Quick hit: activating Sam's Club gift cards

Back in June I wrote about my super-boring strategy to take advantage of an American Express Offer for You of $20 off $20 or more spent at Sam's Club.

It turned out to be anything but boring: only today was the last of my $50 Sam's Club gift cards activated. Here's the story, and some advice on how to proceed if you've been having trouble with your own gift cards.

Activating Sam's Club gift cards is supposed to be easy

When $50 Sam's Club gift cards are shipped, you receive two e-mails, confusingly with almost identical subject lines:

  • Your UPS shipping confirmation and tracking number is in an e-mail with the subject line "Your SamsClub.com order has shipped‏;"
  • The link to activate your Sam's Club gift cards is sent almost simultaneously, and has the subject line "Your Sam's Club Gift Card has Shipped‏."

If you don't know that Sam's Club gift cards require activation in the first place, you might be forgiven for not even opening the apparently-duplicate e-mails.


Here's what my inbox looked like:

As you can see, half are actual shipment notifications, and half are activation codes.

The activation process is unreliable

Sometimes clicking on the activation link works. Sometimes it doesn't. Sam's Club is aware of the problem.

When cards won't activate, you need to call

To have your cards manually activated, call the number on your receipt (888-537-5503) and select menu options 3, 5, and 7, in that order. You'll be connected very quickly (within a few seconds) to a representative, who will ask for your order number, shipping and billing address, and the gift card number.

The gift card number they need is the number underneath the silver strip

Sam's Club phone representatives have apparently never actually seen Sam's Club gift cards, and every single representative I spoke to asked me for "the number on the back of the card." If you look at an actual gift card, however, you'll immediately see that there are 3 "numbers on the back of the card," and not one representative knew which number they needed to send an activation request.

It turns out it's the gift card number located under the scratch-away silver strip.

If at first you don't succeed, call, call again

My orders were shipped between June 3 and June 5, and were just finally activated on July 6 and July 7. That's a long time, and I wasn't sitting idle; I was calling every 2-3 days in order to find out the status of the activation request. In fact, I didn't make any progress until I had the phone representative open an actual support ticket, which finally seemed to set the gears in motion, and my cards were all activated within 5-6 days after that.


At the end of the day (or, in this case, the end of a month of waiting), I got a few hundred dollars of household supplies from Walmart at a generous 70% discount through this American Express Offer for You, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat, even knowing how much of an aggravation it would turn out to be. Walmart sells a lot of useful things!

I hope this post will reduce any readers' aggravation if they find themselves going through the same process, now or in the future.

Travel notice, and dining bonuses after Chase Sapphire Preferred

[update 1/18/15: Reader Ted reminded me of the American Express SImplyCash Business Credit Card which offers 5% cash back at office supply stores and 3% cash back on up to $25,000 in annual purchases in a single category of your choice, with a list of options including restaurants and gas stations. The card currently has a $250 signup bonus after spending $5,000 within 6 months.]

Traveling for the next 24 days

This is what it's all about, right? We hustle all year not just to pad our bank accounts, but to redeem our miles and points for travel with our loved ones. I'll be bouncing around the country for the next few weeks before heading to Italy for a 10-day caper in Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples.

There's always a lot to write about and I don't anticipate much changing around here during my travels, but you should probably expect fewer datapoints that involve in-person experiments and more analysis, news, signup links, and that kind of thing.

I always find spending time with family to be exhausting and unexpectedly time-consuming (but meaningful!), so posting frequency will probably drop to 2 or 3 times per week from my usual 3-5 post frequency until I get back in the middle of January. I don't expect any extended blackout, so don't hesitate to reach out to me in the comments, by e-mail, and on Twitter.

Dining Bonuses after Chase Sapphire Preferred

Having finally thrown off the yoke of Chase's over-priced and under-performing Sapphire Preferred card and embraced the Ink Plus as my source of flexible Ultimate Rewards points, I was left with a serious question: which card should I use for my routine purchases that previously fell under the Sapphire Preferred's "dining" bonus category?

First let me stress that unless you have a lot of reimbursable travel expenses or you manufacture spend, this question shouldn't interest you: you should put all your everyday expenses on a 2% cash back, no-annual-fee credit card like the Citi Double Cash or Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express and never think about it again. Even a person who spends an above-average amount every year is unlikely to recoup the cost of an annual fee in the difference between the value of their spend on a premium credit card and the 2% they would earn on a no-annual-fee card.

If you do manufacture spend, on the other hand, your new "dining" credit card will ideally be one you already carry, either in order to manufacture spend or because it doesn't have an annual fee. Here are the obvious candidates:

  • Sam's Club MasterCard. Both travel hackers and civilians already carry this no-annual-fee credit card because it gives 5% cash back on up to $6,000 in gas station spend each year (the site doesn't make clear whether this is calendar or cardmember year). If you do, you may want to use it at restaurants as well, where it earns 3% cash back, 50% more than a 2% cash back card. Note that rewards earning is capped at a total of $5,000 in cash back per year.
  • Chase AARP Rewards Visa. A lower, but unlimited, 3% cash back earning rate at gas stations may make this card worth carrying if you manufacture a lot of spend at gas stations. If that's the case, it's probably also your best bet for restaurant spend, likewise earning unlimited 3% cash back with no annual fee.
  • Ink Cash. If you already completed your first year with a premium Ink credit card like Ink Plus or Ink Bold, you may have requested a product change to the no-annual-fee Ink Cash. If so, you're in luck: it earns 2 non-flexible Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at restaurants. If you have a spouse or domestic partner who still carries a premium Ultimate Rewards card, you can transfer your non-flexible points to their account and keep the ability to transfer them.
  • Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express. Now we're getting into more speculative territory, so we need to be careful: the Surpass card has an annual fee of $75, so this is definitely not a card you should carry just for restaurant spend. But if you already carry it, in order to earn 6 HHonors points per dollar spent at gas stations and grocery stores and Hilton Diamond elite status after spending $40,000 on the card in a calendar year, then you're already implicitly valuing the 6 HHonors points you earn per dollar spent at restaurants at more than roughly 0.36 cents each, after accounting for the annual fee (if you spend exactly $40,000 on the card each calendar year, that's the valuation that recoups both the $800 you could earn with a 2% cash back card and your $75 annual fee).
  • Citi ThankYou Premier. I don't pay $125 annual fees, and don't suggest my readers do so either. But there are a (vanishingly small) number of situations where it might make sense to have a ThankYou Premier card. For example, if you are still sitting on a huge balance of ThankYou points from the days of ThankYou Preferred bonus earning at gas stations, drug stores, and grocery stores, you may have signed up for a ThankYour Premier card in order to increase the value of that stockpile. In that case, why not take advantage of the card's 3 ThankYou point per dollar earning rate at restaurants?

The rest of the bunch

There are other credit cards that earn as much as 3% cash back at restaurants. The problem is there's no reason you would ever have one of these cards, and it's unlikely to be worth a "hard" credit pull to apply for one:

  • Santander Bravo. Earns 3 points per dollar at gas stations, supermarkets, and restaurants, but a low signup bonus, $49 annual fee, and all bonus earning is capped at $5,000 in spend per calendar quarter.
  • Huntington Voice. Earns 3% cash back with no annual fee, but with no signup bonus and bonused earning capped at $2,000 in spend per calendar quarter.

A possible exception is the PayPal Extras MasterCard, which you may well carry for other reasons. The trouble is that you're likely to easily max out the 50,000-point cardmember-year earning limit without spending a dime at restaurants, so using the card there doesn't offer any marginal value over the cards I described above.

Any I missed?

What's your favorite card for legitimate restaurant spend? Did I miss any lesser-known gems? See you in the comments.