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Maximize Monday: Buying Vanilla Reloads at 7-11 and CVS To Generate Points and Credit Card Spend

by on July 15, 2013 · 81 comments

in Prepaid/ Reloads, Vanilla Reloads

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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.

There are many types of reloadable cards- this is the one you want to load into your Bluebird account.

There are many types of reloadable cards- this is the one you want to load into your Bluebird account.

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.

Vanilla Reloads and other reloadable prepaid cards are available in 7-11 in East Northport, NY.

Vanilla Reloads and other reloadable prepaid cards are available in 7-11 in Elwood, NY.

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.

TPG reader success at 7-11

TPG reader success at 7-11

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.

A list of Vanilla Reload retailers- some unknown or smaller regional ones may accept credit card. Never hurts to try!

A list of Vanilla Reload retailers- some unknown or smaller regional ones may accept credit card. Never hurts to try!

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.

CVS/Walgreens
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.

The Basics
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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • BobChi

    We have a new CVS open in town and I went the first day to check on VR. They were in stock. I asked the clerk if I could buy with a credit card, but she said “Cash only.” However, a supervisor nearby said something like, “I think I may be able to override that,” and indeed a credit card purchase worked. I don’t know if this was just because the store was new and systems not quite in place yet, but I’ll try again later. I completely agree with your “start slow” recommendation. No need to draw attention to myself or the opportunity by doing too much too fast.

  • Jon

    Let’s not forget that this is good for generating points on the cheap, but it’s far more useful on hitting minimum spend targets for new cards with points bonuses.

  • Patrick

    Do the 7/11′s have a limit on the number of VR’s that can be purchased at one time?

  • Adam

    I bought one VR on one card, and tried to buy another VR with different card and it wouldn’t go through, so it may be that you can only buy 1 VR a day…

  • Mjodotcom

    Also – remember that the Amex PRG gives you 15,000 bonus points when you spend $30,000 on the card. Therefore, you could be getting about 2.5x MR points per dollar spent (if bought at a gas station) on the first 30k!

  • r0m8470

    Thanks for the posting TPG.

    I am a relative newbie in this miles/points thing, so to summarize, are these the steps that I need to do?

    1. Get a Blue Bird card
    2. Purchase the Vanilla reload using a rewards-point credit card, say Chase Freedom.
    3. Then load the Vanilla reload value to the Blue Bird account
    4. Pay the bills using the Bill-pay service of the Blue Bird account

    If Chase Freedom happens to have the rotating 5x multiplier, if I purchased $500 worth of reload, AND the retailer selling the reload is coded as a gas station, AND gas station was a category on the rotating 5x multiplier – then if I paid only $500 worth of bills, I would still obtain 2500 rewards points?

    Do I summarize that correctly?

    Somewhere in the article, it was mentioned that I can do this for mortgage payments? What is the limit of Vanilla reload on each purchase?

  • iahphx

    Are there really people who have had their Bluebird accounts shut down for funding them solely through Vanilla Reload purchases? I hadn’t seen those reports. I’ve always figured that the modest Bluebird limit (5K month) meant AMEX didn’t have to worry about crazy abuse (like what Citi had to contend with with their Preferred account bonus when you could buy tens of thousands of 5% back VRs at CVS)
    .
    Like most folks reading this blog, that’s how I fund my Bluebird. I drain it by doing the automatic bill-pay, and occasionally transferring money to my checking account.

  • Rob

    Say thanks to Eric, one of the several TPG employees.

  • justified1273

    i just bought 3 vr’s at 7-11 in NYC with cc. Took some convincing and some kindness.

  • py

    my parents live in bucks county, pa. I have tried a few CVS around the area without luck. If you are willing, can you point me to ones that work? If not, I understand too. Thanks for your post!

  • r0m8470

    Thks Eric!

    Is my summary correct though? Or am I missing some steps?

  • Bryan

    I have had a similar experience with 7-11 yesterday. I bought 2 VR’s at the same time but one got automatically voided by the system. I got approval for 2 VR’s but only one came out of the receipt. Thinking it was just a clerical error, the attendant did it again with the same CC but was voided automatically again. The attendant asked for a different VR but it did the same thing.
    I am inclined to think that it is one VR per CC per day. Though I’ll probably test it again today.

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  • thepointsguy

    You are correct. You can even cut checks to people- doesn’t necessarily need to be a bill, or even withdraw cash. Bluebird and Vanilla Reloads are a powerful combo when leveraged correctly

  • thepointsguy

    My luck has been at Walgreens in bucks co- a bunch of different ones. Let me know how it works out

  • thepointsguy

    I haven’t heard of many, but I always like to emphasize caution and playing within the rules

  • thepointsguy

    Nice reminder- I love that 15k bonus- wish it was on the Business Gold Rewards too!

  • thepointsguy

    totally- thats why I put that in the title of the post! Minimum spend is nothing with Vanilla Reloads!

  • thepointsguy

    Interesting.. never hurts to cajole!

  • Ricky

    All 711 in So Cal say Cash or Debit only…Tried over 15 stores; not quite sure why other states don’t have this problem; seems like it’s company wide..

  • Point user 929383

    I just applied for a bluebird account. It says I have to wait 7-10 days for the card. Do you know if I have to wait to receive the card before I start loading it with vanilla reloads and paying bills? Thanks you!

  • bf

    TPG, in my opinion, this is too specific. Why mention the names of the stores in the headline? For folks who are lucky enough to have these stores carrying the lucrative GCs who accept cc, this is likely to lead to a shutdown, like OD, Walgreens, etc. Be more discreet!

  • Mark

    Same deal with me; bought one w/ Freedom (hopefully it’ll post as a gas station purchase for 5x), tried to buy another with another card and it didn’t go through. Not sure if I’ll get purchase credit with Plink, as my card is synced up with that as well.

  • Rob P

    To load it you’ll need the Bluebird card number, so unfortunately you’ll probably have to wait.

  • thepointsguy

    Yep that’s my experience as well- luckily they shop pretty quickly and you can buy vanillas in advance so there good to go- remember 5k monthly load limit

  • Bender

    Just successfully bought two in the same transaction for the full 1K in a Pittsburgh 7-11 with my Freedom card. Receipt shows both were activated (nothing voided). Maybe it’s an AMEX restriction or something. No questions from the cashier and no issues going for the 3rd reload to max out my quarterly bonus.

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  • Bender

    I don’t see how your card issuer or the store register would know it was you in each transaction. I was able to purchase 3 today at the same store, 2 in one transaction and then another to max out my Freedom bonus for the quarter. Beans!

  • Steve

    If you’re willing to buy the temp card at Walmart first and then activate it at the store, you can begin loading and paying right away. I just did it today!

  • Steve

    Tried a Walgreen’s in Boise, ID and was told the Vanilla Reload was cash only, but I turned right around and was able instead to buy a variable Vanilla Visa GC with credit. Cost a buck more ($4.95).

  • Fanfoot

    Yeah seriously TPG! Why can’t you speak in code like all the whack jobs on FT so only those who live and breath manufactured spend can get in on this. What’s wrong with you?

  • Fanfoot

    Nope. Worked fine in N. Cal. No issue.

  • slim

    r0m, I would be sensitive to the “getting their Bluebird accounts shut down for solely loading it with Vanilla Reloads and using the Bill Pay services” mentioned above. I have been loading my Bluebird with my Paypal debit card (which was conveniently loaded using greendots). Loading with a debit card seems to be more palatable to these types of companies and Bluebird is too good of a thing to get it taken away for not being careful

  • Andrew

    And what are you going to do with the Visa GC? Just use it for purchases? Are you gonna use it as a debit card and buy money orders? Etc… Thanks lot

  • Frank

    What card do you use at cvs to earn points and miles?

  • paula gulbicki

    O.K. I bought a $400 Vanilla reload with my new Hyatt card at CVS. Now i know i can spend it down, but please explain how else I can use this? Most of my bills require payment from a bank account, they don’t accept credit payments – as far as I know.

  • thepointsguy

    You load it onto a bluebird account and then pay bills/cut checks to anyone for free from there. A reload is not a credit card

  • McMunch

    Hit up my local 7-11 in Oregon today and purchased a 500.00 VR without any problem. I will be back to see if I can crack the famous 1000.00 transaction without an epic fail. Caveat-right after purchasing the 500.00 VR, Chase sent me a fraud alert text-I responded to it and they let everything go through (they did not block the charge-it went through) I received the text a few minutes later.

  • gambler46

    my denton,tx 7-11 let you buy VR with CC and i used my ink bold to get 2x points, but chase freedom july-sep 5x bonus does not list 7-11 as eligible gas station, still i bought a $500, hopefull it will post as 5x point, but doubt it

  • Steve

    Use it to load Bluebird acct at Walmart.

  • Charlie

    Just bought a $500 Vanilla in Denver with Ink at 7-11. I asked the clerk first if it would work; he said “let’s try it”. No problem.

    Except that I’m more likely to buy something less than healthy while I’m there!

  • McMunch

    I continue to have zero problems buying with credit cards at 7-11 in southern Oregon. I have purchased 5000.00 in VR’s this month at 7-11. I always buy 1000.00 at a time and split it into two transactions. The clerks always ask to see my card and my driver’s license, and it always goes through. This is so much better than buying gift cards and going to that hell hole Walmart!

  • maifriend

    Buy vanilla reload cards and pay your mortgage, insurance premium, water bill, etc… only if it saves you a stamp for each bill, otherwise load your amex bluebird account and pay your credit card directly. It’s simple as that.

  • maifriend

    I use my citi platinum visa american airlines and buy vanilla reload cards

  • maifriend

    All correct. Apparently the limit is $500 per vanilla reload card, $1,000/day of VR although I’ve never tried to buy more than $1,000/day. Some mentioned that amex bluebird limit is $5,000 of vanilla reload per month however I was able to load $6,500 on the first month. A tip for all of you, I buy 2 VR cards plus hair color for men, then next time it’s a something else. Then I return the item a month or two later. So each transaction doesn’t ring the same amount. On the credit card statement, there are a lot of transactions with CVS but never with the same amount.

  • Susan Purdy

    Went to two of the “numerical shops” in the “town where the Kings play” (for all you who insist we speak in code about an obvious store name…) – one denied me, the other accepted. They’re still out there.

  • Ted

    Went to a 7-11 in SoCal last week and picked up $1k in Vanilla Reloads. Went back to the same store today and was denied.

  • McMunch

    Well it appears the game is up. I’ve bought over 5000.00 worth of VRs in the last month and today I went to one of two 7-11 stores I use and they told me I had to use debit only. I went to the second store I normally use and they don’t even carry VR anymore. All of their VR was replaced by the Paypal reload card. I guess that this great thing is over. Back to gift cards and that dump of a place known as Walmart.

  • Schultzy

    I’m new at this Bluebird/VR stuff. When I purchase the VR then how do I load my Bluebird account? Online?

  • hdawg

    Same been denied at 4 7-elevens by me this past week where I had bought plenty of reloads the past month. Seems like it was something from corporate, the clerks had no idea but it kept denying any credit card I used. Sad to see the free money go. Let me know if anything changes by you.

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  • Mary E. ICN

    No luck to buy VR at Walgreens in Bountiful and Kaysville, both in UT. Sad me.

  • noSuccessWith711

    7-11 did not allow me to purchase the cards with a credit card… I’m in California. Pretty bummed, I just got my BB today…

  • Adam

    Maybe it’s because I’m a newb, but why does it HAVE to be a VR card, and why that specific VR card? Are there any other cards that can be used to charge a Bluebird card? I’m planning on the Chase Ink Bold -> Visa $200 Gift Card (yes, I know it sucks compared to the $500 card, but c’est la vie) at Office Depot/Max or Staples -> VR at 7-11 or CVS or whatever-> Bluebird.

    Any pointers?

  • Andre

    Thanks for your great website and your joie de vivre. I was really looking forward to being able to make my mortgage and car payment using my new Barclaycard with the vanilla-Bluebird combo to earn many more points than I normally could with my regular purchases, but I’m seriously stuck. The only vanilla “reload” cards sold in my area are starter cards–the “brand” is MyVanilla, issued by Bancorp Bank. My first time out I was able to buy one loaded with $500 with a credit card. but I then had to register the card online to get a PIN, and then wait for a permanent, re-loadable card. When I received the permanent card, I found I could not load new funds using a CC–cash only. The only way to purchase an additional MyVanilla card is to cancel the permanent cards as they arrive… a week or so later. Worst of all, when I tried to link the card (as a debit card) to a new Bluebird account, I failed miserably. Bluebird shut me down before I even had a dime in the account :-( I now have to send Bluebird all sorts of identity docs to get my account unfrozen. So, now I’ve locked up funds for no good reason, no Bluebird account to use even if I can figure out the right Vanilla card to buy, and a place to buy it with a CC, and now the feds are on my trail. I can deal with a visit from the feds, maybe a couple of years in the slammer, but I can’t deal with getting cash tied up in multiple purchase-only cards, and miss out on the opportunity to get to Rome for my honeymoon courtesy Vanilla-Bluebird-Barclay. Please help!

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  • http://www.aquabarrel.com Aquabarrel

    Tried a 7-11 in Gaithersburg, MD – Denied, Cash Only. Found just one CVS that has VR behind the counter that will accept CC near Montgomery Village. Anyone having luck in this area with 7-11 and being coded as ‘gas’?

  • mrrickva

    Looks like the game may be up at 7-11 at least with Amex. I tried 2 different ones in Falls Church, VA – “Cash only”. At the third 7-11, the clerk tried it and the system declined it. I called Amex customer service and he said the charge never hit their system. Tried 3 days later in Rehoboth Beach, DE and the system immediately declined it. Found one CVS in VA where a 1K purchase went through two days in a row with no prob. They scanned my DL both days. No VRs at the CVS in Rehoboth Beach.

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  • denver

    If I may ask, which 7-11 location? I’ve also heard valero sells the vanillas

  • non-believer

    After trying to purchase a Vanilla Reload with my Freedom card at 4 different stores tonight, getting declined repeatedly, and also trying two different credit cards at 2 of the stores, also resulting in “decline”… I believe it just isn’t possible in my area. I called Chase after store #1 and after store #2. Both of the Chase reps said that it’s okay to purchase the Reload card w/ the credit card but that the purchase didn’t even show up as an attempt, so Chase blamed it on each store’s card-reader or store’s policy. FYI, I tried two 7-11 stores and two CVS.

  • Mike

    TPG – Thank you for posting. I tried to buy a vanilla reload today from 7-11 and Walgreens, but neither accepted credit card. Do you have any suggestions? I would really appreciate it. Thank you.

  • Joe

    I think a lot of us are having similar experiences. I was told at Walgreens “cash only” and it was auto-declined at 7-11. Bummer!

  • Brandon

    Hi, which 7-11 in NYC did you go to?

  • Hamed Kazemi

    Thanks. For the info. Anybody knows a location around Oakland Ca area that accepts CC for Vanilla Reload cards? Everywhere I have checked ask for cash only!

  • http://www.traverseinconverse.com/ Eugene

    I just tried it at that same 7-11 and they said cash only. Have you found anywhere that takes CC?

  • http://www.aquabarrel.com Aquabarrel

    CVS is still taking CC’s

  • MilesMiles

    can one still buy VR cards from Office Max or CVS with credit? I tried both places today in San Jose, CA and was told only cash or debit card. Have the rules changed or it depends on area or store?

  • MilesMiles

    Hmm . .I thought I posted a question yesterday but it did not seem to be there today. Anyways, I tried buying VR at CVS and OD but both places do not accept credit cards for payment. Have they stopped this practice everywhere or just in San Jose, CA??

  • moooshe

    So the challenge is really finding a location that carries these VR cards and paying for them with a rewards CC, right? If I can get those, I’m golden up to 5k/month?

  • moooshe

    thanks for the detailed post!
    However, unless I have a card that gives me at least 2 points per dollar spent, this will essentially translate to $1.05 profit per $500 VR card. It’s like buying 500 points for $3.95. What am I missing here?

  • Ricky Tan

    Sigh. Just tried my first Vanilla Reload purchase at 7-11. Fail.

  • Don

    I just got my Bluebird card today and I was able to buy a Vanilla reload card at CVS in Indianapolis on my reward points credit card. Thanks!

  • Obsession

    It doesnt seem that 7-11s in the NYC area allow credit cards to purchase any gift cards has anyone seen this allowed?

  • hector

    so you need a credit card to use one of these ?

  • T Morgan

    hi, i am in s,oregon too, did you purchase anything else other than the vr with the credit card, going to make my first purchase tomorrow
    thanks
    kt

  • Marz

    Don’t these get treated as cash advances?

  • Skippy

    Is it ok to pay a Visa or Mastercard account using Vanilla and Bluebird? Is that risky? Thanks!

  • Jonathan

    hey guys, quit stealing my VRs. which one of you hid VRs behind playstation cards?

  • Jonathan

    try one vanillas instead of VR. I think the registers are sometimes coded to deny cc purchase of VR. I just bought some one vanillas yesterday (1.5k) at the 7-11 off snouffers and goshen

  • epaminondas3294

    It appears CVS is no longer accepting credit card payment for vanilla reload cards. Policy changed March 31st.

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