Staples Rewards, Gift Cards & Coupons – A Cautionary Tale
Last week I wrote about the recent Staples Kindle deal and how I both made a profit and increased my spending so I could maintain my Staples Rewards Premier membership. At least according to the Staples website I had enough spending, but apparently that wasn’t the case.
After logging into my Staples Rewards account the other day, I noticed that it was showing that I was only a Base member. Confused, I quickly went through all of my purchases to make sure they were showing up. As expected, they added up to $1047 for the year. Enough for Premier.
At first I hopped on chat, but the agent wasn’t able to help, so she gave me the direct number to Staples Rewards. Once I had an agent on the phone, she agreed with my spending level and put me on hold to get a supervisor to look at it.
She returned to the phone with a very accusatory tone and told me that her supervisor would upgrade me to Plus (the middle tier) as a courtesy, but my spend wasn’t $1,047 and I had been violating the terms of the program by using coupons for the purchase of gift cards.
Eventually the supervisor came on the phone and explained that I was lucky he didn’t shut down my account. He said I had been abusing the system and that he was being “generous” by offering Plus status. It was clear he wasn’t going to budge, so I eventually just agreed to the Plus membership since I didn’t want the conversation to turn ugly.
Late in 2013 Staples had a great holiday gift card offer. While I purchased a number of gift cards, there ended up being a problem with their system and some of the gift cards which had expiration dates were held in limbo until after they expired. Eventually Staples corporate issued me “codes” to be used towards merchandise in lieu of those gift cards.
In the beginning of 2014 I used those codes to purchase Visa gift cards. Additionally, they ran a couple of instant discount promotions on gift cards later in the year like this one. Apparently the discrepancy in spending levels stems from the use of these codes.
Before I go, on I want to make it clear that I didn’t knowingly violate their terms as the codes I received from corporate did not come with any exclusions. I have heard of people generating fake coupon codes and using those towards gift cards. That is not what I did, which is evidenced by the fact that I still have my account.
How They Calculate the Spend
Gift cards and their fees do not count towards Staples Rewards. If you purchase a $200 gift card for $206.95, not even the $6.95 fee counts. So imagine you use a $10 coupon and only pay $196.95 for the card. In that case, Staples sees it is a $-10 in spend.
Since I had used hundreds of dollars in codes towards gift cards (mostly those corporate codes), my negative spend knocked me down below Premier level. They said I used $600 in codes, but when I went through every transaction, I found less than $300. It doesn’t matter, because the most I qualify for is Plus, which they are giving me.
What Am I Missing
The biggest difference between Plus & Premier is the rebate percentage. Premier members receive 5% back in Staples Rewards while Plus members receive 3%. Not a huge deal, but considering their website told me I qualified and it showed me as a Premier member as recent as a couple of weeks ago, it is frustrating.
How to Calculate Your Spend
If you are legitimately using coupons towards gift cards (like with this instant rebate promotion), be sure to calculate that negative spend so that you properly qualify for whichever status level you are going for. Basically, the gift card starts at $0, so any discount off of that is negative.
Staples & Me
While I could have fought harder for Premier status, the manager really seemed like he wanted to shut my account down and that seemed like more of a headache than anything else. At least with Plus status I can still recycle 20 ink cartridges per month, which is a big perk.
I have had a number of terrible experiences with Staples over the past year and thus am not a huge fan of the company. I will continue to recycle ink and take advantage of good deals, but there are other much friendlier companies to give the majority of my business to.
Be careful when using coupons towards the purchase of any gift cards and make sure their use is legitimate. While the supervisor I spoke to said ANY coupon is a violation of the terms (including those instant online rebates), that clearly isn’t the case. Don’t abuse the system, have fun and take coupons into account when calculating your spend. Easy enough.