Is CVS’s Vanilla Reload Policy Changing To Prevent Credit Card Use - Points Miles and Martinis


A recent experience leads me to believe the CVS policy is changing. Based on separate experiences by both Alex and I, our hypothesis is the CVS policy will change to no longer allow the purchase of Vanilla reloads with a credit card. Here’s our reasoning and we’d love to hear your thoughts.

My Recent Experience

I go to my normal CVS which is normally full of Vanilla reloads to reload my Bluebird® by American Express account. The gift card display only has one last Vanilla reload, so I pick it up and go to the check out counter. This location does not have a self check-out counter. I present the item for checkout along with another item and here is the exchange:

Cashier: “How will you be paying for this today”

Weekly Flyer: “Credit Card”

Cashier: “I’m sorry, you can only pay for the Vanilla reload with cash”

So I left empty handed and could only think about Alex recent experience and if this was a trend.

Alex’s Vanilla Reload Change At His CVS

Alex share’s his story in a recent post.

I love paying my rent with the Bluebird mail-a-check option so whenever I am at shopping at CVS I toss a Vanilla Reload into my basket to accompany my other purchases.  I have never had an issue paying with a credit card until today when an “Alternate Tender Required” message popped up on the screen.  I have read that several stores do not allow the purchase of Vanilla Reloads via credit card which I understand but this was particularly interesting to me because it appeared to be purely a system change as opposed to a policy change that was communicated to its employees.

From the best I can tell, no variables had changed between today and 5 days ago when I made the exact same purchase using the exact same card from the exact same employee at the exact same register.

I didn’t have 500 dollars cash on me so I asked the employee to remove the Vanilla Reload from my purchase.  This action required a supervisor to come over.  The employee proceeded to ask the supervisor what the system message meant though neither was familiar.

Our Hypothesis For A Coming Change

We believe, and this is only based on a few experiences and not any inside knowledge, is that CVS has a new policy preventing the purchase of Vanilla reloads with credit cards and it has yet to be hard coded into their systems.

This would explain the reason why self check-out counters work well and some people can still purchase Vanilla reloads with credit cards.

What’s Your Experience?

So we’ve laid out our recent experiences attempting to purchase Vanilla reloads at our local CVS stores. What’s your experience?

Do you agree or disagree with our hypothesis?

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  • Rhonda said,

    No problems the last 3 days for me…

  • Brandon said,

    No problems picking one up yesterday and paying with a cc

  • Eric said,

    I bought one this morning in CT. They asked for ID but no manager override required.

  • Scott said,

    I have made probably 10 different Vanilla Reload purchases at local (Central Ohio) CVS stores without any problem using my Hilton Surpass AMEX card. I’ve used 3 different CVS locations and as recently as yesterday.

  • Lea B said,

    In the last month I’ve bought VR cards with a credit card at CVS stores in middle & southwest TN and northern MS. In several instances the clerks didn’t think it would be allowed but the machine accepted it. REALLY hoping this doesn’t go away as it’s the only place locally that accepts credit cards for VRs.

  • Brabbit said,

    Anyone noticed that the “link card” link on bluebird hasn’t been working?

  • Geoff said,

    Purchased two more today less than 3 hours ago.
    Totally case by case, but by all means keep bringing this up so CVS does indeed stop allowing it.
    Next topic.

  • Guest said,

    Cash only for Bellevue, WA.

  • Jamison @ Points Summary said,

    there are many other prepaid cards to buy other than Vanilla Reload…..

  • J said,

    ALL stores in NYC are supposed to only accept cash but their Point of sale systems will allow you to pay with a credit card as long as the cashier verifies a photo ID and manually inputs the last 4 digits of the CC.

    This is in contrast to Green Dot reloads where their system will lock up if you try to pay with CC instead of cash.

  • Marco A. said,

    When they ask “how will you pay” just say debit. It works all the time . When you push button on panel push credit slide card, and give the last 4 digits of your card to clerk. Never had any issues in SoCal.

  • Carlo said,

    It does not make sense for stores to stop accepting cc for payment of VRs. The company knows clearly that this is how some people get cash advances without hefty fees (and I don’t mean people who are in the points & miles game). I just purchased 2 VRs this morning without a problem except the CVS that I went to here in NYC says that I’m limited to just $1K worth of cards as per company policy. I’ve purchased up to 5 in one visit before so I guess this policy is very loosely enforced.

  • JetsFan said,

    No problem as of this morning, but thanks for the caution!

  • Jon said,

    I thought the CC merchant agreement prohibits merchants (including CVS) from denying payment with credit card for anything that can also be purchased with cash or other payment methods. I would push this with any store manager that refuses to allow the sale via credit card. CVS has a choice – either sell the Vanilla Reload cards (and accept all payment methods), or don’t sell them at all.

  • Delta Points said,

    No problems in Indiana 1hr ago at my local CVS with my Delta Reserve card as you can see HERE

  • Mileswhore said,

    Everyone loves to get the sky is falling motif going. Focus on the present, not the future.

  • jinga said,

    Come up with a million blog posts like this will eventually kill the deal.

  • commander flatus said,

    the cashier last time said something about instructions on the screen telling her not to allow a credit card purchase but she ran it through anyhow.

    this, coupled with people getting FR’d for vanilla reload purchases makes me think i’m retiring from the vanilla reload game

  • Brad said,

    All CVS stores in north metro Atlanta work just fine except I CAN’T use my Bank of America Virgin Atlantic Amex…does not work anywhere…always get ‘Alternate Tender Required’

  • Paul said,

    Worked yesterday no prob for 2X500, but today got told no at a different location

  • Mileswhore said,

    Almost every blog is mentioning this. Amazing. Just leave it alone.

  • Dan said,

    All local CVSs here have signs saying that purchase with credit card is ok. I have not had any issues nor have I seen any changes to the signs. Not to say that the policy will not change at some point but everything so far points to this being issues with specific CVS stores.

  • Mitty said,

    My experience is that purchasing either Vanilla Reload cards or even Paypal Load money cards using a miles-earning credit card at CVS is highly dependent on both the CVS store and the cashier you get.

    I have had situations where certain cashiers are local CVS will tell me they won’t allow credit card transactions on them. I have also gone back to the same CVS locations to another cashier (one who looked newer or like they wouldn’t care), and have had it gone right through without a problem. I think it depends on the location and what their staff/team has been trained to do by management. Perhaps some locations have had more fraud issues whereas others have not had that problem yet.

    But overall, I have not seen any kind of strict universal policy across all CVS locations yet. I also haven’t had the machine reject me yet…so if it’s a machine-policy like Alex’s story mentioned, then I would suspect you’re right about CVS changing it across-the-board.

    I think it should be noted that, to my understanding, policies are different by CVS districts. Each district has its own district manager that might institute certain policies. i.e. Some districts ANY transaction over $1k will be flagged and require a supervisor override.

    p.s. I’m in California, so my experiences are based off of transactions in Cali.

  • Jerod said,

    @ Mitty – No dice in Pasadena, CA and all surrounding areas. I managed to find 1 CVS that would take CC (though it always required manager override even for less than $1000) in Palm Springs, CA. Spent two weeks driving around my area and have yet to find one that will take a CC in the greater Los Angeles area, and that’s if they even carry and VR’s. I guess you could be right about it depending on the cashier but I’ve yet to do extensive research doing repeat visits. It’s just getting really discouraging every time the register asks for alternate tender or the cashier just won’t even bother swiping or an angry manager comes huffing down the aisles. What districts have been successful for you thus far?

  • Doug said,

    Today I bought 2VR at one CVS and one at another but there was no problem in paying them with cc. I’m in CA south bay area.

  • JakePB said,

    In order to maintain some sense of sanity, I just treat every month as the last month the VR thing will be available. I don’t hog cards or buy any more than I need, but EVERY TIME it works I’m pleasantly surprised.

  • Dan said,

    Yesterday, in NYC, I was told that I was capped at $300/VR card if I wanted to use my credit card. I wanted to go back at night when another clerk would be working, but…. it was cold out!

  • Michael W. Travels said,

    No problem at all in Brooklyn, NY yesterday. Last week 2/3 stores in Philly were fine.

  • Quig69 said,

    I think what is going on is confusion with the Green Dot cards. Those cards are cash only. Hard wired into the cash registers that way. Since it is the same type of card I they assume the VR cards are cash only is too.. Every now and then I have a cashier tell me cash only. I reply that I get these all the time with a credit card. They scan the card and the tell me the credit card is ok.

  • Sean said,

    Just bought one with my CC in the OC, Ca.

  • Kalboz said,

    I have bought 23 of them in the past two weeks without any issues to report … only once I had the same scenario as you stated above. I smiled, said no thank you, and left the store looking for the next location in Southern California.

  • Kalboz said,

    Some are determined to kill this!!! http://money.usnews.com/money/my-money/2013/01/25/credit-card-schemes-that-could-make-or-save-you-money

  • Strictly Red said,

    I have never been able to use a credit card to buy these at CVS in NYC. I was turned down at two separate locations in Michigan this weekend (one in Detroit, the other in the burbs.) Both were emphatic that Vanilla Reloads were debit or cash but NOT credit card. {very sad]

    If someone knows of a NYC CVS (or Northern NJ CVS) that allows credit card purchases of vanilla reloads please share the info!

  • Anon said,

    Just bought 5x reloads yesterday from CVS. The cashier alternately told me she could only do $1000 per transaction -or- $1000 per person per day, but promptly rang them all up in three separate transactions. The $1000 per day / transaction guide seems to be consistent across all CVS, but it’s not hard coded into their system and it’s totally random how the staff at any location will interpret it. I’ve also found that attempting to buy more than 4x reloads in 2x $1000 transactions at -ANY- CVS will cause total chaos to ensue.

    In the last two months at CVS I’ve bought 5k+ VRs with HHonors AmEx and Chase Freedom. I’ve purchased even more using OD vanilla prepaids and gift cards from grocery stores. Trying to max out drugstore category / spend / targeted bonuses from other less discussed cards now before this completely dies.

  • Anon said,

    Pro tip: there are A LOT of great ways to generate points using these reloads. You don’t have to limit yourself to just the Chase / AmEx cards that blogs generate referral income by promoting. Happy earning!

  • Success With Vanilla Purchase At CVS - Points Miles and Martinis said,

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  • Ravi said,

    I got the message “Alternare Tender required” when I was trying to use my AA AMEX card. When I used my AA VISA, it went thru..Sunday evening..

  • Dustin said,

    I had a similar experience with the register stating to use another tender when using my Amex Hilton. I switched to the MC Fidelity card and it went through no problem. Couple days later I tried to buy VR with my Amex Blue and got the use another tender message again. Switched to a visa and had no issues. Amex left a voicemail about security concerns with my blue card. Once they lifted the hold I was able to buy VR again with it. The Hilton Amex also had a hold but they never told me.

    I have noticed that a lot more stores are carrying the paypal reload and they are occupying the VR section of the gift card section. Is CVS phasing out VR in favor of paypal reload?

  • My Vanilla Pre-Paid Visa Card Experience - Points Miles and Martinis said,

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  • Josinei said,

    I tried it today (2-15) at CVS and message appeared “offline” meaning her computer shut down and another message “supervisor authentication” needed (something like that) plus limit th $200 per card only :-( :-( it’s the end again

  • Nancy said,

    Santa Fe CVS today 2-17. The first time that the clerk tried to process my credit card to purchase 2 Vanilla Reloads the transaction didn’t go through and cash registered showed “Aleternate Tender Required.” She tried the transaction with my credit card a second time, and the transaction went through.

  • Trav said,

    All systems are still a go for me. Just bought $1,000 worth of VR at two different CVS stores on 2-23 and 2-24 in the Phllly area with no problem. Keeping my fingers crossed it stays that way!

  • Mike H said,

    Went to 3 CVSs today (March 14). One without any, one with plenty and cashier said cash only and a third with plenty and cashier said cash only.. manager confirmed it is a mandate to cash only that happened recently. I’m in the Baltimore area.

    I gotta sniff out a new means… I’m in the middle of spends!

  • Gabriel said,

    I”m still able to buy these. I bought one last Wednesday. They did enter info off of my drivers license into the computer.

  • AT said,

    If VR stops can we meet the mininum spending by using some sort of self-processing payment?

    Like Paypal merchant fee of 0.022%+0.30,

    Its a kinda pricey but helps meet the requirement. I am not sure if I am missing something.

  • TY said,

    3/23/13
    Went to my usual CVS in Vegas to buy Vanilla card using CC. They won’t accept CC anymore.
    My friend in Newark CA has the same problem. We had no problem 2 weeks ago. Is CVS changing the policy on Vanilla Card purchase using CC.
    Has anyone purchased VC using CC the last few days?

  • Anon said,

    I was able to pick up a single $500 yesterday with a credit card, but it’s the only one I’ve seen gracing the gift card racks near me in a long time.

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  • Dottie said,

    There are 4 CVSs in my town in NJ. I have gone to them all. One place said they would try it, but they weren’t supposed to. As soon as I swiped the second of my two $200 visa gift cards to pay, the computer locked and the whole system shut down. They assured me the transaction had not been done and my visa cards were still fine. Not so. Back I go to tell them. The answer is that my money is “somewhere in cyberspace” and they don’t know what to do, because i have no receipt. They give me what they think are the Vanilla reloads that I was trying to buy. I go home and try to access them. Message says they are deactivated. Back to the store. They don’t know what to do. Wait for a different manager after the weekend. Back I go. Yep, she says. We have your $400, but I don’t know where it is. And that’s why we can’t do that transaction with credit cards!
    She eventually did relent and refund me $400 on a vanilla reload, but I sure won’t try to do that again!

  • Mike said,

    I was just that the CVS trying to get in some last-minute freedom bonus purchases and the cashier had to call the manager because he said any gift card over $100 has to be cash. I said the sign says only debit cards have to so when the manager came over she said only $100 is allowed and I even asked if they Sears gift card is the same thing and she said any gift card is $100. I then tried to buy five home-improvement cards at 100 each but the cashier called over the manager and she said no I can only spend 100 per day on credit which is the opposite of what you just said to me and she proceeded to insinuate that CVS wouldn’t get paid Saying that my credit card company won’t ever the money and made it clear that she thought I was trying to commit fraud but then she said fine if you really wanted you can do it and when we get stuck not getting paid I’ll have to deal with it. So after my first purchase of $100 he had to do a new transaction for the second card within the system at a hardcoded message saying use different payment source so I then used my other freedom card and then when I tried to do the third card neither of the freedom cards worked. They weren’t declines but rather use different payment method so now I can confirm that the cashier system is hardcoded to limit the $100 purchase and one time use. This was in queens NYC.

  • Jon said,

    31 March 2013

    I’ve bought the Vanilla reloads with my Citi card at many different CVS stores over the last few months and have never had a problem on the CVS side. They limit you to $1,000 per day (but you can go to different stores).

    The “Alternate tender required” is actually your credit card company denying the transaction, probably because the computer thinks such a large drugstore purchase is fraud. It has nothing to do with CVS. You need to call the credit card company and tell them to let the transaction go through. Citi denies it almost every time, so now I call and get them on the phone before I go into CVS. So I have them on the line at point-of-sale and they can fix the problem right away.

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  • Joe said,

    Went to my CVS yesterday they only had 11 cards left. My buddy purchased 4 and I bought 7. Looks like I may need to start looking for other VR sources.

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