Winds of Change
Although there were rumors that the start of the gift card changes at the Mall of America (MoA) were delayed until the end of September, the actual change happened as previously announced, today (Sept 9). In a nutshell, Mall of America made significant changes to their gift card program, essentially all designed to curb manufactured spending of the mall’s gift cards for points and miles. Before today, MoA sold Visa vanilla debit cards at a maximum value of $500 per card with a $2.00 fee per card. Those cards could be used as debit essentially anywhere that Visa was accepted, and also liquidated at supermarkets, the post office, and other venues. In general and before Simon Malls decided to issue $1,000 Visa gift cards with fees of only $3.95 per card to the general public, MoA gift cards were a nice way to earn rewards for a relatively cheap cost and also to help meet minimum spend or specific credit card spend goals. Using the “correct” credit cards with a nice multiplier made the cards a nice path for cheap rewards.
However all those miles and smiles are gone. The changes made today are severe. The cards come with an increased $4.50 fee per $500 card, or more than double the $2.00 charged previously. The biggest change is that the cards only work in select MoA stores, and they are processed as credit, not debit cards. It looks like either not all stores elected to participate in MoA’s anti-MS gift card coding, or MoA rushed these cards to market without having them fully ready. I’d guess the latter, but these cards do not yet work in every store in the mall. Oh and I almost forgot to mention that the cards “can’t be refunded”.
Today I bought a card to test. The text failed, and I notified MoA management of the issue. I suspected the cards were no longer processed as debit, but as a credit. The first two MoA service managers didn’t know and said to “contact the retailer about the issue”. That was basically a brush-off, but I managed to reach the customer service manager (Emily). She wasn’t happy about having to leave her perch in the management office, hear that the cards didn’t seem to work, and was annoyed with me asking for a refund.
I pointed out that there was no signage displayed at the service desk, and that any changes from debit to credit were also not presented to customers at the time of sale. So those purchasing gift cards thinking the cards worked in the same way as the old cards (at least within the confines of the Mall of America stores), were going to have a rude awakening. That guinea pig was me. After a brisk back and forth, Emily said she’d exchange information and check some information, then get back to me that day. She wasn’t very pleasant to deal with, but I definitely wasn’t happy about the situation either. In the end, I received a call less than 30 minutes later and was informed that the Mall would be “happy to issue a refund” to me. Interesting how both the tone and message changed in that call. The refund was issued same day.
Being processed as a credit and with a fee of $4.50, I didn’t both testing the gift card outside the Mall of America. It was a headache with my initial test within the mall, so I have no interest in the cards going forward. If you have an idea of a play with the cards, I’d be happy to hear it out. The gift card and policy changes are a bit odd though, as I’d guess that sales to manufactured spenders does increase the Mall’s gift card sales substantially. However the lengths that the Mall of America has gone to in order to essentially eliminate manufactured spending from taking place inside its walls are substantial, as the corporate gift card program was also completely gutted. At this point, Mall of America gift cards are essentially dead for manufactured spending. MoA wins.