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Issues at Smart & Final with the Amex Offer and Why I Would Suggest Going Sooner Rather Than Later

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Disclosure: Miles to Memories has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Miles to Memories and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. Links in this post may provide us with a commission.
smart & final amex offer warning
Photo by Susan Goulding.

Stories of a Smart & Final Crackdown

Earlier this week I wrote about an amazing Amex Offer at West Coast grocery/warehouse chain Smart & Final. The offer gives a $25 statement credit after a $50 purchase and it can be used 3 times per enrolled card.

This deal is fantastic for three reasons. First, the credit is 50% of the purchase amount which is rare. Second, the fact that you can use it three times is even rarer. Finally, Smart & Final carries a variety of gift cards which puts it over the top.

See: Which Gift Cards to Purchase at Smart & Final & Why This May Be the Best Amex Offer Ever!

Some Problems

Unfortunately when things seem to good to be true, sometimes they are. Over the past few days I have heard from readers who have had serious issues trying to purchase gift cards. Some stores said they only accept cash/debit for gift cards while others have been treating people suspiciously. I have also had some issues myself.

During my first trip to Smart & Final earlier in the week, my wife and I bought a few gift cards to simply test the market. While we were able to buy them without a huge issue, the cashier began acting suspicious despite the fact that she didn’t even ask to see id.

Then yesterday when I returned to the store, I had a different cashier who was glad to help me. After a few transactions the register needed an override and over came this lady. She then grabbed all of the gift cards I was buying and disappeared to the back of the store. A few minutes later she returned and said they weren’t going to let me buy the gift cards. In her exact words, “My manager said we aren’t doing this anymore.”

Of course I wasn’t doing anything wrong, so I asked to speak to the manager. He eventually came out and questioned me as to why I am purchasing the gift cards and I explained the situation. He obviously didn’t buy it because he asked for one of my cards so he could call the bank to verify it was mine. I allowed him to do that and a few minutes later that same lady cashier came back and rang me up without even acknowledging anything.

Later in the day I was in another part of town and happened to be near a Smart & Final. Thankfully during that trip I had a friendly cashier and I was able to finish up on all of my Amex cards. (My wife still has a few to go.) The crazy thing is that a reader emailed me and told me she was denied at that very same store earlier in the day. In other words, different cashiers are saying different things and the atmosphere is generally not very friendly.

smart & final amex offer warning
Some of the gift cards I was able to purchase.

So Why the Warning

Whenever hoards of people descend on businesses and begin behaving in an abnormal way, it raises red flags. As far as I can tell Smart & Final doesn’t really have a corporate policy in regards to gift cards. It really seems to be handled store to store and there isn’t a true limit as far as I can tell.

I am almost certain that after the past few days the managers have contacted corporate about these incidents. As I mentioned before some stores are already saying cash only and I wouldn’t be surprised if the corporate office makes this an official policy given the concerns of the managers. Smart & Final is a relatively small chain so decisions like that can be rolled out fairly quickly.

What I Purchased

While I was able to purchase a fair amount of Visa gift cards that I can use to load Serve and pay bills, my wife and I also purchased several hundred dollars of gas cards, a few movie cards and even some restaurant gift cards. I see it as a 50% discount on purchases I would already make.

One final reason to consider heading out to get these cards sooner rather than later is the selection. Stores often don’t stock up on Visa gift cards regularly, so another hobbyist may buy all of the gift cards you are looking for. Lets just say the store at which I had the run in with the manager is out of their very modest supply of $100 Visas.


I sincerely hope I am wrong about Smart & Final, but the run-in with the store manager yesterday left me feeling a bit strange. There is a lot of fraud in the gift card space and if the chain sees their gift card sales have skyrocketed overnight, they may begin to tighten the clamps.

The best solution I think is to head out and try to maximize this deal as soon as possible. Find a friendly cashier and try to visit during less busy times so they don’t mind you doing multiple transactions. It probably wouldn’t hurt if you bought some groceries as well! Oh, who am I kidding, you guys aren’t going to buy any groceries!

Disclosure: Miles to Memories has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Miles to Memories and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.
Shawn Coomer
Shawn Coomer
Shawn Coomer earns and burns millions of miles/points per year circling the globe with his family. An expert at accumulating travel rewards, he founded Miles to Memories to help others achieve their travel goals for pennies on the dollar. Shawn also runs a million dollar reselling business, knows Vegas better than most and loves to spend his time at the 12 Disney parks across the world.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. Saw your picture of how many cards you bought at one time. Its idiots like you that kill deals. Thanks.

      • Ok, I stand corrected. If that was three trips, then no problem. Two days ago while I was in line a guy two people in front of me had taken all of the $50 Shell cards….probably about 8 or 10 and was ringing them with no regard to the people in line or the fact that he took all of those particular cards. So when it gets to my turn with my 3 cards the cashier is really unhappy and asks me what is going on. I say its just a special American Express deal for today and she shrugs and does her job. Probably told co-workers or manager about her experience when store got less busy. Anyway, this deal is probably too good to last very long.

    • Why are you even here? It’s obvious this site and ma material doesn’t interest you.

      You’re the epitome of an internet troll. Go back under the bridge you crawled out from. Thanks.

  2. Bought my first gift card around 2pm-ish today in Long Beach and then saw another S&F on the way to Lakewood mall and bought the 2nd in at the Lakewood location. Was waiting on confirmation of the email first. Then on my way back home from the mall went back to the first S&F because it’s close to my house and when I tried to buy the 3rd & 4th gift card because the Lakewood didn’t have Amazon I was told that I needed to use debit or cash. I was like HUH!!! since when do you guys not take credit cards on gift cards. The cashier said that is what she was told by her manager when she started her shift today so of course I was like since when (thinking to myself I was just here a couple of hours ago)? She wasn’t sure so she called the manager on duty and even the manager was confused and told her that you can’t buy a gift card with another gift card which is not what I was trying to do. So the cashier apologized and rung me up. I thought it was just a confused cashier but now I understand why. I still have 2 more to get so I’m going to get then ASAP.

  3. Good for you asking to see a manager. You did nothing wrong and were utilizing an amex offer. Odds are they’ve seen others doing this which should only further derive home the point they should be less suspicious.

    I went to a location in Santa Rosa and was able to get $500 in vgc by splitting tender. The girl was friendly about it. She did accidentally do a $5 transaction instead of $50 but someone helped her fix it. She mentioned a lady came in earlier that day and did close to $1,000 worth.

    The only issues I ran into was a huffy puffy guy behind me and my texts and phone going nuts from amex fraud. I told the guy behind us he may want to use the other line before we even started the transactions too (other line ess empty). Oh well, can’t please everyone.

    Unfortunately I won’t be going back to that location because it was only on our route because we went to Sonoma State for the day for my wife’s exam. If anyone is near the Santa Rosa location you should be good to go.

    Still have a couple of cards to burn through. I’m hoping the location 30 min away won’t be an issue. It’s in a ghetto city (vallejo) which probably gets more fraud than other areas but who knows.

    Worst case I’ll get a few hundred dollars in groceries and some good meat for a week stay at a nearby lake in June for lots of bbq’ing They actually have decent prices and 50% off can’t be beat. Will put our chest freezer to good use if we go that route!

    • That’s hilarious. Hit that same Santa Rosa store 9am on Friday to buy gas cards and was told cash only. I’ve been going through the line with 6 cards at a time trying not to be too disruptive. Tell them what you’re doing and always be friendly!

      • Ha, small world. Yeah I was fortunate to get what I did. After speaking with an amex fraud rep and clearing everything I opted not to go back into the store as I didn’t want to push it or ruin it for the next guy. Seems it didn’t matter much though because you probably were the next guy! We were there around 5 pm on Thursday.

        Plus I had my 10 month old strapped to me and she was kicking me in the stomach lmao. As I’m sure Shawn knows, it’s harder to both find time and plan out any MS if you have your little one with you.

        Do you do a lot of MS? I assume you live in the area.

  4. I’m in San Diego. The store closest to me, thankfully, had the most cheerful cashiers I have ever met and were happy to do the transactions. They asked me what I was doing but no problems. I now see I may have been lucky. Since the promo goes to 6/30/15 it might be a good idea to let things cool down. I’m sure the vast majority of syncers are going full tilt right away which must be making managers and clerks concerned. Unless they issue some new stringent corporate policy (like you mentioned), waiting might also be a good option. More cards may come in and less tempers may flare later.

  5. Soon they will close that loophole of using credit credits to purchase gift cards. Just like other merchants have done. At least they have some margin to work with when you buy grocery items to cover their offered discount.

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