Update: Office Depot no longer sells Vanilla Reload or American Express Prepaid cards.
As I mentioned in my original post about the huge potential of the American Express Bluebird card, you need to wait until you get a permanent card in the mail before you can start loading it with Vanilla reload cards. So, I was very excited to see a nice thick envelope from Amex when I got home this week from an unexpected week-long trip. I immediately activated the card within minutes online and from that point on I was ready to get it loaded with Vanilla reloads and start earning 5 Chase points per dollar on virtually every expense that I have – including my pesky mortgage and homeowners association payments!
There’s a $1,000 per day load limit, so I immediately scratched off the PINs of two $500 Vanilla reload cards that I had purchased a week prior at the Office Depot in Doral, Florida (near MIA for anyone who has time to kill on a layover!).
Once I loaded the $500 from each card (which cost me $3.95 in fees) the funds were instantly in my Bluebird account.
To test out the “powers” of Bluebird, I decided to pay back TPG Managing Editor Eric for $10 he lent me when I was in Los Angeles last week (I hate using cash, but needed valet tip money – they should really start carrying Square so I can tip with credit card!). I used the Send Money function and it asked me for an email and amount and once I entered my PIN the funds were sent. Eric instantly received the following email, stating that he’d need to create a free Bluebird account to accept the funds.
“Brian Kelly has sent you the following funds:
Please click here to sign up for a free Bluebird Account. You will then be able to select the Updates link from the My Accounts tab. Locate the Send Money Notification awaiting action and click on the See Details link. Then choose one of the following options:
Accept this amount;
Suggest a new amount; or
Cancel this transaction
If you do not open a Bluebird Account and accept this payment within 7 days of this email, this transaction will be voided and you will not be able to accept this payment thereafter.
If you already have a Bluebird Account and this email address is not associated with it, please log in to your account and go to Account Settings to add this email address so that you can accept these funds into your existing account.
If you want to send money to someone who doesn’t have Bluebird, all you need to do is click “Pay Bills” and then add whoever you’d like as a payee. You’ll need their address and name – but no social security number or EIN – very simple.
If you want to withdraw your Bluebird account at ATMs, you can witdhraw a maximum of $500 a day (3 transactions) and $2,000 per calendar month. The bill-pay/vendor setup is potentially a cheaper/quicker way to take out large amounts since there are no fees. You can use Walmart ATMs for free, but there’s a $2 Amex fee, unless you link a direct deposit to your Bluebird account (no government payroll/payments can be setup as qualifying direct deposits).
So to say that I’m impressed with Bluebird would be the understatement of the century. I’m getting 5 Chase Ultimate Rewards points for every dollar I spend because the card works like a normal American Express card for everyday purchases. The real kicker is that I can now pay things like my mortgage company, car payment and condo association with no fee- all bills I used to pay directly from my checking account or by check. The only fee I pay is $3.95 per $500 Vanilla card, which nets me 2,500 Chase points because Office Depot spend is classified under the Ink Plus and Ink Bold and 5x category. So I’m paying less than 2/10th of a cent per Ultimate Reward point. 100,000 United miles, or a business class roundtrip to Europe, costs only $158 – that’s a pretty good deal!
Too Good To Be True?
Now, it’s not as easy as paying $158 for 100,000 points as there are limits. Chase maxes out the office supply (any Office Depot purchase) at $50,000 per calendar year. However, I have both the Ink Plus and Ink Bold (snagging 50,000-point sign-up bonuses for each), so my real maximum is $100,000 in spend, or 500,000 Ultimate Rewards points a year. I can only load $1,000 per day onto my Bluebird, but if I wanted to get access to more daily spending, I could also purchase Amex Prepaid cards (and use them for everyday spend) and they only cost $4.95 per $500 card.
While this deal is clearly maximized with the Ink 5x spend bonus, even if that went away, it would still be lucrative to use a Freedom with 10% Chase Checking bonus on all purchases and 10 point per transaction bonus. A $500 ($3.95 fee) card would net 560 Ultimate Rewards points, or 7/10th of a cent per Ultimate Rewards point, which is still uhhhh-mazing. I would buy Chase points at less than a penny all-day-long. And it doesn’t have to be Chase – I’d buy Starwood points or even Delta miles for less than a penny each!
Some people have reported Office Depot’s getting rid of Vanilla cards or being questioned by managers, but I’ve never had an issue at Miami area Office Depots and there have been plenty of Vanilla cards for sale. In fact, just yesterday (November 4), I bought $3,000 in Vanilla Reloads at my Office Depot and no one batted an eyelash.
Will this all come to an end? Probably at some point, so you should get in while the getting is good! Here are the useful links you’ll need:
Ink Plus 50,000-point sign-up after $5,000 spent within 3 months, $95 annual fee waived the first year
Ink Bold 50,000-point sign-up after $5,000 spent within 3 months, $95 annual fee waived the first year
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