UPDATE: CVS NO longer accepts credit cards for Vanilla Reload purchases.

So this post was originally written on May 22, 2013. However, in the comments section many of you included other cards that you thought were good to use as well. I updated the post with three things:

  1. More credit card options and the value you’d get from purchasing Vanilla Reload cards
  2. The amount of points earned including the $3.95 cost to purchase the Vanilla Reload cards (originally I just focused on the $5,000 maximum, not the points earned actually earning the card).
  3. Organized the cards based on hotel points, airline points, flexible programs, and fixed redemption programs (i.e., cash back)
Let me know if you still have questions! Also, feel free to read through the comments section to gather opinions from others!

Purchasing Vanilla Reload cards and loading them to an American Express Bluebird card has been a very hot topic in the points and miles world. This is because you can write checks (physically and online) from your American Express Bluebird account and the funds are essentially coming from a credit card purchase. Since most of you are probably well versed in this area, I will not dive deep into how it works, but for those that aren’t aware, here is a quick synopsis:  At CVS you can purchase Vanilla Reloads in $500 increments, pay with a credit card, earn your credit card points, load the funds online onto your American Express Bluebird card, and then write a check against the funds in your accounts.

Now, purchasing Vanilla Reload cards is not free nor very easy for some. In some cities, reloads are impossible to find and some stores will restrict the amount you can purchase using a credit card. Even if there is no limit that the store places on you, I do not recommend purchasing more than $1,000 in a day as you want no reason for a credit card to put a fraud alert on you or risk a financial review (with American Express specifically).

So now the question, and the real purpose of this blog post is, “What credit card to use to purchase your Vanilla Reload card?” Reload cards cost $3.95 per card, regardless if you put $1 or $500 on the card, so clearly you want to put on the the maximum. You can load up to $,000 a month of Vanilla Reloads onto your card (up to $10,000 month from multiple sources) and you can only pay $5,000 worth from your account if the merchant is not a payee already set up in the Bluebird system. For the purpose of this post, I’ll assume purchasing $5,000 a month. Remember, you can pay your rent, mortgage, credit card bills, a friend, car payments, etc. The cost to purchase $5,000 worth of Vanilla Reloads will cost you $39.50.

What will this $5,000 get you in points per credit card type (plus the $39.50 in fees you pay for the 10 $500 loaded cards):

Hotels:

  • Starwood American Express = 5,040 points
    • Extra perks = Earn SPG Gold status after spending $30,000 on the card in the calendar year
  • Marriott Visa = 5,040 points
    • Extra perks = 1 elite credit for every $3,000 spent on the card (this can help you earn the desired status)
  • Hilton American Express = 15,119 points
    • Extra perks = With both the Surpass and annual year free card earn Gold status if you spend $20,00 annually, with the Surpass card only you’ll earn Diamond status if you spend $40,000 annually
  • Citi Hilton Reserve = 15,119 points
    • Extra perks = If you spend $40k in a calendar year get diamond status + if you pend $10k  in your cardmembership year you get 1 free Hilton weekend night
  • Hyatt Visa = 5,040 points
    • Extra perks = If you spend $20k a year you get 2 stays/5 nights towards status or if you spend $40k a year on the card you get 3 stays/5 nights towards status
  • Chase Fairmont = 5,040 points
    • Extra perks = If you spend $12,000 in your cardmembership year, earn 1 free night stay
  • Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature or Business Rewards Visa = 25,198
    • Extra perks = None
Airlines:
  • American Airlines Visa/Amex/Mastercard = 5,040 miles
    • Extra perks = With the Citi Executive card (this is the $450 annual fee card) you’ll earn 10,000 EQMs after spending $40,000 in a calendar year
  • British Airways = 6,299 points
    • Extra perks = If you spend $30,000 in a calendar year you will earn a Travel Together ticket (one time use ticket where you travel for free with a companion who is on a British Airways award reservation – you still pay taxes and must be a BA operated flight only)
  • Chase United Explorer = 5,040 miles
    • Extra perks = Earn 10,000 miles when you spend $25,000 within the calendar year
  • Chase United Club = 7,559 miles
    • Extra perks = None
  • Delta Airlines = 5,040 miles
    • Extra perks = With the Delta Platinum Skymiles card earn up to 20,000 MQMs yearly (10k MQMs after you spend $25k a year and an additional 10k MQMs after you spend $50k in the same calendar year); With the Delta Reserve card earn up to 30,000 MQMs and 30,000 redeemable miles yearly (15k MQMs/15k redeemable miles after you spend $30k a year and an additional 15k MQMs/15k redeemable miles after you spend $60k in the same calendar year)
  • Southwest Airlines = 5,040 points (which equals a flat $84 towards a Wanna Getaway fare), so you are making a fixed 0.89% return
    • Extra perks = Credit card spend counts towards the Southwest companion pass – $1 = $1 point and you need 110,000 points for the companion pass; Additionally, you get 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points towards status for every $10,000 spent up 15,000 TQPs
  • US Airways = 5,040 miles
    • Extra perks = Earn 10,000 elite qualifying miles after you spend $25,000 within the calendar year
Flexible Programs:
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred = 5,392 points
    • Extra perks = None
  • Chase Ink Bold/Plus = 5,040 points
    • Extra perks = None
  • American Express Platinum = 5,040 points
    • Extra perks = None
  • American Express Premier Rewards Gold = 5,040 points
    • Extra perks = Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year
Fixed Redemption Programs:
  • Capital One Venture = 10,079 points (which equals a flat $101 towards any travel), so you are making a fixed 1.2% return
    • Extra perks = None
  • US Bank Cash Plus = 10,079 points (which equals $101 cash back), so you are making a fixed 1.2% return (this is assuming you select Drug Stores as your 2% cash back category)
    • Extra perks = None
  • Barclaycard Arrival = 10,079 miles (which equals $101, but if redeeming for travel get 10% miles back, so really equals $111), so you are making a fixed 1.4% return
    • Extra perks = None
  • Chase Freedom = 5,040 points (which equals $50 cash back), so you are making a fixed .21% return; however, if drug stores are part of the rotating category again (like they had in Q1 of 2013), you will earn 7,500 on your first $1,500 of Vanilla Reloads
    • Extra perks = None (although you can transfer to a better Ultimate Rewards account if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Bold/Plus)
So which card is best?
This really depends on the person and what they are looking for. For the past few months, my husband and I have personally been purchasing Vanilla Reloads to meet our minimum spend requirements on new credit cards we applied for. In this scenario, we didn’t care which card earned up the biggest bang for our buck, we had different priorities.
You then need to consider if you are more interested in maximize your miles or the perks of spending $X in a year. For example, using your Southwest credit card clearly will not get you the most point value, however, if you are looking to earn that companion pass, this additional spend could be a great way to get their and outweigh the points earned on a different card where you might get a better value. Another example is getting a free Hilton weekend night just by spending $10,000 on your reserve card. While Hilton has really devalued their points recently and I’d prefer earning a third of the points in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, a free night certificate could be well worth it. If you are slightly shy of your desired airline status, you can spend the required amount to earn those miles towards status. If you are into staying at Club Carlson properties, then this card should also not be overlooked. Just after two months of putting on the maximum amount, you have enough points for a free night at any of their top hotels. Combine that with the free night just by having the card and you are looking at two free nights for just $80!
If the perks are not part of your decision making factor and you are interested in earning airline miles, hotel points, or points in a flexible program where you can redeem at hotels/airlines, I’d personally suggest using the Starwood American Express, Chase Sapphire Preferred, or British Airways. Or, if you received any special offers such as double American Airline miles on all purchases, etc. If you are looking for a no frills program with a fixed redemption or cash back, then I’d suggest the Barclaycard Arrival – although it is only slightly better than the other ones listed and the annual fee is much more expensive.
The chart above can also be used in any application, not just Vanilla Reload spend, but for anyone who has high credit card spend for whatever reason. Although keep in mind that they do not take into consideration bonus spend, for example, many cards give double points at hotels, travel, dining, etc.
If you want to learn more about this specifics of many of the cards listed above, along with the sign up bonus and other perks, take a look at the Promotions and Credit Card page. Let me know if you have any questions!
Which card do you use to purchase Vanilla Reloads?

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

  • Maury said,

    For the free night on the Hilton Reserve after spending $10k, can you stay in any Hilton around the world? Or is it up to a certain category?

  • dealswelike said,

    @Maury – The weekend night certificate is valid at any property in the Hilton HHonors portfolio, except those listed on this list

  • patrick said,

    As a point of clarification…
    You can only load $5,000 on your BB card using the VR’s (unless the rules have changed recently)

  • Huck said,

    Why no mention of the Club Carlson card. That 5K gets you 25K club carlson points.

  • dealswelike said,

    @Huck – Good card to add, thanks. I’ll include that card as well.

  • andreas said,

    nicely compiled info. I don’t put it all on one card as I find that too risky. I slowly inch my way towards redemption thresholds and use that as my guide rather than rebate %. 50k miles are no good, but 100k can get me something nice.

  • dealswelike said,

    @patrick – sorry for not being clear, I updated the post.

  • Huck said,

    The Marriott route is terrible. Cat 6 at 30K costs you $237 in BB fees and likely 5 trips to CVS.

  • Points Surfer said,

    Just wondering, do these annual spend requirements for the extra parks work on the calendar year, or does the new year start on your cardemembership anniversary for this purpose?

  • alan said,

    One minor nitpick: You get points for the load fees, too. So for example, with the Starwood card you would get 5039 or 5040 points, depending on how they round…

    Amazon Visa: 2x points at drugstores. 10,079 points for $39.50. They have a redemption option at 25k points for domestic ticket up to $400. There are restrictions (have to book 21 days out, have a Saturday overnight, all be on same airline) but it essentially works out to $98 for any domestic roundtrip up to $400. Not too bad a deal, plus you earn miles on those flights. If a ticket costs more than $400, you can pay the difference.

    My problem with them is I feel like I’m wasting my points if I don’t find a ticket near $400, and lately that’s been pretty hard for me when booking out more three weeks.

  • Huck said,

    Also, since the prepaids now have pins, and you can load at walmart, why go for bluebird at all unless you are getting a category bonus? Why not buy gift cards from chase instead?

  • dealswelike said,

    @Huck – I agree. I’d never advise using the Marriott card for the points. And to earn status is challenging unless you are only a few nights shy.

  • dealswelike said,

    @Points Surfer – I tried including when they needed to be earned in the calendar year vs. the card membership year (one year from applying). Let me know if you have any specifics and I can tell you.

  • dealswelike said,

    @alan – Good point. I’ll update later with including the $3.95 fee per card.

    I’ll include the Amazon Visa card as well.

  • Jer said,

    Agreed with you on using to meet min spends first and foremost. After that I find myself prioritizing BA (for companion and to get final 25K from signup), Carlson for good earn rate and redemption, and UR cards. I think I’ll need to seriously consider the UA Explorer card now as getting an extra 10K miles isn’t too shabby. But that’ll take least priority. It makes $5000 of spend (assuming you stop at $25000) get 7000 miles vs only 5350 on CSP.

    Up until a few days ago when my Hilton 6x stopped that was my focus. Wish I had done that harder though as I only netted about 19K in spending on the card in total since I got it in early 2013. I’ll get to $20K for gold though.

  • KenVa said,

    I think your calculation for Soutwest is wrong 83.33 for 5000 spend = 1.67% return. A decent value.

  • Points Surfer said,

    @dealswelike

    Ah got it. Sorry I missed it. This is an incredibly useful list! Thank you for posting it!

  • Joey said,

    I normally mix my cards and normally get a reload between $450-$500 to avoid suspicion. I use bluebird to pay off my rent ($2500/month) so I go to the CVS 5-6 times.
    I feel it’s really easy to become ‘obsessive’ about these reloads to the point where banks may shut down your acct due to abuse hence why I only use this to pay rent and am fine with it. BTW, the miles professor just put a post about a citi 5x card. http://themilesprofessor.com/2013/05/21/citi-thankyou-drugstore-5-offer/

  • James said,

    May want to note that although you can load up to $10k/month to Bluebird, the limit is $5k/month for Cash Packs (VRs).

    Personally I use mine to hit min spends and am working on the UA $25k 10k mile Bonus… I don’t just buy the points though – I think that would raise some flags.

  • dealswelike said,

    @KenVa – I was taking into consideration the cost of purchasing the $5k worth of reloads. I will go back to the post and recalculate though.

  • The Miles Professor said,

    @Joey: Thanks for the mention!

    @Deals: Your SW calculation is correct, though it’s actually closer to 0.88% if you round ;) @KenVa – You can mentally check this actually makes sense as you lose just under 0.8% on the VR so subtract that from 1.67 cents each point is worth.

  • Jane S. said,

    I really like your list. Could you do something like this for buying gift cards that can be loaded at WM onto your BB. Some places would be grocery stores, office supply stores, etc. This information is so helpful.

  • TheDapperDon said,

    I’ve been reading your blog for a little while now. I like this blog and apppreciate your posts.

    Having said that, this post probably isn’t necessary for any of your readers that follow this product. We all know to do the math to get the most cash back when purchasing VRs. Posting about deals that haven’t been changed or updated contributes to them getting killed.

    I’m posting this as a fan of your blog and with all due respect. There isn’t any information here that anyone but the most novice of point chasers wouldn’t already be privy to.

  • JettyBoy said,

    Deals, can you please drop any hints about where to pick up VRs in NYC?

  • dealswelike said,

    @JettyBoy – I wish I knew myself! I leave the city enough and am able to pick them up in the suburbs.

  • Andy O. said,

    Don’t forget the Chase Fairmont card. Spend $12,000 in a year to get a free night certificate. COuld be worth several hundred dollars in redemption.

  • JR said,

    No love for US Bank Cash+??

  • Kadence said,

    @ Dapper – yes but this puts it all in one place.
    @ Huck – aren’t VR fees less than a Visa card?

    Thank you Mrs. Deals for posting this. I don’t buy them anymore since the Amex card stopped being 6x.

  • dealswelike said,

    @JR – ill add it!

  • Kiddad said,

    Great topic. I have three citi advantage cards up for renewal, and got an offer of double miles for 16 months with each card (monthly limit). So I am buying VRs to get AA miles for about .40 cents apiece (up to 5000 per month). I’m feeling pretty smart . . . Am I.

  • Budda said,

    I believe chase gives an annual 7% bonus on the sapphire card as well, which some may want to factor.

    Also, if you transfer spg in increments of 20k you’ll receive a 5k bonus.

  • romsdeals said,

    You missed the barclaycard arrival card, I think its the best for Vanilla reload, earning 1,008 points for $3.95. You would pay 0.39 cents per point, which can be used for 1.1 cents of travel cash. 70% off all travel.

  • dealswelike said,

    @romsdeals – This is similar to the CapitalOne Venture value, except you get 2.2% redemption instead of 2.0% redemption. Although the Barclay Card has close to twice the annual fee. If you are looking for a fixed value then the points earned are slightly better by CapitalOne. However, if you are able to get more than 2.2% redemption from British Airways, Chase UR, or Starwood points that not the best card to use for purchase. Although, I recognize with these redemptions you do not earn points while burning points and with the CapitalOne card and the Barclay Card you do earn points when redeeming – assuming you are redeeming at a place you can earn points.

  • dealswelike said,

    @Budda – That is correct. That was included in the earning rate for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

  • dealswelike said,

    @Kiddad – I agree this is great assuming you have a need for AA points!

  • dealswelike said,

    @Kadence – I agree that Hilton decreased the amount of points you can earn at drug stores really put a burden on this. Also, the fact that their award chart is now horrible doesn’t help.

  • Ted F said,

    Thank you for not blasting the page with links!

  • robert smith said,

    bought chase gift cards for free from chase directly.tried to load onto bluebird but was refused.Noticed on back of gift card next to service number that it says NON RELOADABLE. It was a chase visa debit card. Are there visa debit cards directly from chase with no fee that Are reloadable onto bluebird?

  • dealswelike said,

    @robert – unfortunately there are no cards that are reloadable onto blubird that are free.

  • Grado said,

    Which is better? Buy VRs from CVS using CSP (1 pt. per $1) or buy vanilla visas at OD (4.95 each) with Ink, then use those to buy VR’s (3.95 each, total cost 14.85 for 2500 pts vs $7.90 for 1000. I know this is simple math but I am math challenged! Appreciate help :)

  • dealswelike said,

    @Grado – So here is the math if you purchase visa, mastercard, amex prepaid cards etc at OD or Staples, but the issue is that you are typically limited to purchasing in $200 increments for $4.95 and not all CVSs will take a prepaid card.

    But let’s assume you purchase a $200 prepaid card for $4.95 each and your CVS allows you to use those to purchase vanilla reloads. You will need to purchase 25 prepaid cards for a total cost of $123.75 – this will give you $5,000. The $5,000 worth of vanilla reloads will cost you $39.50. So now you are paying a total of $163.25. However, you will be earning 5x points on your Ink card, so that will give you 25,619 points. For an extra $123.75 in spend you’ll be earning about 20,000 extra Ultimate Reward points – which is clearly much better.

    The reason why not everyone does that are for the reasons I mentioned above, in addition to the fact that is much more time consuming as well. But if you can make it work, then definitely a better scenario! Also remember that you are capped at $50,000 spend a year for the 5x points at OD or Staples (or any business spend) so you’ll only get 10 months out of this.

  • Elena said,

    Great compilation. Puts all the cards into perspective :)

  • tjh8402 said,

    do your chase freedom numbers include the 10% points dividend plus 10 pt per swipe bonuses?

  • Tom9984 said,

    I use the United Club card for VRs.

    With a 1x card x $5,000 VRs/month x 12 months = 60,000 points a year

    With United Club Card’s 1.5x rate, you get 90,000 miles a year.

    Only downside is you get strictly miles, and not UR points which can be transferred to other programs. I fly a lot, so the UCC is best for me since.

  • Randall said,

    @Grado – Why would you buy VR’s with your Vanilla Gift Card? You can just use a money order to cash them out or go to a Wal-Mart and load your BB. This way it costs about $60 for every 10,000 UR points you manufacture. (10 Vanilla Visas @ $200/each X $5.95 fee per card). That’s a great deal. So…a 100,000 mile int’l award flight costs you about $600. Or, a less compelling value: a 25K mile domestic trip costs $150.

    I buy the VR’s at CVS with the Club Carlson card. After that card is maxed out, I switch to the BA card because of the 1.25 points per dollar spent.

  • Saif said,

    For the Chase Freedom Card did you also take into consideration the new 10% divided on all purchases through the Chase exclusives program? I think that is pivotal information because it would make it outright the most lucrative card to use over the Chase Sapphire preferred.

  • Frequent churner said,

    For the next 11 months its all on citi than you preferred!

  • Rafi said,

    Besides, the extra spending benefits, is it worth purchasing $25,000 worth of VR over 5 months to earn a free domestic coach ticket, but will cost $197.50 in fees? so it would be $0.0079 cents a mile. Is that a good value?
    Is there possibility in being flagged?

  • jason said,

    Use citi TYP cards and ALL your cards will be shutdown and points (TYP) confiscated. Use AMEX at CVS and a FR will come your way.

  • Randall said,

    @Rafi That’s not a good value at all. Add in all the gas/time you spent going back and forth and it’s probably a money loser.

  • dealswelike said,

    @rafi – if you are able to use it on a $400 domestic ticket or something than great. If less you might find its not worth it.

  • MrWho said,

    “$200 increments for $4.95 and not all CVSs will take a prepaid card.”

    Really? You apparently don’t churn @ office stores…but giving an advice for things you don’t know? No, it’s not $4.95.

    So, how much do you purchase exactly for your min spend req on your and your wife’s cards? What you do is secret, isn’t it?

  • Jane S. said,

    Currently, which are the top 2 or 3 cards to buy VR’s at CVS?

  • dealswelike said,

    @MrWho – yup, they are typically $6.95. Thanks for pointing out this typo. And unfortunately not all CVS’s take prepaid cards, some require a picture ID to match the card being used.

    For the minimum spend requirement, it all depends on which card I’ve applied for, when, and what other expenses I have going on. No secret.

  • rxgeek said,

    I have not had a problem loading the no fee Chase Visa gift cards onto BB at Wal-Mart. I have done it on the Moneycenter machine and at the service desk in stores where there is no machine. Follow the instructions on Million Mile Secrets.

  • Thalha said,

    Whats the fixed value of jetblue points via the jetblue amex card?

  • Grado said,

    Thanks for replying Randall. Our $200 visa at Ofc stores are actually $6.95′which makes my plan worse. I’ve not tried the money order route so ill do that. The line at Walmart is always very long and both WMs don’t intend to fix their ATMs. Sigh. Would it make sense to just use the $200 visas for regular spend? Assuming $1000 per month (conservative) that’s 5,000 points (with ink) for $34.75…00695 pp. so, 60,000 points for $417. It’s .0079 pp if I buy $1k of vrs at cvs getting 1 pt per $. I do use BB though because of bill pay. Thoughts?

  • Grado said,

    …and deals we like :)

  • dealswelike said,

    @gradi – you can do a combo of both gift card purchases (for every day spend) and VR do bill pay. Of course the gift card is a better return on your money, although with some purchases I like using my Amex credit card for the benefits.

  • silver springer said,

    Not sure if I missed it in the comments, but for those who have the Citi Thank You Preferred with 12 months of earning 5points per dollar at pharmacies, drug stores and other categories, this is a good choice if you want to redeem the points for travel for which you can earn FF miles.

  • bill said,

    Using the Marriott card for elite nights per $3000 spend is basically a mattress run for $24. But a normal mattress run is often a better deal due to the bonuses/discounts periodically available.

  • Hoang said,

    I am not sure I understand it completely. Here is what I plan to do:
    Get SW credit card and open AMEX blue bird. Buy $1000 worth of Vanilla reload using SW. Then payoff SW by using AMEX blue bird account. In two months, I will make it easy and cost only 2 x $3.95 = $7.80

    Am I doing right?

    Thanks

  • dealswelike said,

    @Hoang – Yup!

  • Hoang said,

    thanks

  • Hoang said,

    I went to CVS today and saw many different unload cards and I am not sure which one should I buy.

    This method works for a lot of cards. For example, I can buy 20 x $500 = $10000 (not one time may be few months) with Club Carlson Visa and earn 50K points good for 2 nights in Paris and cost less than $80!!!

  • Pritesh Shah said,

    Which vanilla reload card is eligible for loading to blue bird?

  • askmrlee said,

    When I last loaded a Chase gift card at WM, the ATM machine locked up and said that this required personal assistance. Of course, no one ever came to the ATM. However I had no problem loading at the register with a cashier.

    However, no more Chase gift cards available. Too many people spoiled the deal imo.

    Only the Vanilla Reload (which is white and does not have an actual card attached) is the best one for reloading onto a bluebird.

  • Fernando said,

    Can a Citicard be used to purchase vanilla reloads? Will it count for minimum spend? I’ve heard Citi is tricky and sometimes counts them as cash advances which do not get applied towards minimum spend.

  • dealswelike said,

    @Fernando – Yes Citicards can be used to purchase VRs with no cash advance charges.

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