February 21, 2013
Is this the next big thing? Probably not, but it has its uses…
When Office Depot recently stopped selling $500 Visa cards, the hunt was on to find the next big “5X everywhere” opportunity (see “In search of the next big thing“). At first blush, the Home Improvement gift card looked like it might fit the bill.
The Home Improvement gift card is intended for use at stores like Lowes, Home Depot, and Sears. It can be found at Office Depot, so its possible to earn 5 points per dollar when buying these (by paying with a card that earns 5X at office supply stores… see “Best Category Bonuses“). The card can be loaded up to $500 and, unlike Visa gift cards, it has no fees. Most intriguingly, it is treated as a Discover card at stores that accept it for payment.
I’ve been doing experiments with this card myself, but I’ve also heard from several readers who have done their own experiments. Here is what we’ve found so far…
Use the card at non-sanctioned merchants?
The Home Improvement card has a web site that can be used to search for retailers that accept the card (see this page). Many of us have wondered if the card can be used elsewhere. Since it acts like a Discover card, can it be used anywhere a Discover card is accepted? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no. At every non-sanctioned place we’ve tried, the payment has been declined. Even Lands’ End, which is owned by Sears, was unable to process the card for payment (it works fine at Sears, though).
For several months, the MyPoints portal offered 50 points per dollar when shopping at OpenSky from their portal. Surprisingly, OpenSky is one of the vendors that accept the Home Improvement card. So, I found that it was possible to double dip when making OpenSky purchases: first buy the Home Improvement card with a Chase Ink card for 5X, then go through a portal to OpenSky and pay with the Home Improvement card. Its nice that this works, but now that no one is offering 50X at OpenSky, it’s hardly worth the effort.
Sears Triple Dip
Here’s a nice opportunity that worked successfully in my tests:
- Buy the Home Improvement card and pay with a Chase Ink card. Earn 5X.
- Go through the Ultimate Rewards Mall to Sears.com and buy a Sears physical gift card. Pay with the Home Improvement card. Earn 5X (or whatever the current bonus rate is through the Ultimate Rewards Mall).
- Go through the Ultimate Rewards Mall again to Sears.com and buy merchandise. Pay with Sears’ gift cards. Earn 5X (or whatever…)
Through this triple dip, its possible to consistently earn about 15 points per dollar (depending on current Ultimate Rewards Mall rates) for Sears’ purchases. One big gotcha: Sears puts a $1 hold on the Home Improvement card to verify it, so you may not be able to completely drain the Home Improvement card this way. You will find, for example, that a $500 purchase (using a $500 Home Improvement card) will be denied, but a $499 purchase should go through.
Lowes / Home Depot
While I haven’t tried it, a simple double dip should be possible at either of these merchants. First, buy the Home Improvement card for 5X, then go through an online portal to Lowes or Home Depot to place your order and pay with the Home Improvement card. While I fully expect that this would work, its not really any better than just buying a specific Lowes or Home Depot gift card at an office supply store. A better option would be if a triple dip worked (like with Sears). I haven’t tested this yet, but it doesn’t look promising. Past reader reports have said that Home Depot and Lowes do not pay portal points or cash back when buying their gift cards online. If anyone tries this again, though, please let me know how it turns out!
Buy gift cards at Lowes
Lowes stores have huge gift card racks. I’ve successfully bought a gift card (a Shell gas card) at Lowes and I paid with the Home Improvement card. This isn’t any better than just buying gift cards directly at an office supply store, but it could be a good option if the particular card(s) you want are only available at Lowes. In my case, I did find a better selection of gas cards at Lowes than at any of the office supply stores I looked at. Sadly, Lowes does not carry $500 prepaid cards.
Find interesting sanctioned merchants
Are there any merchants that accept the Home Improvement cards and also carry $500 prepaid cards? If so, that would be a big win, but I have yet to find any. How about you? Any luck in your hunt?