Thinking of Trying Vanilla Reloads?
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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!
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:
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).
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:
- 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”
- Note: 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.
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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