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Using Vanilla Reloads in combination with reloadable cards such as the Amex Bluebird is one of the most lucrative way to rack up points and miles using points-earning credit cards without having to actually spend that much money because you can buy the cards, load them and then essentially turn them into a cash equivalent.
Note: most credit card companies allow these purchases to count as such and not cash advances, but some like Citi may treat it as a cash advance. I’d recommend entering the Vanilla world slowly and doing your own tests and establishing your own comfort level before diving in. I’ve heard lots of stories of people buying the wrong types of cards and tying up money they don’t have, so if you are unclear on how this works, I recommend re-reading through our series on prepaids/reloads and checking out other people’s successes/failures in this Flyertalk forum on manufactured spending.
You essentially only pay the processing fee on the card ($3.95) for every $500 spent and if you can buy them at a location that gives you 2x-5x points per dollar (like certain office supply stores or gas station) you are “buying” miles very cheaply. The one problem is, few merchants actually allow you to buy them using credit cards these days, and each chain’s policy can depend from store location to store location…when they even have Vanilla Reloads in stock.
While a lot of the locations where Vanilla Reloads are available have started demanding cash or debit cards as forms of payment, there’s still a major retailer with tons of locations nationally that may allow you to purchase them using a points-earning credit card: 7-11. I’ve seen 7-11 on the list of available reload locations, but it wasn’t until last week when TPG readers started commenting and emailing me did I think it was possible to use credit cards.
Since I’ve been in Iceland for the past week, I asked TPG team members and friends out to local 7-11s across the US. TPG Director of Ops Kate went to the 7-11 in Elwood New York and found Vanilla Reloads in stock along with other reloadable prepaid cards like the Greendot Prepaid Visa, PayPal Greendot MoneyPak, MoneyWise Prepaid Visa and Greendot Online Shopping Visa debit card. Kate tried to purchase two Vanilla Reloads for $500 each but once she went to the counter, the attendant told her she would have to do it in two separate transactions. Using her Ink Bold, the first transaction was approved, but the second transaction was denied. The attendant trying ringing it up one more time but again that card wouldn’t activate. Possibly a fraud alert by Chase or a limit set by 7-11. Several TPG readers reported success and failure in the comments thread on this post.
I suspect there may be a “one transaction per day per credit card rule” now though I can’t confirm that just yet. Kate said on the register it would say approved and look like the transaction was going through without a problem but the signature prompt wouldn’t appear and the attendant said an error came up. The receipt from the second card shows it was approved by the credit card company yet doesn’t show an approval number for the reload card and just refunded the amount of $503.95.
The beauty of this 7-11 angle is that many are coded as gas stations, which would mean 2x points on cards like the American Express Premier Rewards Gold and Ink Bold and Plus cards. The Chase Freedom card also has rotating 5x point categories and July 1- Sept. 30, 2013 just so happens to feature gas stations. The quarterly limit is $1,500, but that is an easy 7,500 Ultimate Rewards points in the bank if you can find a 7-11 coded as a gas station that has Vanilla Reloads (or other pre-paid cards that you can turn into flexible funds).
Other people were able to purchase cards in West Hollywood, California and in Manhattan, so please feel free to comment on your success or failure.
I’ve been buying Vanilla Reloads for my mortgage, monthly maintenance and insurance bills at CVS for months now. I also always buy them at Walgreens near my parent’s house in Bucks County, PA with no issues, though some in Florida only take cash. There is a $5,000 monthly load limit on Bluebird accounts and I haven’t had an issue hitting that number, which makes hitting $60,000 in spend every year from Vanilla Reloads an easy task.
For those of you who need a primer on Vanilla Reloads and how to maximize them with reloadable gift/debit cards, check out this post on Maximizing Prepaid and Reload Cards for Points and Miles – The Basics. In short, Vanilla Reloads are prepaid cards you can purchase in amounts up to $500 for a fee of $3.95 each. You then load your value onto a reloadable card such as the MyVanilla, Mio, netSpend, Momentum, the American Express Prepaid Card, and Bluebird and then use those cards either to make your credit card purchases as usual, withdraw money from ATM’s, or pay bills – all depending on which features each of them offers. My favorite is the Bluebird card because it allows you to load up to $1,000 per day and $5,000 per calendar month in Vanilla Reloads, acts as an ATM card and has a great Bill Pay system that you can use to do things like issue checks for your mortgage, car payments, other premiums, and even pay off credit card statements. You can find out more about the card and its limits in this post.
This means you can create credit card spend for relatively low fees – $504 is 504 points on most cards. I value 504 Starpoints or Ultimate Rewards points, for example, at over $10, but I only pay $3.95 for them, so if you can rev up the amount of Vanillas you buy, you can create a solid amount of points and credit card spend on the cheap. (Note that there is a $5,000 funding limit per calendar month, per Bluebird account.)
Although few people have reported problems like getting their Bluebird accounts shut down for solely loading it with Vanilla Reloads and using the Bill Pay services, even for just paying off credit cards, I would recommend throwing a few monthly purchases on the card as well and maybe funding it with another source such as a checking account from time to time just to prevent Amex raising any red flags or thinking you might be laundering money. I’d also highly recommend reading through the official Bluebird member agreement, which is actually pretty easy to read through.
For more ideas on maximizing prepaid and reloadable cards, check out my post on the Top 10 Ways to Maximize Miles and Points With Pre-Paid, Reloadable and Gift Cards.