Is Visa Gift Card Churning Dead? Not Yet!

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Probably one of more popular posts was about Visa Gift Card Churning.  I showed several ways to liquidate Visa gift cards bought at Office Depot.  This was probably one of the quickest and easiest ways to earn lots of points at 5X constantly.  As of yesterday, Office Depot has pulled all variable Visa and AMEX gift cards. However, is Visa gift card churning dead?

Office Depot is not the only place they sell Visa gift cards.  Perhaps the stores with the biggest gift card selection are grocery stores and drug stores.  Many major grocery stores such as Ralphs, Kroger, Safeway, Albertsons, sell gift cards.  You can buy $500 Visa gift cards at a $4.95 fee, but is it worth it?

My favorite credit card to use at supermarkets is my Hilton AMEX Credit Card.  It currently gives 6X for supermarket and grocery store purchases for the no-fee version and Hilton AMEX Surpass version.  However on May 1, 2013, these two Hilton AMEX cards are changing to the following:

AMEX Hilton HHonors Card 

  • 7 points per dollar at Hilton Worldwide properties
  • 5 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants
  • 5 points per dollar at U.S. gas stations
  • 5 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets
  • 3 points per dollar for all other eligible purchases

AMEX Hilton HHonors Surpass Card

  • 12 points per dollar at Hilton Worldwide properties
  • 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants
  • 6 points per dollar at U.S. gas stations
  • 6 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets
  • 3 points per dollar for all other eligible purchases

Right now, the category bonuses between the fee and no-fee version are the same.  They are changing it so that the AMEX Surpass version is more appealing due to the higher category bonuses.  I think this change makes a lot of sense because it will entice people to apply for the Surpass card because of the better perks.  I know it makes me want to apply for the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card!

Another option to obtain the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card, is to see if you are eligible for an upgrade here if you have the no-fee AMEX Hilton card.  The perk of this method is that AMEX does not pull your credit score for an upgrade. Unfortunately, I do not qualify and am not sure how to qualify.  You can read the Flyertalk post here for more information.

Check if you are eligible for a free Hilton Surpass Upgrade.

Check if you are eligible for a free Hilton Surpass Upgrade.

 Cost Per Point Visa Gift Card Churning using Hilton AMEX/Hilton Surpass Card

Is buying $500 Visa gift cards at supermarkets with Hilton AMEX/Hilton Surpass worth it?  It would cost $4.95 to buy a $500 gift card to receive about 3,000 points.  Here is the breakdown:

  • $504.95 Visa GC * 6X Supermarket Cat Bonus = 3,030 Hilton HHonors Points
  • $4.95 fee/ 3,030 Hilton HHonors Points
  • Cost Per Point = $0.0016 
  • Cost at a high-end hotel @ 50,000 points = $81.68
  • 4 Nights at a high-end Hilton using AXON Rewards @ 145,000 points = $236.88

I think that 4 nights at almost any Hilton in the world using AXON Rewards for only $236.88 is an incredible deal.  For example, I will be staying at the Hilton Trafalgar hotel this summer for 4 nights.  It would cost over $1,600 for four nights, but using this method, it would cost $236, which would be over $1,300 in savings!

Hilton Trafalgar @ 263 Pounds Per Night.

Hilton Trafalgar @ 263 Pounds Per Night.

Here are the top 5 hotels that I would love to use a four night AXON rewards redemption at:

  1. Hilton Moorea
  2. Hilton Bora Bora
  3. Conrad Maldives
  4. Conrad Koh Samui
  5. Conrad Tokyo
4 nights @ 145,00 points or $236!

Conrad Maldives 4 nights @ 145,00 points or $236!

Disclaimer

American Express sometimes conducts financial reviews on accounts with abnormal amounts of spending.  As long as you have income on the books, there should be no problems.  I think AMEX is only ensuring that you can pay your bills and ensuring there’s no risk of default.  I would not excessively buy gift cards at supermarkets.

Conclusion

I think Visa gift card churning is not dead yet.  Yes, it is a bit less lucrative because it is harder to build up Chase Ultimate Rewards, but buying Hilton points at $0.0016 is a great deal.  It may be harder to build points up faster, but you can still get amazing value from Hilton points.  I do think that business or first class travel is better value, but you can start planning your dream trip now.  Ideally, I would like to have 145,000 Hilton HHonors points in my account constantly so I can redeem whenever I want.  Four nights is perfect for me because it gives enough time to relax and explore.

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45 comments for “Is Visa Gift Card Churning Dead? Not Yet!

  1. smay
    February 5, 2013 at 6:06 am

    We have the rest of this month to continue to get 6x points in drug stores as well so VR’s are even slightly better value (3.95) and easier to liquidate.

    • February 5, 2013 at 6:19 am

      Yes, vanilla reloads are better value, but many people can’t get them. This is an alternative and something that will last after May.

    • February 8, 2013 at 2:24 pm

      Smay – I’ve heard lots of rumors about the 6x disappearing for drug stores, but never anything directly from American Express. Am I missing something? As far as I know AMX has not changed the terms of my credit card.

      • Russell
        February 8, 2013 at 2:38 pm

        Get any of the relevant AMEX cards and it is spelled out in the material that comes with the card. All change ahead exactly as ROM shows.

      • February 8, 2013 at 2:49 pm

        It is disappearing in May depending on when your statement closes. However, 6X will be valid at supermarkets still.

  2. Judy jones
    February 5, 2013 at 7:25 am

    There is also a targeted citi AA promo i received in the mail this week for 3 miles per dollar at drugstores and grocery. So this is worth it as well for at least $2500 in purchases of gift cards.

    • February 5, 2013 at 8:23 am

      That’s a pretty good promo. I should have signed up for my Discover promo, $250 bonus for $6k in spend in 4 months. Too late now.

    • DealSeeker
      February 8, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      To clarify, Citi Promo 3X is up to 2500 AA Miles, not $2500 spending

  3. Robert Hanson
    February 5, 2013 at 9:57 am

    If you already have the no fee HH Amex, you have to wait a full year after approval before you can upgrade to the Surpass. One more of the stupid aspects of the last financial “reform” bill passed by Congress. If you apply in less than one year, you will be told you don’t qualify. They should tell you to reapply when your year is up, but they don’t. Go figure….

    • February 5, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      Thanks, you should be able to have the no fee HH AMEX and Hilton AMEX Surpass.

    • Russell
      February 8, 2013 at 2:41 pm

      This doesn’t appear to be actually true – or wasn’t for me this Jan.
      I applied for both on the same day, Surpass 2nd. The 1st was auto approved and the Surpass was put in to consideration. I called and they said both were approved but their system will not allow 2 on the same day – they simply put the 2nd on hold for 3 days then released it so it was approved.

      • February 8, 2013 at 2:52 pm

        That has happend to me too when I applied for AMEX SPG and AMEX Hilton card. I wasn’t referring to doing a multiple browser trick.

  4. Russell
    February 5, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Story of caution with the AMEX Hilton cards:

    At the start of Jan I got both the Hilton and Hilton Surpass cards and hit the spend requirements buying 1 or 2 gift cards at a time at a time at CVS and grocery only up to the spend requirement including regular spend; Both cards triggered auto fraud alerts buying $1k of GC at CVS that had to be called in for each first use. Their verification checks were pretty thorough, including having to call me back on my stated contact number.

    I got hit with a sneaky financial review this weekend. I got a fraud check alert that when I called in was auto-redirected to financial review. Spent about 20 mins explaining what I do and why. The agent was pretty probing and testing my responses, and clearly someone educated and well trained, not a typical call center agent. Not something that freaks me out but I can see some having a really hard time with this. I said nothing about miles, points or bonuses.

    AMEX is clearly much more uptight about fraud checks and card misuse.
    I only have a few AMEX cards (ignoring prepaids) including 1 costco so I don’t have a lot. Also no past history of churning AMEX cards to concern them. I have excellent credit and a relatively high AGI so all things they should love, but I still got hit with a review.

    • Jen
      February 5, 2013 at 11:02 am

      Hey Russel, how did you explain the $500/$1000 CVS spend? I can’t think of anything other than “my meds are expensive”:)

      • Russell
        February 5, 2013 at 1:13 pm

        I didn’t want to get caught in a complicated fabrication so I told them I was buying $500 gift cards (small chance they get Level III reporting and could see what I was buying). The creative part was why I do so, which I’m sorry I won’t share.

        It is no good for the 3x or 6x bonus but to avoid what happened to me and you you want to meet a min spend requirement I strongly recommend buying a high value amex gift card (via topcashback for 1.5%) and using this for the usual tricks. This way nothing unusual shows on your spend pattern. I wish I’d done this instead.

        • February 5, 2013 at 7:07 pm

          Thanks, for the heads-up. The AMEX gift card for 1.5% topcashback is a good alternative. You can liquidate that easily through Amazon Payments or Target AMEX.

    • February 5, 2013 at 12:53 pm

      Thanks for reporting it. I have a good history with AMEX so I will not be taking these tactics to the max. Be smart and don’t overdo it.

    • February 8, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      I’ve always followed a rule of moderation and mixed spending on my AMX Hilton card. Yes, I pickup a $500 card at Walgreens once a week, but I also use it to ocassionally fill up the tank and pickup a pizza. I would never want to bring unnecessary attention to my purchases by only using it to buy gift cards. I’m sure that’s not what you were doing, but just wanted to throw that 2-cents out there.

      • February 8, 2013 at 2:50 pm

        That’s pretty much exactly what I do. I go grocery shopping and use this card and might pick up some gift cards along the way.

  5. Russell
    February 5, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Also they even checked out my employer on the web! I get a report on who visits our site and American Express visited us this weekend!

  6. Jen
    February 5, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Very nice post! I am religiously collecting my Hilton points toward the Axon rewards.

  7. JC
    February 5, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Um. Why post it? Isn’t that how the OD system died? I just don’t get it I guess. These kinds of plays can’t handle high volume but bloggers insist on alerting everyone and driving them until they are unsustainable.

    • February 5, 2013 at 12:55 pm

      I warned everyone not to excessively do this. Also, high spending at supermarkets are less likely to be a big red flag than drugstore purchases. Families spend lots of $ at supermarkets. I also don’t recommend buying more than $500 at a time.

      • JC
        February 5, 2013 at 1:54 pm

        If you were just telling friends of yours then sure. No big deal. But can you really account for everyone that reads your blog? When it dies it dies for everyone. Even those using it judiciously.

  8. Choi Lu
    February 5, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    To JC, lets clarify the situation here, the OD game was changed by OD and not by Chase, Chase would still gives you 5x regardless of what you buy at OD. OD backs out of the game just as with VR. with that in mind, Amex Hilton falls on the side of Amex, they decide to change Catagories not at the retail stores. With banks and CC issuers, its never an overnight event whereas retail stores like OD, will change at a single breath. dont blame on bloggers, its just the way of the game.

    • JC
      February 5, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      I said the OD system died. I didn’t say anything about Chase. OD quit because of the volume. A small group doing this is a rounding error on their balance sheets but once it was out in the wild then the huge numbers taking advantage of it made the system untenable for OD.

      I don’t blame the bloggers because “chase found out” or because “OD found out.” Clearly they were aware. The blame is pushing so many people into the game that it can’t be sustainable for more than a few months.

  9. WishyAnand
    February 5, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Just got my 5 percent cashback for three $503.95 purchases at Rite Aid Seattle Area and CVS San Diego area using a Citi Dividend card I have had for years. I think I will try to get 3-4 credit cards hereon that offer rotating or fixed >= 3 percent bonuses at grocery stores and pharmacies so I am covered for the whole year!

    Rom, do you use WordPress for this site? I have my own site and want to create another one (unrelated to miles/points/finance) with WordPress, but am still trying to figure out the best approach. Never tried WordPress before.

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:11 pm

      Citi Dividend 5X is pretty good alternative to the 6X AMEX Hilton. Yeah, I’m using WordPress. It is pretty easy to use for someone not so techy like me.

  10. anon
    February 6, 2013 at 5:50 am

    I’m curious about your calculation of buying points. wouldn’t your cash outlay include the liquidation costs of the gift card?

    the low pt per dollar calculation would only hold true if you liquidate the gc on a $1 to $1 ratio?

    Cost Per Point = $0.0016 + liquidation cost
    Cost at a high-end hotel @ 50,000 points = $81.68 + liquidation cost/fees?

    • February 6, 2013 at 10:08 am

      Yes you need to liquidate them still. Amazon payments is free. I should clarify that point. Thanks.

      • anon
        February 6, 2013 at 7:51 pm

        dangit. sorry didn’t mean to cause u to update stuff. i was just trying to accurately figure out the costs since i’m a spreadsheet jockey. and i couldnt wrap my head around how you were changing out the huge gc’s into actual cash without some odd route

      • Paul
        February 12, 2013 at 1:02 am

        Where do you find GCs at Safeway for only $4.95? Everyone near me is $5.95 – and also at every other grocery store I’ve been to. Care to share a photo?

        You can’t use AP as a cash out method – most people are only going to be able to push $2K maximum. And that would take a LONG time to get the number of aspirational miles you blithely bandy about…

        • February 12, 2013 at 6:20 am

          I’ll take a photo next time I’m there. It might be Ralph’s? I mentioned to add the cost of liquidation. It’s not a get rich quick method for sure.

  11. xiao
    February 6, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    would Randall’s/Safeway be considered a supermarket by Amex?

    • February 6, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      Yes. Safeway is a supermarket. Don’t know what Randall’s is.

  12. FreedomHater
    February 7, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    I thought Citi cards coded gift card purchases as cash advances. Is that not the case?

    • February 7, 2013 at 1:03 pm

      I’ve used Citi cards for GC purchases at stores and never had cash advance. I would recommend against it if you don’t like risk.

  13. ZH
    February 8, 2013 at 7:16 am

    May I ask what do you do with the Visa Gift Card after you purchase it at the Supermarket? Can you buy a USPS money order with it?

    • February 8, 2013 at 8:46 am

      You can’t. You can use amazon payments.

      • Charles
        February 24, 2013 at 10:28 am

        Could you please explain how to use Amazon Payments to pay yourself with a Visa gift card as I understood you can only send a payment to an email vs a checking account. Please help. Thank you very much.

        • February 24, 2013 at 6:18 pm

          Click add credit cards and enter the visa gc there. Then send money through that visa gc to an email. That person then cashes out to bank account.

  14. DB Cooper
    April 8, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    Does that person also need an amazon payments account?

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