Middle Age Miles

MS DPs – Episode 10 – $500 MCGC from GiftCards.com

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Mastercard Gift Card from GiftCards.com (Spring Break design)

In Episode 9 of our Manufactured Spend Data Points (MS DPs) series, we reviewed our purchase of a $500 Visa Gift Card (VGC) that we purchased online from GiftCards.com (GC.com) on August 1. There, we promised that we’d also report back on our purchase of a $500 Mastercard Gift Card (MCGC) made that same day. This episode, Episode 10, has the details on our MCGC purchase from GC.com.

Unfortunately, we didn’t learn much that’s new and helpful from our experiment with purchasing a MCGC from GC.com, beyond what we’d learned from our VGC experiment. But we’ll give you a quick rundown of this experiment nonetheless, so that we’ll have a complete record.

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! The trial-and-error process is a huge part of the MS learning experience. Also, remember that we’re exploring online liquidation methods, as we know many people prefer doing this online rather than using methods that require an in-person visit to a store.


For this experiment, we ordered a $500 MCGC online from GC.com. Once again, we cherry-picked our deal, ordering through the Alaska Mileage Plan e-shopping portal, during a back-to-school promotion where we would receive bonus miles – in this case, 1,500 AS bonus miles for spending $500 or more (this promotion expired on 8/11/19):

  • Total purchase price = $508.94
    • GC value = $500
    • Purchase fee = $6.95
    • Shipping fee = $1.99
  • Rewards from cards, offers and/or portals:
    • AS shopping portal, 0.5x miles/dollar = 253 AS miles
      • Purchase fee counted for the portal but shipping fee did not
      • Worth about $3.79 at our baseline value of 1.5 cents per AS mile
    • AS shopping portal bonus = 1,500 AS miles
      • Worth about $22.50
    • Paid with Citi Premier card earning 1x ThankYou Point (TYP)/dollar = 509 miles
      • Worth about $6.36 at our baseline value of 1.25 cents per TYP
      • Importantly, this purchase also completed half of the spend toward the retention bonus on our Premier card, 5,000 TYPs for $1,000 spend, which we covered in this article. We won’t count the retention bonus miles in our calculations for this deal, but it was very helpful to be able to meet a significant portion of the spend requirement with this online GC purchase.

Alaska has confirmed that we’ve earned our AS miles from this purchase, and they have posted to our Mileage Plan account:

Alaska has also confirmed that we’ve earned the back-to-school shopping portal bonus (although it has not yet posted):

As we mentioned in Episode 9, we don’t know of any credit card bonus earning categories that currently would be triggered by purchases from GiftCards.com. If we hadn’t been trying to hit the spend requirement for the retention bonus on our Citi Premier card, we would have chosen a different card with higher base earnings. But our selection of the Premier card here, like our selection of the Barclays AA Aviator Business card for our $500 VGC purchase from GC.com in Episode 9, illustrates an important point – you can help GC.com work to your advantage when you have a spend requirement for a sign-up/upgrade/retention bonus, or when you have a big-spend threshold for extra benefits.

Returning to our analysis, here’s our acquisition summary for this $500 MCGC:

  • Acquisition Summary:
    • Total cost = $508.94
    • Miles earned = 1,753 AS miles, worth about $26.29
    • Points earned = 509 TYPs, worth about $6.36
      • Total value of miles & points earned = $32.65

We’re out $8.94 in cash – but if we use our baseline values of AS miles and TYPs, we’re ahead by about $23.71, pre-liquidation.

  • MCGC characteristics:
    • Variable-load MCGC with $500 max load
    • Issuer: MetaBank
    • Can be registered? Yes
    • Website: www.giftcards.com/activate
    • Card was registered and PIN set prior to any attempted use


First, it took quite a while to receive our MCGC from GiftCards.com, even longer than it had taken us to receive the VGC we ordered at the same time. The timeline was as follows:

  • Thursday, August 1 – Placed order at GiftCards.com
  • Tuesday, August 6 – Received shipment notification email
  • Monday, August 12 – Received MCGC in mail

Next, turning to actual liquidation, remembering that we’re focused on online liquidation methods in this series that can be done from home with minimal effort.

We tried this $500 MCGC with each of the online liquidation methods we’ve successfully used with different types of GCs:

  • Plastiq – The card successfully loaded and would have been available to use to pay a credit card bill (from Amex), but it would have incurred a 2.5% fee, so we didn’t proceed
    • This MCGC was not eligible for Plastiq’s 1% fee for debit cards that we’ve been able to use with certain other MCGCs
  • Doxo – The card successfully loaded and would have been available to use to pay a credit card bill (Amex again), but it would have incurred a fee of $17.50 (3.63%), so we didn’t proceed
    • The card was not eligible for fee-free payments using the DoxoPlus subscription plan
  • Bravo – The card successfully located to Bravo and was liquidated by making a transfer to a “friendly” account for a 2% fee:
    • Payment: $490.19
    • Fee: $9.81 (2%)

Final Accounting for This Experiment

We acquired and liquidated a $500 MCGC for a total cost of $518.75 (including the $6.95 purchase fee, the $1.99 shipping fee, and the $9.81 fee for online liquidation using Bravo).

We earned 1,753 AS miles worth about $26.29, plus 509 TYPs worth about $6.36, for total miles/points earnings worth about $32.65.

Using our baseline value for miles and points, we came out ahead by about $13.90. Or, looking at it another way, we “purchased” a total of 2,262 miles and points for about 0.83 cents each ($18.75 / 2,262). (And remember, we could have used a Bank of America Alaska personal or business card for this transaction, in which case we would have earned a total of 2,262 AS miles.) That’s a decent deal, and a far lower price that you can ever directly purchase AS miles. If you needed AS miles for an upcoming redemption, this was a solid play.

And in our case, remember also that we met half of the spend for our Citi Premier 5,000 TYP retention bonus with this purchase, so we got some good extra value out of the deal.

Using the Alaska shopping portal bonus and putting the spend to work on meeting our Premier retention bonus illustrates a key principle of these GC strategies – if any offers are available, always cherry-pick your deals to get the best returns possible!

We hope you’ve enjoyed Episode 10 of our MS DPs series. This one was a useful deal. It’s not scalable as-is, but we were able to hit 4 different airline portal back-to-school shopping portal bonuses by using a similar strategy over the course of a few days – AS in this deal, AA twice (including in Episode 9), and UA once. These airline portal bonuses come around a few times a year, and now we’ve found a solid strategy to hit them to pick up miles on the cheap. Please feel free to comment on our efforts!

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6 thoughts on “MS DPs – Episode 10 – $500 MCGC from GiftCards.com

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Franz – Yes, in certain limited circumstances, using a MCGC that processes as a debit card when used on Plastiq. For more detail, check out Episode 2 and Episode 4 of our MS DP series. ~Craig

  1. Boris


    Why the MCGC bought from giftcard.com couldn’t be used as the same way you do in epicode 2, 4, 7 to pay credit card bill with 1% fee? I guess the reason is that in 2, 4, 7 the MCGC is fixed-valued and in this post, the 500 MCGC is variable-loaded? I am not sure about this, and may I know what is the difference between fixed-value MCGC and variable-loaded MCGC? How can I distinguish them before I want to buy one? Thanks!

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Boris – You ask a great question here. For some reason, some MCGCs work on Plastiq with a 1% fee (that is, Plastiq sees them as debit cards), and some MCGCs don’t. The MCGCs from GC.com don’t get the 1% fee. They can be used on Plastiq, but the fee is 2.5%.

      The MCGCs that can be used on Plastiq at 1% are the ones that you enroll at http://www.mcgift.giftcardmall.com. They start with the first 4 digits 5113 (although you can’t see this before you purchase). The best way to identify them is to look at the back of the packaging. If the packaging says that the card is serviced by MetaBank and card services can be done online at http://www.mcgift.giftcardmall.com, then you’ve got the right card for 1% on Plastiq. With a wee bit of practice, you will recognize them.

      The distinction on eligibility for Plastiq at 1% is not because they’re fixed-value or variable-load. Fixed and variable MCGCs both work, if they are the type I described above.

      Hope this is helpful. Good luck! ~Craig

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