WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Thursday thoughts: Staples Rewards 101

Posted February 2, 2012

This week, we are talking about Staples Rewards and Easy Rebates. One of our fellow Smart Shopper blog members has written a great article about Staples 101. If you are not familiar with the way the Staples rewards work, and how you can maximize them, I definitely recommend you read this information! My thanks to Samantha for her hard work on this very helpful and informative article!  If you ever had questions about Staples, I bet they are answered here!

Staples 101

By: Samantha (who posts as oxymoron here on the blog)

Rewards basics:

Earn 10% back in  Staples Rewards buying ink, toner, copier and printer paper and by using their copy & print services. Rewards are calculated monthly, and issued when you have earned $10. Rewards roll over month to month, however if you do not earn $10 by the end of a calendar quarter, you lose those rewards. They also have special offer rewards (like 50% back on cases of Staples paper in this week's ad) which can count towards your $10 minimum. Once you have earned $10, your reward will be issued after they close out the month. So, if you earned $10 by October 12th, they will calculate all October rewards in November and issue the reward mid-November. After you have earned your $10 quarterly minimum, rewards earned in months still in that quarter will be issued after the close of those months. So, if you earned $10 in October, and then earned $1.50 in November, they will tally November rewards and issue you $1.50 in rewards in mid-December. If you spend a lot at Staples over the year, you can qualify for a premier membership. Premier members need only earn $5 in a calendar quarter to have rewards issued. Staples also has a Teacher Rewards program, which is identical to regular rewards with the bonus that you earn 10% in rewards on eligible teaching and art supplies.

Staples also offers rewards for recycling ink and toner cartridges. Those rewards are issued monthly without regard to whether you have otherwise earned a reward. Understand that this means they will not count toward meeting your minimum for the quarter. The reward amounts are $2 per cartridge up to 10 cartridges recycled per month, though from time to time they have been known to offer bonus rewards (for example $10 in rewards for each generic HP cartridge recycled if you also buy an HP-brand cartridge, limit 3, in this week's ad).

Staples Rewards are printable online, so there's no small slip of paper to misplace. You have to register at the Staples Rewards website to be able to print rewards online, but once you have you need never misplace a Staples Reward again. The website also tracks your purchases and progress towards this month's rewards, and back a full year if you're curious to look. It takes a couple of days for purchases to show up, but if you're wondering if you've hit your minimum for the month, there is a way to check. You can also enter receipts for credit to your rewards account if you did not do so during check out.

Staples Rewards expire "not less than 60 days from the date of issuance" according to the website. In practice, they expire on the last day of the month two months after they issue them. So, I earned a bunch of rewards in December (mostly the free after rewards Duracell batteries). January 12 they emailed me that they were available for me to use. They were issued in January, so +2 months makes March, they expire March 31. Print them now, print them later, they were issued in January, they expire at the end of March.

Know this about Staples Rewards, you can't roll them. Unlike drugstore rewards where a fixed amount is issued as a reward when you buy an item regardless of what you actually pay for it, at Staples the reward is upto what you paid for it. That "upto" is the kicker. If you pay with Staples Rewards, it reduces proportionally the cost of every item in your order. If an item is $8.99, but free after Staples Rewards, and you use a Staples Reward or any other coupon (they periodically email me % off or $ off $$ coupons), and it brings the price of the item down to $6.99, your earned reward will be $6.99. This is not a problem if you're using a % off or $ off $$ order coupon, but it's a waste of Staples Rewards. Break up your order, pay for reward items with something other than rewards if you want to earn the rewards.

Also, you don't have to use all of your rewards in a single purchase. If your reward is for more than the cost of the merchandise you want to purchase, so long as the difference is at least $1, Staples will issue you at the register a "make-up reward." So, if you have $25 worth of Staples Rewards, and you really only need a bag of rubber bands for $4, you can buy it and still have the other $21 as a make-up reward print at the end of your receipt. You don't have to spend all your rewards in one shopping trip.

Staples Rewards are also store coupons. Unlike manufacturer's coupons, a store coupon reduces the taxable value of your purchase. If you have a $10 reward, and purchase $20 worth of merchandise, your subtotal is $10, and you will be charged tax on only that $10. If you have $10 in rewards and buy $10 worth of merchandise, your subtotal will be zero, your tax will be zero, you will walk out of the store spending no actual money.

Easy Rebates basics:

Staples frequently offers items with significant Easy Rebates , and many items free after Easy Rebate. Easy Rebates can be submitted by mail, or you can file them online when you get home from the store (the easy part). Easy Rebates pay out in several different forms, and not all forms are available with all rebates. You can check which payment method is the default by searching for rebates at the Staples Easy Rebates website if you're unsure. If you read the fine print in the Staples ad for any Easy Rebate item (and you should always read the fine print in any deal you attempt), if it does not specify how you will be paid, the default is usually by check. Sometimes the ad will say the Easy Rebate is a Visa gift card or Staples gift card. Read the fine print so you know what you are getting. If it says the Easy Rebate is for a $10 Staples gift card, that will be your only option. If it does not specify, you may be given a choice. If it is the check default, usually they offer Paypal as an alternative. I find getting paid through Paypal shaves about a week off the time it takes to get my money back, YMMV (your mileage may vary). Easy Rebates can take as long as 6 weeks to process, but recently, for me, they've been taking about 3.5 weeks before I receive an email telling me the check is in the mail. Even if you're paid via Paypal, the title of the email is still "The check's in the mail."

If you submit an Easy Rebate, you can track the rebate at anytime by going to the Easy Rebate site, clicking on "Track an Easy Rebate" or "Track a Mail-in Rebate," which ever you did. Enter the required information, and it will pull up all the rebates on record for you. I find submitting online to be very easy, and have never mailed one in. I can enter my email address, last name and zip code and it pulls up every Easy Rebate I've submitted since December 2010, which was the first time I submitted an Easy Rebate.

Sometimes a rebate doesn't qualify as an Easy Rebate. It is rare, but it does happen. In that event, you must mail in your rebate. On the front of last week's ad, there were 5 items that all say "FREE." In the fine print under 4 of them (always read the fine print) it says "after easy rebate.' The fine print under 1 of them says "after mail-in rebate." I have never submitted a mail-in rebate with Staples. I do not know if a form prints out at check out. I was able, however, to find a printable form for this rebate on the Easy Rebate website. The fine print on the form says that the rebate may not exceed the purchase price.

More on Staples:

Staples is also a Upromise company. When they're competitive with everybody else on something, and I have the foresight to order before I absolutely need, I can get a Upromise contribution on top of possibly earning Staples Rewards ordering online.

Staples rounds rewards up or down to the nearest 10 cents. If you've earned $13.94, your reward will be for $13.90. If you've earned $13.95, your reward will be for $14. Every once in a while, Staples slips me $1 or so in rewards that I know I didn't earn (I didn't set foot in a Staples in October, but I earned a $1 reward somehow), so it all balances out in your favor eventually.

Having signed up for the Staples Rewards website I get emails with coupons and special offers from time to time. I also occasionally get snail mail coupons. Presently I'm sitting on a $25 off a $75 order coupon that was mailed to me that excludes only computers.

How to "work" Staples:

If you flip through the Staples ad every week, it won't take you long to find reams of copy or printer paper of some brand or other on sale for $9.99 with a $8.99 Staples Rewards. The ad will point out that "It's like paying only $1!" Except it's not. Copy and printer paper both already get a 10% reward. If you buy 1 ream at $9.99, you will earn $1 (Staples rounds 9/10th of a cent up) as a regular reward AND earn $8.99 for the special reward. You spend $9.99 on a ream of paper, and you'll earn $9.99 in total rewards for it. This paper is free.

You can't roll Staples Rewards buying items that give Staples Rewards the way you can roll ECBs or +UP rewards, but did you know you can use Staples Rewards to buy items that have Easy Rebates and you will get the full Easy Rebate value back? That applies to all other coupons as well.

This first came to my attention when they had photo paper on sale, $9.99 with an $8.99 Easy Rebate. Staples emailed me a 15% off my order coupon, so I decided to use it. I figured I'd get back all but $1 of my purchase price, which was still a good deal because I'd have saved paying the sales tax on the extra $1.50. My Easy Rebate arrived for the full $8.99. Let me say that again: I paid $8.49 plus tax for a pack of photo paper, and got back $8.99 as an Easy Rebate.

After that happened, I just had to know if Staples Rewards would work like that with Easy Rebates as well. When I earned a $1 reward, I took the risk and bought something free after Easy Rebate with it. I got back the full rebate amount. I got bold, and took a very large reward and paid for an item that had an Easy Rebate almost entirely with Staples Rewards. I got the full rebate back.

Please do check the wording of the Easy Rebate for the item you are considering purchasing, since Staples may at their leisure change the terms of future offers as they see fit. To date none that I have submitted, nor any I have selected at random to search, that are available as Easy Rebates contain the words "may not exceed purchase price." Rebates that are mail-in only DO contain this wording, and I suspect you cannot use Staples Rewards on them without reducing your rebate amount.

Had it not happened to me as it did, had I not tested it, and had I not read the fine print and found that it doesn't say you can't, I would never have believed I could use Staples Rewards on Easy Rebate items without reducing the rebate value.

Staples Rewards are made of win. You can print them off the Internet, so there's no little piece of paper to misplace (unless you might lose it from the printer to the store, in which case, I can't really help you). They don't expire for at least 2 months after they're issued, so there is plenty of time to find a good deal. You don't have to use the whole reward value in a single purchase, because they will print the balance of your reward (as long as it is at least $1) for you to use later. Staples Rewards are store coupons, reducing the taxable value of your purchase (I paid tax when I bought the item that earned the reward, I love that I don't have to pay tax on that same money twice). You can use them to buy Easy Rebate items and turn them back in to real money. Worst case scenario, they sell toilet paper at Staples.

Staples is made of win!



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  • momboozer Feb 2, 2012

    HappyGirl - We have a Canon printer that uses one cartridge for each individual color. We get $2 for each of these. You can only recycle a maximum of 10 per month.

  • Nancy Feb 2, 2012

    My laser printers are Samsung and Lexmark, buying re-manned and never had a problem with any and the output is equal to OEM.

    Couldn't be more pleased, plus they ship FAST out of California. And should you ever have reason to call their 800 #, a REAL human answers the phone LOL

  • TwoWheels Feb 2, 2012

    Nancy - are you buying a remanufactured HP or an HP OEM? thanks!!!!!

  • stephlw Feb 2, 2012

    LOVE staples rewards! Just started using them this year and it has netted us a ton of "free" stuff :)

  • Nancy Feb 2, 2012

    citylefty, I have laser printers and buy cartridges online from LD Products Inc - have been for quite a while now, they're great and about a 1/3 of the price from stores :) And they stand behind their products too, full guarantee.

  • citylefty Feb 2, 2012

    Great article and thanks. Yes, the rebate form prints out with your receipt and a rebate receipt. I can't imagine buying that many things on a regular basis at Staples but I go there about once a month since the nearest one is 8 miles away. For those buying ink online, it is cheaper but some could ruin your printer and the colors may not be as rich. Some stores will still allow you to use your rewards a few days/weeks after they expire. Staples has more and better rewards than Office Depot or Office Max but Office Depot may have better mail-in deals.

  • creationstation3 Feb 2, 2012

    When I used only part of my rewards, the remainder coupon says you must use it in one transaction. So unless I am wrong (and I could be) you must use your rewards in two tranactions. My coupon clearly stated that I could not get any change when I used the coupon printed from the register. The cashier also stated this to me. I used one coupon once and lost .38. Keep that in mind when planning your trip. I love Staples once I finally figured out how to pay nothing for everything I buy there. I always get so excited when I get my rewards. Then once I turn them around for easy rebates, it is so much fun!!! Great article!

  • HappyGirl08 Feb 2, 2012

    Does anyone have a printer that uses 3 or 4 of the individual colors of ink cartridges? My printer is that way and I'm wondering if they accept those types of cartridges to recycle and give rewards for. I have to make a point to go to staples so I hate to waste a trip.

    I do like to go there for back to school stuff though. Those 5 cent notebooks are nice. :-) Black Friday got me a package of 100 CD-Rs for something like 6.00 after the 10.00 easy rebate. That finally came last week by the way. Hilarious. I bought the stuff in November! haha OH well, at least it came. :-)

  • Nancy Feb 2, 2012

    Great detail Oxy! I think sums up the program thoroughly!

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Feb 2, 2012

    I agree about getting ink cartridges for less, but there are many other great deals to be had with the rebates and rewards at Staples.

    If you have favorite places you buy ink online, feel free to share those website links, please.

    I love when Staples does the back to school freebies and cheapies. Such great deals to be had!

    Thanks again for sharing all the info, Oxy!