Can You Take Advantage of Bluebird and Vanilla Without an Ink Card?
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Update: You can no longer purchase Vanilla Reload cards using a credit card and Vanilla Reloads are no longer available in Office Depot.
The resounding answer is YES. I've been getting an incredible amount of email questions about the Bluebird/Vanilla deal and whether it's mandatory to have an Ink card, so let me explain why Ink is a "super amazing" deal vs. just an "amazing" deal using other cards.
When you buy a $500 Vanilla Reload card from Office Depot (note: many Office Depots are out of these cards and may or may not be restocked. I've purchased $3,000 and then another $2,500 this week at two different Miami area stores), each Vanilla Reload card costs $3.95 in fees and the rest of the purchase is essentially a cash equivalent that you can load onto a number of pre-paid cards, like the American Express Bluebird (which I prefer due to low fees). The maximum amount you can buy per Vanilla Reload card is $500 so using a normal card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred - you'll get 535 Ultimate Rewards points (500 for the base purchase and 35 at the end of the year for the 7% annual dividend) for $3.95. That's a purchase price per Ultimate Reward point of less than 8/10ths of a cent, which is an amazing deal. You can buy points directly from Chase for 2.5 cents a piece (up to 5,000 per calendar month at ultimaterewards.com -> Manage Ultimate Rewards -> Purchase points). At .8 cents a point, that means you can "buy" 22,000 points, which is enough for a free night at any top tier Hyatt like Park Hyatt Maldives, for $176. Not bad!
It's "super amazing" with the Ink Bold and Ink Plus cards because they award 5 points per dollar on "Office Supplies" and luckily Vanilla Reload card purchases at Office Depot purchases are flagged as Office Supplies. So for $3.95 you actually get 2,500 Ultimate Rewards points- less than 2/10th of a cent per point. On top of that, Ink Bold and Ink Plus each offer a 50,000 point sign-up bonus after $5,000 spent within 3 months and you can get both cards (I have both) so it's officially a points-earning bonanza. Note: You can apply with your Social Security Number and as a sole proprietorship and get approved for Ink cards. If your application is denied or pending just call their business reconsideration line to discuss what you can do (like close down another Chase card) to get approved.
There is a risk of Chase not being happy with this method, but I have not been personally contacted by Chase and I know many people who have been working this angle for months - at extremes much greater than mine - who have had no issues. If any business thinks you are abusing them and are an unprofitable customer, they have the right to stop doing business with you, so I recommend taking a slow and steady approach and giving these vendors a lot of your business (and don't try to immediately withdraw all of your money from Bluebird because it'll look like money laundering).
Remember, you have to wait until you have a permanent Bluebird card before you can load your Vanilla Reloads onto the card, so if you haven't done so already apply for one here - there is no fee and no credit check or negative impact on your credit. If you are still confused, I highly recommend reading through my past posts and the comments on them for further guidance. If that doesn't do it, feel free to comment here or Tweet me @thepointsguy (usually the quickest response).
I know a lot of people are experiencing Vanilla outages at Office Depots, but don't fret, there are other ways you can maximize prepaid and loadable cards without Vanilla, so stay tuned!