Gift Cards for the Holidays: How to Earn the Most Points for Big Travel!

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Having trouble deciding what to get the hard-to-buy-for folks on your holiday shopping list?

Emily and I like to buy gift cards to restaurants, stores, airlines, and hotels for our friends and family.  They’re good as stocking stuffers or as presents for folks who already seem to have everything!

And at some stores, you could get even more points by shopping for gift cards through a shopping portal.

Gift Cards For The Holidays How To Earn The Most Points For Big Travel
Gift Cards Are a Great Option for Holiday Shopping – and Can Earn You Lots of Miles and Points

The great thing about gift cards is that there are lots of opportunities to earn extra miles and points when you buy them.

So you can give yourself the gift of Big Travel with Small Money at the same time!

Where Can You Earn a Bonus on Gift Cards?

1.   Airlines and Hotels

Most airline and hotel gift card transactions are processed by 3rd party sites, which does NOT get coded as travel by credit card issuers.  But there are a few airlines and hotels that do.
Gift Cards For The Holidays How To Earn The Most Points For Big Travel
Some Hotel Gift Cards, Like Marriott, Count as Travel

For hotel and airline gift card purchases that are considered travel, you’ll get 3 points per $1 you spend with your Citi Prestige card.

And you’ll get 2 points per $1 you spend with the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citi ThankYou Premier.  Or use the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to earn 2 miles per $1 (and redeem them for statement credits worth 2.1% back on travel).

Note:   Some office supply stores sell Southwest gift cards.  By using a card like Chase Ink Plus, Chase Ink Bold (no longer available), or Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card, you’ll earn 5 points per $1 you spend.

2.   Amazon & Department Stores

You can buy just about anything on Amazon, including gift cards to other stores!

And department stores sell their own gift cards, which could be a good gift for folks who shop at certain stores often.  But some department stores also sell gift cards to other merchants!

This could be a great deal for folks who have the Chase Freedom card.  Until the end of the year, you’ll get 5 points per $1 you spend (5% cash back) at Amazon,, and certain department stores, including gift cards, to a maximum of $1,500 in spending this quarter.

Gift Cards For The Holidays How To Earn The Most Points For Big Travel
Amazon Sells Gift Cards to Dozens of Restaurants and Stores!

And if you’re really at a loss, you can buy an Amazon Gift Card (good for any Amazon purchase) and get the same 5% bonus with the Chase Freedom card.  The gift card recipient can use it for anything on Amazon.

Note:   Points earned from the Chase Freedom and Chase Ink Cash can be transferred to Chase Ultimate Rewards airline, hotel, and rail transfer partners if you also have the Chase Ink Plus, Chase Ink Bold, or Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

3.   Entertainment

Do you have a movie lover, sports fan, or live theater enthusiast in your life?  You could earn bonus points with certain Citi cards for entertainment purchases, which include:

  • Sporting events
  • Live theater and concerts (includes ticketing agencies like Ticketmaster)
  • Movie theaters
  • Amusement parks (includes zoos, circuses, aquariums)
  • Tourist attractions, museums, art galleries
  • Record stores (including online)
  • Video rental stores (including online)
Gift Cards For The Holidays How To Earn The Most Points For Big Travel
Movie Theater Gift Cards Are a Great Gift for Anyone

To earn bonus points for entertainment gift cards, use these cards:

Note:  If you’re buying gift cards for tourist attractions, you could also use the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, which now includes tourist attractions on their list of travel redemption options.  You’ll get 2.1% back when you redeem the miles for travel.

And remember, some office supply stores such as Staples sell gift cards to AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas.  So you could use your Chase Ink Plus, Ink Bold, or Ink Cash to get 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

4.   Gas Stations & Supermarkets / Grocery Stores

Gas stations and supermarkets are probably not the 1st locations that come to mind when you think about holiday shopping.  But many gas stations and grocery stores sell gift cards to restaurants and other merchants!

And you can often buy Visa, MasterCard, or AMEX gift cards too (but you’ll pay a ~$4 to ~$6 fee for each card).

Gift Cards For The Holidays How To Earn The Most Points For Big Travel
Gas Stations Often Sell a Wide Variety of Gift Cards

You’ll earn bonus points when you use the following cards at gas stations and supermarkets:

  • American Express EveryDay Preferred – 2 points per $1 at US gas stations, 3 points per $1 at US supermarkets (3 points and 4.5 points respectively if you make 30+ transactions in a billing cycle)
  • Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express – 2 points per $1
  • Chase Ink Plus and Ink Bold – at gas stations only, 2 points per $1 up to $50,000 in purchases per card year (combined with hotels)
  • Chase Ink Cash – at gas stations only, 2 Chase Ultimate Rewards points or 2% cash back up to $25,000 in purchases per card year (combined with restaurants)

Gas stations and supermarkets are a convenient option for those last minute gifts you might have forgotten about!

Note:   If you want to buy a grocery gift card, some office supply stores sell Whole Foods gift cards.  You could earn 5 points per $1 you spend if you use the Chase Ink Plus, Chase Ink Cash, or Chase Ink Bold card.

5.   Office Supply Stores

Buying gift cards at office supply stores is 1 of my favorite ways to earn lots of extra points and cash back!

Stores like Staples and OfficeMax sell a wide range of gift cards, including airlines, hotels, gas stations, restaurants, other stores, and Visa, MasterCard, and American Express gift cards.

Gift Cards For The Holidays How To Earn The Most Points For Big Travel
Not Just Office Supplies – You Can Buy Lots of Different Gift Cards at Office Supply Stores

When you use your Chase Ink Plus, Chase Ink Cash, or Chase Ink Bold card at office supply stores, you’ll get 5 points per $1 you spend (up to $50,000 in purchases per card year for the Ink Plus and Ink Bold, and up to $25,000 for the Ink Cash).

Some gift cards sold at office supply stores that make good holiday gifts include:

  • Applebee’s
  • Babies R Us & Toys R Us (let the kids go on a shopping spree)
  • Barnes and Noble (for students and avid readers)
  • Bath & Body Works
  • Cheesecake Factory
  • Gap (includes Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athletica, and Piperlime)
  • Home Depot (makes a great gift for the handy person in your house!)
  • iTunes (can be used for music, apps, videos, and more)
  • Kohl’s
  • Olive Garden
  • Outback Steakhouse
  • Regal Cinemas
  • Pottery Barn
  • Sephora
  • SpaFinder (for the people in your life who need pampering)
  • Starbucks

6.   Restaurants

Buying gift cards or certificates directly from restaurants is another good way to earn bonus points.

While you can buy gift cards to big chains (like Applebee’s) at gas stations, supermarkets, and office supply stores, you can NOT get gift cards to local or independent restaurants unless you buy from the restaurant itself!

Gift Cards For The Holidays How To Earn The Most Points For Big Travel
Treat the Foodies In Your Life to a Restaurant Gift Card

Remember to use 1 of these cards to earn bonus points at restaurants:

A Note About Online Shopping

To really boost your bonus miles, points, and cash back earning, try to buy gift cards online if possible.  That’s because you can often go through a shopping portal 1st to earn even more of a bonus.

I quickly check Evreward before I shop online to see where the best shopping portal deals are.  They list cash back, bank point, airline mile, and hotel point portal bonuses.

Gift Cards For The Holidays How To Earn The Most Points For Big Travel
Check Evreward to Find the Best Portal Bonuses

While many merchants say you won’t get the extra points or cash back for buying gift cards or gift certificates through a portal, sometimes you’ll get the bonus anyway.

For example, Frequent Miler reports that even though gift cards are excluded from portal bonuses by most merchants, often folks do get the bonus.  You can always check the Frequent Miler Laboratory for what’s worked and what hasn’t. 

Stack Points for a Bonus Bonanza

If you use a credit card with a category bonus, you could get the extra credit card points AND the portal bonus. 

For example, you could use the Chase Freedom to earn 5X points at a department store, plus (possible) extra points for shopping through a portal.  That could be worth 10X points or more!

So if you’re buying gift cards online, it’s worth a try.  You might be pleasantly surprised when you get your next statement!

Bottom Line

Gift cards make great stocking stuffers and holiday gifts, especially for folks who are hard to buy for!

By matching up your cards to the places with bonus categories, you can earn lots of extra miles and points on gift cards this season.

And remember, many kinds of gift cards can be purchased online, so don’t forget to go through a shopping portal FIRST to make a good deal even sweeter.  You might get extra miles, points, or cash back!

Where do you like to shop for gift cards to earn miles and points?  Did I miss any of your favorites?

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