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Can You Take Advantage of Bluebird and Vanilla Without an Ink Card?

by on November 7, 2012 · 82 comments

in Amazing Deal Alerts, American Express, Bluebird, Chase, Credit Cards

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Update: You can no longer purchase Vanilla Reload cards using a credit card and Vanilla Reloads are no longer available in Office Depot.

The resounding answer is YES. I’ve been getting an incredible amount of email questions about the Bluebird/Vanilla deal and whether it’s mandatory to have an Ink card, so let me explain why Ink is a “super amazing” deal vs. just an “amazing” deal using other cards.

When you buy a $500 Vanilla Reload card from Office Depot (note: many Office Depots are out of these cards and may or may not be restocked. I’ve purchased $3,000 and then another $2,500 this week at two different Miami area stores), each Vanilla Reload card costs $3.95 in fees and the rest of the purchase is essentially a cash equivalent that you can load onto a number of pre-paid cards, like the American Express Bluebird (which I prefer due to low fees). The maximum amount you can buy per Vanilla Reload card is $500 so using a normal card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred – you’ll get 535 Ultimate Rewards points (500 for the base purchase and 35 at the end of the year for the 7% annual dividend) for $3.95. That’s a purchase price per Ultimate Reward point of less than 8/10ths of a cent, which is an amazing deal. You can buy points directly from Chase for 2.5 cents a piece (up to 5,000 per calendar month at ultimaterewards.com -> Manage Ultimate Rewards -> Purchase points). At .8 cents a point, that means you can “buy” 22,000 points, which is enough for a free night at any top tier Hyatt like Park Hyatt Maldives, for $176. Not bad!

The Holy Grail of Points: Vanilla Prepaid Reload Cards

It’s “super amazing” with the Ink Bold and Ink Plus cards because they award 5 points per dollar on “Office Supplies” and luckily Vanilla Reload card purchases at Office Depot purchases are flagged as Office Supplies. So for $3.95 you actually get 2,500 Ultimate Rewards points- less than 2/10th of a cent per point. On top of that, Ink Bold and Ink Plus each offer a 50,000 point sign-up bonus after $5,000 spent within 3 months and you can get both cards (I have both) so it’s officially a points-earning bonanza. Note: You can apply with your Social Security Number and as a sole proprietorship and get approved for Ink cards. If your application is denied or pending just call their business reconsideration line to discuss what you can do (like close down another Chase card) to get approved.

Ink Bold offer details with 5x on office supplies

There is a risk of Chase not being happy with this method, but I have not been personally contacted by Chase and I know many people who have been working this angle for months – at extremes much greater than mine – who have had no issues.  If any business thinks you are abusing them and are an unprofitable customer, they have the right to stop doing business with you, so I recommend taking a slow and steady approach and giving these vendors a lot of your business (and don’t try to immediately withdraw all of your money from Bluebird because it’ll look like money laundering).

Remember, you have to wait until you have a permanent Bluebird card before you can load your Vanilla Reloads onto the card, so if you haven’t done so already apply for one here – there is no fee and no credit check or negative impact on your credit. If you are still confused, I highly recommend reading through my past posts and the comments on them for further guidance. If that doesn’t do it, feel free to comment here or Tweet me @thepointsguy (usually the quickest response).

I know a lot of people are experiencing Vanilla outages at Office Depots, but don’t fret, there are other ways you can maximize prepaid and loadable cards without Vanilla, so stay tuned!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Olliemmy

    just got my cards. Only took a few days to arrive. Can I also transfer $$ from my personal checking account into Bluebird?

  • Ericlipkind

    Since Office Depot doesn’t seem to sell Vanilla cards in NJ, I guess your option of using any card (i.e. Sapphire ) would yield the same results by purchasing the Vanilla card anywhere its sold (i.e. drugstore, etc?) on Ink or Sapphire?

  • EML

    Why can’t you just get vanilla reloads and then use bluebird to send a check to pay the bill for the vanilla reloads? Besides the vanilla fee, it’s “free” points. I agree this is an amazing opportunity but I don’t see how it can last. People will definitely abuse, I think…

  • rick b

    It’s interesting TPG that you’re now all over these prepaid cards. A few months ago I remember posting comments and you were saying you can’t be bothered to drive around and buy Vanilla reloads.

  • Alisa Clark

    What’s the difference between Amex Prepaid and Amex Bluebird? Except for the Walmart affiliation I don’t see why I should switch.

  • thepointsguy

    Right because bluebird simplified the game and makes it much more lucrative

  • thepointsguy

    You can do that but be careful of doing a simple cycle – Amex may think you are money laundering

  • thepointsguy

    Amex Prepaid wont let you write a check to anyone for free for any amount.. plus all around fees are less with bluebird

  • http://www.robhensley.com/ Rob

    Any idea if I use my Amex Hilton Surpass to purchase Vanilla Reload’s from CVS or Walgreens, is it treated as a purchase (like the Ink cards at Office Depot) or a cash advance?

  • Scott6

    When you go into OfficeMax and buy vanilla how many reload packs will you purchase at a time? Do they ever tell you that you can’t buy (example) $2000 worth at a time or you can’t use a credit card? Thanks

  • http://indian-cowboy.blogspot.com/ Sal

    TPG, any worry about being flagged or shut down by Chase for so much spending at Office Depot?

  • Patrick

    Any idea how long it takes to get the Bluebird card? I’m getting impatient.

  • Ericlipkind

    Do you know anywhere online to purchase Vanilla Cards? Discover has 5% back on online purchases this quarter.

  • EML

    Well, you may be points laundering! The point is, up to the monthly Bluebird spending limit – is it $5K? – you can do it. Valid per the Ts and Cs. Not that you should (just saying you could)… Amazing.

  • Ryan

    Mine arrived in just over a week

  • Ryan

    I don’t have an OD near by, but I do have a Walgreens that sells the cards by credit sale, so I have been using various cards to sign-up spending requirements, as well as my HH AMEX

  • Junblaze

    Im baffled……How can Chase keep on honoring your business relationship with them when you are advocating for your followers to abuse their product???????

  • http://www.robhensley.com/ Rob

    Does the HH Amex (I have the Surpass) post the Walgreen’s charge as a cash advance or a true purchase? I’m thinking about doing the same.

  • thepointsguy

    Hmm maybe because its not abuse? They offer the 5x to lure in new customers and it seems to be working. Smart people will not abuse this strategy, but make it a larger part of giving Chase more of their business so everyone wins.

  • thepointsguy

    Took me about a week

  • thepointsguy

    Everything has a risk.. I’ve heard of very few examples of this happening so I’m not too concerned. I also give Chase a ton of other business with checking/saving/auto and other credit card accounts so I don’t think a couple thousand bucks here and there at Office Depot is going to sour my relationship with them.

  • thepointsguy

    I’ve purchased $3,000 and $2,500 this week with no problems.

  • thepointsguy

    I don’t believe so, but I’d start out small to test just to make sure before you make any big moves

  • thepointsguy

    I do not, but would love to hear if anyone has found an online retailer

  • http://twitter.com/Mileage_Update Mileage Update

    is 8/10 of a penny a point cheap? I dont see it? There are numerous ways already avail to acquire points cheaper than this. To hit minimum spend or to get to a bonus level, sure but other than I dont see it being that great.

  • Corey Malone

    sorry if i’m still in the unknown but, are you saying i could charge my bluebird card to meet minimum spend and then pay off my bill i created by making that charge with the bluebird card after that?

  • ateesh vankayala

    An alternate card to use is the Chase MileagePLUS Club card. 1.5X united miles for every dollar spent. I am pushing my Ink card at OD to the furthest I am comfortable using, so I plan to jump on the Blue Bird bandwagon with the United club card and get 1.5% cash back for all my non credit card transactions. I got the United card free for the first year, free lounge access & Hyatt Platinum, so this card makes a lot of sense for me. Your points strategy has made me points rich TPG, you ROCK!

  • Marc

    Should I get Ink Bold or Ink Plus? Does it matter? I don’t think I can spend $20K in three months to get them both. Thoughts?

  • Suzannehendrix

    Is there any other way to get the points without having to go to Office Depot?

  • Suzannehendrix

    Because Bryan brings them a ton of biz thru new applications…

  • http://twitter.com/Peachfront Peach Front

    I’m completely baffled at the publicity this so-called deal has gotten. I admit it. I value my miles at about one penny, so I’m gonna tear around creation to buy miles for 8/10 of a point plus gas and hassle? I don’t think so.

    I also don’t see how it’s “abuse.” Chase obviously wants people to use this deal, since they have bloggers and ads all over the internet, so they must be profiting somewhere. However, I think I’m going to stay away until I have a reasonable expectation of needing to actually spend that much for my business or my husband’s. Has Chase considered some other categories to offer bonuses for small business spending, such as advertising? Why are we supposed to give all our money to Office Depot? It isn’t 1994 any more…

  • Bobbybobs10

    How about using Amex gold business to purchase these cards to hit min spending requirement? I have to hit 10k in 3 months for that 75k pts promotion. Thanks

  • suzsy

    I purchased $3500 on my new Ink card & $1500 on Bold. No problem.

  • gussomer

    That should be 10K spend in 4 months (not 3 mos.).

  • Chill out!

    Wow Junblaze, does your “baffled” question REALLY need 7 question marks? Why do you jump to the conclusion that this is “abuse”? My company uses Bluebid and Vanilla reload as a way of keeping track of all petty cash. The points are just a perk… Like Chase intended. So chill out on your hysteronics.

  • JMei

    I’ve found vanilla cards at CVS. Are there any cards that give you 5x bonus for shopping there?

  • Guest

    No Office Depot in the Chicago area carries them. I guess I’m a little late to the table.

  • Corey Malone

    AMX Hilton card gives you 6x

  • thepointsguy

    Doesn’t matter. Ink bold is a charge card so has more spending power so maybe that makes more sense if you want to use it a lot?

  • thepointsguy

    That would work as well

  • Rudy2828

    I know what you mean. I keep reading all these Bluebird stratagies and all I get is a headache.

  • thepointsguy

    Yes it’s extremely cheap. Do tell how you’re able to accrue points cheaper, excluding credit card signup bonuses

  • Michand1

    Dear Points Guy,
    I’m still confused about how to best use the InkPlus/Bluebird combo and am very disappointed to keep reading almost continuously that people are not finding Vanilla Reload Cards. (I live in L.A.) It just may be–practically speaking–too good to be true.
    What I am curious to know is whether the Vanilla Reload cards are loadable to $500 more than once? If so, who needs to get five or ten cards since you can only “load” (is that the proper term in this case?) $1000 a day? If you can suss out just two cards somewhere, you’re in luck because they are re-usable. Or are they? Then you would be able to load a max $5000/month on Bluebird keeping a max balance of $10,000.

  • thepointsguy

    They may be getting restocked. Do they sell Amex prepaid cards? You can still buy them in $500 increments and use them for everyday spend

  • thepointsguy

    You don’t reload the vanilla cards. Once you buy it and load it to your bluebird it’s done and you need to buy another.

  • Lela

    The Vanilla cards themselves are NOT RELOADABLE. The Vanilla cards are for RELOADING to reloadable prepaid cards like the Amex Bluebird

  • thetaco

    Why do they require a SSN if it will not affect your credit? Is there any way around that?

  • thepointsguy

    All banks/credit card companies are required to “know their customers” to help battle money laundering and terrorism funding

  • Michand1

    Thanks for the quick reply.

    Would have been so good. Sigh.

  • Junblaze

    LMAO trust me, Chase did not intend on people driving around trying to find Office Depots to buy 10 Vanilla Reloads in order to get cheap points. I admit I have taken advantage of the deal to reward my employees with gift cards so ill buy $1000-$1500 worth of gift cards a month but what im curious about is how can they sit idle as someone that they have a business relationship with is advocating people to do this, even people that don’t have businesses lol

  • dee seiffer

    Sent for my Bluebird kit the other day. Chase just took some of my credit from my British Airways card for the Ink card. I would love to get rewards for paying my mortgage, health insurance and utilities.

    Thanks, Brian!!

  • http://www.passthedressing.com/ Heather @ passthedressing

    Amex doesn’t have bill pay does it?

  • http://www.passthedressing.com/ Heather @ passthedressing

    That’s what I am trying to do but I can’t find the Vanillas anywhere. I want to use to pay rent with bill pay. Otherwise it’s just too much money out right now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=579206895 Dan Treviño

    Just got $3k in Vanilla cards at my local office Depot using my Ink Bold. The manager had to ring me up and no question or issues! One more thing I realized I could use the Bluebird bill pay for….my child support payment (which is a big payment for me and probably for many others out there…).

  • clearedcustoms

    A better title would have read “Can You Take Advantage of Bluebird Without Vanilla?” I have yet to see one of these mythical cards in person.

  • DL

    Are there any other “gift cards” that can be used to load up Bluebird? ie – can I buy Visa pre-paid cards at my grocery store and load them onto Bluebird? If I have a card that has the quarterly spending bonuses (I don’t right now) can I use them to buy Visa pre-paids at my grocery store, get the 5x points and then load the Visa money on my Bluebird in order to pay my mortgage via Bluebird bill pay?

  • JL5600

    What do you think about using Amex SPG to do this for those without an Ink card. Only 1 point/dollar, but seems like these points are worth 3-4 cents at Westin hotels. Using this and bluebird/vanilla to pay your mortgage, you could buy Starwood points for 0.8 cents each, which would be good for people that need points for hotels.

  • Markdfink

    Please tell me I haven’t made a colossal mistake. I went to my local Office Depot where I purchased $2,000 of Vanilla Visa cards, the only Vanilla cards they had. I went to the Vanilla Reload site and they ask for a 10 digit pin, which is found on the back of the card. These cards only have a 9 digit pin. What to do?

    Also, while attempting to purchase these, I had to jump through hoops. First, the sale was declined because I only got the Ink card two days earlier, and this was my first purchase. No big deal – I called Chase and they sorted it out.

    However, while attempting to make the purchase the first time, I noticed the cashier signaling, not too subtly, the store manager. Once I got clearance from Chase, the manager wouldn’t sell me the cards until I called a number that was posted on the display. OK, for some reason, there is some paranoia going on, but I’ll cooperate.

    That number was to check balances on Vanilla cards, and since I didn’t have the cards, I couldn’t do anything. I told the manager this, (he hadn’t called the number and had no idea what was supposed to happen after I called the number), and eventually he said that as the store manager, he could think of no reason NOT to sell me the cards, so I could go ahead and purchase them. It made me feel like I was doing something nefarious! Has anyone else come across this?

  • Lwestbirch

    OD’s here have pulled and destroyed the VR cards…the managers tell me they were told to do so…because of money laundering..I think maybe Chase pressure?….yet they will sell all other cards for cash…that sounds like washing to me!
    Nothing at the local CVS’s….Walgreen has them but can only buy with cash if over $100 (tried to use HHilton card for 6x +1.5 (Gold member) but no dice….
    Located northwest of Philly….
    Bluebird has flown south to Miami for the winter!

  • Pkerr

    You CAN’T use Vanilla Visa cards to reload. The cards you bought are used just like a visa card. YOu have to get the cards that actually say “reload” on the packaging. You really need to read the thread here —> http://boardingarea.com/blogs/frequentmiler/2012/09/26/vanilla-reloadables/

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  • RP

    OD, not OfficeMax

  • thepointsguy

    You answered your own question- you can accrue the points cheaply and then redeem them for 3-5x value- seems like a great deal to me.

  • thepointsguy

    As Pkerr says, you can’t load up your Bluebird with them- you’ll have to use them for everyday expenses- just like using a credit card. Bright side is that you still get 5x on all purchases- you just can’t easily pay bills with them or use ATM

  • Markdfink

    Thanks! It dawned on me this morning that I can use this for larger purchases, such as oil deliveries and big box store purchases. With the $0.50 per use fee, it certainly doesn’t make sense to buy a pack of gum. :o)

  • Olliemmy

    anybody?

  • thepointsguy

    Yes you can transfer in funds from your checking account with no fee

  • Guest

    You are right, swung buy this AM and grabbed the last three. Manager said he doesn’t know when they will get more in (not sure I believe that) but I will be stopping by on my way to work each morning. To answer the question below, you can’t use AMEX to load bluebird and therefore can’t pay mortgage etc.

  • Kenny

    Can you reload the Vanilla gift card at office depot with your ink bold after you use the original $500?

  • Picmeup

    Has somebody tried using points earning Debit card at Walmart to load Bluebird. I have read about it couple of times, but want to know some specifics. PerkStreet debit card specifically say that to earn perks, you need to use the card in credit mode (non-PIN transaction). Does Walmart allow choosing credit option to reload BB? Do other reward debit card also require you to use credit option?

  • http://twitter.com/MileMiser MileMiser

    My local OD manager was able to rush order 40 Vanilla Reload cards and they were delivered the next day (yesterday). I think it all depends on the geographical location of the OD store.

  • Robert

    Can I just use the Chase Sapphire card to load the bluebird card and pay my mortgage since I do not have an Ink card?

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  • disqust101

    Hilton pesos are worth half of what other’s points are worth, so it’s more like 3%. Forget the drug stores unless you really need to build spend.

    I suggest getting yourself an Amex Blue and get 5% cb at grocery stores – then buy Visa/MC/Amex gift cards in $500 denominations. Or use your INK to buy Visa/MC/Amex gift cards at office supply stores and get 5x points. USBank Cash Plus (6.25%) is interesting IF you can find Visa gcs at Department stores like Sears in $500 denominations (my area only sells $100 Visa gcs and the fees aren’t really worth the effort). Then use your Visa gc’s for everyday spend (and online if you register them).

    There are ways of converting gcs back into cash but are more complex, but don’t work for everyone and are at risk of having accounts closed for “looking” like money laundering.

    For the “Average Joe”, just buy the Visa/Amex gift cards and enjoy your 5%/5x and don’t sweat trying to get every last penny. And then churn cc’s for bonuses – if you need “spend” to meet cc bonus requirements, use those cards to buy the gcs (spend to get bonuses is usually much more valuable than typical 5%/5x).

  • guest

    yes, I have done it. Works great.

  • guest

    You have to buy Vanilla reload cards first, then load them onto BB, but yes, that would work.

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  • Frank

    I have a Amex PRG and want to do the same thing. But my rewards are at grocery stores. Anybody out there tried this same thing with the prepaid they offer at the grocery store? Is there something special about the OD vanilla cards?

  • Vaggeto

    Can you please explain what you mean by simple cycle? I would like to do this to maximize points. But if I buy $1000 in Vanilla reloads with my credit card, and then pay off my credit card from my bank account like I always do, is that a simple cycle too? If it is, then what isn’t?

    If somehow they do think you’re doing something wrong, can’t the credit card company get with Amex Bluebird and see that you’re paying for things like your Mortgage so obviously it’s not anything illegal?

  • Guest

    Hi picmeup. Have you tried using Perkstreet yet? I am thinking about trying this week.

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