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Vanilla Reloads Now Available at CVS

by on November 14, 2012 · 67 comments

in American Express, Bluebird, Vanilla Reloads

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. 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.

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.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • bigr3dbears

    Great post TPG!

    Question: doesn’t Amex PRG earn 2x for grocery stores including CVS?

  • Pete

    No luck at any CVS in the Atlanta area for the moment.

  • thepointsguy

    FYI the comments were accidentally disabled on this post for some reason, but they’ve been open. My intention was never to shut down discussion on the topic- rather I’d like to hear people’s experiences so feel free to share or ask any questions!

  • thepointsguy

    Hang in there.. I think they are in the process of launching nationally, so they might not have made it to the shelves yet

  • thepointsguy

    It does earn 2x at grocery stores, but I don’t believe CVS counts. I will test it out, but if anyone else has any experience with it, please share

  • Newmanso

    Most of the CVS will take “Cash Only” for the reloadable Vanilla.

  • thepointsguy

    That has not been my experience, nor that of many others I’ve talked to. FYI I wouldn’t ask if its Cash Only.. just go up and pay with a credit card like business as usual

  • cg

    Take a hike.

  • Glen

    Found Vanilla Reload at a CVS here in DC, but was not able to use a credit card to buy it.

  • Ace

    Bluebird Alert:
    Let the nightmare begin-
    Loaded, issued check for property tax 11/5, arrive 11/8 according to Amex. Checked this am, not there.
    20 min hold, philipine csr, 10 min to explain and verify, 5 min hold, “someone” from customer service will contact me in 2 business days.
    Sigh.
    My Over/under on return of funds-11/26.
    Pay your bills well in advance and have plenty of spare money standing by lol.
    Sigh

  • Erikdessler

    What a surprise that Office Depot decides this. You and the million mile guy plastered this all over the Internet for the sake of affiliate income and ruin a good thing.

  • Drsifu77

    no go at my local CVS and Walgreen in San Diego, CA.

    At Walgreen there is a prompt on the register that tells the cashier to take cash only.

    At CVS, the cashier simply said cash only. If you look at a red sign on the door as you enter a CVS, it says purchase of debit card is cash only. Prepaid cards can be bought with cash or credit. Then when you see the where the Vanilla reloads are located, it says Prepaid Debit Card. You can argue the prepaid part, but the one CVS I went to considers it a prepaid debit card.

  • Eric

    Out of the cards you have mentioned, I only have the Chase Sapphire Preferred. If opening one new card, which of the cards that you mentioned would you recommend opening? Which will give the most value.

  • Jason1234

    I bought Amex prepaid card from OD, went to CVS to buy Vanilla Reload with Amex PP from OD. The cashier rejected it after I handed him the card. No gift card or PP is allowed to buy another gift card. I ended up paying with regular CC.

  • David Aitken

    How do you know Office Depot is out of the Vanilla Reload biz?

  • thepointsguy

    A lot of pulled them, but I’m sure theres still inventory out there

  • thepointsguy

    Interesting.. seems to be varying reports out there

  • thepointsguy

    If you like Hilton points, the 6x has huge potential. Otherwise, I find Chase points to be the most valuable so I’d probably get the Ink Bold or Plus with the 50,000 point sign-up bonus and waived first year annual fee

  • The Dude

    Erik, TPS and Million Mile Secrets share a number of their posts. For instance, see today’s Southwest post by TPS and the exact same post by MMS: http://millionmilesecrets.com/2012/11/14/southwest-companion-pass-2/

  • Grubor

    Please stop posting stuff like this. Anyone with a head on their shoulders figured this out the minute after OD stopped selling Vanillas. You are going to kill this deal. You bloggers really need to get together and make a gentlemen’s agreement that if the deal is too good that non one should talk about it. Seriously!!!

  • Patrick

    Looks like the CVS issue is on a store by store mgr by mgr basis. First one I went to on Sunday let me buy. Went there 2 days later and the mgr said no. Said it was like money laundering. Said you can’t use a gift card to buy a gift card. I shouldhave told them it wasn’t a gift card.. it’s a reload card.

    Went to another one and they did it after asking the mgr but he was just the assistant so we’ll see what happens on the next go around.

  • Cruiser

    I tried buying 2 vanilla cards for $500 each with my Amex surpass card at CVS today and the credit card machine rejected the second vanilla card. The cashier lady tried it twice with the same result. Later (10 mins) I received an email from Amex saying it was a fraud protection and to call them back. I had to verify that I still had card in my possession and tried to make the charges. Note: I was in Atlanta and I am from KC so I am not sure if the different city charges in 2 days was a contributing factor.

  • Jon

    How would you have even found out about Vanilla/Bluebird to begin with if it weren’t for the blogs and forums?

  • Jmycleby

    Vanilla reloads are cash/debit only. Chances are you wont get away with it at all, unless you find an untrained cashier.

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

    I cant speak for anyone else here but I knew about the Vanilla long before and blog posted on it.

  • Mike Wilson

    TPG – really please stop posting this! I really like your blog, but we all figured this out a while ago. It will kill the deal. Please do not post about it again. Or just email it your subscribers!!!!!

  • Erik

    My point was that they take a good thing and ruin it by plastering it all over the internet so that they get affiliate income for the credit card applications.

  • dee seiffer

    My local CVS let me buy 2 cards ($500 each) at a time and not on the same credit card. The fees were $4.50 on each card. I got 4 cards total loaded with $500 each. One transaction I did on my Capital One card (2 miles/$1). I hoped to do both on the Cap1 and didn’t bring a good second card. My Costco AmEx was the second best card in my wallet. C’est le vie. I shop at CVS a lot anyway. I wonder if gift card purchases count toward my CVS Extra Care rewards? I’m getting 4% back in ECBs this quarter. I somehow doubt it.

  • Jake_PB

    Another Bluebird nightmare: Directed Bluebird to pay my mortgage on 11/7. The following day my BB account said expected payment on 11/13. Called on the 8th when I read that, and after an hour on the phone was told “we NEVER take a week to pay, it’ll show tomorrow.” 11/13 update: no payment yet recieved by my mortgage holder and after another 90 minutes on the phone w/BB last night was told, “we show it as paid on the 7th so we’ve done our job.” REALLY?? I corrected the rep by reminding her that they’re job is complete when my payee has been paid. It is starting to look like doing this for my mortgage was a huge mistake.

  • Petechang007

    TPG, I finally found CVS that has some but no luck using Visa gift card w/I name. Supervisor said it’s company policy. Any advice to get around this?

  • John K

    Oh stop your whining already. As soon as more than one person knows a “secret”, it no longer is a secret. The information is out there already. You should stop pointing your fingers at bloggers and make them out to be a scapegoat….honestly!

  • http://twitter.com/dj_aNomAli ∀ℓι . ᄊ乇尺cんለռէ

    I’m curious, how many bluebird cards is a person allowed? does it go by your SSN, assuming you have to register in your name/link it to something? or is it just a fancy gift card type of thing?

  • The Dude

    Well, if they thought of the good thing, then they are entirely entitled to “ruin it” by cashing in. My point was that they both frequently circulate the ideas of others simply so that they can receive the affiliate income. The refrain that these blogs have different readership is, personally, the most annoying. They have different readership because no bloggers actually cite where they are getting their ideas from. I imagine the average reader is interested in patronizing the most innovative blog. Still, this is all just a business; business is not about innovation, it’s about taking advantage of other people’s ideas. So, maybe TPS and MMS are simply the best businessmen out there. FM is just a mad scientist.

  • Kurt

    Obviously he is using his blog to generate income. He stops posting good deals and someone else will continue to do so and he will have less readership as people stop looking at the blog that only posts luke warm deals.

  • Wanderluster

    Your latest scheme to “use the Amex Prepaid cards at CVS to purchase Vanilla Reload cards” is a bogus as your previous scheme to pay for Vanilla Reload cards at Office Depot with a credit card. You CANNOT purchase any reload card (Vanilla Reload, Green Dot MoneyPak) with a credit card. The AmEx Prepaid card is considered a credit card for these purposes. No merchant will accept anything except CASH or a TRUE debit card (NOT a prepaid card). I think it’s time to fess up!

  • Ellen

    I do not think either is a good businessman, i scroll some of these blogs from time to time, there is NOTHING they blog that i already do not know or can find on my own, they really have a very naive following who,ll go for the trap ie. write about the benefits of a certain card , point to their affiliate link and bang, a 100 dummies who think they found a secret or gold mine apply for cards that they do not have a use for or do not need.
    By the way CVS in my area just went to cash only for prepaid reload cards Vanilla included , last week i had no problem purchasing with a credit card, then i was told limit $1000 per day and yesterday they changed to cash only.
    I like it when the Points Guy Brian has a Kate an Executive assistant , never thought they can make so much $ out of the sheep out there .
    and Million Miles Daraius the handsome nerd and his — wife got so greedy that it is impossible to get some common sense into his head.

  • RMinNYC

    I went to 3 CVS stores today in NYC, 2 did not carry the VR cards and at the last one I was told only $100 max for the purchase on a credit card else, it’s only cash. I will go back to the same one to see if I can get it on credit card with a different rep.

  • russ

    Also, FTG (Frugal Travel Guy) “stole” the Gift card idea from FM (Frequent Miler) and went crazy with comments like using IB to purchase OD VR at a $60,000/year/percard times 4 to make millions of UR points in one year! And then when people started to question his BS and “motive (to generate CC link hits), he claimed this is still possible since his and Katybug address and last names are different. HOW LOW FTG can get to generate CC link hits. I will never give him any of my business!

  • Cj

    Where in NYC did you find it? I went to 2 stores but didnt see any.

  • Scott

    YMMV.

    As of Sunday at my local CVS there was a sign saying “credit cards not accepted for buying reloadable Visa/Amex prepaid cards”; new policy at my local CVS. :(

  • Rudy2828

    Doesn’t seem to be worth the agita.

  • harvardslacker

    Amex Blue Cash (and I think the Blue rewards card) gets 5 points/$ at drug stores, so may get 5 points/$ buying Vanilla Reloads at CVS (also at Valero, since it earns 5x on gas). However, looking at their web site I notice that they say the 5x points does not apply to ‘cash equivalents’ and only up to $400 at gas stations. So I don’t know if that’s enforced, but it is an example of a rewards program explicitly excluding gift cards, etc. I wonder if Ink and other cards also have similar clauses buried in their terms.

  • http://twitter.com/mgalicki Mike Galicki

    I find sites like TPG valuable. I can’t spend hours every day scouring flyertalk, et all for all of these deals.
    I don’t even have time to read all TPG’s consolidated posts.
    I find it hilarious that people are upset that some deal they knew about made it to a well read site. It kind of reminds me of when I was 18 and how upset I was when bands I used to see at small clubs made it on Mtv or on the Radio. Soon I had to pay much more than $5 to see them and it wasn’t with 100 or less people anymore.

  • Erik

    Thepointsguy makes his money from his readers clicking on his affiliate links. His primary focus should be providing value to his readership not intricate time-limited ideas that increase his bottom line. I would presume that this will catch up with him once the sheep muster up some common sense.

  • Dhurd

    Would anyone happen to know if you can purchase the Vanilla Reload card at CVS with a CVS gift card? Mypoints.com is offering 200 points (which translates into ~100 United miles) for each $50 CVS gift card you purchase through them.

  • Dhurd

    Nevermind, fine print says no.

  • Informer

    I had success at my local CVS – we’ll see how long it is until the droves of abusers ruin this avenue as well. Moderation is the key people. You don’t need 8 – $500 cards every time you walk in the door.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Cooper/652932945 Mike Cooper

    You can also buy Vanilla Visa gift cards at Office Depot with up to a $500 value. You can then use that Visa gift card to buy the Vanilla Reload at CVS in place of AMEX. Alternatively you can just keep it simple and use the Visa gift cards in places you normally use your credit card.

  • Beachfan

    I had heard on another blog that Citi treats it as a cash advance. Are you sure all the cards listed above treat it as a purchase?

  • http://traveling.to/ Chris

    Vanilla Reloads seem to have disappeared from the CVS locations in Manhattan that I’ve stopped by.

  • KJKWYO

    About an hour ago, CVS in Candler, AZ would not take a credit card to purchase a Vanilla Reload. Said they had a corporate directive not t take credit cards, only debit cards or cash.

  • Concerned point-seeker

    Hmm… I just got my American Express Hilton card in the mail today, and noted the following:
    “Eligible purchases do NOT include:
    [...]
    - purchases or reloading of prepaid cards, or
    - purchases of any cash equivalents”

    Uh oh :

  • Concerned Points-seeker

    TPG, you might want to note my earlier comment, which mentions that Amex has specifically listed in their Hilton card T&C that such purchases are ineligible to receive points :(. I imagine that they might not be enforcing this now, but — like many other too-good-to-be-true things — I’d be surprised if they didn’t clamp down soon :| (says the guy who just got a Hilton Amex card tonight! Darn!)

  • disqust101

    Sheep muster up some common sense? FTG never has to worry about that…

  • disqust101

    Er, wrong on all counts.

  • disqust101

    Sigh. Only a very few CVS ever accepted CCs to fund reload cards. In my area, none do.

  • TomT

    wonder if this will be for all CVS nationwide?? just pick up one this am before work.. no problem with cc, Katy, TX

  • Bill

    Same in Wisconsin: Walgreens register prompts for cash only. CVS clerk said cash only.

  • Dan

    Does anyone know where I can find a VR card in Manhattan? I’ve looked all over and seems like no CVS has it in stock.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HZWSILLRBAYUIBKUPA4IGLIL7Y MiguelI

    Wow, how about some cheese with all that whine? This looks like a case of killing the messenger(s) to me. I have learned enough from The Points Guy to hit diamond on Delta and I just started last December, so I am glad he and MMS pass on their secrets. I “think” that’s why we are all here after all.

  • Kalemidritan

    I just went and tried to my local CVS and they had a ton of vanilla reload packs…probably around 100 packs, I took 3 and went to the cashier and within 3 min I was out…paid with a credit card with no problem…then I saw in my car a $50 Vanilla Visa Gift Card and went in to try with that and it worked perfect…purchased the vanilla reload pack with the visa gift card…I think this is good alternative that if my local CVS starts to take only cash for the vanilla reload packs, which as of right now they still take credit cards with no problems…we can buy a vanilla visa gift card with a credit card and purchase vanilla reload pack with the gift card…

  • Cheahuitee

    I don’t get it.
    Why cant you just pay it using your card instead of using the Amex bluebird?
    Can’t you just pay your $30,000 in mortage payment using a credit card?

  • Rick

    TPG makes seven figures in credit card app referral fees. No joke.

  • Rick

    I just bought a Vanilla Reload card at a CVS with a Chase credit card.

  • Nwshopping

    I’ve bought VR with a credit card all the time. If you can’t do it, it doesn’t mean it’s true.

  • MarkDFink

    Two CVS in my area now no longer accept gift cards to purchase Vanilla Reloads. I asked, and they said it was a new store policy. The one CVS had it hard wired into the cash machine – it simply wouldn’t accept an Amex gift card I had purchased at OD.

    At the second one, I was able to with one cashier, but a few days later with another cashier, I wasn’t able to. It was then they said it was a new store policy, so not all cashiers might be aware of it yet.

    Looks like the OD to CVS route won’t work anymore, but it did sound like I could purchase Vanilla Reloads with a credit card. I’ll try that since at least I’ll get a 1:1 return on my mortgage.

  • shonuffharlem

    I went to my CVS for the first time. They have TONS of VR cards. However, the manager said you can’t buy them with a credit. Is she wrong?

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