November 14th, 2012

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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.

While Office Depot is no longer stocking Vanilla reload cards (which work amazingly with Amex’s new Bluebird product) or American Express Prepaid cards, there are a bunch of new locations that sell them. I’ve been in Asia and Europe this past week, but I tasked TPG Director of Ops Kate with going out and finding Vanilla reloads at her local CVS store in Long Island and she was able to buy plenty using several different point-earning credit cards.

While CVS is not an office supply store it can still be lucrative to buy Vanilla Reload cards using other credit cards, load them into your Bluebird account and then pay your everyday bills like mortgage and student loans for free. There’s also a roundabout way to still leverage the 5x at Office Depot to purchase Vanilla Reloads, which I’ll explain below.

CVS Is My New Favorite Retailer
At CVS, a $500 Vanilla reload card will cost you $503.95. So on most credit cards, you’d earn 504 points for that $3.95 fee, or  8/10ths of a cent per point, which is pretty good – especially if you are racking up currencies like Starpoints, which are easily worth 2.5+ cents a piece. I personally get 3.5+ cents per point with my Starpoints, so getting them for 8/10th of a cent is a major deal, in my opinion.

How my recent $500 Vanilla Reload purchase using a Starwood Amex at CVS shows up on Americanexpress.com

For those unfamiliar with the process, once you have the Vanilla reload card, you scratch off the back pin, go to Vanillareload.com and then load it into your Bluebird account instantly for free. The $500 goes from the Vanilla card into Bluebird and from Bluebird, you can pay any bill and send anyone money for free. You can only load $1,000 per day from Vanilla to Bluebird, but there’s no limit in the amount of bills you can pay from your account. You can even take out cash from ATM’s for nominal fees (and even free if you setup direct deposit and use Walmart ATM’s). Remember: You can only load a permanent Bluebird card (one that Amex sends to you in the mail and has your name on it), so if you don’t already have one, sign up for free at Bluebird.com because it takes about a week to get a permanent card in the mail.

Examples
So say you have a $2,500 mortgage payment every month. You can buy five $500 Vanilla reload cards for each month’s payment at CVS for a total fee of $19.75 using your points earning credit card, then load them into your Bluebird account and then directly pay or send a check to your mortgage company.

I think it’s a no-brainer that all of those point/mile bounties is worth much more than the $237 in fees.

The CVS display where Kate just bought Vanilla Reloads yesterday.

Office Depot Angle
While Office Depot no longer carries Vanilla Reloads, they do sell Amex Prepaid cards (which I wrote about here).  They cannot be loaded onto Bluebird. However this means you can still purchase them and use them for your everyday purchases. The angle to get these funds into your Bluebird account is to use the Amex Prepaid cards at CVS to purchase Vanilla Reload cards as I outlined at the top of this post. And as mentioned above, once you have a Vanilla Reload card, it can be loaded into Bluebird and the funds can be used to pay everyday bills like mortgages and insurance payments (or simply send a check to anyone you know). Note- since the max Amex Prepaid card is $500 and there’s a $3.95 fee for the CVS Vanilla Reloads, the max reload amount you can buy is $496.05.

Risks
If a credit card company thinks you are engaging in fraud or illegal activity, like money laundering, your accounts could get shut down. I recommend taking a sensible approach and not just leveraging these types of strategies to their absolute maximum. For example, I wouldn’t purchase a ton of these Vanilla cards and then simply start withdrawing cash – that’s sure to raise red flags.

However, to my knowledge, taking advantage of prepaid and reload able cards is not a crime and there is nothing against it in my cardholder agreements or terms & conditions of credit card points programs. There may come a time when credit card companies start charging cash advance fees for these products, but until then I’ll be as savvy as possible when it comes to maximizing my points, credit cards and everyday spend.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR
N/A
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Balance Transfer
5.00%
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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