Friday, November 23, 2012

Black (Flashback) Friday: Kahului Walmart

When I was growing up our Thanksgiving tradition was to spend the holiday with our family over on Maui. My parents were cool and would take me out of school for the week (when I was growing up we didn't get the whole week off) and off to Hawaii we'd go.

It was probably 10 years ago when big box chain stores were still new to the islands. We'd heard of Black Friday before (the day after Thanksgiving), of course, but we didn't know what the big deal was...until we came across an add in the paper advertising that Walmart would be selling TV's for $29! Did we need a TV? Probably not. Did we have a place to put it? No. Did we absolutely have to have one, or two, or even ten? Of Course! We made our plans to get up early that Friday to make the store's 6am opening.

There weren't any crowds at the door or lines around the building when the Kahului store opened. In fact, I'm pretty sure we were the first ones there at about 5:50am. We easily made our way to the back of the store were the abundance of TV's were, and the disappointment that followed was one of the biggest letdowns of my young adult life. The TV they were selling was an absolute piece of crap. A 19", brand-X, made in China, CRT, piece of crap, to be more specific. We didn't buy one.

I don't know if it was because the entire Maui population were a bunch of Black Friday rookies, or because 6am Hawaiian time is so much earlier than in any part of the world, but the mob was casually late by about 15 minutes. By 6:30 you could barely move, let alone push a cart. There was a line for layaway, and the most popular item of choice among that group was, you guessed it, the $29 TV.

That was my first and last time getting up early for Black Friday. I'm blessed/cursed here in California to have every major big box retailer represented within a 5 mile radius of my house...and a major mall. Since living here, this has become one of my least favorite days of the year. In recent years, when we haven't been on Maui, we've escaped to Lake Tahoe. That's not to say I haven't been tempted, and I admit the deals have come a long way since the $29 TV you wouldn't want anyway, but most the stuff I want I can find online (see: How to Earn Miles and Points for Holiday Shopping), and I'm happy to write off that day from a decade ago as life experience that I don't care to repeat.

This year I completed my Black Friday shopping a little early on Wednesday when I headed to Staples to get in on their in-store only $15 rebate on $100 Visa and Mastercard gift cards. As I mentioned, I live in the middle of suburban shopping hell, so it took a little bit to lure me out of my house this week before Small Business Saturday. So this great deal is that when you buy a $100 gift card, Staples gives you a $15 Staples card via easy rebate, limit 10. The angle is that you earn $1,000 worth of miles/points by using your favorite miles/points earning credit card, you get $150 from Staples, then you find a way to cash out. A little easier said than done, but still worth the effort.

I've churned a few American Airlines credit cards in my day, but until very recently, I was completely naive when it comes to prepaids and reload cards. I might very well be the only person on FlyerTalk and milepoint to not have used a Chase Ink card to purchase Vanilla reloads, and I still haven't signed up for Bluebird. If you have no clue what I'm talking about, I'm not entirely sure I do either, but The Frequent Miler does a pretty good job explaining it all on his blog. I stayed up until about 1am a few nights ago reading and learning about all the tricks and tools when it comes to Bluebirds, Vanillas, Amex's, prepaid, reloads, etc. and went into this Staples deal as an expert on the subject and pretty confident that if I put $1,000 on my credit card, there was indeed a way to get it back in time to pay the bill.

So I went out to my local Staples and bought 5 $200 Visa gift cards for a total of $1034.75 using an otherwise unused Hilton HHonors Amex because I don't (yet) have a Chase Ink. The $34.74 being 5x the $6.95 fee that Visa charges for those $200 gift cards. According to expert advice, that was the best deal, because due to some ambiguous wording on Staples' part, even though it says the $15 rebate was for EACH gift card of $100 or more, people were still getting the full $150 for spending a $1,000 and buying 5x $200 gift cards at $6.95 saves $24.74 over buy them in $100 denominations at $5.95 each. Confused yet? I was a little too.

Next step go to Target and buy a prepaid Amex for Target card and cash that out at an ATM. Yeah, that didn't work. The cashier at Target wouldn't do it and the manager there had not very nice words for people like me who she believed were up to no good. "You can't use a prepaid to buy a prepaid". So on to Plan B, well actually plan C, because plan B was Amazon Payments, and I've already done that this month. So on to plan C, aka the backup plan to my backup plan- that Amex Serve account I signed up for like a year ago for to get a free $10 that I since forgot about and haven't used. Those $1,000 worth of Visa gift cards I bought say "debit" on them, so why not try and use them as a debit card and load my Serve account. I entered my first card number and it worked! OMG! ...and I got a mysterious $25 statment credit for it!?! It turns about American Express really likes to give away free money around this time of the year and there is a $25 promo for loading $25 or more until December 31st. That was a nice surprise! Next I tried card 2. So that didn't work. It also turns out there is a $200/day load limit, so it might take a little while longer to get all of my money back, but that's okay. As for that $150 Staples gift card (if that is indeed what I end up getting), all I have to do to cash out is wait for a Free After Rebate item, use the gift card to pay for it, and they'll send me a check. Yay!

So my free $150 (or rather $150-34.75+25= $140.25) turned out to be a little bit of work, but I'll gladly take that and the learning experience over being trampled to death at a local mall and the "life experience" provided by a more traditional Black Friday shopping excursion. After staying up late again to go through a 4-inch thick newspaper last night, I couldn't find a reason to leave the comfort, warmth, and security of my own home that $140.25 wouldn't more than make up for.

If you still want to get in on the Staples deal, it's good until tomorrow, which is when I plan to re-emerge for Small Business Saturday. Be sure to check out some of the experts' blogs for better guidance and more a detailed and thorough explanation. While the method I chose ended up working just fine, I wanted to share my experience more for moral support; If I can figure it out, anyone can. Happy Shopping!

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