I’ve had quite a bit of minimum spend to hit on credit cards recently in order to earn the signup bonuses.

And I’ve been busy. Life, blog, work, travel, award booking service, getting ready to launch voting in the Freddie Awards, putting together the schedule for Frequent Traveler University.

I’m fortunate in being able to meet minimum spend fairly easily through reimbursable business expenses. But a lot of cards in the wallet, remembering how much is left to do on each, does take up brain space. So I like to put them to bed and be done as soon as possible. One less thing, y’know?

I’m also fortunate to live one block from a CVS. (I also live two blocks from a Staples, sadly Office Depot is accessible but not nearly as close!)

My CVS has pretty much everything imaginable, from Paypal cards to Netspend and VanillaOne cards.

And buried down at the bottom on the right, Vanilla Reloads.

Sadly 6 points per dollar at drugstores on the Hilton American Express is going away in May.

But they’re still highly useful for meeting minimum spend requirements.

I needed to hit $1500 more on one card, and my CVS had exactly 3 Vanilla Reloads left. I took them to the checkout counter (first I had to find someone willing to staff a register, this CVS pushes everyone to self checkout and you can’t buy these at self-checkout registers). They rang me up no problem, they needed to do two separate transactions — (2) at $500 per Vanilla Reload plus $3.95 fee per card which is their maximum per one transaction, and then (1) at $500 for the last Vanilla Reload plus $3.95 fee.

My CVS still takes credit cards for Vanilla Reload cards, not all of them do. It seems the ones that don’t, that insist on cash only, often claim there’s a ‘new chainwide policy’ though that usually turns out to be wrong. As of this morning it is still possible to buy Vanilla Reload cards at CVS, at least at some of them.

And of course the CVS in question not only has to be willing to take credit cards for Vanilla Reloads, they also have to have the cards in stock. I’m lucky that this one is one block from my home so I can duck in to check the rack whenever I’m walking by. Sometimes they are in stock and sometimes they aren’t.

With $1500 in Reloads in hand I got onto my computer and went to VanillaReload.com. On that page you enter your Bluebird card number in the upper land hand side and then the PIN off of the back of the Vanilla Reload card (you scratch off the strip on the back to reveal the PIN number). Once entered and confirmed the funds post to Bluebird instantly.

You can only load up to $1000 per day and $5000 per month onto a single Bluebird account through Vanilla Reloads. So I will have to put the remaining $500 from today’s purchase onto my Bluebird card tomorrow (or anytime after midnight tonight).

Then I will take the funds off of Bluebird by having a check mailed through their billpay service — to someone I trust to give me back the money, to my credit card company to pay off the balance, or to various bills with merchants who do not take credit cards.

CVS remains the place most likely to stock and accept credit cards for Vanilla Reloads. But there’s no more 5 points per dollar like we used to get using certain Chase produts at Office Depot for these cards, since Office Depot no longer carries them. (To earn 5 points per dollar you would have to buy, say, a prepaid American Express gift card at an office supply store and then liquidate that gift card by buying a Vanilla Reload at CVS.)

Some credit cards now even say in their fine print that purchase of cards like Vanilla Reloads do not count as eligible spending for meeting bonuses — but in practice I haven’t seen them excluded yet from the calculation and am not even sure how the card company would know what you’ve purchased exactly, with most transactions they just know the merchant you’ve made the purchase at.

But it remains a highly useful technique for those with access to the cards!

  1. User Name said,

    Determined to kill this one off?

  2. Stomp said,

    How much are you willing to spend per bank (Chase/AMEX) and/or per card per month? Thanks for the guidance.

  3. Stomp said,

    Clarification: I meant on Vanilla Reloads. It seems that $1000 charges at CVS may trigger some sort of alert.

  4. roseyscot said,

    do you give them your cvs card at the time of purchase? cvs seems to give great “points” rewards for spending and i wonder if these purchases are factored in…?

  5. Gary said,

    @Stomp I have not had a problem with $1000 charges at CVS. They run 2 at a time ($500 + $395) x 2 = $1007.90

  6. Corridor! said,

    Can you load $5k per month or per monthly statement?

  7. Mark said,

    I love User Name. Hilarious. Thanks, Gary, for the helpful (and tight) post.

  8. Gary said,

    @Corridot! $1000 per day, up to $5000 per calendar month

  9. new2pts said,

    I recently tried buying vr at my local cvs using my freedom, i was excited it worked!! I am just wondering what has been people’s experience with bluebird. I haven’t signed up yet because I have read so many bad reviews. I was thinking of just using my vr with amex prepaid instead. Any thoughts?

  10. AJM said,

    Wouldn’t Chase Freedom’s first quarter bonus category of drugstores work for 5x UR points on VR cards at CVS?

  11. msp2anywhere said,

    Arrows, Gary, *arrows*? I thought MMS had trademarked that maneuver?! :)

    VR availability and buying seems to be extremely variable, even in a small area- of the bean patches that I harvest, two clerks have commented that I’m the only one buying at their store…

  12. choi said,

    Gary, could you clarify which CC have the fine print exclusion but dont enforce Vanilla or GC purchases ?I dont want to make a mistake and not get pts for using such card(s). thanks

  13. ctbarron said,

    Which banks/cards are excluding (or have language to) VR’s from purchases to meet bonuses? I saw something that mentioned Barclays may have done this. Any others?

  14. JohnnieD said,

    I would like to mention the 6 drugstores i get my beans at but last June when i mentioned on another blog which OD i baught them at, the next day when i went back, i was told they were all out. Seems someone came in and got 20,000 worth saying that they were getting a 5% rebate. So, my stack of used beans is quite high…………

  15. Lynn said,

    I always buy something else with my “beans” such as a pack of gum or candy bar.

    I have been paying my mortgage for the last 4 months with my bluebird card. I have had no problems. I also have paid off two different chase cards with the bb. I have not tried to pay AmEx yet. I also made a large charitable donation to my church with a check from bb as the church does not except ccs.

  16. Tony said,

    @Gary I’m just like you, a CVS and a Staples are with in a mile from me and both in the same shopping center. The CVS by my house has the VR in the same spot all the way at the bottom left hand side… I’m not too sure how many VR’s that the CVS sell by me, they always have a plenty when I come in and buy my load worth.

  17. Jivepicnic said,

    @new2pts, I’ll echo Lynn’s comments. I have had no problem using Bluebird for the past few months to pay all of my bills (including mortgage) that would normally charge a large fee to use a CC. I’ve been funding my Bluebird with a mixture of WF prepaid debit at Walmart, VR when I can find them, and my UFB Direct AA debit at Walmart. I’m not going overboard by any means, and it’s worked great for me!

    The WF prepaid debit has been great for me. I fund it with my Cap1 Venture Card for $2500 once per month and only pay a $5 fee each time. I get $50.10 in points (2%) each month where before I got nothing. I even withdraw some money from the card by getting cash back at the grocery store.

  18. Gabe said,

    @Roseyscot unfortunately no bonus points for vanilla

  19. Scott said,

    What cards are saying Vanilla Reloads won’t count towards bonus spend? Forgot that little detail?

  20. Jordan said,

    It would be nice if staples started carrying $500 prepaid cards. That would make things much easier. I feel bad for people who don’t have cvs stores near them or have stores that insist cash only. Ive only been to 1 out of the 10 in my area that had a problem.

  21. Walt K said,

    I have no issues buying them at the self checkouts when I can find them. It requires someone to come over to complete the purchase, but other than that, no issues.

  22. Jeff said,

    Gary, as I’m sure you know, one should link BB with personal bank by establishing a Funding Source (bb website). Once verified, transfer funds from BB to bank and pay cc from bank account. Easy.

  23. Joediver said,

    Don’t forget the Freedom card from Chase this quarter. 5 points per dollar at drug stores if you can’t make the max spend of $1500. I’d rather have UR points than Hilton

  24. Robert Hanson said,

    MMS has a post today about AMEX business cards having a no reload clause in the T/C. And people posting about getting a financial review by trying to use them for VR and such.

  25. RJ Brown said,

    I would love to see the store location of a CVS on the West coast listed in this scheme……..it doesn’t matter how good it is if no CVS takes it……..

  26. Tony said,

    @Robert Hanson I believe Amex is closing the loop hole on certain cards. They look at a business card as that, something one would use in their business, not going to a store and buying reload/gift cards. In some way I applaud Amex for this. However, I don’t see Chase or Citi following this.
    @RJ I love in PHX, and have no problems at CVS’s, I’ll be in SAN in 2 weeks and I’ll be looking at CVS or Walgreens to see if I can get them to take CC for the VR’s.

  27. Tony said,

    damn, I hate auto correction…. @RJ, my comment should say I LIVE in PHX…. Trust me I don’t love it…

  28. HikerT said,

    Looks like a ~2 week churn to recycle the same info. Yawn.

  29. Swizard210 said,

    I was travelling and thought I’d hit up a local CVS and luckily they let me use my CC for 2 VRs! A little off topic, but I use Mint.com for my banks and CC’s and noticed that it does not support tracking Bluebird. Do you know any of these finance tracking sites that does allow Blue Bird tracking?

  30. RJ Brown said,

    SAN Francisco or SAN Diego? Or SANta Barbara?

  31. Gary said,

    @Robert Hanson – I mentioned the reload clause earlier in the week. And financial reviews simply don’t concern me in the least as I’ve written before, or rather I should say that I find the concerns about them way overblown.

  32. surffnutt3000 said,

    SAN is the airport code for San Diego.

  33. Truthiness said,

    With Vanilla/bluebird, can you mail checks to pay off chase sapphire/Amex Hilton? How long does this take? Have people had issues with paying off credit cards this way? I wouldn’t use it to pay cable/Internet/cellphone b/c I use Amex Hilton for 6x points.

  34. robertw said,

    I also think AMEX FR is not triggered by use of the VRs. I think that data point has no bearing on it. I have been a big customer of AMEX for many years, and my business partner. We each got a FR once. I have everything to back myself up so there were no issues. First a number of the FRs (I believe are totally random) I think they are triggered more by high utilization than anything else. I always pay on time and I have large lines with them. With high utilization on business or personal they might want to see your capacity. You might have high total utilization with or without bills on AMEX by the way. In fact I utilization on the business side to affect business lines and approvals greatly. We do significant business, but sometimes high utilization will cost us on the business card products. With any of this sort of thing you have to know you are taking a chance that some computer picks it up.

  35. Carl P said,

    Even if the banks don’t know details of a purchase I’ll bet a REGULAR CVS purchase of $500 or more is pretty rare.

    Not so much as OD and Staples.

    Just a thought.

  36. Chas said,

    SAN = San Diego
    SFO = San Francisco
    SBA = Santa Barbara

  37. Shannon said,

    Gary, why do you bother sending that check to somebody and collect it later? Why you can’t just pay your credit card bill?

  38. Gary said,

    @Shannon – you can, I was giving an example, although I personally like to mix up the stuff I do with my bluebird and also like to avoid having my credit card companies getting too many bluebird billpays

  39. Jialing said,

    So i just went to my local CVS tonight (in Santa Monica, CA) to get a couple of Vanilla reload cards (hubby and I have purchased 5 altogether at the store using CCs so far in the past month. They weren’t in stock, and when I asked about it one of the mgrs said something about how it wasn’t working well and that they aren’t bringing it back(to all CVS stores!!). I hope that’s not true!! Thankfully there are a bunch of CVS stores within a 15 mile radius of here, but it’s not nearly as convenient since I already do a lot of shopping at that particular store, and it’s open 24 hours. Has anybody else been told this?

  40. Bill said,

    Why not cut yourself a check? There doesn’t seem to be any issue with doing that as far as I can tell. The check I sent myself even appears to have been sent through a third party processor.

  41. Mike said,

    My go to CVS has a dwindling stock and I was told they don’t control the card stocks, corp does. This could be a bummer. Other 3 CVS near me do not carry them any longer. I buy $1500 over 3 cards every other week or so… And a few other random purchases for the hell of it. All to hit spend.

  42. Mike said,

    Self-checkout at CVS works just fine.

  43. RJ Brown said,

    This advice is a crock of crap. After finding a Reload card at CVS then spent an hour on the phone with an Indian Boiler room at Bluebird who finally emphatically stated that theVanilla reload was not allowed unless it had been bought at “the bank.” Then Even if they did let’s do a little “rocket scientist” math folks………$3.95 to load $500 on Vanilla and then $2.00 to transfer to Bluebird (even if allowed)……..S o now we are essentially buying miles for 1.2 cents while simultaneously poking a stick in our eye………….stupid is as stupid does…………..

  44. Mike said,

    RJ, huh? There’s no fee to load a Vanilla Reload onto a Bluebird. Never has been.

  45. RJ Brown said,

    Mike: Do you work for AMEX or VISA?

  46. Mike said,

    RJ, neither, of course. I’m just one of the many happy people who has been loading VRs onto my BB. The only fee is the $3.95 to buy the BB.

  47. Mike said,

    Sorry, I meant $3.95 to buy the VR.

  48. AJM said,

    Can I link a BB account to a business checking account? I would like my BB account to be a personal account and my husband’s to be a business account. Is this possible? So far all I’ve done is register for my own BB account/card and we purchased 2 VR cards at CVS, one with my Chase Freedom and one with my husband’s Chase Freedom.

  49. Starbucks, iTunes, and Amazon at 5 Points Per Dollar - View from the Wing said,

    [...] fortunate to live one block from a CVS and two and a half blocks from a Staples. That’s wonderfully convenient for experimentation. [...]

  50. Still Worth Buying Gift Cards at Office Depot? The Economics of No More $500 Cards - View from the Wing said,

    [...] some folks were buying gift cards, and using those gift cards to buy Vanilla Reload cards at CVS. Then loading those cards onto Bluebird, and paying off the credit card. Purchasing both cards, [...]

  51. David said,

    @RJ I think you are attempting to do it incorrectly. You do not go to the Bluebird site to load the Vanilla you go to the Vanilla Reload site and put in your Bluebird card with the 10 digit pin from the reload and then the funds show up on your Bluebird. If you try to reload on Bluebird site it will show the $2 fee and not go through. FYI.

  52. Tony said,

    Data point, I was in San Diego this past weekend, and went looking for VR’s, the first CVS I went into had a load of them, however, they charge $4.95 not the typical $3.95 that I was paying in Phoenix. I wanted to see if using a CC was going to work, I presented the VR, which was scanned, then I swiped my CC, at first the clerk told me that a CC could not be used, I explained I do not have a problem in Phoenix, he called his manager over. The manager told me they can not take CC, I explained that I do it all the time in Phoenix, without a problem. He said, OK, pushed a couple of buttons and wham, it went through. So not too sure what to make of this. But at $4.95/card I’m glad I only pay $3.95 back in Phoenix.

  53. Newatthis said,

    Found a stack of new and wrapped Vanilla Reloads on top of the prepaid stand at my local CVS. I didn’t have a bluebird account, so kind of hesitated to buy one. I went back to my “truck” and logged on to my local Starbuck’s wifi which is located at approximately every two blocks in NYC. opened up the account with bluebird and went back to CVS and purchased one reload with $100.00 to see if it would work with my SPG AMEX card, the self serve pay stand asked for the last 4 of my SPG card and prompted for approval from the staff. The staff guarding the pay stands, did not hesitate to approve it and on i went.
    1. There was no problem purchasing the vanilla reload with the credit card.
    possibly due to the amount purchased. Approval was easy also possibly due to the amount of money purchased.

    The stack came with 10 vanilla reloads, so there are 9 left on the stand. I was tempted to take some more but i might have looked suspicious walking in back and buying more at a higher amount.
    This is the first encounter with vanilla reloads since reading up on it a month a go. I have been occasionally looking for these for that long and its today that finally came up.
    I wonder if people are just taking these home and stashing it once they find it?
    Till next time, i wonder if these will last.

  54. 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.

  55. Today May Be the Last Day to Buy Vanilla Reload Cards with a Credit Card at CVS - View from the Wing - View from the Wing said,

    […] Vanilla Reload cards are one of the tools people use to fund cards like Bluebird, MyVanilla Debit, and the JH Preferred Prepaid Visa. […]

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