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An Update on Maximizing Visa Prepaid Gift Cards From Office Depot and Vanilla Reloads From CVS

by on July 11, 2013 · 69 comments

in Prepaid/ Reloads, Top 10, TPG Contributors

Like many in the points blogosphere, TPG contributor Jason Steele has been following the reappearance of Visa and Amex gift cards at select Office Depot locations with great interest since it’s been reported that the chain is once again allowing customers to purchase them using credit cards, and therefore rake in thousands of extra points – although the latest reports are that Office Depot has started requiring cash only for these transactions. Here are his tips on ways to maximize these purchases, whether you can still find an Office Depot offering them, or if you bought a lot of them during a recent spree while they were still purchasable by credit card.

With the recent re-appearance of reloadable Visa and American Express cards at some Office Depot locations, travel rewards enthusiasts – especially those who carry cards thaty earn 5X points at office stores – are salivating at the chance to earn points and miles from purchasing them both to rack up points and help meet minimum spend for bonuses on new cards.

These cards, such as the Visa Vanilla, are gift cards that can be loaded for any amount from $20-$500 up to $500 per card, with a one-time, $4.95 fee per load.

Earning 5X points at office supply stores is a great reason to carry these cards.

Word is, select Office Depot locations have begun selling Visa and Amex gift cards again.

This FlyerTalk thread has been a forum for discussing where these cards are available, though Team TPG has gone on a scouting mission and discovered cards on the racks at Office Depots in Los Angeles (the Culver City location) and the one in Times Square in New York City – although it appears that the New York City location will be requiring customers to pay for these in cash from now on. I went to 6 stores from Sunday to Monday in Denver. On Monday afternoon, I was successful charging these cards to my credit card. Tuesday, nothing would ring up with a credit card at the same stores. On Wednesday I was told that they were accepting cash only, hard coded at the register.  These results mirrored the FT thread cited above, unfortunately, so it looks like the credit card train at Office Depot at least might have come to an end, hopefully just temporarily.

American Express an Visa gift cards can still be purchased by credit card at Staples on Long Island.

American Express an Visa gift cards can still be purchased by credit card at Staples on Long Island.

Kate from TPG went to a Staples in Commack, NY and was able to purchase a $200 American Express gift card with her Ink Bold and others were available in denominations of $25, $50 and $100 (though obviously the lower the denomination the more you’re paying for the points you earn on the transaction). Available at that Staples were also Visa gift cards which could have also been purchased by credit card. Kate also checked in her local CVS to see if they still had Vanilla Reload cards in stock which they did. What’s interesting is that when she went to purchase two Vanilla Reloads for $500 each only one card was activated. The cashier told her that there is a maximum amount of $1,000 per person in gift card purchases per day and asked if she had bought any other gift cards earlier in the day. Even though she told them she had bought a Visa gift card, she was able to use another credit card and buy the second Vanilla Reload with no problem. That CVS also had American Express gift cards in stock that could be purchased in amounts up to $500.

However, whether or not Office Depot continues to allow the purchase of these gift cards with a credit card, it can still be worthwhile to use your credit card purchase these cards at other stores such as CVS, Walmart or a supermarket, which often also allow you to purchase them with a credit card, so long as you can cash them out quickly and inexpensively.

Team TPG found gift cards including the above available for purchase at Office Depots in Los Angeles. Don't buy a $100 - only go for the bigger denominations.

Team TPG found gift cards including the above available for purchase at Office Depots in Los Angeles. Don’t buy a $100 – only go for the bigger denominations.

Luckily, there are a lot of ways to do so, which I’ll get into below, along with a table setting out an approximate time frame for each of these methods.

One other thing to note: unlike the Amex prepaid cards, the Visa cards function like debit cards with a PIN (though you cannot use them at ATMs), so it makes sense to purchase those when both are available since many merchants accept debit cards with PINs for a variety of transactions that they won’t accept credit cards.

1. Amazon Payments. Amazon Payments allows users to send and receive $1,000 a month from their account to another’s, and it can be funded with a credit or debit card. I have had success registering Vanilla Visa cards to my zip code, adding them to my Amazon profile, and using them to make payments. The service is free, but the entire process is a little tedious. The money paid can be transferred to a linked bank account. Those who use this method often pay their spouse, and have their spouse pay them back. While others prefer to create larger circles of friends and relatives, I have had no problems with performing simple back and forth transactions and have not had my account shut down.

2. Loading and Unloading American Express for Target. American Express offers a prepaid card at Target stores, which can be loaded using prepaid Visa debit cards purchased at Office Depot. It costs $3 to load up to $1,000, with a $1,000 load limit per card per day, and a $2,500 monthly limit per card. The trick is to use two Visa gift cards to load a total of $997 to each of these Amex prepaid cards, and the three dollar fee rounds out the purchase to an even $1,000 split between two. There is one free ATM withdrawal per month with the Amex prepaid card, and additional withdrawals of up to $400 are $3 each. Therefore, it can cost as little as $9 in fees per $1,000 if you load only $2,000 a month per card. Granted, there’s a bit of a process – you still have to purchase the Visa cards at Office Depot, visit Target, and then visit a no fee ATM. I have all three within a block of each other, but it is still quite time consuming. However, since there are thousands of points to be had, it’s worth it to me.

Using Visa gift cards in combination with the Target Amex can be time-consuming, but lucrative.

Using Visa gift cards in combination with the Target Amex can be time-consuming, but lucrative.

3. Paying for services. Obviously, you can use these cards to pay for goods, but in my experience, that’s generally not the best strategy. I want to have access to the purchase protection and extended warranty policies of my credit cards when I purchase big ticket items, which, unfortunately these prepaid cards do not have, so it’s safer to buy items using one of my credit cards.

I also don’t want to have to keep track of the disposable prepaid card in case I need to return my purchases. I find that the ideal use of these prepaid cards is for services rendered like medical bills and car repair. In this way, I am not missing out on any bonus categories, and there is no chance I’ll need a refund. Besides, trying to use a prepaid card at restaurants and gas stations can be a pain when they attempt to pre-authorize a large amount and place a hold on your card that takes days to be released and in the meantime, you cannot use the funds loaded onto your card.

4. Postal money orders. The United States Postal Service will issue a $500 money order for a $1.20 fee, and up to $1,000 for a $1.60 fee, and they accept debit cards. I haven’t tried to use two cards for one money order, so I’ll conservatively say that it costs $2.40 per $1,000. While you have to visit a post office and stand in line, the good news is that you can deposit a money order in your bank just like a check.

5. Wal Mart Money orders. The giant retailer allows customers to use PIN-based debt cards to purchase money orders of up to $1,000 for a mere 70 cents each. You can either visit their customer service desk, or the MoneyCenter ATM. The ATM seems like the best option, but these machines were unavailable or inoperable in at least half of the stores that I visited. In that case, you can visit the customer service counter.

6. Load BlueBird. The Frequent Miler uncovered the trick to using debit cards to load BlueBird cards at Wal Mart Money centers. You can load $1,000 per day, and $5,000 per month. Then, use that money to pay any bill you want, including the credit card you used to purchase the prepaid cards themselves. BlueBird, like nearly every other product that offers online bill payment, utilizes a third party services to transfer money. Therefore, there is no way for your credit card issuer to link your payment back to Wal Mart, let alone Office Depot. Again, the machines are often unavailable, so you may have to visit customer service.

Is Bluebird under increased scrutiny?

Amex’s Bluebird card can be a great way to unload the value from your Visa gift card.

7. Wal Mart bill pay. Wal Mart can pay your bills directly for a fee of $1.00. They use CheckFree Bill Pay, which comes from the same provider that most institutions use for their online bill payment services. You go to customer service with your billing information and account number, and just pay with the card.

8. Purchase reloads for prepaid cards. As I have written, there are four major reloadable networks; Green Dot, Vanilla, ReLoadit, and Pay Pal. Most of these charge a $4.95 fee per $500. It is hard to find a retailer that will accept credit cards for purchasing the reloads to put value onto the reloadable/prepaid cards, but there are many that will still accept debit cards with a PIN such as Vanilla Visa. Then, you apply the funds to a compatible prepaid card using their web site. That prepaid card can then be used to pay your bills, including that of your credit card.

9. Pay taxes. The IRS lists all of the companies authorized to accept payments using credit and debit cards. Thankfully, the fees for debit cards are reasonable. I have found that ChoicePay will accept an unlimited number of debit cards over the phone with a fee of $3.48 cents each (about a 0.7% fee on $500 payments), which is important for those with tax bills greater than $1,000. In contrast, the others that I have tried have limited me to two payments. For those who own a business or do freelance work, this is an excellent way to pay estimated quarterly taxes, and though it’s time consuming to pay your bill card by card in $500 increments, it’s still a good way to earn points on a kind of transaction that is usually prohibitively expensive using credit cards.

Paying your taxes through Choice Pay can be a cost-effective way of unloading your Visa gift cards' value.

Paying your taxes through Choice Pay can be a cost-effective way of unloading your Visa gift cards’ value.

10. Get cash back from purchases. Many retailers allow you to receive cash back from purchases with a debit card, since they only pay a fee per transaction. I have seen this option at grocery stores, drug stores, and home improvement stores. It is even possible to purchase some item of little cost, as I occasionally did in the past to avoid ATM fees. You can then deposit that cash in your bank account to pay your credit card bill.

Here’s my breakdown of the cost and estimated time each of these methods will take you.

Method Monthly Limit (per user account.) Cost in Dollars Cents per Point @ 5x including $4.95 Visa card fee. Cost in Time per $1,000 Work with Amex?
Amazon Payments $1,000 $0 .198 ~10 min. Yes
American Express for Target 2 accts @ $2,500 each As low as $9 per $1,000 plus ATM fees if any. .374 ~15 min. Yes
Purchasing services none none .198 Little if any Yes
Postal money orders none $2.40/$1,000 .244 Depends on the line at the post office No
Wal Mart Money Order none $.70/$1,000 .201 <5 minutes No
Load Blue Bird $5,000 $0 .198 <5 minutes No
Wal Mart Bill Pay none $1.00 .216 <5 minutes No
Purchase Prepaid Reloads none $9.90/$1,000 .392 <5 minutes Possibly
Pay Taxes none $6.96/$1,000 .334 <5 minutes No
Cash back none none .198 <5 minutes No

Good luck – and report back on your success using these methods and if you have found Visa gift cards at your local Office Depot, and if that store still lets you use a credit card to pay for them.

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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  • Kamal

    7-11 has vanilla reload. with Chase freedom 5% quarterly bonus at gas stations, this would also be a good option.

  • james

    In the fourth paragraph, you say there are variable load visa GC at a Staples?

  • Mehul Sheth

    I couldn’t use cc for the purchase when I tried earlier this year

  • confused

    is that a typo saying there are $500 visa gc at staples? If so, why did you buy the $200 amex?

  • Jason Steele

    Typo, sorry, no new info re:Staples

  • www.Fishing4Deals.com

    Chase Bank is now selling Visa gift cards online for no fee and no postage charge. You can customize the cards in a number of ways.

  • johanna

    Amazon payments monitors transaction and if they see repeated transactions from the same people constantly they will close the accounts. This has happened to a number of people.

  • rama

    No point posting this now as deal is long dead..people would just be wasting time going to OD if they dont read the whole thread

  • Hank

    Haven’t heard a single report of someone successfully buying a post office money order with a gift card (as a debit card). Was personally shot down on it with several different types – were you able to get one through?

  • Donn

    Is it possible to load a Onevanilla prepaid card to a bluebird card.

  • David

    I don’t understand the fee calculation on the AmEx for Target. It’s $3 per load, you have 2 loads to get to $2k. That’s $6 in fees. Then, the ATM withdrawals are $3 per $400 (with the first one free), so that’s 1 free, and 4 at $3. You’re now at $18 in fees to load/unload (not to mention the $24 or so in fees for buying $2k in gift cards). That’s around $42 total in fees to get the $2000 recycled. Maybe worth it if you have no other way to hit a minimum spend, but it doesn’t seem so worth it otherwise… Am I missing something?

  • Mjodotcom

    Is it only credit cards that give people grief at these stores? I.E. are amazon gift cards totally fine to charge?

  • Office Depot Lover

    Check out http://www.officedepot.com/a/products/365388/VANILLA-VISA-METALLIC-200/

    $200 Vanilla Visa cards with no fee. Free delivery. Chase Ink, please!

  • Office Depot Lover

    Check it out: $200 visa gift cards at 5x with no fee.

    http://www.officedepot.com/a/products/365388/VANILLA-VISA-METALLIC-200/

  • Andrew

    I am interested in the using Visa Gift card as a debit card and purchase money orders from Wal Mart. How do you add a pin to the account? What Visa cards have people had success with in establishing a pin and using pin related transactions, such as using at Wal Mart to buy money orders.

  • Andrew

    How do you add a pin to a chase gift card from chase? I checked out the site – but doesn’t say how I can add a pin. I am interested in using it to buy wal mart money orders. thanks

  • Jake from MSP

    Only at Walmart using a PIN

  • LOL

    You obviously don’t know how to calculate how much time something takes. It takes time to go to Walmart, it’s not 5 minutes. Travel time. Vanilla Reloads are $3.95, not $4.95. Finally, the $500 gift cards on the racks at the Office Depot at Times Square is a flat out lie. I visited two days in a row and several employees confirmed they never had any in stock.

  • http://www.michaelwtravels.com/ Michael W Travels

    I tried buying at 7-11 a couple of days ago and had no luck. The amount of Vanilla on the rack seemed to good to be true…

  • DAVIDLAX

    i’m with @Hank. There has not been a single report of someone having success using a GC to purchase a MO at the post office.

  • John K

    When you call in the 800 # to activate your card, you can also set your pin. Takes like 1 minute tops per each card.

  • Semi-Skeptic

    …there has to be a catch. nullum gratuitum prandium, no?

  • bookaunt

    On Monday afternoon (7/8) I used a CC to by a $500 Visa gift card at OD (my first time so I only got 1). Today I went to Walmart (the only one in the area with a Money Express machine) and loaded the entire amount from the gift card to my BlueBird card with nary a hitch. I will check tomorrow at OD to see if I can repeat the process.

  • KFM

    For clarity, I believe you can only use a Chase CC to buy Chase giftcards, but it’s a great deal if you have one (or more).

  • Logan

    Great post, bookmarked it – the most concise list of solutions I have found! Thank you much :)

  • MrWho

    Yes, you are missing something. It’s per load, and you can use multiple cards per load.

  • MrWho

    Depends upon how you play. I’ve been doing A -> B & B -> A for months and months now, no problem.

  • Jason Steele

    Clearly, the times will vary depending on how far you need to travel. Since I can’t take into account each reader’s travel time’s, I can’t include that in the figure.

  • Jason Steele

    The beauty of the Vanilla Visa cards is that your pin is created the first time you are asked to choose one.

  • Jason Steele

    If that is the case, then the information at the Post Office web site is incorrect. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Jason Steele

    I have not heard reports of problems with these.

  • Jason Steele

    Results vary at 7/11. I have had no luck, but others have, so it doesn’t appear to be hard coded.

  • Jason Steele

    There are still plenty of uses for this info. People did by cards for a day or two. Some people still find it worth their effort to purchase $200 cards. Others buy cards at grocery, drug, and gas stations, while occasionally people actually receive these gift cards as gifts.

  • kevin2013

    Can I use eBay to purchase on my CC and have my friend via Paypal send the funds right back?

  • Jeff Pogodzinski

    I replied to the wrong item. sorry.

  • Vij T

    can you please advise when do we select the pin, is it when you purchase this cards or when you use it first time?

  • Ben Looney

    David is right. It’s 1k per day max load. Therefore you have to do 2 loads to load 2k and hence $6 to load 2k. He’s also right about the $3 per $400 ATM withdrawal on all ATM withdraws after the first month. And this isn’t even counting the ATM fees that the bank that you utilize is going to charge. Costco is the best bet with $1.25 ATM fees.

  • www.Fishing4Deals.com

    In response to Andrew: You can request a PIN number for the Chase gift card by registering your card in advance at 1.866.466.0079.

  • Cheryl

    I am also confused. There is is still the 4.95 fee per $500 gift card purchase that should be added to the total cost.

  • Jason Steele

    With the Vanilla Visas, first use

  • Bender

    I’ve been sending around around the full $1k to the same person from the same card for over a year now (I get a check back). No issues.

  • Bender

    eBay kills you with fees. Not worth it and strict gift card rules to sell them outright

  • Fanfoot

    Never had an issue purchasing Amazon, Southwest, Applebees, etc type no-fee single use gift cards with a credit card anywhere. Ever. I assume its only the VISA/Amex/MC gift cards and in particular the high value variable load $20-$500 gift cards.

  • Fanfoot

    Seems right. You could of course load it up and then exhaust it thru Amazon payments or something rather than an ATM, or in addition to the free ATM. That’ll keep the fees down. But won’t let you hit $2,500.

  • Fanfoot

    Worked for me yesterday. No issue. Probably varies per store.

  • LOLoser

    Some of us shop at wal-mart anyway, so it does indeed take 5 minutes of our time to load up a bluebird while we are there…

  • JR

    Anyone successfully purchase these and see a delivery confirmation?

  • Common Sense

    That makes no sense. If I am using the system to pay rent to the same person/entity every month why would I get shut down? They have no idea what I’m paying…

  • Alex

    I just purchased $1K (5×200) with my Chase Ink Plus. I’m more interested in whether I’ll get the 5x multiplier. If so, this is ideal/simple.

  • bf

    Worked yesterday, but not working today (6 pm EDT). OD website says can’t order online, in-store purchases only. We’ll see whether my online order is fulfilled by OD.

  • Semi-Skeptic

    way to screw the proverbial goose, btw.

  • JR

    Got a back order receipt at about 8pm eastern.

  • bookaunt

    Update 7/12: No longer able to use credit card to by gift card at OD. Too bad after I just learned how easy it is to load my Bluebird from one.

  • bookaunt

    Placed an order last night – it was accepted, but then the order was placed on hold. I called this morning and the rep said it was because it was a large order and that it would leave hold after the bank cleared/approved the charge but that the expected delivery date was still next Monday. Not sure that makes much sense. – and I am not holding my breath.

  • elteetrav

    same here

  • Andrew

    There are visa gift cards offered by differen banks.
    Has anyone had any issues with establishing PIN’s for these accounts. I am looking to buy visa gift cards- then go to Walmarts and purchase Money Orders with the cards. I am only able to buy money orders with a card w a pin. I am being told that with ALL visa gift cards when you go to use the card you simply swipe the card, then when it asks for your pin you simply add a pin of your liking – whatever pin you choose will be the pin for as long as you have the card. For me I would only be using the card one time for the full $500 and then throw the card away after I have completed the transaction for the money order.

  • Bubba Gump

    yes that is part of the total cost. The calculations were intended to show just the cost of liquidating the gift cards, not the total cost of everything.

  • bookaunt

    No delivery confirmation on the cards yet – got a partial confirmation on the non-cards part of my order. The email says that the rest is back-ordered…. we’ll see.

  • Jason Steele

    I based my calc off of 1k loads per day. so that $6 for loading 2k, plus 4 atms @ $3 each plus one free atm. So you have $18 total fees per 2k per month, per card, assuming free ATM withdrawals at a local credit union.

  • Pingback: Maximize Monday: Buying Vanilla Reloads at 7-11 and CVS To Generate Points and Credit Card Spend | The Points Guy

  • Fitz

    I contacted Visa as a merchant may not deny the use of a credit card for certain items – if they accept credit card on their premises. Visa just replied to me and agreed that it is a “rule violation” and they are investigating it.

  • Steve

    If you buy a Chase gift card from Chase.com directly using a Chase card, aren’t they going to code this as a gift card purchase and not a purchase that will count toward spend?

  • Jon Pal

    Jason – I also live in Denver and have been trying to find places that carry Vanilla Reloads and can be purchased with a credit card. My friend found one at a Family Dollar that worked but I was wondering if you would share any locations you may have found?

  • Nenad Pasic

    Tried one OD yesterday and another today in L.A. area. Both cash registered showed “These cards can only be purchased by cash” message in red. Went to the Staples and purchased 2×200 and 3×100 with CC and no problems.

  • Mary E. ICN

    Had worst time buying VR with US Bank CC. Finally, I gave up and bought with a different CC. Anyone else have this problem?

  • Brittany N Jones

    I have a question if anyone has the answer, I have 41cents left on one card, is it possible to transfer that to another vanilla visa gift card?

  • WL

    Why is it necessary to cash out a prepaid debit card quickly? It seems as long as the credit card was charged then the points are earned.

  • Al

    Where is this family dollar that accepts credit cards in denver?

  • Selim

    Brittany…ain’t nobody got time for 41cents. Is that a joke?

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