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Middle Age Miles

MS DPs – Episode 2 – $200 MCGC from Staples

manufactured spend ms data points dp mastercard gift card mcgc staples liquidate plastiq debit card
Mastercard Gift Card issued by MetaBank

In Episode 2 of our Manufactured Spend Data Points (MS DPs) series, we’ll look at a $200 Mastercard Gift Card (MCGC) that we purchased from Staples last week (mid-July 2019), during a promotion where this card could be purchased with no fees.

As always, remember that we’re total rookies when it comes to manufactured spend (MS), and we’re sharing experience far more than expertise in this series – including 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, when spending at least $40 = 1,000 Membership Rewards (MR) points
      • Worth about $15 at our baseline value of 1.5 cents per MR point
    • Dosh, 3% credit up to $5 cap = $5
      • [Note: The most recent version of the Staples offer on Dosh died late last week (on or about Fri 7/27/19), and it’s not currently available. In the past, the offer has sometimes come and gone, as best we recall. We aren’t immediately aware of any active cashback offers for Staples, as of 7/31/19, but Staples is available for in-store offers on at least the United and Alaska shopping portals (both 1.5x) if you want to earn some airline miles.]
    • Paid with Amex Business Platinum card earning 1x = 200 MR points
      • Worth about $3
  • MCGC card characteristics:
    • Issuer: MetaBank
    • Can be registered? Yes
    • Website: www.mcgift.giftcardmall.com
    • Card was registered and set up with a PIN prior to any attempted use

You’ll recall from Episode 1 that Amex receives Level 3 transaction detail from Staples, showing exactly what was purchased. Like our Episode 1 purchase of a $200 VGC from Staples, though, it appears that our transaction has earned MR points anyway:

Our final tally related to acquisition – $200 MCGC, acquired at a net cost of $195 after Dosh cash back, plus 1,190 MR points worth about $17.85. We’re ahead by about $22.85, pre-liquidation.

Other questions related to acquisition:

Will this purchase count toward the minimum spend requirement for our Business Platinum upgrade offer? We don’t know for sure. We suspect that it will count, given that the transaction was at a general-purpose merchant and not at a merchant that specializes in gift card sales. We’ll do our best to track this and we’ll report if we learn anything useful.

Why didn’t we use the in-store purchase offer for Staples through Ebates/Rakuten or some other portal that offers in-store rewards for Staples purchases? I totally forgot. I told you we’d shine a light on our mistakes as well as our successes!

Liquidation

Just like in Episode 1, we’re going to try again to liquidate online using Plastiq. We’ll hope that our MCGC qualifies as a Mastercard Debit/Prepaid card and is available for payments as shown in the Plastiq chart below (the chart can be accessed here for better readability):

We’re also going to hope that our MCGC will qualify for Plastiq’s 1% fee using debit cards.

And what do you know? Our experiment appears to be a total success!

  • Liquidation method: Plastiq
  • Payment made to: Citi Cards, for an outstanding credit card bill
  • Fee: 1% ($1.98)
  • Payment: $198.02
    • Payment is scheduled to be delivered on 8/2/2019

Assuming that our payment is received by Citi and correctly credited to our account, this is an outstanding liquidation result. We will have succeeded in converting our MCGC into a cash equivalent (it doesn’t get much better than being able to pay off the credit card bill directly). And our liquidation cost was quite low.

UPDATE as of 8/1/2019: This morning, we received an email confirmation that Citi had received and applied our payment. Our online account showed that the $198.02 payment had posted as of 7/29/2019.

Unfortunately, this particular deal is not scalable on the acquisition side, as we used a one-time Amex Offer for the purchase, and the Staples MCGC offer was limited (by its terms and at our store) to 1 card at a time. Still, it’s a good example of cherry-picking offers for profit. And more importantly, the liquidation side is easy, has low fees, and appears to be very scalable.

Final Accounting for This Experiment

We acquired $200 for a net cost of $196.98, leaving us with a profit of $3.02, plus we earned 1,190 MR points worth about $17.85.

We also, hopefully, notched $200 in spend toward the $10,000 minimum spend requirement for our upgrade offer on the Business Platinum card. After meeting the $10k spend, we’ll receive 50k MR points. If you wanted to assign 2% of the upgrade bonus ($200 is 2% of the $10k) to this transaction, that would be another 1,000 MR points (worth about $15). That calculation is complicated by the fact that we’re having to pay a prorated annual fee for the Business Platinum in order to be eligible for the upgrade bonus, and you’d probably need to offset a portion of that to get to an exact calculation of the actual benefit attributable to this particular transaction. That math is too complicated for this article, so we’re not going to count it. In addition, we won’t be sure that this gift card purchase qualifies toward the minimum spend requirement for at least a few weeks when our bonus posts (if we can tell at all). That’s another reason not to count any part of the upgrade bonus in the profit calculations for this particular experiment.


We hope you’ve enjoyed Episode 2 of our MS DP series. We successfully completed a MS cycle, and we learned some very useful lessons in this experiment that can help us going forward! Please feel free to comment on our efforts!


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12 thoughts on “MS DPs – Episode 2 – $200 MCGC from Staples

  1. Brett Hamilton

    Awesome! I am super interested in online liquidation. I don’t need the points enough to wait on money orders at WalMart. Caution: I’ve read that Amex will claw back sign up bonuses due to gift card purchases. I suppose $200 on $10,000 is pretty insignificant. 🤔

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Brett – I’m glad you’re enjoying the articles. I hope we all learn some useful techniques from these experiments! ~Craig

  2. Adam

    Regarding your comment on “Ebates/Rakuten or some other portal that offers in-store rewards for Staples purchases”, as far as I know, they do not give cashback on gift cards, especially ebates.. I’m not aware of any other cashback venues that work on gift cards from staples (or other office supplies stores for that matter), and DOSH deal ihg s dead already…
    Are you aware of any other current cashback venues that work on gift cards from staples?
    Thx

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Adam – Thanks for the comment and good questions. So far, my Staples purchases have tracked with Ebates/Rakuten and show up in my account, no problems. I suppose they’re always subject to clawback. I’ll talk more about that in later episodes of the series where I actually remembered to link my card & the offer.

      Correct, Dosh is now not working at Staples. Sometimes it comes and goes. I’ll add that to the article. Good call-out.

      Don’t offhand know of cashback available now in-store at Staples. But Staples is on at least the United and Alaska portals for in-store purchases if you want to earn miles.

      Really appreciate your input. Good luck in your efforts, and I hope you continue to enjoy Middle Age Miles! ~Craig

      1. Brett Hamilton

        Ebates cash back pays in store (1%) at Best Buy on gift cards. I buy stitch fix for my wife. They do not sell vgc or mcgc there though.

        1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

          Good tip, Brett – thanks! Seems like I always have Amex Offers, Chase Offers and BankAmeriDeals for Stitch Fix too.

  3. TimmyD

    I have used Mastercard gift cards on plastiq before but not towards credit card payments, in fact I didn’t realize plastiq could be used for credit card payments at all. I think in the past some of these methods caused trouble with the banks, but I’m not sure how. Perhaps Citi will not like the multiple payments received? If this is safe, it’s more scalable with a 5x Ink card

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi TimmyD – Good comment, thanks.

      On using Plastiq for credit card payments – I didn’t expect this to be available either. It was only upon studying the Plastiq chart of approved uses that I found it and decided to try it out. This seems to be squarely within Plastiq’s rules, expressly approved by the chart, which gives me some comfort. Definitely see your point about potential issues with the banks but we’ll let that play out and see if we learn anything. It seems like they’d be fine with receiving payments by check.

      Definitely agree with you that if we get more comfort that this method is safe, we can scale more with 5x on Ink Cash. Solid point for sure.

      Thanks again for the good thoughts in your comment. ~Craig

    2. HS

      What TimmyD said. This is *fascinating*. Thanks for ferreting this out.

      Still chewing on this, but whereas I was wondering whether I would keep hitting the Citi Prestige so hard for dining out (5x) after the AF goes up, the yield on tickets goes from 1.25x to 1.00x (without Premier, which I am currently without), the travel insurance goes away, etc., the idea of clearing this spend monthly on-line with GCs purchased with a Chase Business Ink at Staples is really enticing.

      1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

        Thanks, HS. I’m glad you’re enjoying the articles. Much more to come, including some more good stuff. There’s a lot of trial & error involved, though. That’s part of why I’m structuring the series like I am, card by card. Sometimes it’s almost as important to see what avenues were explored, what was tried and didn’t work so well, as it is to see the good results. And even in my own experiments, I haven’t even gotten to the ones that are kind of obvious using a 5x Chase Ink Cash card (or Plus, for anyone who still has that one). There’s certainly value there, either for organic spend or for MS purposes, if one knows what they’re doing. I’m working on Episode 3 as we speak and it’ll publish tomorrow morning – stay tuned! ~Craig

  4. Lord Dima

    Good data points. For Citi payments via Plastiq, what address did you use? When I put in the address from my CC statement, Plastiq says that Citi does not have that address set up for electronic delivery.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Dima – Thanks for reading and for the nice compliment. For Citi payments via Plastiq, we just had them sent via paper check through US Mail to the PO Box on our Citi statement. It takes a while to get there, but payments have arrived and posted correctly so far. Hopefully that will continue!

      Have a great rest of the weekend! ~Craig

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