I’m fortunate to live one block from a CVS and two and a half blocks from a Staples. That’s wonderfully convenient for experimentation. Because both stores sell lots of gift cards, which means opportunities for earning points.
Office Depot is a bit farther afield, it’s a metro ride away for me, but often the most useful. My Staples only sells American Express gift cards up to $200, and word is that Office Depot is following suit at least for the next several months (Pizza in Motion says the $500 cards will be coming back at a slightly higher fee).
I’ll use those Amex gift cards, I’m willing to go through the hassle to earn 5 points per dollar. But they stock all sorts of store cards, too. Some of them make sense, but most of them are too much of a hassle and I don’t find them worthwhile.
The Three Best Store Gift Cards for Earning Points
I love Staples for Amazon gift cards, iTunes gift cards and Starbucks gift cards.
I buy them with my Ink Plus® Business Card.
You buy them at face value, there’s no extra charge. So a $50 Amazon gift card costs $50. And purchasing them at an office supply store, I earn 5 points per dollar with my Ink Plus. And thus I’m earning 5 points per dollar for my Amazon.com spending.
The same is true for my Starbucks spending, I buy $25 Starbucks gift cards in whatever quantity I wish, earn 5 points per dollar on my Starbucks spending.
When Gift Cards are Easy and When They’re Hard
These office supply stores stock lots of different kinds of gift cards, but Amazon, iTunes, and Starbucks are the store-specific cards that I find most useful because I can take the gift card and add it to my online account right away.
Gift cards can be really inconvenient.
- You have to carry them around and have them on hand when it’s time to use them.
- They may not cover your whole bill so you have to split a payment with a credit card, which is a hassle.
- It can be hard to spend every last dollar off the gift card, you could easily wind up with a stack of gift cards with low balances remaining. Unspent gift card dollars are a real cost.
But with Amazon, it’s really simple, you log into your account and add the gift card’s value. That way the next time you buy something at Amazon.com the credit balance is right there ready to be applied. There’s no gift card to track, no remaining balance to liquidate.
The same works for iTunes, and I use that because I stock my own inflight entertainment on my laptop, no need to rely on airlines to provide me something at my seatback.
Similarly, I log into my Starbucks account and register the Starbucks gift cards I’ve bought. Then I move the funds from the newly registered card to my main card. Boom, I now only have one Starbucks card to worry about. I even unregister the now-zero-balance gift card so as not to clutter my account.
And since I have the Starbucks app on my phone, I pay with that, I don’t even have to carry a gift card at all in order to be earning 5 points per dollar at Starbucks.
Which is much better of course than earning just 1 point per dollar for an online or automatic reload of the card, or 2 points per dollar reloading in-store with a Chase Sapphire PreferredSM card.
Every couple of years I look back on my old orders, I’ve been registered with them since 1997. My entire order history is online. It’s a virtual walk down memory lane. It also makes it pretty simple to figure out how much I spend with Amazon, to know how much it’s reasonable for me to buy in gift cards — so that I can be earning 5 points per dollar on things I will buy anyway.
And I do make significant purchases from Amazon. I buy clothing, computers and peripherals, and a variety of everyday items. It takes some shopping to find the best deals, the things that aren’t priced higher than they should be to compensate for free shipping. But Amazon is also the source of paper towels for my home, ordering them online and having them delivered sure beats battling the crowds at Target.
Since I have a .edu email address I was able to sign up for Amazon Prime free 2-day shipping for six months without cost.
When you have an Amazon Prime account you can extend your free shipping benefit to others. Not everyone needs to pay for it, friends and family who have it can give it to you for free as well. Or students or faculty that you know can get it free for six months, and extend their free subscription to you. Such folks can even take turns signing up for free six month subscriptions. Although I actually do think it’s worth the $39 annual fee.
Double Dipping for Free Drinks Faster
Folks who swipe their Starbucks card 30 times in a year earn Gold status with the coffee chain. Once Gold, then every 12 transactions earns a free drink or food item, and the key word there is transaction rather than item.
That’s the one tip I want to pass along about Starbucks cards: they don’t award a credit (or “Star” as they call it) based on the number of items you purchase. They award a credit — towards achieving status, retaining status, and getting your next free drink — for each swipe of the card.
So if you’re buying two drinks, pay for them ‘separately’ with the same Starbucks card. Three drinks? Pay with three separate swipes. You’ll earn free drinks faster.
Do note that the Ink Plus and Chase Sapphire PreferredSM cards, two of the primary cards I carry in my wallet, will offer referral credit to me if you’re approved when applying through one of my links. These links provide the best available offers for those cards, and I greatly appreciate it.