June 6, 2013
A few days ago, TopCashBack raised its payout for American Express gift cards from 1.5% to 2%. In the past, this would have been big news. When you can earn money by buying money, that’s a big deal. There were several reasons, though, that I hesitated before publishing anything. Here’s the scoop…
American Express gift card $500 limit
It used to be the case that American Express gift cards topped out at $3000 in value for each card. By buying high denomination cards like this, one could minimize the card fee ($3.95) and shipping costs ($8.95) as a percentage of the total. That way, cash back earned through a portal more than offset any and all fees.
As I reported in April, American Express changed its website so that if you begin your shopping from a cash back portal, they will only allow you to buy cards with up to $500 in value (see “Amex takes away $3K cash back gift cards“).
I also reported a simple workaround whereupon you can still buy customized gift cards up to $3000. Since then, reports from readers have been mixed as to whether or not they’ve received cash back from buying personalized gift cards. I haven’t tried this myself so I can’t say whether or not the trick really works.
So, I’m at a bit of a loss right now as to what to recommend. Buying $500 gift cards should work. You can reduce your expenses by signing up for a free trial of their unlimited next day shipping program. Another option is to load up your cart with multiple $500 gift cards so that you only pay the shipping fee once (but you’ll still pay a $3.95 fee for each card). You can also try various free shipping and/or fee free gift card codes that are readily found on the internet, but these rarely work when you go through a portal and they may even invalidate your cash back.
At the end of the day, you can still make money buying $500 gift cards if you do it right, but is it worth it? Let’s take a simple example. Suppose you buy 4 $500 cards. If you pay for shipping, your total charge will be $2,024.75. Then, you should get back 2% of the card value: 2% of $2000 = $40. So, you will have made a profit of $40 – $24.75 = $15.25. That’s about 3/4 of a percent. Yawn.
TopCashBack draws ire
Whenever I write about a deal that involves TopCashBack, people write angry comments saying that they tried TopCashBack but never got their money and/or that their customer service never responded to their missing cash back claims.
In general, I have continued to report TopCashBack deals because I’ve had lots of success with them. For example, during my Million Mile Madness challenge, I bought many thousands of dollars worth of gift cards and merchandise at Staples by first going through TopCashBack (which offered 5.5% back at the time). Not only did every single transaction post accurately, but I received all of the cash back within a few weeks. Some people will argue that my success was because of my blogger status. They believe that TopCashBack watches what I do and proactively ensures that I get paid. I don’t believe that for a second. Here’s what I do believe:
- TopCashBack (which originated in the UK and is very popular there) has suffered from start up pains in the US. Each time they add a new merchant there is a potential for things to go wrong. With American Express gift cards, things went so wildly wrong early on that TopCashBack pulled them off the site for a while until the technical issues could be ironed out.
- Each merchant is different. Under normal circumstances, TopCashBack doesn’t pay out until they receive an affiliate commission for a sale from the merchant. Every merchant is different with respect to how well they track sales and how quickly they pay out.
- TopCashBack has a confusing approach to customer service. The way I understand it is like this: If you file a missing cash back claim, the ensuing process is automated. Claims are passed along to the merchant for investigation in batches, so your claim may not be passed along for a couple of weeks. Then, resolution of the claim is dependent upon the merchant and may take several months. All the while, the TopCashBack customer will most likely never hear from TopCashBack one way or another. Conversely, if you file a support ticket you will interact with a live customer support person. I haven’t done the latter, so I can’t say whether or not it is helpful, but its really the only way to ensure that a real person looks at whatever issue you’ve encountered.
Despite all of these difficulties, as I said above, I’ve had mostly very good luck with TopCashBack. Certainly my own results have been at least as good as with other portals. So, in general, I’ll continue to report TopCashBack deals. In this case, though, I hesitated. I’ve received quite a few reports from readers who have not received cash back for Amex gift card purchases. So, I’m concerned that there may continue to be technical issues in the connection between TopCashBack and Amex. To be clear, I don’t know this to be true, I just think that it is a possibility.
TopCashBack increases Amex gift card payout to 2%
There you go. There’s the headline. Please read above to see whether this deal is of any interest to you. And, if you want to sign up for TopCashBack, or other cash back portals, please see my Sign-Up Links page.