Thinking of Trying Vanilla Reloads?

Lots of bloggers have already covered what Vanilla Reloads are and how to use them –this post is for the folks who might be new to miles and points, or who have already heard about it, but still aren’t quite sure how it works and are nervous they’ll make a mistake.

If you already know how to do it, this post is going to bore you :)

So based on the questions I asked when I first did it, and the questions from a friend who just got into it this weekend, here’s why you might want to and a step by step on how to do it.

What are Vanilla Reloads and why should you buy them?

Vanilla Reloads are prepaid gift/money cards that can be bought with a credit card at many places and uploaded to an American Express Bluebird Checking Account.

They are a great way to increase your credit card spend, or hit minimum spend requirements for new credit cards, without actually having to buy “things”. They are also a great way to pay for things that don’t accept credit cards, like your rent or mortgage payment.

Note: Doing this isn’t free. You’re paying $3.95 per $500 card. I personally think paying $39.50 to hit a minimum credit card spend requirement of $5,000 in one month is well worth it!

Getting Started

1. Apply for an American Express Bluebird checking account. This is the only way you’ll be able to really make use of Vanilla Reload benefits. It’s free to sign up.

2. Go look for Vanilla Reloads. Visit the Vanilla Reload site for a list of possible stores. Note: Not all stores will accept credit card payment, if they don’t, there’s no point in buying the Vanilla Reload since credit card spend is the whole point. Put the $500 max on each card.

Why? Each card has a $3.95 service fee regardless of how much you load, so putting any less than the maximum is wasting your money.

This is what they look like:

What does a Vanilla Reload Look Like

You don’t not want anything else that has the Vanilla name on it. Just this one.

CVS has been the best source of Vanilla Reloads. Some stores have a maximum you can buy per day, others don’t. So don’t take it personally if your attempt to purchase $5,000+ isn’t allowed.

I usually limit my purchases to $1,000 per store, but many folks (including my friend this weekend) successfully do $5,000 in a visit.

3. Call your credit card company to alert them to your upcoming purchase. Making a large purchase at CVS or a gas station is extremely likely to flag your credit card’s fraud algorithm. Calling ahead won’t necessarily prevent your card from getting flagged (as I well know) but sometimes it does.

Don’t be embarrassed if your card is flagged. Do have your phone ready – you’ll often get an immediate phone call, email, or text asking you to verify. If you can catch it as soon as it comes in, you’ll minimize the time spent waiting for the charge to clear..

Transferring Money From the Vanilla Reload to Your Bluebird Account

Once you’ve purchased your Vanilla Reloads you need to log on to the Vanilla Reload website, not the Bluebird site like I tried the first time.

You’ll type in the code on the back of your card and then type in the number of your Bluebird Debit card (which is why having an account is essential).

How to load vanilla reloads onto bluebird

Important: You can only put $1,000 per day into your Bluebird Account, up to $5,000 a month.

Using That Money

Once you’ve loaded Vanilla Reload to your account, you’re going to want to get that money out. Bluebird offers several options:

American Express Bluebird Vanilla Reload Money Options

  • You can transfer the money from your account to another linked bank account. I’ve found this often takes a long time to go through, so I don’t recommend it.
  • Bill Pay – this is my favorite. Like most banks, you can scheduled payments, either electronically or having them mail checks on your behalf.
  • Write a check – you have to order the checks from Bluebird, but once you do, you can then access your funds even more readily without having to wait for bill pay to process. You will not be able to order checks until you activate your debit card. When you do, the option will show up under “My Account”
  • Ordering American Express Bluebird ChecksNote: The fee for ordering checks is temporarily waived, so you’ll want to order them as soon as you get your card.

Alternate Methods of Funding

I live in the same area as many other miles & points enthusiasts so its rare that I can find Vanilla Reloads.

Fortunately Mommy Points has written a step by step guide on another way to generate credit card spend through your Bluebird Account. You must live near a Walmart though (which I don’t)!

You purchase any gift card that has a PIN (it MUST have a PIN for this to work). You take your Bluebird Debit Card and gift card to the Walmart Money Center machine, which is usually located in the Customer Service area. You then follow these steps to load the gift cards you just purchased (up to $1000 a day) into your Bluebird account.

Since most of the gift cards with PINs have service fees of $4.95 or more this is a slightly more expensive approach, but since its rare a store will run out of ALL the gift cards, this approach reduces the uncertainty of finding Vanilla Reloads.

Possible Concerns

How comfortable you are with using Vanilla Reloads to get credit card spend is up to you A few folks have had their accounts flagged, others have done tens of thousands of dollars through multiple accounts and never had a problem.

My approach is “moderation in everything.” Its rare that I am able to find $5,000 worth of Vanilla Reloads in a given month. So usually my spend is less than that. I also make sure that I’m charging more to my card than just purchases at CVS or a gas station to reduce any possible flags.

I see Bluebird and Vanilla Reloads as a longer term strategy — a great way to hit minimum spend requirements AND a way to get points for regular expenses that won’t take credit cards like tax payments, rent, and reimbursing friends.

Because of this, I’m also careful not to pay off the credit card I used to purchase Vanilla Reloads with my Bluebird funds. Not a criticism of anyone who does, just my own personal comfort level.


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discuss this post

  • Awesome post! I went to FTU this past weekend and even in the beginner’s workshop a lot of people wanted to learn more about Vanilla Reload cards.
    Can you actually pay your credit card directly from Bluebird? I thought that was not possible?

    • Keri Anderson

      You can! If you start typing the name, they’ll display a list of options to choose from and then I just put my account number in the memo. :)

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      I do it all the time, and almost immediately when I get the card. If the credit card company is in their system, it applies within 24 hours or so. (if not, 2-3 days)

  • I believe you can transfer the funds to your regular checking account and then you can use the money however you want.

  • Minos

    The new blog with arrows and circles!!
    Too bad that, unlike some aspects of the FrequentMiler, there is not even a hint at something new or something that was experimented. Just the old horse that keeps being beaten…

      “this post is for the folks who might be new to miles and points…
      If you already know how to do it, this post is going to bore you”

      As someone who just heard about this, I found the post quite helpful.

  • Please also tell them about the scam with VRs. Also, how much risk there is in the game. etc Bloggers only paint the rosy picture.

  • Appears to be all shut down in Nevada and CA. All the CVS I visit are Cash only now.

  • Jason

    These seem to have disappeared over the last 2-3 weeks in my area of Chicago. Store managers have given a variety of explanations. Is the game over?

    Any help?

  • Reese

    These have disappeared in my area in the last month. Hoping they’ll be back, but this might be on its last legs everywhere. If so, it was great while it lasted.

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      I thought they were for me too and then I suddenly started seeing random ones at times I didn’t usually go to CVS. I think someone in my area figured out when they stock up and attack then.

  • I have been unsucessful in the last month at three close by CVSs to find any VRs. Someone posted a comment in another blog that one CVS did not care if people took the blank cards out the store and then brought them back to reload because they have no value without the reload. The poster said they saw someone take the entire stack out of the store. I don’t know if that is true.

  • I have never come across any VRs so I never had the need to open a Bluebird account but I thought there was a fee to load $ onto your bluebird acct if you do it online but if you do at walmart its free?

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      There’s a fee if you load debit money, but if you put a VR on, you have to pay the fee in the store for the VR, but loading online is free

    • Keri Anderson

      And it’s free to load a gift card with a PIN through the in-store Walmart money center (though like Jeanne said you usually have to pay a fee for the gift card upfront). Also in the comments on Mommy Point’s post, someone mentioned they have had success loading their bluebird with a gift card (fee free) in the check out line!

  • Drew B

    Luckily i live in an area with a constant supply of reloads. I easily clear 2-3k a week at my CVS. This has made minimum spends an afterthought when applying for rewards cards

  • Hi is this method still working in jan 2014? Is there any chance the credit card company, in this case citi will code this as a cash advance?

    • Keri Anderson

      I haven’t purchased any this month, but haven’t heard any reports that it’s not working. Based on my limited experience, it shows up as a purchase from that store, so the credit card company would have no way of knowing if you bought Vanilla Reload or $504.95 worth of laundry detergent :) All my purchases have shown up as a Drug Store purchase — Walgreens, CVS, etc

  • Tried to buy a Vanilla Reload Card with my credit card but all CVS stores refused to sell it. Maybe I need to buy it with credit pin code, so the card will act as a debit card… Any advise will help thanks

  • Felix Flores

    is there any reloadable prepaid card that does not need to be tied with a banking account ? please advise.For example the vanila PREPAID MONEY PACK needs to be loaded into a BLUE BIRD DEBIT ACCOUNT CARD ,WHICH YOU HAVE TO OPEN IN THE AMEX BANK. THIS IS WHAT I DO NOT WANT.

    • Keri Anderson

      A good question, unfortunately I don’t know :( For me, the appeal of Vanilla was the ability to get credit card spend by writing checks through Bluebird for purchases that don’t accept credit cards. Readers?

  • Salina

    When loading vanilla reload card can you get cash back just off that reload card, also can you shop with it??

  • 1.can i directly reload vanilla and pay bills without linking any bank account or debit cards? much is max you can pay off credit card via bluebird? (pay chase $1000+ possible?)
    3.could you pay multiple credit cards same month?
    4.which CC let you buy vanillas & pay them off?
    I don’t want to raise any flags, do it the right way. any advice? thanks

    • Keri Anderson

      Hi Mike, I’ve only used Vanilla Reload with my Bluebird account so I don’t have the widest experience, but here’s what I know:
      1. Any bills that accept prepaid gift cards as payment would probably take whatever card you loaded your vanilla onto.
      2. Bluebird has a limit of $5,000 deposits/withdrawals, so that would be the max.
      3. You can pay multiple cards a month, but I advise avoiding the one that you bought the vanilla reloads with.
      4. I’ve not had a problem any of my credit cards to buy vanilla reloads — MC, Visa, or AMEX from various banks — just differing levels of fraud precautions.

      Here are my tips for staying off the radar — don’t use vanilla reloads to pay off the credit card you used to but it. Particularly if it was an American Express (since Bluebird is owned by AMEX). As much as possible, try to use it to pay off expenses where credit cards aren’t taken — rent, mortgage, taxes, etc. Should your account come up for audit, you then have legit expenses that aren’t just $5K a month in and $5K a month in credit card payments out. Also keep in mind that you’re paying $3.95 per $500 in spend. Make sure you value the points, miles, or cashback for more than that. I personally find it most useful when I’m trying to hit a large minimum spend on a new credit card! :) Hope that helps!

  • Hi Keri,
    Thanks for the excellent advice. I’m guessing I’ll be fine with loading $4000 a month in bluebird, paying $2000 for rent & auto and remaining $2000 to pay CCs? But I’m not sure I understand when you say “don’t use vanilla reloads to pay off the credit card you used to buy it.” Say if I bought multiple vanilla reloads with chase & citi(provided I also include other expenses) how will they know which I used to pay? Am I at risk?

    • Keri Anderson

      if you’re using multiple cards to purchase in a month and not using bluebird to pay off that exact amount, I think you’ll be fine. Example: If you buy 2K with a citi card and 2K with a chase card, apply 2K towards auto and mortgage, then apply 1.5K to pay off your citi and .5K to pay off your chase, that should be fine. I don’t have facts to support this, but I think it’s when you’re paying off credit cards with close the exact amount you charged (purchasing $2015.80 and applying $2,000) that you risk popping up on the radar. Particularly with American Express. That’s based on the limited anecdotes I’ve heard.

    • Jeanne Marie Hoffman

      I’ve paid off the same credit cards that I bought the reloads with, but I didn’t spend that much and I used the credit cards for a lot more, so YMMV.

  • Thank you both for your responses. I guess following your way would carry balance, but will be safer, I was thinking about paying full balance to avoid interest. Do points post after min. Spend is met or min. Spend + paid off? I’m really new to all this..

    • Keri Anderson

      Definitely pay full balance! If you pay interest then the points probably aren’t worth enough. I recommend just buying what you can pay off — put as much as you can towards things like rent, auto, mortgage, etc that would normally be paid with a check and use the remainder to pay off the cards :)

      From my limited experience it varies by credit card when the bonus posts, but typically its when the billing cycle closes after minimum spend is met. Hope this is helpful (and welcome)!

  • Tammy

    Hi. So i would like to start vanilla reloading. I have a few questions.
    1. Can i buy the VR with a savings account, checkings or credit?

    2. Can i load the money to my bank account other than paypal or bluebird?

    3. If so can i then withdraw the money asap?

    4. How many VR cards can i buy at once? How many in a month?

    5. One last sorry. Do any of you use wells fargo for banking with a clearance of purchacing the vr cards and all transactions?

    Thanks in advance i appreciate it!

  • Tammy

    Oh and what is a minimum spending or maximum spending. Tell me all the little rules im rusty. Thanks again!


  • Tammy

    Sorry again guys lol.can this go through with a sub account also? Have any of you guys tried before? Please feel free to email me also guys if you can better tell me everything;) thank!! :)

  • Imanie

    This blog helped me so much! my bestfriend recently just gave me $180 on a Vanilla Card and none of knew how to use it but now that i do i can finally get my Iphone!!!!! Thanks so much!


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