$20k Spending Challenge Complete: Profit Breakdown and Thoughts

Almost three months ago, I set out to spend $20,000 within 3 months and flip whatever I bought into as much cash as possible.  Personally, I have more experience reselling gift cards than using anything else to manufacture spend, so I decided to do the entire $20k by flipping gift cards and hopefully come away with a profit at the end.  Now that three months have almost passed, it’s time to add everything up and see how I did.  The good news it that I made a profit, but the bad news is I spent a decent amount of time doing it which certainly makes this whole process a Get Rich Slow Scheme.  I’m sure each person will have their own opinion on what my exact profit % was, so I’ll lay out the numbers below and let you decide.  In the absolute worst case (I die tomorrow and nothing pending comes through), I walked away with just under 1% in profit, but if you’re a little more optimistic I would consider the profit more in the 5-6% range.  Strap yourself in and read on for lots of details and exactly how I arrived at both of those numbers.  Warning, this is a long one.

Previous Updates

If you’re not exactly sure what the $20k Spending Challenge is or want more details, be sure to check out my introduction to the challenge and some of my previous updates:

The Other Participants

Be sure to take a look at others who have published their final numbers to see how all of the participants stack up:

We are still waiting on Vihn from Miles Per Day to publish his final numbers.

Summary of My Results

  • Spent: $20,062.38
  • Cash in Hand: $20,227.27
  • Pending Cash: $210.32
  • Other Stuff of Value: $741.54
  • Hours Spent: 15.75

As I mentioned in the intro, if all the pending cash never made it to me AND the other stuff disappeared without me being able to use it, I’d still end up with a 0.82% profit.  Don’t forget that none of these numbers include the 150,000 MR signup bonus or the regular MR earned from spend (another 20k), so in the real world outside of this challenge, this would have been a rather successful reselling binge.

If you’re a little more optimistic and let me explain the “Other Stuff of Value”, you’ll probably agree that my profit is a little closer to the 5% range.  First, I have no reason to believe the pending cash will fall through (I’m counting ebay bucks in this total), so that’s another $210.32 of money in my pocket.  Second, let me explain what that other stuff is.  Aside from the cash, I also obtained a $20 Staples Rebate Visa, $250 in ebay gift cards I will use in the future, $220.54 in Amazon gift cards for personal use, and 2 gift cards that are caught in limbo that I paid $251 for.  If we take all of that at face value, we have a respectable 5.57% profit.

All of this gift card flipping took me just under 16 hours by my calculation.  I ended up going through 179 different gift cards which I estimate an average of 5 minutes each on.  I arrived at that by estimated 1 minute to find each card, 1 minute to open the envelope and verify the balance, and another minute to list/sell the card for a total of 3 minutes.  Unfortunately, that’s only in the ideal case where everything goes smoothly.  After taking into account the occasional gift card that I need to get refunded or take a little extra effort to sell, I rounded the average up to 5 minutes.  I also added in 50 minutes for about 5 different trips I took to the grocery store to buy gift cards.

Looking at the optimistic profit of $1,116.75 spread over the 15.75 hours, I’m only walking away with ~$70/hour of profit from gift card reselling.  The calculation of course gets far better if you count the 170k MR earned and makes the profit closer to $178/hour with the very conservative estimate of 1 cent per MR point.  I’ll go more into my thoughts on all of this further below.

Numbers Breakdown

  • Total Spent on Amex Platinum: $20,062.38
    • Spent directly on gift cards to resell: $5,875.88
    • Spent on Amex Gift Cards: $14,186.50
      • This represents $14,150 worth of Amex Gift cards (or $36.50 in fees)
  • Cash in Hand: $20,227.27
    • Obtained from selling gift cards: $19,838.52
    • Obtained from shopping portals: $428.16
      • Portal Cash from buying Amex GCs (2.25% back): $315
      • Portal Cash from buying gift cards to resell: $113.16
    • Fuel points redeemed towards gas: $10.59
      • I think I filled up a couple other times, but can’t find the receipts, so I’m sticking with just the one I actually have in front of me.
  • Pending Cash: $210.32
    • Portal Cash from buying gift cards to resell: $150.27
    • ebay Bucks I have yet to cash out: $60.05
      • I did cash out the $305 ebay bucks earned before July by buying gift cards to sell which is included in the Cash Obtained from Selling GCs above.
  • Other Stuff of Value: $741.54
    • Staples Rebate Visa: $20
    • Amazon Gift cards for personal use: $220.54
      • Amazon GCs are my preferred method of cashing out Amex GCs once they have a low enough value that finding gift cards to resell isn’t practical.
    • ebay Gift cards that I will use later: $250
      • I’ve still yet to start buying on my business PayPal account since I maxed the gift card limit on my personal account, but these will be used soon.  Cost to obtain them was $205.
    • Inventory in Limbo: $251
      • Merchandise credit I’m having trouble selling because it won’t work online: $15
        • I should be able to sell this to a co-worker soon at cost, value on the card is $23.82.
      • Same as above: $236
        • I’m not sure if I’ll be able to sell this one, so I might just give it to Becky so she can go buy some new clothes.  The value on the card is $304.45.
  • Total Gift Cards Purchased: 179
    • The “real” number is higher than this, but I only count unique transactions.  For example, I bought 5 Cabela’s cards from ebay at once and sold them together, but I only count that as 1 in this total.
  • Value on Gift Cards Purchased: $24,878.66
  • Cost of Gift Cards Purchased: $20,106.34
  • Unique Brands Purchased: 70
  • Unique Stores Purchased From: 15
  • Unique Exchange Sold To: 8
  • Bad Gift Cards: 14
    • 13 Refunded with little effort
    • 1 Not Refunded (pure loss of $41.99)

Charts and Such

Here’s a couple charts relating to who I bought from, who I sold to, and what brands of cards I was selling.  Be sure to read the captions for my take on the data.

The majority of my gift card reselling comes from ebay.  This includes both the popular offers from stores like GiftCardMall and PayPal Digital Gifts, but the majority are directly from consumers.  Buying directly from individual sellers has it's issues like the occasional card that doesn't arrive or is empty, but ebay has good protection in these cases.  It's a time sink getting your money back on the bad ones, but the profits can be rather large on the good flips.
The majority of my gift card reselling comes from ebay. This includes the popular offers from stores like GiftCardMall and PayPal Digital Gifts, but the majority are directly from individual sellers. I filled in the gaps with a few arbitrage opportunities between the exchanges, gift card deals at grocery stores, and a couple one-time Amex Offers from specific stores.

 

As I'm a bulk seller with both SaveYa and Raise, they continue to get the majority of my business.  I was turned away from Gift Card Zen's bulk sales, but will still sell to them and a couple other exchanges if the payout is right.
As I’m a bulk seller with both SaveYa and Raise, they continue to get the majority of my business. I was turned away from Gift Card Zen’s bulk sales, but will still sell to them and a couple other exchanges if the payout is right.

 

I only included this chart to reveal display how many different brands I resell.  It doesn't say much more than that I haven't found a specific gift card arbitrage opportunity that I can hit over and over again, but rather hop to whatever deal is available on any given brand.
I only included this chart to reveal how many different brands I resell. It really only says that I haven’t found a specific gift card arbitrage opportunity that I can hit over and over again, but instead I have to take advantage of whatever deal I can find at the time.

Thoughts and Looking Forward

Participating in this reselling challenge taught me a pretty good amount about gift card reselling in general and little bit about myself.  To reflect on myself, I learned that essentially “forcing” myself to look for opportunities and trying to reach a set goal takes a lot of the fun out of reselling.  Soon after starting the challenge, I was fired up and eager to flip as much as possible, but as the deadline got closer and I had a bunch of other obligations, I didn’t enjoy forcing myself to continue finding deals just to reach the $20k number in the three months the challenge allowed.  I’m don’t regret participating, but the little extra pressure that came along with the challenge will probably prevent me from trying anything similar in the future.

To reflect on the profit/hour number above, I received a “pure” profit of ~$70/hour which is decent, but not really as high as I value my free time.  Including a conservative value estimate of the MR earned from the Amex Platinum card’s regular earning and signup bonus raises the profit to ~$178/hour which is pretty much in the range of what I’d be happy doing on the side in my free time.  The key takeaway for me is that reselling gift cards outside of signup bonuses isn’t personally worth it to me.

I’ve learned a lot about gift card reselling since I started back in February and am in a comfortable spot where I can spend $5-10k on credit cards per month from home and walk away with a small profit.  While treating reselling gift cards like a job and forcing myself to look for deals isn’t very much “fun”, I do see myself continuing to search for deals when I have some time to kill or am working towards large spending bonuses.  I don’t see myself growing the business enough to replace my full time job, but it’s a good side-gig I can always use if I want.  At this point, I seem to have found a good balance where I’ll grab the easy winners when they pop up and maybe search out the tougher deals if I have significant free time or need to hit some large spending requirements.

To tie it in with credit card churning and money making opportunities in general, I’m trying to get rid of the “fear of missing out” that’s always in the back of my mind.  There will always be awesome deals I’m either too late for or don’t want to pursue, but it’s silly to stress out about them and worry about not doing absolutely everything optimally.  With my own finances, reselling, and travel hacking, I’ll always be looking for ways to improve what I’m doing, but it’s not worth sacrificing free time to be 100% optimal at every single aspect of it.  I’ll continue to grab the big wins when I can and a few smaller ones here and there, but at the same time try to focus on enjoying life beyond my ever growing list of spreadsheets and blogs I follow.

I’d be happy to share more data or details about the $20k I resold, so let me know if there’s any specific charts you want to see.  While I won’t give away ALL the tricks I use, I’m willing to point people in the right direction if they ask the right questions.


16 thoughts on “$20k Spending Challenge Complete: Profit Breakdown and Thoughts

  1. Thanks for the great detailed post. It’s interesting to contrast GC reselling with actual products. The profit margins on the latter seem consistently higher over a large amount, but at the expense of greater risk of returns and time. However, your experience shoes that GC selling is not without its own risks of unsold inventory and returns (where you buy bad cards and have to deal with the hassle).

    I didn’t add up the unique number of products I purchased or the unique number of locations in my informal tally, but I definitely had the same issue as you in terms of not scaling up one opportunity and having to chase the deals.

    1. Yeah, chasing the deals is what turns me off of gift card arbitrage mostly. Despite the parts I’ve automated, there’s still a significant amount of manual work. What I should do is take a step back and see if there is a way I can make the whole things hands-off, even if the profit isn’t as large because then I can start putting it on autopilot.

  2. Thanks for sharing! I’ve been enjoying GC reselling the last few months, though my volume is much lower since I’ve only purchased “New” GCs so far.

    What criteria do you use to reduce risk when buying GCs from individual eBay sellers? Which vendor were the majority of your bad GCs from?

    1. For ebay, I try to stick with people above 100 feedback and close to 100% positive. There’s a significant amount of people listing good gift card deals with <10 feedback and the cards will never come. Luckily, ebay makes it very easy to get refunded all of your money, it just ends up being a waste of your time.

      The bad GCs I bought were about an even split between individual ebay sellers and other gift card exchanges.

  3. Wow, nice work! I loved following along with all the bloggers participating in the challenge and have been on the edge of my seat as everyone pulls in to the finish line. I’m particularly interested in seeing your last chart in more detail since a lot of the colors got repeated haha.

    1. Thanks for following along!

      That last chart is a little confusing, but you can follow the brands down along the side back and forth (Walmart being the most sold, Best Buy second, Target third, etc.). Once you get about half way down the list, it’s down to 1 card each so I don’t think you’ll get much data out of it. Excel only uses so many colors I guess =P

  4. In the end, I expect an overall profit of about $600 for the entire $20k in spending plus of course 170,000 Membership Rewards points. As more low hanging fruit methods of MS start to go away, I think it is a great idea to have a backup plan.

  5. Noah, this is the first time that I came to your blog and I found your writing extremely clear, helpful and entertaining! I have already subscribed to your blog and hope to see more of your insights in various issues! Have a great 2016! 🙂

      1. Hello Noah! Are you still buying gift cards? If so, can you email a good software for tracking the buying of the cards on a POS system? (point of sale)

        1. I’m not sure I understand the question… I just use excel to track everything I’m doing and I only sell the cards to exchanges, never directly to people.

          What exactly are you trying to use a POS system for?

  6. Hi Noah,

    I just found your blog and I really like it. I am an adjunct teacher of economics and was thinking about arbitrage in the business of gift cards and here I find your site!!!
    I teach part time, trade stocks/futures part time and find deals on the side for fun and will definitely try the GC for few months and see how it goes. Thanks for your time.
    Henri

      1. Hi Noah,

        Thanks for the response. I picked an old navy gift card ($100 balance) to check out the price on the different exchanges and most of them were offering between $69 and $72…they were selling it for $83. My question is: The gift card(old navy) goes for 20% so you it seems hard to sell it for a profit on the exchanges. If you buy it for $80, why selling it for $70?…ebay offers 20% as well. Are you still finding good bargains and making a bit of profit?

        Henri

        1. Hey Henri, you definitely have to look around to find profitable flips. As you found, most cards simply aren’t worth the price you can pay for them (as far as reselling goes). Good places to look include Staples deals, Amex Offers, ebay, and grocery store apps. Doctor of Credit usually posts the easiest of flips, but you’ll have to put some work in to find more.

          Best of luck

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *