The Staples Conundrum – A Different Way to Look at Things

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visa gift cards at staples

The Conundrum – Buying Mastercard & Visa Gift Cards at Staples

Yesterday Ed over at Pizza in Motion relayed a story from one of his readers about the possibility of Staples no longer accepting credit cards for the purchase of Visa or Mastercard gift cards. I addressed the rumor yesterday, but I found another thing of interest in his post that I wanted to follow up on.

In his post, Ed said, “It’s worth noting that it’s not really a good value to buy Visa and Mastercard gift cards with a credit card at office supply stores.  The fee charged to purchase them usually mitigates the value of the miles.”

Most people who have been around for awhile have already done the math on buying gift cards at Staples with their Chase Ink cards, however it occured to me that beginners may not have.

With the recent disappearances of a lot of what I call “low hanging fruit” opportunities, a lot of newer people are probably looking at this as an option.  Since the value of any deal is highly personal, I figured I would show you why I believe it is a phenomenal deal.

I don’t fault Ed for his opinion, since as I said, everyone is different. What is a good deal for me is not necessarily a good deal for someone else.

The Simple Math

So lets take a look at some of the basic math of buying $200 Visa or Mastercard gift cards at Staples with a Chase Ink Visa card.  After paying the $6.95 fee and receiving a 1% rebate with Visa Savings Edge, your out of pocket cost is $204.88 for a card that is worth $200. The purchase of this card will net you 1035 points.

In the end, you have 1035 points for $4.88. Essentially you just purchased Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a little less than 1/2 cent each ($.0047). Considering most people value these points at around 2 cents each, that is a really good deal if you have a good use for the points.

The No Money Option

visa gift cards at staples

Before I move on to this next option, I want to mention that I do not do it myself. I normally follow the math as outlined above as it makes the most sense to me. With that said, there is another way you could go about this. Lets take a look in more detail.

What if you didn’t want to spend $4.88 out of pocket? In that case you could use 488 of the points earned to pay yourself back at $.01 each. (Chase allows you to redeem UR points at $.01 each for a statement credit.) After bringing your cash out of pocket down to $0, you would still have 547 Ultimate Rewards. These points come at no monetary cost to you, but your time still has value.

So lets say you and a spouse both have Bluebird/Serve cards and can load $10,000 per month. After paying yourself back, you would net 27,350 points which are worth $547. Are those $547 in points worth it for the time it takes to buy and liquidate the gift cards?

Time Calculations

Each trip to Staples takes me about 30 minutes total so I will use that as a benchmark. Lets say you buy $2,000 in each trip and thus make five trips per month, taking 150 minutes in total.

In my experience each gift card takes about 2 minutes to liquidate to Bluebird/Serve on average. That would mean another 100 minutes to liquidate the 50 $200 cards.

Considering Bluebird/Serve card load limits are $2,500 per day it would take two trips to Walmart to load everything. If it takes 10 minutes each way to Walmart. That is 40 minutes total.

So time wise we have 150 minutes for Staples, 40 minutes for Walmart driving and 100 minutes for gift card loading which equates to just under 5 hours. If we round up to five hours, the haul comes out to roughly $109 per hour. Not bad.

Should You Do This

visa gift cards at staples
The green $100 gift cards aren’t a good deal at $5.95, but I believe the yellow $200 card are a great deal!

I am perfectly happy paying the $4.88 and keeping the extra points, however this is a completely free (money wise) way to earn very valuable points. In the scenario mentioned above, a couple could earn 328,200 Ultimate Rewards points for 60 hours worth of work over the course of a year. That is pretty darn good.

The main purpose of this post is to demonstrate how to think about these things a different way. While I don’t pay myself back at $.01 each, I think it is a perfectly legitimate way to ensure you aren’t spending any money to obtain these points.

I am completely aware that the time this deal takes is reliant on how far Staples and Walmart are from your home, however that is a calculation you can do yourself. Additionally, some people may not value Ultimate Rewards points so high, so that can be a personal adjustment as well.


Whether or not you pay yourself back or go with the more common way of going about this deal, I fail to see how it isn’t a good deal. Ultimate Rewards points are flexible and valuable and I can never seem to have enough of them. Sure this deal requires people get a Chase Ink card, but it is already one of the best cards out there and one that I highly recommend.

Hopefully this showed you another way to think about this deal. It is this analytical way of thinking that leads towards a better understanding of advanced techniques in my opinion.

So what do you think? Is it a good deal to buy Visa or Mastercard gift cards at Staples? Am I way off base with this post? Are you tired of seeing me write about Staples? (I will probably take a break from it for awhile.) Let me know!


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.

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  1. I am not sure why all bloggers think generating UR points via MS @ staples is great deal. Its good but not great at all. So if I am only interested in Hyatt points which I can transfer UR to Hyatt 1:1. So category 6 Hotel @hyatt costs 25000 points and that would take $122 of MS @ staples. Now in most cases this category 6 cost is around @200 ( yes you can argue and point out higher price in exotic location during peak time) but if you add cost + time and all walmart trips etc its just OK deal unless I am missing something.
    What is the best cheapest way to generate Hyatt points for almost free night ?

    • You tend to make good points, however I generally only see category 6 hotels at $300 or more. Sure there are seasonal exceptions, but there are always exceptions.

      With Hyatt specifically, there are a ton of great redemptions though. I recently stayed at Hyatt Regency hotels in Wichita and Tulsa. Both are category 1 properties. If you manufacture at 1/2 cent a piece then that costs only $25 per night. Those hotels go for well north of $100.

      Category 2 properties at 8,000 are a great deal. I can name countless that I have stayed at and their rates are all generally 4x the out of pocket cost of generating UR points.

      People should never speculatively generate points. In other words earn and burn. Also, higher category redemptions are more about the experience rather than the value. I try to maximize lower level categories as much as possible in all programs. Thanks for commenting!

  2. IMO the math might be correct, but the logic is not. Instead of dividing each card transaction into a points earn and points redeemed portion to go fee free, just make your first X cards all URs for hoarding, and your next Y cards all URs for paying down your fee.

    Then ask yourself, once your are purely earning for 1:1, is it worth your time to continue, or would you eat the cost?

    I agree with one thing though, your content has been very interesting of late, and it isn’t easy to put out that at volume, so great job!

  3. I agree with you but the problem is liquidating these cards which is a pain. It used to be so easy with evolve, money orders for $200 each or $199.30 to include the fee is not cheap.

    • They are easily loaded to Bluebird or Serve at Walmart. It is definitely a personal decision, but there is profit in it for sure. Plus don’t forget you can combine up to four of these to purchase a money order at Walmart. Also, many grocery stores allow you to use multiple payments for a single money order if you go that route.

  4. You might even get better value with something like the Amex Every Day card for 3x at grocery stores, where you could get a $500 card for $5.95 fee. So 1500 Membership Rewards points for $5.95, or 905 net points if you pay yourself back at 1c / point

    • The Amex Everyday is limited to $6,000 per year in spending at 3x. After that it reverts back to 1x. But that kind of thinking is what I am talking about. There are other credit cards to use and other stores to buy gift cards at. It all depends on your priorities and what currency you want to earn in.

    • And if you have the Preferred, you get 50% bonus with 30 swipes, so getting 4.5x MRs. Run up $6K at grocery and sock drawer it for a year (or whenever decent Sync deals are available)

      • I agree the Preferred card is good, however at $6k a year it is very limited. In this post I wasn’t trying to address every single deal available, only a specific deal at a specific store.

  5. I agree it is a fabulous deal, especially with the current Visa Edge. But I would never want to endanger my precious Ink card, so I try not to overdo it. No idea if that’s a concern or not. Interested in your opinion on that.
    Also, we are now finding that our closest Walmart will only allow us to load one card at a Walmart visit to Bluebird, notwithstanding the $2,500 limit, so we try to do it when we have another reason to be in the Walmart vicinity.

    • I use my Ink cards for a variety of purchases, but have never heard of people being shutdown, unless they are doing a crazy amount of spend. The Ink cards are limited to $50,000 each year in 5x spend, so there is some constraint. (For simplicity I didn’t factor that into my argument.)

      As for Walmart not letting you do more than one, that really stinks. We have kiosks here which I use, but I also sometimes go to the Money Center then across to a far away cashier and then to another cashier on the other side of the store if I have issues. Try to do it so they don’t see you. That 1 card rule is something I have never heard of.

      • Never heard of Chase shutting people down? Really? I know 6 people who’ve been shut, some of whom did very little MS compared to what many others say they do. And it’s almost all due to office supply activities.

        So moral of the story is, be careful out there….

        • While I don’t know who you are talking about, I have found that most people vastly under report how much they have spent. There is always something more to the story. If they were shut down with little MS then something else caused it to happen. Why would they be shut down and not others.

          Either they were going way over the top with their spending and are lying or something else happened with their overall relationship with Chase. I have always talked about being a profitable customer for Chase overall. I make sure to do that by mixing in regular spend. While that is not the most efficient route, it works for me.

    • Good point. The math works out the same (less time though) if you buy them online and then you don’t have to go to Staples. I usually do a combination of both, but the online option is definitely more convenient. Some people don’t like waiting for the cards to come, but I have never had any issues. Thanks for the reminder Ben!

  6. Your analysis is sound and makes perfect sense to me. I just hope it stays around as an option for a long time. 🙂


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