Score Free Travel With Points From Retail Gift Cards

Earning points for travel is almost as fun and rewarding as redeeming travel points for free flights or free hotel rooms. One of the easiest ways I earn valuable points for travel is by buying retail gift cards.

Many credit cards offer bonus points depending on what you buy. You might get bonus points when using your credit card at a certain store (such as with a Costco card), a category of stores (e.g., drugstores or grocery stores), or when booking travel.

Here I will focus on using credit cards that offer bonus points for purchases at stores where you can buy retail gift cards. For me, I mostly do so at grocery stores but there are other possibilities.

And please share my article with your family, friends, and coworkers who share our passion to travel happier.

Earn Extra Points for Travel With Retail Gift Cards

Earning points and using points is one of the most popular ways to save money on travel.

Among the more than 200 travel experts I interviewed, points was the most frequent response to “top 3 money-saving tips.” So, it is not just me who loves to travel for free by using points.

More than half of US consumers buy gift cards as holiday gifts. Gift cards are convenient because they do not have to be wrapped and they allow the recipient to buy what they really want. Gift cards help eliminate gift giving angst.

While buying gift cards for others is quite acceptable, I buy a lot of gift cards for myself. I will tell you why I do, how I buy and use them, and how I earn a lot of points.

Almost two-thirds of those gift cards are bought directly from the store where they will be used. McCool Travel tip: I will show you where to buy retail gift cards so that you will earn bonus points.

What Are Retail Gift Cards?

Next time you see a gift card display (at a grocery store, an office supply store, or Lowes/Home Depot), note the variety of gift cards.

Basically, there are two types of gift cards:

  1. Gift cards you can use anywhere—Visa and Mastercard gift cards
  2. Gift cards you can use at only one place—I call them retail gift cards

This article focuses exclusively on the second type, retail gift cards. But definitely also learn how to get free travel from Visa and Mastercard gift cards.

Some retail gift cards I purchase and use:

  • Apple
  • Amazon
  • Netflix
  • Lowes
  • Home Depot

Other popular retail gift cards include Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, department stores (Target, Macys, Kohls, Nordstrom, Wayfair), gas stations (Sheetz, Wawa, Shell, BP, Sunoco), restaurants (On the Border, Chilis, Chipotle), and so many more.

Reasons to Buy Retail Gift Cards

The primary reason I buy retail gift cards for myself is to increase the numbers of points I can earn. The more points I earn, the more free travel I can get. “Learn. Earn. Burn.” is a travel points motto.

I only buy retail gift cards that I will use and that will earn more points than I can receive from other sources.

The retail gift cards I buy and use are for purchases I intend to make anyway. Instead of paying for Amazon purchases with a credit card, I buy and use Amazon gift cards. Same with Lowes, Home Depot, and even Apple.

With Amazon, as an example, I earn one point per dollar (1X) with my credit card on but I earn four points per dollar (4X) when I buy Amazon gift cards.

McCool Travel tip: learn the point bonuses of your credit card(s). For example, if your credit card offers 5X for fuel purchases then it does not make sense to buy fuel gift cards for 4X.

Earning Bonus Points From Retail Gift Cards

My summary for buying retail gift cards for bonus points:

  1. Determine which of your credit cards offer bonus points.
  2. Find retail gift cards for planned, upcoming purchases you intend to make anyway.
  3. Buy those retail gift cards with your bonus point earning credit card.
  4. Use the retail gift cards for purchases instead of regular credit card, cash, or check.
  5. Repeat process and earn a ton of bonus points.

For most of my retail gift card purchases I use two credit cards—American Express Gold Card or Chase Ink Preferred Business Card.

When I use American Express Gold Card at grocery stores, I earn four points per dollar (4X). I earn 5X on office supply store purchases with my Chase Ink card.

Note that if click either of the above two links and apply for either credit card (and are accepted), I receive some bonus points. Thank you.

Where I Buy Retail Gift Cards

I buy most of my retail gift cards at grocery stores. Using my American Express Gold Card, I earn four points per dollar (4X) on grocery store purchases, including gift cards.

Why do I not buy retail gift cards at an office supply store and earn an extra point?

I gladly would but office supply stores are over 25 minutes from my house and in locations I rarely go to. But when I am near an Office Depot or Staples, I often buy retail gift cards there. Usually when I am on trips.

Anyway, I have a choice of five different grocery store chains that sell retail gift cards within a few minutes of my house. And I usually buy groceries two or three times a week so it is very convenient for me to add a retail gift card or several to my order.

grocery store display of retail gift cards
grocery store display of retail gift cards

Other places to buy retail gift cards include wherever you earn bonus points with your credit card. Your credit card may offer bonus points for purchases from drugstores, gas stations, the store itself (such as Barnes & Noble), etc.

McCool Travel tip: I also like to buy restaurant gift cards especially at year end when restaurants offer a 20% or 25% bonus.

Bonus Points From Retail Gift Cards Examples

Let’s say you will be making a $200 order with Amazon. You usually pay with a credit card that gives you one point per dollar.

  • Pay with usual credit card, 200 points
  • Buy $200 Amazon gift card from grocery store and with your American Express Gold, 800 points

If you do this one time per month, you will earn an extra 7,200 points per year.

Or you plan to buy a new $1,500 refrigerator from Lowes or Home Depot

  • Pay with usual credit card, 1,500 points
  • Buying $1,500 in gift cards from Staples using Chase Ink, 7,500 points

Using gift cards for this one-time purchase, you will earn an extra 6,000 points.

So, what are points worth? Great question. Read on.

Bonus Points and Retail Gift Cards FAQ

Do I have to spend extra money to earn bonus points?

No, you do not have to spend extra money to earn bonus points from retail gift cards. Retail gift cards are fee-free and sell for face value; a $100 gift card costs $100.

Which retail gift cards should I not buy?

I suggest not buying retail gift cards for stores you do not intend to visit or where you earn the same number of points (or more) in other ways. I do not typically buy travel gift cards, such as for airlines, hotels, and cruise lines because I earn more points with my credit card.

Are there risks to buying retail gift cards?

Losing a retail gift card is one of my biggest worries. That is why I only buy what I intend to use soon. With Netflix and Amazon gift cards, I load them into my account balance as soon as I am home. For retail gift cards I use online or in stores, I kept them in a safe spot where I can find them right away.

Other risks for buying retail gift cards can include theft, loss, and fraud. Make sure that the security information has not been tampered with before you buy them.

Some retail gift cards charge a maintenance fee (like $1 a month), generally after one year. Yet another reason I suggest only buy retail gift cards that you will use right away.

Is there a maximum limit of points to be earned for retail gift cards?

OK, big spender. Both of the cards I listed above have a maximum spend limit of $25,000 annually. So, I could earn a maximum of 100,000 AMEX and 125,000 Chase points every year.

I have not yet reached that spending limit on either or any credit card. I shall try harder!

Besides points, are there other benefits to retail gift cards?

Retail gift card purchases apply to your customer loyalty account. My local grocery store issues a $20 credit when I collect 1,200 points. If the store has a promo of six points per dollar on a retail gift card purchase, I will earn a $20 credit when buying a $200 gift card. That 10% discount ($20 credit) is in addition to the 800 points I earn in my credit card points (with AMEX).

Another benefit I learned that certain gas stations use the cash price when using gift cards. This applies where there is a credit card markup. I believe the fuel brands are Shell and BP.

What are credit card points worth?

My baseline value is one cent for each credit card point. 1,000 credit card points are worth $10.

In the $1,500 example above, the bonus points (6,000) on top of a basic credit card would be worth $60. Is it worth $60 to buy $1,500 worth of retail gift cards? For me, yes it is, when the process is easy and convenient.

BUT my goal is to redeem credit card points for a higher value than merely one cent. I have scored 15 cent and higher redemption values, making those 6,000 points worth $900 or more.

Recent award travel opportunities include 3,000 for a free Hyatt night and 5,000 points for US cross country flights and even flights between NYC and Europe.

So your 6,000 extra points can be redeemed, at a minimum, for two Hyatt nights or a round-trip Europe flight. That sounds nice, right?

If you want to read more about the power of free points for travel, see My 4 Continent, Free Flight Adventure.

Do you buy retail gift cards for bonus points for travel? Let me know.

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