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.
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.
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. For that $30,000 in annual mortgage spend, you could rake in the following amounts of points/miles/perks for only $237 in fees:
Hilton Amex / Surpass: 181,440 Hilton points (6 points per dollar spent at drug stores). If you hit $40,000 in spend on the Surpass card, you also get Hilton Diamond Status.
Citi Hilton Reserve: 90,720 Hilton points plus a free weekend night certificate for hitting $10,000 spend. Diamond Status is achieved at $40,000 in spend.
Amex Premier Rewards Gold: 45,240 Membership Rewards points (30,240 base points plus 15,000 extra points for hitting $30,000 spend within a calendar year.)
Delta Reserve Amex: 30,240 SkyMiles and 15,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles.
Capital One Venture: 60,480 points, which are worth $604.80 in travel/statement credits.
Starwood Amex: 30,240 Starpoints (which would be 35,240 airline miles if you transferred to any of their 1:1 partners like American and US Airways) plus Gold status, which is earned at $30,000 in spend per calendar year.
I could go on and on with examples, but I think it’s a no-brainer that all of those point/mile bounties is worth much more than the $237 in fees.
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.
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.
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