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Chase Ink 5X: Maximizing the 5x Spending Bonus on Retail Gift Cards

by on May 2, 2013 · 67 comments

in Chase, Credit Cards, Shopping

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One of the most lucrative credit card category spending bonuses, and the reason I love the Ink Bold and Ink Plus cards from Chase so much is the ability to earn 5X points per dollar you spend up to $50,000 a year each at office supply stores.

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 9.49.19 PM

Granted, very few businesses actually need to spend that much on office supplies, but big box stores like Office Depot and Staples actually stock a diverse range of products, including gift cards to various merchants as well as Visa and Amex gift cards (which do come with fees of around $3-5 each) that you can then use like normal credit cards on other purchases and earn 5X points per $1 instead of just 1X points per dollar.

Although some credit cards exclude gift cards from bonus spending categories, the terms of the Ink cards state: “You do not earn points on cash-like charges such as travelers checks, foreign currency, and money orders, overdraft advances, unauthorized or fraudulent charges, or fees of any kind.” That list excludes gift cards, so they are still eligible for the spending bonus, and you can earn 5X points on any number of purchases in-store, but by paying attention to what gift cards are available through the major retailers’ websites, you can double dip and earn even more Ultimate Rewards points.

I even spoke to Chase reps recently who confirmed that buying retail gift cards is not “gaming” and is within the rules of the program. Things did get hairy when people were buying huge quantities of Vanilla Reloads at Office Depot (and they’ve since been pulled), but my understanding is that retail gift cards are fine.

In-Store

While the actual inventory of gift cards can vary from store to store, I love Staples.com because it allows you to order fee-free e-gift cards from a number of retailers. For actual inventory in your store, you really need to go into the store or call ahead, so I’ve included gift card links and store locators for the top 3 big box retails in addition to the online Staples cards.

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 9.51.09 PM
Staples E Gift Cards
Aeropostale
American Eagle
Applebees
Bass Pro Shop
Belk
Black Angus
Boscovs
Boston Market
Brinkers
Build A Bear
Cabelas
California Pizza Kitchen
Catherines
Chili’s
Coldstone Creamery
Dave N Buster’s
Domino’s
Frontier Secure Gift Cards
Ghirardelli
Kmart
Kohl’s
Legal Sea Food
Lowe’s
Lord & Taylor
Macaroni Grill
Maggiano’s
Max and Ermas
Omaha Steaks
Petco
PF Changs
Regal Cinemas
Sears
Sephora
Southwest
SpaFinder
Stardoll Gift Card
Sunglass Hut
TGI Fridays
T-REx Cafe
Weeworld

Other popular gift cards available in store include Starbucks and other restaurants.

Office Max (Store locator)

Applebees
Bed Bath & Beyond
Chili’s
Home Depot
JCPenney
Kohl’s
Land’s End
Lane Bryant
Macaroni Grill
Maggiano’s
Nordstrom
Nike
Pizza Hut
PF Chang’s
Sephora
Starbucks
TJ Maxx
REI

Regularly you would earn 1 mile per $1 for these gift cards, but Office Max seems to charge a $.99 fee, so basically for 99 cents you’d be getting an extra 100 Chase points if you bought a $100 gift card, which I still feel is worth it, especially if you add on portal bonuses (though these points are not guaranteed, but some people have reported getting them on gift card purchases).

Office Depot (Store Locator)

While you might have trouble spending $50,000 a year at TJ Maxx or Red Lobster, by really perusing the shelves for gift cards, you can generate a lot of spending at all kinds of merchants including at gas stations like Shell, at different restaurants, on furniture, on movie tickets, gifts and more.

In fact, now that graduation season is upon us, you could consider getting the grad you know some useful gift cards including those from Amazon (where you can pretty much buy anything these days), Barnes & Noble or Bed, Bath & Beyond. Their dorm room will be stocked in no time!

Buy a Southwest

Buy a Southwest Airlines gift card in an office supply store and earn 5x Ultimate Rewards points with your Ink card.

For Southwest travelers, this is also a major boon since you can use your Ink card to earn 5X Ultimate Rewards points per $1 (which also transfer to Southwest if you have the Ink Bold, Ink Plus or Sapphire Preferred) and use it to pay for a Southwest gift card then use that for Southwest travel, earning the Rapid Rewards points you would on a flight the same as if you paid for it in cash, so that’s a nice little double-dip option. Same with Marriott gift cards if you’re aiming for some Marriott Rewards points (another Ultimate Rewards transfer partner).

You could also use your Ink Bold or Plus to buy prepaid cards, although many of these carry fees, and then just use those at merchants where you wouldn’t be earning any bonus points anyway to earn 5X instead of 1X points per dollar. Just beware that if you’re buying Amex gift cards for $3.95 each with a $200 limit (back in February Office Depot pulled the $500 prepaid cards), you’re getting an extra 800 points for $3.95, or about 0.5 cents each. That’s a bargain in my book since I value Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each – so you’re literally getting 4 times the value from them, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Online Shopping

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 9.53.24 PM

Apart from going into a physical store and buying gift cards, you can also find many of these online at the three major stores, meaning two things:

1. You can get them without having access to a physical store and…

2. You can check the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal to see if there are any additional spending bonuses at these particular stores.

To see what merchant-specific spending bonuses Ultimate Rewards is offering, go to UltimateRewards.com and log in with your information. Then click on the Earn Faster tab and it will pull up the shopping portal where you can search by merchant.

The current office supply store spending bonuses through the Ultimate Rewards portals.

The current office supply store spending bonuses through the Ultimate Rewards portals.

As of writing this, the Ultimate Rewards Ink portal was showing the following bonuses at the three major office supply stores:

Office Depot: 3 extra points per $1

Office Max: 3 extra points per $1

Staples: 2 extra points per $1

So if you were to go through the Ultimate Rewards portal to one of those sites and then buy gift cards online with your Ink Bold or Plus, not only would you be earning 5X points per $1, but you’d also be earning an additional 2-3 points depending on the merchant for a total of up to 8 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, which is an amazing value.

Both Office Max and Staples offer a lot of the same gift cards you’ll find in-store online, so instead of getting just 5X points per dollar and having to schlep into a store, you can just click away from the comfort of home and earn an extra 2-3 points per dollar. Southwest and Marriott cards are not available online– so no triple dipping here.

Office Depot is the major exception – they only sell their own gift cards. It’s unclear if you can then take these in to use them to buy other gift cards (though if anyone has experiences doing so, please report below!), but even if you’re just buying these for office supplies, you’re earning 8X points per $1 instead of just 5X points.

Buyer Beware

Before you go charging up $50,000 at once in gift cards, keep a few things in mind since you don’t want to raise any red flags with Chase.

In addition to spending as much as possible at bonus category merchants, be sure you use your Ink Bold or Plus at non-bonus merchants as well to be a good overall customer. I also have auto loans and savings accounts with Chase since I like to reward them for being so rewarding to me!

Pace your spending – don’t blow through the $50,000 annual limit in a couple months, but pace it out as evenly as possible so as not to cause the bank concern.

Watch your balances and debt. Don’t go ruining your credit by spending irresponsibly just to pick up these bonus points.

Create a deep, diverse relationship with Chase – the more accounts you have and the different kinds of accounts you have make you a more attractive customer to the bank and one it is less likely to view as taking advantage of the points system.

That said, the Ink Bold and Ink Plus 5X office supply category spending bonus is one of the most lucrative points-earning opportunities on the market. Buying gift cards at these stores is a great way to rack up tons of extra Ultimate Rewards points, even if you’re not spending your money on actual office supplies.

Share your thoughts – have you used gift cards to amplify your Ultimate Rewards earnings? If so, how?

Disclaimer: The responses below 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.

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  • Guest

    Does this work with Chase Sapphire Preferred or just the Bold? Thanks!

  • Mark

    Is there also a third level to this? If I go through a shopping portal to Staples to buy a Petco gift card, using my Ink card, I get the miles from the shopping portal, 5x from Chase Ink, and then additional miles for using a shopping portal to make an online purchase from Petco. Wouldn’t that work? Or am I missing something?

  • Rebecca D.

    I just went to buy an REI gift card from Office Max through the UR mall. The UR mall terms clearly say, “Not eligible on gift cards, gift
    certificates or any other similar cash equivalents (including but not
    limited to gifts with purchase), shipping and tax charges.” That sounds like I won’t get the portal bonus if 3 points per dollar but I will get the 5 points for the Ink spend at OM. Correct?

  • LarryInNYC

    Just ordered a new computer from Amazon. I could not find the model I wanted directly from any of the office supply stores (buying it from them, online, through the UR portal would have earned me 8 points per dollar), but I was able to buy Amazon gift cards at Staples. The result? 5 points per dollar for an Amazon purchase.

  • LarryInNYC

    Sapphire does not earn 5 points per dollar at office supply stores. You’ll only earn 1 point plus the online bonus of 2 or 3 points, for a total of 3 or 4 points per dollar.

  • http://twitter.com/garyleff gary leff

    @Mark the double shopping portal trick works with some merchants, not others

  • CCORD

    What other cards exclude earning points for gift cards besides Citi? Thanks.

  • hellogoodbye

    To avoid the fee for ink bold/ink plus after the free one year, can i use the ink cash to rack up the 5x points and then sign up for a sapphire preferred card to convert the “cash rewards” to a points reward?

  • Skwok

    The most common way i earn the 5X is the amazon gift cards at staples as the cards are no fee. With amazon prime a lot of our spending has shifted to Amazon so its a low hassle way to 5x. I have done the REI ones in store as well so i only got 5x instead of the potential 8x via website. The only downside is that there are some fees for these store gift cards online whereas there are none when you buy them in store. REI was $2 for $50, so is it $2 worth 150 points?

    Some has noted some success with getting the bonus on gift cards so either way worth a shot if you’re buying the gift card in store anyway.

  • AnthonyShin

    I purchased gifts cards from office max (via UR portal) a few weeks ago when they had the spend $200 get a $25 gift card back deal. Have not received portal points and it doesnt look like I will.

  • thepointsguy

    Some Amex cards – like the Hilton Amex and Surpass cards when you use them to buy gift cards at drugstores, though some people say they have still gotten the bonus points on these purchases.

  • CheapTricksToTravel

    I have stopped using my Ink Bold through the shopping portal because many times the points don’t show up and each time I’ve had to call and support my claim. I don’t know why they can’t see it on the statements–it’s completely clear. They have given me the points but they tell me it’s a courtesy gesture not because I rightfully earned them. It’s irritating.

  • thepointsguy

    Has your statement closed since the purchase?

  • http://www.facebook.com/solneuhardt Solomon Neuhardt

    Thanks for post!! Is it possible to buy visa or mastercard gift cards and then load these to bluebird? or prepaid cards? thanks again

  • AnthonyShin

    No, it’ll close next week. But it usually only takes UR a few days (a week at most) to post the pts in the “UR Mall and Travel Earnings” section.

  • thepointsguy

    Yes.

  • thepointsguy
  • Brent

    Is it possible to buy Amazon gift cards and use them to load an Amazon payments account?

  • thepointsguy

    No, but you can use other gift cards like Visa ones to fund your Amazon Payments account.

  • new

    My understanding is that UR shopping will not earn you points if you purchase gift cards, which is almost the case for all online stores, unless you go specifically to the link for purchasing gift cards.

  • http://twitter.com/Fearthebeard456 Ed Carney

    They show up, you are just doing it wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/solneuhardt Solomon Neuhardt

    I meant is it possible buy these at an office supply store and get mega points load onto bluebird? if so which gift cards? thanks so much!!!

  • welovekimberly

    Don’t forget, You get 5x pts for Cell phone, cable/internet bill. Set up auto pay and this will easily negate the annual fee.

  • Rob P

    2-3 times with UR Mall and other portals my points didn’t post and the only problem, as far as I could tell, is that I was logged in too long, although there was no warning on my end.

  • Rob P

    2-3 times with UR Mall and other portals my points didn’t post and the only problem, as far as I could tell, is that I was logged in too long, although there was no warning on my end.

  • Rob P

    2-3 times with UR Mall and other portals my points didn’t post and the only problem, as far as I could tell, is that I was logged in too long, although there was no warning on my end.

  • thepointsguy

    As Gary said, it works with some vendors. Some not, but it never hurts to try- especially when earning the gift cards via office supplies earns more points than the portal directly

  • thepointsguy

    Correct, but you still may be able to get the portal bonus when using those gift cards at REI.com… never hurts to try!

  • thepointsguy

    Nicely done!

  • disqust101

    Office Depot and Staples charge $5.95 per $200 gc, not $3.95. So cost is 0.7 cpp, not 0.5.

  • Richard B

    I found the same message as Rebecca at UR Mall: “Not eligible on gift cards, etc.” I called Chase and the rep said in order to get points at REI.com, Office Max, Office Depot, etc. or any other participating store, I must purchase through the UR Mall portal and it must be paid with my Chase credit card. In other words, I cannot receive extra points via the UR Mall by paying with gift cards of any kind. I guess I’m a slow learner. Am I missing something or is this correct?

  • bookaunt

    I am waiting for this month’s statement to see it officially, but I did receive email notices that I got extra points from my UR mall portal shopping at 2 different merchants even though for one I mostly used gift cards and the other I used a non-Chase card.

  • bookaunt

    I am waiting for this month’s statement to see it officially, but I did receive email notices that I got extra points from my UR mall portal shopping at 2 different merchants even though for one I mostly used gift cards and the other I used a non-Chase card.

  • matthicks024

    Can you sign up for a business card that for a legitimate business and then simply use that card for personal use as long as you don’t claim it on business expenses for tax reasons? i.e. can i buy these gift cards for personal use or do they need to be for my business?

  • jiff

    You are a GOD. I started the points game last year, slowly. Got the Ink Bold a few months ago and still learning the beauty of it. I will forever be in your debt, THANK YOU for enlightening me to the possibilities.

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  • rwbil

    With the 5X reward can you use them for other things beside airline miles. I really would prefer a gift card. Also I am ideally looking for a cash back card that offer 5% on Drug Store Purchases to buy vanilla visa cards. Any suggestions?

  • rwbil

    With the 5X reward can you use them for other things beside airline miles. I really would prefer a gift card. Also I am ideally looking for a cash back card that offer 5% on Drug Store Purchases to buy vanilla visa cards. Any suggestions?

  • 800lbgorilla

    Staples.com is selling $50 Itunes gift cards for $40. Nice way to save 20% on itunes purchases on top of 5x rewards!

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  • Meghanb904

    Any idea how long it takes to receive Staples.com bought gift certificates? I just ordered Marriott gift cards from Staples.com for an upcoming stay, but the expected delivery date is over three weeks away! I’ve been on the phone with Staples for 18 minutes so far with no clear resolution. Any input?

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  • steve

    They take anywhere from 1-10 business days to deliver because they farm this out to a separate vendor. So…don’t buy these cards if you actually need to use them quickly!

  • Rhys

    Is the 5X Points on $50,000 max at Office Supply Store per Ink Card (say $50K each for an Ink Bold and Ink Plus for a total of $100K,) or per Ultimate Reward Account?

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  • Rodney

    Hi I’d like to know if its possible for one person to have multiple bluebird card accounts, since one card has a 5k/month limit, if can have a second one that can use to load 10k worth of prepaid cards purchased at office supply stores (have both the Ink Bold & Ink Plus cards, looking for how to get the entire bonus for both)

  • Rookiemiles

    Just found your great advice here. Do you know if Office Depot still selling $500 Visa GCs and accepting CC (Chase Ink) as payment? I want to load the Visa GCs I got from Office Depot to Bluebird. Do you know I need to setup PIN before I can load to Bluebird?

    Thanks.

  • ericdabbs

    I would still take 3 or 4 points per dollar at office stores considering I don’t have an Chase Ink card but the big question is whether you can buy gift cards via the online portal and still receive the extra 2 or 3 points by going through UR portal.

  • Jim O.

    I just received my Bold card a few days ago and wanted to maximize my options, so I needed new office chairs and a few other things like a cable modem, laptop charger, etc. So ordered from Staples.com after becoming a Staples Rewards member for free shipping. While there I ordered 10x $200 Visa Gift cards since I am going on a business trip soon and can use the cards for our meals. Since I went through the UR Portal, expecting 7x points. I did this a few times for the Visa Gift Cards and also Dining Cards at other restaurants, so exceeded my initial $5K purchases, so will get 7x points for the $7K in items and then that gets me the 60K initial sign-up bonus. Huge score!!! Thanks for all the tips/advise! What’s interesting is on my second purchase I was trying to buy $3K in gift cards and I got a call from Staples telling me the order was cancelled due to Fed rules limiting such purchases to $2K per transaction and $10K per day. So I had to break it down to smaller purchases to get under $2K. Thought that was interesting…

  • Corey

    I know this is an older post, but I was going to give it a try soon. Right now, Staples.com, through the UR portal, is doing 4x extra points per dollar (so 9 points total per dollar with your original 5x with Chase Sapphire). However, with the fine print on the UR portal saying “not eligible on gift cards”, are some people still having luck with getting the bonus points from the portal anyway (specifically Visa gift cards)? I ask because, if it does work, then it makes the most sense for me to buy the Visa gift cards through the UR portal from Staples.com ($6.95 cost in $200 increments). If it doesn’t work, then I’m better off going to buy them in-store from Office Depot ($4.95 cost in $500 increments). Thoughts?

  • Corey

    Edit: I meant Chase Ink Bold / Plus, not Sapphire.

  • Justin

    Is this still a useful card? I tried using it at Office Depot and I could not purchase gift cards. Have not tried to use at staples yet

  • Justin

    From my experiences, it is not possible to buy gift cards at OD with a credit card. Cash only.

  • Strongbad

    I only go to Staples for gift cards. Office depot doesnt sell any Visa/MC gift cards that can be loaded into bluebird.

  • Justin

    Any idea why when I load VCGs at the WM MoneyCenter kiosk it prompts for pin, I type it in (card was registered at site and pin created), and it reprompts for the PIN. No error message..just keeps asking for me to type in pin every time I do and hit enter…perpetual loop =/

  • Strongbad

    For Visa gift cards (Metabank) i just use the last 4 numbers of the credit card as PIN.
    For Master Cards i used the PIN that is given with the card. (on separate piece of paper)
    Always works

    Also might be the WM Kiosk that is the problem. I have like 6 Walmarts within 30mins driving. only 1 has a working Kiosk :(

  • Justin

    You may be right on that. I loaded the card originally to BB fine, but then when I went to put remainder on at the kiosk (1st transaction was done at register) it didnt want to take the pin. Went home and registered card, went back about an hour later and card still wouldnt go through.

    I got a couple liquidation questions.

    Any issues with ATM withdraws, sending cash to checking, or buying MOs with BB? I seem to be able to withdraw up to 1k a day. If I deposit 1k of cards and then withdraw 1k at ATM, wouldnt that either raise a big red flag with WM or BB?

  • Strongbad

    Yeah ive read around that depositing money with cards and then withdrawing them could get your account suspended. best way is to use the “pay bill” option in bluebird to pay off the credit card you used to buy the gift cards. much safer. or pay other bills through it. (from personal experience it takes a few days for the payment to appear on your credit card account, i suggest sending $10 first. see if it arrives and then sending a bigger amount)

  • Michael Paul

    For sure. I spend about $200/mo between cell phone and internet. Since I have a Southwest Companion Pass, that means my wife and I can fly to San Diego once every 4 months or so for free and visit my mom. It’s a great benefit, to be sure.

  • Michael Paul

    Best way to find out is test it out yourself; you’ll find that sometimes things work in certain cities/towns where they don’t work elsewhere (due to the restrictions being rolled out to various stores and some stores either haven’t received the memo, or their managers/employees don’t–or loosely–enforce the policy). As always, your mileage may vary.

  • Joe

    I hate when it is suggested to purchase Shell gift cards. Last time I checked (and I’m pretty sure I’m right), Shell is typically higher per gallon than most other stations. So…………..I’m supposed to pay 15 cents/gallon higher at Shell just so I can use the gift card? When something is not needed or the best deal, it’s never a bargain.

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