A Handy Tip For Using Gift Cards to Earn 5x on “Everything”

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If you read this site, or especially Frequent Miler’s blog, with any regularity you have likely already heard of using gift cards to really maximize points earnings. There are lots of ways to do that, but for the purposes of this “quick and easy” Saturday morning post, I’m going to focus solely on using the Visa/MasterCard/Amex branded gift cards for everyday purchases. I recently noticed a neat feature that I am probably the last person out there to notice, but I wanted to share it in case I am actually the second to last person on earth to discover it, and it can potentially help someone else. 😉

Application Link: Chase Ink Bold

About once a month I head to a local Office Depot to purchase a $500 Visa or MasterCard gift card with my New Ink Bold card.  I don’t purchase more than that as I have no desire to send Chase any “red flags” on my account.  I am pretty conservative with Chase as I would hate to do anything to permanently tick the off.  I may up the monthly amount to $1000 in the future, but $500 is good for now.  I balance that with lots of other types of purchases on the account, but the majority of the purchases like my cell phone bill, cable bill, hotel expenses, or gas do fall in a 5x or 2x bonus category.   I purchase these gift cards monthly because all purchases at office supply stores with the New Ink Bold pay out at a rate of 5x Ultimate Reward points per dollar. I then use my Visa gift card at retailers where I would otherwise just be earning 1x for purchases. I specifically purchase the Visa or MasterCard brand gift cards most of the time as they are accepted virtually everywhere, and I don’t want the added hassle of not being able to use the Amex branded card. This is important since some of the places where I like to often use the cards are smaller retailers who don’t all take Amex.

For example, today I was finishing up using a $500 gift card that I purchased at the beginning of the month. I got a pedicure at a small nail salon, and since none of my other rewards credit cards would give me anything other than 1x at the salon, I paid with the Visa gift card.  Right on the receipt it displayed the $85.92 I had remaining on the card. That is so incredibly handy it isn’t even funny, so I wanted to make sure that others aware of that handy feature. I have noticed that before, but have not posted about that it until today. It is so much easier for a gift card like that to be useful in my day to day life when I know exactly how much is remaining.


I then headed to Target to purchase some odds and ends we “needed” and when the amount came to $85.66.  I knew the total would be roughly for the balance I had remaining on the card, but since I had just learned my balance at the nail salon a few minutes earlier, I knew for sure that my gift card could cover the entire transaction with 26 cents to spare.


So, instead of earning 105 Ultimate Reward points today for my $105 worth of errands, I earned 525 Ultimate Reward points that will likely eventually be transferred on a 1:1 basis to either United or Hyatt.  Points add up some much quicker when you can add a multiplier into the mix.  Knowing the exact amount remaining on the gift card without having to call a 1-800 number or look your account up online is so fantastic, and makes earning 5x by strategically using gift cards very simple – even for a busy family.

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  1. This sounds wonderful if my moral compass would actually let me apply for a business credit card with absolutely no small business – I cannot come up with anything I do that would even remotely qualify :). Oh well – maybe one day I will put up all of my old video games for sale on EBAY and then feel comfortable getting the Chase Ink Bold. I live at Target and just have to be content with 5% back on the Target card – I know, blasphemy for not using a travel card. But now I know to do more online shopping from there using portals.
    Love your blog and thanks for all you do.

  2. Frequent Miler also recommended the Go Wallet app for tracking gift card balances “on the fly” and all in one place, if you have multiple. It has been hugely useful!

  3. Unlike the Amex Prepaid, I have found that you dont need to know the balance. The amount left on the card is deducted and the new balance shows as due. These cards ring up much like gift cards.

  4. I sure miss living in the states. Where I live now (Norway) just doesn’t have the deals and steals like they do there. Oh how I miss the US! 🙁

  5. Mommypoints, thanks for suggesting a relatively simple strategy here. I do have a couple of questions:

    – How much do the Visa gift cards cost?
    – Other than purchasing an Amazon gift card, do you typically forfeit the remaining balance on the Visa card, or will many merchants allow you to use a couple of gift cards for a specific purchase so you can drain one completely?


  6. Smitty06 – when was the last time you did this (not knowing the account balance)? In the past, we have used this type of gift card, but merchants were pretty strict about us knowing the balance and eventually, my husband just gave up (it has probably been a year or two-so maybe things have changed). It would be great if you don’t need to constantly remember the balance, but are just free to use the card like a gift card.

  7. Another deal that has been going on for months and months that will surely be spoiled by bloggers that are motivated to get a few more credit card referrals.

  8. There is no need to forfeit remaining tiny balances.
    Create 2 accounts on Amazon Payments: you and your friend/relative and transfer the balance when you are almost done with the card!

  9. If you are ok with Amex just use their prepaid card. You dont ahve to worry about small left over balances… just recharge the card each month and the balance rolls along with you. We do most of our spend using Amex Prepaid from Office Max on Ink Bold. Works great. We run all standard 5x spending through the Bold directly.

  10. I have done this about 2 months ago (I now use Amex Prepaid mostly). I was using the Visa cards at Jewel (grocery store in chicago). I was also using the self-checkout machine if that helps.

  11. Great post, MommyPoints! While I’ve heard this strategy from many of your colleagues, this is the first time someone has broken it down with daily-life type examples. Definitely a good idea. Might be worth getting the card now.

  12. I got my IB card shut down , thankfully not my freedom & sapphire. I guess chase was suspicious about the monthly purchases at OD store. I had to request and implore them to have my other chase cards open!
    I’d not do this foolish gc things at OD with Ib. just pay your cell, cable bills

  13. I fully plan on using the remaining 26 cents! For those who have first hand knowledge about Chase shutting down your accounts – what amount of transactions were you making? How frequently? Were you using your card for other types of purchases? I fully agree that you need to not go overboard with this, but would love to hear more details from your example. Thanks!

  14. Of course I tipped! They prefer cash for tips for obvious reasons. ;).

    The gift card was about $5 (can’t remember if it is $5 or $6). I do add other purchases usually to mix up the amount being charged.

  15. Target is great for gift cards, especially those times where you have a few cents of balance. They will automatically ‘use up’ your balance. Here’s how it works: Say you have a purchase that rings up a total of $10.00 and you have a Visa gift card with $0.26. When it is time to pay, swipe the Visa gift card like you normally due. The cash register will automatically take the full balance and display $9.74 due. Then swipe another credit card, gift card, pay cash, whatever. They don’t advertise this feature but I use it all the time when I receive rebates in the mail that are disbursed in the gift card format.

  16. Chase is notorious for shutting down accounts when someone abuses their cards. Just ask the thousands of people who were banned for the AARP 5% cash back. Let’s face it, how often does the average consumer buy 500-1000 at OD. This would be easy to find abusers, just a simple search of people who purchase abnormal amounts from OD, close their accounts and let the complaints begin. If happened to AARP, and is starting with a few people at OD AND INK BOLD.

  17. i used my ib card for gas, cellphone, internet bills sometimes for food but the 500 to $1k monthly purchase is why i got shut down and they knew it

  18. Mommypoints – why are you using any credit card at Target instead of a Target card. Saving 5% on every purchase is much better than getting .01-.03 cents per dollar spent. I am all for maximizing points and miles, but not at the expense of saving money. I love Target, too – but all Target purchases go on my TGT store card to save me money first.

    • @Brian, I do have and use some store branded cards (namely J. Crew, Pottery Barn, and Gap) as I shop frequently at those stores and the savings and other benefits do add up. However, I don’t really do a ton of Target shopping, so the savings isn’t worth managing another card for me personally. If you do have a large amount of Target purchases that can be a good strategy though! That said, when I use a gift card that I earned 5x UR points, I am getting at least 7 to 8 cents in value per dollar spent (though I don’t do that every time I shop at Target).

  19. Is there any way you can avoid Chase shutting you down – say by doing all other kinds of spends on it?

    I have been spending about 3-4K at OD for last 2-3 months… how much more life do I have … any guesses?

    • @Apu, the majority of folks doing that have not been shut down, but it seems that some are. Just my guess, but I think that having other types of spend, a good history with Chase, and having the income/credit limit to justify the level of charges will all help. I’m conservative since I just don’t think we know enough yet to be too aggressive yet.

  20. @kathy, I tried to email you to get more info on your situation, but the email you provided was not valid. Can you please email me at mommypoints at hotmail.com? Thanks!

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