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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – British Airways Visa Signature Card
Update: You can no longer purchase Vanilla Reload cards with a credit card.
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 or netSpend 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.
The great thing about Vanilla Reloads is that some of the retail locations at which they are offered will let you purchase them using a points-earning credit card, so you are essentially paying $4 to earn 504 points (or more depending on any category spending bonuses) – a breakdown of just under 0.8 cents per point, which in the case of valuable ones like Starwood Preferred Guest or Ultimate Rewards points, is a lot less than the values I consistently get from them when I redeem them for hotel stays and airline flights.
The drawback is that there are usually limits to the amount you can load onto a reloadable card using Vanilla Reloads (usually around the $5,000 per month mark) as well as the fact that CVS instituted a policy to limit Vanilla Reload purchases to $1,000 per customer per day. It’s also sometimes hard to track down Vanilla Reloads at stores because they sell out quickly, some keep them behind the counter, and some customers go so far as to hide a stash somewhere else in the store to come back later to buy so it can feel like a wild goose chase.
However, based on reports I’ve been getting from readers as well as from sending out TPG to scour their local CVS stores across the country, that $1,000 daily limit has been raised to $5,000 in some cases.
Old Transaction Limit: $1,000
New Transaction Limit: $5,000
Old Per Customer Daily Limit: $1,000
New Per Customer Daily Limit: $5,000
CVS will conduct ID scans on transactions of $1,000 or more, and you can still buy just up to 10 Vanilla Reloads per day.
Not only can you now buy $5,000 in Vanilla Reloads per day, but you can do it in a single transaction, streamlining the process. You just have to accept that your ID will be swiped on purchases of $1,000 or more now.
Now, before you get too excited, this policy doesn’t appear to be a chain standard at this point. Some stores are still instituting the $1,000 daily limit, and some won’t even let you purchase Vanilla Reloads with a credit card, so it will be hit or miss.
I mentioned, I asked Team TPG to check out CVS’s wherever they are, and here’s what we found. In Los Angeles, CVS’s in Santa Monica still had the old $1,000 limit in place, while one in West Hollywood had the new $5,000 limit.
In Phoenix, the $1,000 still seems to be in place and on Long Island as well, though one CVS in Brooklyn had the new $5,000 policy and another there had the $1,000 policy.
Have you found CVS stores with the new $5,000 limit in place near you? If so please report back in the comments section.
Maximizing Vanilla Reload Purchases
This is great news as it now means you can rack up points and miles, or purchase more Vanilla Reloads at a time to help meet minimum spending requirements on any new credit cards much faster.
For example, if you got a new credit card that required you to spend $5,000 within three to six months, you could take care of that in a single day using Vanilla Reloads, put the value of your Vanillas onto a compatible card such as Momentum Visa debit card alternative and then use it to do everything from paying bills to withdrawing cash at ATM’s. Thinking even bigger, if you get in on the current offer on the British Airways Visa Signature Card with the first year’s annual fee of $95 waived, you could purchase Vanilla Reloads to meet the $2,000 to earn the 50,000-Avios sign-up bonus, and then buy $28,000 more worth of them to earn the card’s “Travel Together” companion ticket, then just use your account to pay your bills over time.
My favorite Vanilla Reload-compatible product is the Bluebird from American Express, which is a versatile checking account and debit card alternative with which you can set up direct deposit and bill pay to help manage your finances and cut checks, as well as using the card at ATM’s or on purchases. Just keep in mind that Bluebird has a daily Vanilla Reload limit of $1,000 and $5,000 per calendar month. I’d also highly recommend reading through the Bluebird’s fee and limits chart on the main website and the official Bluebird member agreement, which is actually pretty easy to read through.
For more information on Vanilla Reloads, see these posts:
My Permanent Amex Bluebird Card is Active and the Points Are Flying There’s no telling how much longer these cards will be around and available for new applications because of the Marriott takeover, so now might just be the perfect time to apply. Apart from hotel redemptions, you can transfer Starpoints to over 30 airline partners, and now also transfer points from Starwood to Marriott Rewards at a 1:3 ratio, opening up even more redemption options.
There’s no telling how much longer these cards will be around and available for new applications because of the Marriott takeover, so now might just be the perfect time to apply. Apart from hotel redemptions, you can transfer Starpoints to over 30 airline partners, and now also transfer points from Starwood to Marriott Rewards at a 1:3 ratio, opening up even more redemption options.