putting the purchases on certain credit cards could get me double points for the card. So far the only surcharges I’ve seen (“activation fees”) are for the Mastercard and Visa gift cards, not the particular store cards (Best Buy, Bath & Body Works, etc.).

  2. I was originally attracted to the Ink Bolt because of this feature, but haven’t gotten it yet. Not for this anyway, because I was expecting this to happen sooner or later because of abuse. Not sure if it can be done by law, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it extends to physical locations soon.

    • Michael, it certainly could extend to stores. I’m hopeful it won’t since most retailers don’t charge for retailer gift cards, but you never know what will happen.

  3. Still trying to figure out why you did not go for the hilton amex on your lastest churn and use that at kroger to get so many more gift cards options, plus 6 points per dollar, plus 4x fuel points. I just bought $450 of gift cards ( yes,in one purchase, never an issue) and will be saving $1.80 on gas. Filling the tank and the lawn mower is usually 20 gallons.

    • @barb, no real reason other than the Freedom is 5x at grocery stores half the year already this year and the other half I am usually using grocery purchases to meet other spending requirements (and I had been getting enough gift cards using some other cards at other stores). I will get it at some point, just can’t do it all at once. 😉

  4. I think GiftCardMall realized that people are buying GC’s from Staples.com to earn miles/points and they are tackling on fees to make it more profitable for them. 😉 They also raised the Visa GC fees on Staples.com

  5. Duane Reade (the drugstore chain in NYC that is now owned by Walgreens) started restricted in store purchases of some gift cards earlier this year by only accepting CASH for them.

    • @DWT, that is actually what I think is more likely in the long run. I could easily see that happening – though I hope it doesn’t.

  6. Yep, Tiff, Kroger is worth a lot more than getting extra UR points through the UR mall and staples. 2 cars = 35 gallons & $70 off a fill up through 9/30. Buy $100 visa cards with $6 fee on Amex Blue Cash Preferred for net $100 (424 fuel points too). Then use that to buy gift cards again (Amazon/Target) but for $75 worth at self check out so they won’t check your payment type (over $100+ does). In the end only $250 spent gets you $70 off gas ;).

  7. For those buying Visa Cards — I thought Kroger excluded Visa and Amex cards from earning fuel points. But you got your points?

  8. I applied for an Ink Bold creidt card recently. After about a week they called me and had a 15 minute conversation with me about my “business”. It was pretty extensive. They wanted to know projected monthly expenses, projected annual income, details about what my business was, etc. It was a much more involved conversation then I was prepared for. Just wanted to give people a heads up.

  9. @mommypoints I think you can purchase starbucks cards on the starbucks website for no charge. the UR portal is offering 4x points so at least you still get 5x points on your purchases there… I’m not sure about the Terms of Conditions but it looks to work!!

  10. I am also seeing cases where physical stores are not accepting credit cards for gift card purchases. There is a Randall’s (Safeway affiliate) near me that has signs up stating this, but it is obviously a store manager decision because there is a similar store nearby that has no restriction (yet).

  11. It’s ok… 5x points for sbux is still pretty solid, and that’s without having to do the prepaid amex route (and being able to load the gc onto your sbux app, and… getting every 16th drink free!)

  12. I’ve found that Office Depot is generally better when it comes to gift cards and Ink Bold family usage. They have the $500 visa cards that you can get for only $3 fee, which makes it worthwhile if you’re just picking them up for the initial $10k spend within 3 months for the sign-up bonus promotion terms. They also have Starbucks cards (and dozens of other gift cards) and they still do not charge fees for those. So I’ve definitely moved to Office Depot for gift card purchases. My local staples charges fees on every card.

    • @FrugalAsianMan, I agree that OD is better for in-store purchases without a doubt. Staples was just better for online. 😉

  13. @kimberly l… surprised you didnt get that call right away. generally i thought that call was EXPECTED… i received it and was prepared. i mean, most of us, have a “ebay” or “esty” online biz that we need to explain right?

  14. For starbucks, you can buy vanilla at OD (5x UR – 1% fee) -> TCB (4% TCB at PJ) -> PJ (Starbucks GCs 10% off at PJ) = 5x UR + ~13% CB. In almost all cases buying GCs in the secondary market is/was more beneficial than via Staples.

  15. I guess for Starbucks you could always switch over to buying discounted Starbucks gift cards at Plastic Jungle, or such, and empty them into your existing Starbucks gift card. You made, say 500 miles for a $50 card? At a 10% discount for a used card you would make $5 for a $50 card. And, naturally, the discount might even be bigger for a Starbucks Texas gift card. 🙂

    • Thanks for the Starbucks ideas. I liked the Staples deal as it was so easy and straight-forward, but I may have to branch out, so thanks!

  16. @piecerate
    There are two types of cards, the fixed value and variable value visas. The fixed very rarely will have a promo with them for 2X points or a $20 off $100 or similar. The variable are 1X depending on how you do it.

  17. Getting 5.5% back through TCB should minimize these fees, but getting 5x through the UR mall for fee-free cards at the starbucks store may be smarter/easier.

  18. So when using the Ink Bold/Plus cards online through the UR portal you earn the 5% from office store PLUS the 4% (or whatever it is at the time) from the portal click through? Has this been confirmed?

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