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Middle Age Miles

MS DPs – Episode 1 – $200 VGC from Staples

manufactured spend ms data point dp $200 Visa gift card VGC GC Staples Sunrise Bank Amex Offer Dosh Amex Blue Business Plus
Visa Gift Card

In the first episode of our Manufactured Spend Data Points (MS DPs) series, we’ll look at a $200 Visa Gift Card (VGC) that we purchased from Staples in early May, during a promotion where this card could be purchased with no fees. Remember, we’re total rookies here, and we’re sharing experience far more than expertise here – including shining a light on our own mistakes.

Acquisition

  • Total Purchase Price = $200
    • ($0 fees because of Staples promotion)
  • Rewards from cards, offers and/or portals:
    • Amex Offer at Staples, 10% statement credit (up to $50 cap) = $20
    • Dosh, 3% credit up to $5 cap = $5
    • Paid with Amex Blue Business Plus earning 2x = 400 Membership Rewards (MR) points
      • Worth about $6 at our baseline value of 1.5 cents per MR point
  • Card characteristics:
    • Issuer: Sunrise Bank
    • Can be registered? Yes
    • Website: www.giftcardmall.com/mygift
    • Card was registered and set up with a PIN prior to any attempted use

Note Amex received Level 3 transaction detail from Staples, showing exactly what was purchased with the BB+ card:

But the transaction earned MR points anyway:

That said, note that the inclusion of Level 3 transaction detail, combined with Amex’s current efforts to eliminate MR-earning on GC purchases, may make this type of transaction questionable for MR-earning longer term.

With the new MR interface on our Amex online accounts, we can’t see any deductions of MR points based on the statement credit from the Amex Offer. Our statement also doesn’t show the number of MR points earned. We suspect, however that the Amex Offer resulted in a deduction of 40 MR points (2x earning * $20 credit), leaving us with net earnings of 360 MR points (worth about $5.40).

So far, so good. We have a $200 VGC, acquired at a net cost of $175 after the Amex Offer credit and Dosh cash back, and we believe we earned 360 MR points on the transaction worth about $5.40.

Liquidation

For this card, we were trying to liquidate online using Plastiq. Our hope was that the card would qualify as a Visa Debit/Prepaid card and would be available for payments as shown in this Plastiq chart (the chart can be accessed here for better readability):

As you can see, this chart suggests that Mastercard and Visa Debit/Prepaid cards can be used for virtually any type of payment, including “Debt Products” such as paying credit card bills and personal loans. That would be ideal – we’d love to funnel the gift card funds directly to pay off a credit card bill!

We also hoped that the card would qualify for Plastiq’s 1% fee using debit cards.

Unfortunately, liquidation of this VGC through Plastiq was a complete failure:

  • We first tried to pay a Citi credit card bill. We received an error message on Plastiq that we could not “use a Visa card to pay this mortgage.” There was nowhere on Plastiq to classify the card as a debit card or enter a PIN.
  • Next, we tried to pay an Amex credit card bill. The transaction looked like it might process, but it eventually came back with an error, “Sorry! Your card has been declined. Error Code 2017.”
  • Finally, we tried to pay a “normal” vendor (that is, not a credit card company). This also failed, resulting in the same error message that we had received when we tried to pay the Amex credit card bill.

At this point, we gave up. We added the VGC to our Amazon account and then used the funds to reload $200 into our Amazon balance. There were no fees to liquidate the VGC in this manner. However, we hadn’t liquidated the VGC funds to a cash equivalent, so we hadn’t really done any MS. We just bought Amazon credit at a nice discount – basically about $30 off of our $200 in funds for a discount of about 15%. Nice enough, but not actually MS.

It’s also worth noting that this method of liquidation is not fully scalable. We do buy plenty of things on Amazon, and in the order of magnitude of low hundreds of dollars, Amazon credit is indeed almost as good as cash. But increase the order of magnitude to thousands, and the equation changes dramatically as there’s no way we’d typically spend that amount on Amazon within any reasonably short time period.

Debriefing – What Happened With Our Liquidation Effort Here?

As we discussed earlier, we thought we had a good chance of being able to make a payment through Plastiq using this VGC, based on the “Your Guide to Credit Card Usage on Plastiq” chart. But that didn’t work.

We believe we were caught up in some limitations about using Visa cards on Plastiq. A separate page that can be found on the Plastiq website contains a list of Prepaid Visa Cards that cannot be used to make payments through Plastiq:

The current version of this chart can be found here (note that this page changed substantially yesterday (7/29/2019), but we don’t believe the changes impacted the listing of “forbidden” types of GCs).

The issuer of our VGC, Sunrise Bank, is not listed on this chart. However, remember that we had to register this GC at a www.giftcardmall.com site, and this is a “forbidden” type of GC listed by Plastiq. This may account for our VGC not working on Plastiq.

On the other hand, Plastiq made several changes with respect to Visa cards in general yesterday (7/29/2019), and charges for rent, utilities, tuition and taxes may now be paid using personal Visa cards. On the surface, this wouldn’t seem to directly impact our situation with using a Sunrise-issued prepaid VGC. But given the changes, it may now be worth another shot to see if a vendor in one of the newly-approved categories could be paid with this type of VGC.


We hope you’ve enjoyed Episode 1 of our MS DP series. We have several more episodes to come – some of which will actually result in successful completion of the MS cycle! Please feel free to comment on our efforts!


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2 thoughts on “MS DPs – Episode 1 – $200 VGC from Staples

  1. Toys Samurai

    Plastiq will charge you 2.5% for gift card anyway. You can get a Square card reader for free and swipe your own card. Fee is 2.75%, a bit higher than Plastiq, but it’s guaranteed to work.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Toys Samurai – Thanks for the comment. Great creative thinking. I’ve been anxious about getting Square or another processor, for fear of what happens if the processing gets shut down and funds get tied up for an extended period. There are probably ways to minimize this risk. I’m willing to experiment if I can get comfortable with the risk factors. Also, we’ve found at least one 1% avenue for liquidation of some GCs through Plastiq – stay tuned for Episode 2 🙂 ~Craig

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