The Aftermath of the Home Improvement Gift Card Deal

This card is the cause of much woe to many people right now.

This card is the cause of much woe to many people right now.

The recent Home Improvement Gift Card (HIGC) “deal” makes for a very interesting case study. I’ve written about the secrecy that exists in the points world and even wrote a post called “Is there a ‘Code’ Among Points Bloggers?” The main idea is that there are tons of deals that exist in the points/miles world that are not shared for the simple reason that a blogger sharing the deal would kill the deal. And this last HIGC deal is a perfect example of this.

First, here’s a brief timeline of what happened:

  • Blogger Points to Paradise blogs about the deal on 7/29 and tweets it to Frequent Miler
  • A FlyerTalk user posts it on FT shortly after reading the blog post on 7/29
  • Million Mile Secrets posts the deal early morning on 7/31
  • The deal dies the morning/afternoon of 8/1

There were undoubtedly quite a few people/FlyerTalkers that already knew that HIGCs were PIN-enabled before the initial blog post. Many have admitted so on the official FlyerTalk thread on this deal. They chose to keep it secret, or share it with only a few, trusted people in order to preserve the deal for themselves and a small group of others. By not letting the world (i.e. FlyerTalk or bloggers) know, they and a few others get to earn free points for an indefinite amount of time.

But eventually someone else, a relatively new blogger named Points to Paradise, also discovered this trick. She wrote about the deal on her blog because, according to her responses to some negative comments, she wanted to give back to a community that has given her so much. That’s absolutely wonderful, and she should be applauded for wanting to give back to our community.

Unfortunately there were some very unintended consequences to this deal. I learned about this deal from FT as well and wrote two posts about it: one was very vague since I wanted to preserve the deal, and the second was a full post that I made after Million Mile Secrets’ post (when he posts a deal, the cat’s out of the bag). I was sure to post very strong warnings on this deal because these gift cards are not cash equivalents, so there was a lot more risk than with previous deals.

Now the deal is officially dead. These HIGCs are simply just gift cards once again. There is no easy way to liquidate them, though there are a couple of options that I’ll mention later. The problem? There are TONS of people that are stuck with literally thousands and thousands of dollars worth of these gift cards with no easy way to recoup their money. I received several Direct Messages on Twitter from people asking for advice because they needed to liquidate these soon.

So something that was intended to give back to the community actually backfired on a lot of people in a very significant and potentially costly way. I have $2k of these cards left myself, and I know plenty of people that have over $1K just from reading a few tweets.

And that brings me back to the same question I ask every time one of these deals comes along and then dies: should it be blogged or written about? It took all of ONE DAY after Million Mile Secrets’ post to go live before the deal died (he has massive readership). I’m not really blaming him – he posts this type of material all the time so it was only a matter of time.

On the other hand, Frequent Miler, who is the blogging king of manufactured spend, knew about the deal several days earlier and decided not to write about it. I haven’t asked him why he didn’t, but my guess is that he chose not to in order to preserve the deal for others since it’s obvious it would die if he wrote about it. I actually think we all owe him a bit of thanks for exercising restraint, and it’s one reason I choose to use his referral links when I need to.

But now that the deal is dead, and while plenty of people benefited from it for 2 days, now no one can benefit from it. I really feel for the people that knew about this deal for the last several months because their gravy train has come to a sudden halt. No deal lasts forever, but it’s always a bummer when a good deal you were taking advantage of dies. But unlike other deals, this one also leaves a lot of people with gift cards that they don’t know how to liquidate. Everyone that participated in this is an adult and hopefully took stock of the risks involved, but sometimes people make mistakes. Hopefully the below will help.

Options if You’re Stuck with HIGCs

For those people have more than they can reasonably use, there are a couple of options. First of all, realize that the HIGC can be used at hundreds of locations. Home Depot and Lowe’s are only some of them, but these can be used at places like Sears, 1-800-Flowers.com, Radio Shack, and some car rental places. See this post by Thrifty Tourist for more interesting uses. I couldn’t get the HIGC website’s search function to work while writing this post, but I’m assuming it will be back soon.

Another option is to “upgrade”, or use this gift card to buy other gift cards from Lowe’s or Sears. Lowe’s sells gift cards to Amazon, Southwest Airlines, Marriott, and a couple of gas stations among many others. Sears has plenty of gift cards available as well.

The most interesting option is courtesy of FT user jammanxc (also the blogger at Points Summary). He wrote in this FT post that if you own a Home Depot or Sears credit card, you can essentially earn a negative balance on the card and then have the card issuer cut you a check for the amount. I’ve never done this but it sounds reasonable that it would work., and Jamison even tweeted me a link to these instructions online.

Otherwise, hopefully you can float the money for a while. These home improvement stores sell plenty of household items, so hopefully you can chip away at your gift cards while buying products you actually need. Just try not to buy anything you wouldn’t otherwise buy.

Poll

I’m curious to know what everyone thinks about this deal. I’m setting up a simple poll below on whether you think deals like this should be shared even though it’s guaranteed to die in days, or whether to not share and allow a small group of people to profit. I’m also curious to hear if you’re stuck with a large amount of gift cards and/or if you have other ideas to liquidate them.

Question
Should Deals Like This Be Shared?

 

Update: Other Resources

Comments

  1. I’m also stuck with 4 of these. IMHO, these deals should not be shared, and I wish MMS would not post about them. Did you see his post this morning? Very insulting and hypocritical. I hope the sheeple that follow him wake up and see he leads them off a cliff.

  2. MMS is THE WORST. He reminds me so much of Jim Cramer. Cramer’s stock picks have a short term gain and long term loss. Same with MMS – helps some noobs for a bit but eventually becomes the cause for the deal’s failure. This time he has egg on his face since there’s no doubt he killed the deal in just 24 hours.

    Unfortunately I don’t think he’ll stop. He brands himself as the guy who gives away these secrets, but look how much money he’ll end up costing people that can’t liquidate these. How many people can’t pay their mortgage or other bills this month because they’re in too deep on the HIGC? The sad thing is there’s always gonig to be beginners that flock to him. I will say this, the guy knows his audience. And he mercilessly exploits them. The poster above used the correct term when he said sheeple, but they’re also kind of like lemmings.

    • If you can’t pay your bills this month because you bought some HIGC gift cards, you have no business playing this game at ALL.

      • Travel Summary says:

        I agree 100%. It’s why I wrote a post titled “If You’re Rich, then the Points Game is for You!” http://travel-summary.com/if-youre-rich-then-the-points-game-is-for-you/

        Gotta be able to float the cash for deals like these!

      • ArizonaGuy says:

        Daraius is an arrogant hypocrite. Is disingenuous to claim your readers are intelligent enough not to go into debt on this deal when all of the information is provided about how to exploit it. People read points and miles blogs specifically to learn how to play these games. Then the deal dies and Daraius has the nerve to say in his follow-up post that this is why you should only use gift cards as intended.

        He now ranks right there with Brian Kelly as one of the worst, untrustworthy and unethical (and that’s saying something in the points & miles game) bloggers in our little hobby. Sorry, business. Must remember he also has his on LLC’s and rakes in large sums from the credit card affiliate referrals that the same naive readers invariably apply for through his links.

  3. It is really, really, really, really…. really naive to think that the Points to Paradise lady posted this “to give back to the community that gave her so much”. I call absolute BS on that. She did it because she got in a deal she know would be dynamite and put her on the map. MMS just then did what he does best. Personally I am highly entertained by all this. In a sense there is some karma about people being stuck with thousands of dollars of these things. Sharing is caring. LOL

  4. I knew about this one there had been several references to it recently in the comments section of my blog, and I didn’t post it because (1) it’s not really my beat, though I do stray when things interest me, and (2) because my guess is it wouldn’t last and folks were going to be stranded with money once it was pulled. If it lasted a few weeks after being out there publicly I would likely have covered it with the caveat that the merry-go-round would stop and folks at that point would be left with home improvement gift cards they couldn’t liquidate.

    I do think that once it’s out there it’s fair game. You can’t keep information a secret forever. Folks who were using it while it’s quiet benefited from that. They too knew or should have known it would end eventually, and that when it ended there would be people left holding the cards.

    There will be other deals. Information about those will start off in a closed circle and gradually expand. I didn’t mention Vanilla Reloads at 7-11 until it was posted publicly elsewhere, and even then only in a parenthetical because again not really my beat as such.

    I have no problem breaking deals. Sometimes I don’t know that they are pre-existing secrets precisely because they haven’t been shared with me that way! I’ve never broken a confidence though, and do not post things first when something has been shared with me with the request not to share further.

    We all have our codes on this. I don’t begrudge the lesser-known blog from writing about this, forget the motive they thought it was cool and a big deal and wanted to be first, so what? It’s exciting stuff. Makes them a hero to some, a villain to others, and that’s simply how stuff works. I don’t begrudge MMS either. It’s precisely his beat.

    And we don’t know that “MMS killed it” or “the much-larger FT killed it.” We don’t know if it’s because someone read about it online affiliated with the company, or it was triggered by volume. Very hard to assess blame so most go pointing fingers at their preferred targets.

    The only thing that’s certain is that every deal ends, and new ones arise.

    • Travel Summary says:

      You’re right, we don’t know for sure that MMS killed it or if FT killed it. But we have several examples of deals coming to an end shortly after a MMS post, with the last one being the $1K visa gift cards deal. It seems like there’s a correlation. Granted, people look for someone to blame when these things happen, but it’s hard to ignore the correlation.

      If some deals don’t get posted to blogs, they simply won’t get that much attention. FT is full of deals that haven’t been blogged about. You probably know dozens of tricks that you can’t posts for the reasons you mentioned. But if you did post on it, do you think the deal would continue much longer? You have to admit that your following is large enough that once you spread the word, it will get around to the masses. You admit to being responsible for “killing” one deal, but that number would likely be higher if you did choose to post like MMS does.

      And don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate that you use discretion when choosing what to post and what not to post. It tells me that you actually care about your readers. Other bloggers, I’m not so sure given some content they publish.

      • Some deals go on for a very long time, even when they’re mentioned on blogs. How many times did people think the US mint was dead and yet it continued for ages? How long has Amazon Payments been a useful tool?? I wrote about funding Citi checking accounts by credit card years ago, only after FTG wrote about it (and after I had generated over a quarter million United miles with it). Some deals get killed very quickly even when they aren’t on blogs. I think my spidy sense is pretty good about how a given deal will play out, tough as you observe I do not always get that right.

        I do think folks are a bit too quick to blame without evidence, in a convenient way (ignoring their own sandbox and pinning responsibility on an ‘other’). And recognize that social networks are how folks learn about these things in the first place, they’re how information spreads, and it’s an untenable position to suggest that information ought to be shared — but not too much.

        This isn’t a point about blogs vs forums, or individual people, just an offer of perspective that deals come and go, they don’t last — no good deal, whether an award chart value or arbitrage opportunity lasts. So you take advantage of it while it’s out there, and when it’s over move onto the next one, and try to focus on the upside that these opportunities bring to our lives — I know that my life has been made immeasurably better by the opportunities I’ve learned about. I’m incredibly fortunate. We all are, and I hope we focus on that.

  5. Killing or not killing the deal is not the relevant point here. MMS has a responsibility to his readers to not lead them into dangerous territory where they’ll get stuck with gift cards that they can’t liquidate. The deal could go on for ages in secrecy with everyone running HIGC safely, but the act of him publishing the deal changes the terms of the deal completely. He’s not then sharing a secret lucrative deal that may die; he is sharing a very different dangerous deal about to get shut down within hours and puts not only his readers, but everyone who has stock of HIGC in danger. It’s like blowing the cover on a CIA agent. Irresponsible. This is why Gary and Frequent Miler and many other respectable bloggers stayed out of it. Not to preserve the deal, but because they put the safety of their readers ahead of their referral income. MMS was running on the hopes that readers would sign up for Ink Bold intending to get in on the deal and being completely reckless in his quest for $$$.

  6. MMS is so huge now that anything he posts will be followed.

  7. @Gary

    Very disappointed in your defense of MMS. This shadow camaraderie has its own purpose too and we get it. I’d rather you just post about the cool things you have done like not post about HIGC etc and be done with it. Mindlessly pontificating about a non-existent proof to make a case here for your own bonhomie with your colleagues/network makes your look silly.
    I also wish the phrase ” a new deal will come” dies from the blogging circles just like I dont want to be reminded on a regular basis that we are all gonna die one day (even though it is true). It somehow creates a faux in your own brains that it is OK to kill deals because there will be more to steal from forums.
    But we all know that arrogance and greed will overcome any shade of requests from the masses. Nothing has changed except everyone being branded angry.

    There are a good number of deals that work through PMs still and will continue to work. Now that is caring through sharing and I am very fortunate to have made friends over the years in FT during MRs and DOs. Some have worked for > 2 years now and that is character.

  8. calwatch says:

    P2P did what she had to do once she figured it out, and as long as she did not learn the information from confidence that is fine for her to share. Anyone who was hoping that it would stay under the radar forever would have been a fool. MMS, on the other hand, with the arrows and circles, really dumbed it down and increased the velocity on this substantially. Many people had used the HIGC successfully to launder gift cards for places they really wanted (the current liquidation method).

    If it had stayed on FT it probably would have gone on for a week or so, but putting it on MMS just increases the velocity substantially. I think it would be better if MMS concentrates on getting the best value for the miles and points that you do have, and he does a good job at demystifying points and loopholes in frequent flyer programs that do not include shutting down point earning schemes.

  9. Agree with MilesAbound’s assessment about this lady who wanted the 10 mins of fame. “to give back to the community that gave her so much”. Sadly it appears that the community has not given her enough. If I were her, I would concentrate on getting those teeth replaced.

  10. I happen to know how this deal was killed:
    On 7/31, I went to OD and was told that HIGC will be pulled per a corporate memo. I know the manager so I asked him why it will be pulled. He said its because of Chase made the do it. Chase told OD that people are trying to “scam the credit card company” from doing that.

    I have a buddy who worked in related dept in Chase. I asked him I he could offer insight on how Chase could react so fast. He confirmed that the are folks reading forums and some popular blogs on daily basis. And Chase made the moves on 7/30. OD responded on 7/31, Incomm responded on 8/1 which killed the deal.

    So it’s pretty clear that this deal is killed by forum and blogs. I don’t think its MMS blog that killed it because he didn’t post it until 7/31. It’s not PTP as its not something Chase monitor regularly. So it has to be the FT thread. The title itself and its length makes it impossible to miss. I also want to add that the FT thread would never exist without PTP posting about it. And MMS’s post would kill it if the FT thread never exists.

    Out of the three parties, I’d say the PTP and the OP of FT thread may be just new to the game and being naive. But MMS is downright disgusting. He always steal ideas from FT and post them as if they were his ideas, without considering the consequence to the deals. It’d be nice if he can be banned from FT

    • Travel Summary says:

      Thanks for the insight! That is definitely interesting information to know. That’s why plenty of deals are discussed in code or deep in existing forums – much harder for companies to find them that way. Like you mentioned, it’s just too easy if it’s on a blog or obvious forum name.

  11. How pathetic is it that people blame bloggers for their own greed. Almost every blogger warns about the possibility of things going wrong, but some people just can’t contain themselves. Learn restraint people. None of these bloggers forced you to drive into Office Depot, find some HIGC cards and a bag of candy and then plunk down your Ink card.

  12. Bill Davis says:

    I burn through 10k in HI cards, a month, now they want cash, I paid my Lowe’s bill.

    I can still buy them and get 2X,

    It will return, want to bet, but the side cash game was a shame…

Trackbacks

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  2. [...] options. In the post, “The Aftermath of the Home Improvement Gift Card Deal,” Travel Summary suggests several ideas for liquidating Home Improvement gift cards.  [...]

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