Vanilla Reload Cards, I Hate You

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Another blog post from Mr. Deals…

Why is it that every time I try to buy one of these Vanilla Reload cards I run into some sort of issue? How did these things get so damn popular? Oh right, blogs…

Seriously though, I’m going to rant for a second here. The first time I went to buy them, I was hesitant. Anytime Mrs. Deals puts a task no my shoulders that involves buying something with a specific credit card for the purposes of who knows what, I am hesitant. Somehow she convinced me to buy into this whole Vanilla Reload thing so I went along with it thinking it would be a breeze. I mean I was honored that she chose me because I was the proud owner of the credit card that earned 6 points per dollar. Little did I know what a pain in the butt it was going to be.

CVS seems to be the spot where these precious little cards are sometimes in stock. The first time I went to buy, all was ok. I just needed to do a couple different purchases at the register, no biggie. We needed a refresh a few weeks later and I went to the local Walgreens by my office since they had a few in stock (a rarity) and was told that I could only buy one and I had to pay cash. Who pays cash? Forget that. Moving on, I tried to find some more of these things at my local CVS. No luck. Mrs. Deals learned that there was a specific day of the week where they came in and so she scouted out the situation. Turns out if you don’t go that day, you have to wait till the next week to find them, if they even come in. These things sell like hotcakes!

As time has gone on it’s gotten increasingly difficult to find them and when purchasing them, you get more and more scrutiny from the person behind the register. CVS seems to be the only ones with them, sometimes, and the only place that allows you to buy them with a credit card, without much hassle. It still can take manager approval to actually get the purchase completed.

Why did I sign up for this? I’m adding Mrs. Deals as a second card holder to this account ASAP!

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  1. Indeed – Walgreens here in Colorado was the only place after Office Depot shut it down, and now they only take cash. I bet they don’t run out of VR cards any more 😉

  2. First, I have never bought reload cards since I am a lazy points collector so it is not a big concern for me. Anyhow, I have a few contacts who do legal work for Office Depot and they confirmed to me that the biggest problem with these cards is not bloggers buying too many of them. Although it is an issue they are aware of, the much bigger issue is fraud. Various stores got hit by con artists that cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in only a few days. Chase pays for the points at office supply store but if office depot activates a prepaid card or reload card and then the CC it was bought with was reported stolen, they eat the whole cost of the card.

  3. I agree with the extra work required to get miles/points from this deal. However, I find that there are plenty of VR cards in NYC if you know where to look, especially in the outer boroughs. I even found a CVS with 2 separate racks of gift cards, one up front and another one in the back. No VRs up front but a thick stack in the back! It pays to look around sometimes. I also never had trouble paying with credit cards at CVS.

    I was also in San Diego for a few days last week and found several CVSs stocked plenty with VRs. The only trouble I had was fraud alerts since I was 2500 miles from home, which required calls to the credit card companies. One lesson learned was that it would be good to call the credit card companies in advance to let them know of future travel plans in order to avoid such hassle.

  4. @Dan:

    Interesting. I noticed at Walgreens that *sometimes* the cashier would ask for ID, but usually not. I always had it out and said “here – check my ID so you can confirm it’s my credit card.” – they always looked at me like I was from another planet.

    So the problem is *not* the con artists as much as it is the clerks that don’t check ID for credit card customers.

  5. I don’t know if it changed, but in the past the CC agreements with vendors stated they could NOT refuse a charge because of refusal to show ID (as long as the CC was signed).

    Per past terms: “If a customer presents a valid, signed card, you must accept it. You are prohibited (as per your store’s agreement with the card processor and Mastercard) from requiring further ID as a condition of purchase. It’s not wrong to ASK for the ID, but it’s against your merchant agreement to require it.

  6. @Carl: Well, that’s interesting. In which case the store shouldn’t be responsible for fraud. I wonder who has a credit card but doesn’t have ID?

  7. A few things have stopped me from using this strategy for earning points:

    1) I worry if it really is legal to transfer the money to a trusted friend/relative who then pays me back. I have not investigated the terms and conditions or state/federal laws and may be totally off base but it is a concern.
    2) The effort involved.
    3) The possibility of AMEX putting a hold or otherwise investigating my new account.

    I did take advantage of the recent offer to buy 2 MC gift cards at Office Max for less than the face value, buying 4 cards in 2 transactions. But had I not been coincidentally passing an Office Max that day, I probably wouldn’t have. Still, every time I see a post about Vanilla cards, I wonder if I should get on the band wagon.

  8. I purchased a $500 Visa Gift Card at Office Depot, and they activated it, but it never got funded. I have been back and forth with Office Depot and calling the number on the back of the gift card and no one takes resposibility and after a month, they still won’t fund it. What a nightmare!

  9. Confirmed as well, OD activated the cards, receives payment, them when the customer left they would cancel payment. Office Depot paid couldn’t reverse transaction once the customer left the store. Get burned a few times and corporate will cancel that fast. Once a con artist figures out how to get cash from a stolen credit card, the stores shut it down fast. I sense were getting close to the closure of the CVS loophole. Once Frequent miler pushed the initial will his million mile challenge it will probably be done. All good things come to a close, and I suspect it will happen soon.

  10. Geez, the angst over VR’s.
    Buy with cc, load onto BlueBird, pay real bills.
    Rinse, repeat. Everyone wins:
    VR gets their $3.95 fee, cc company gets their swipe and %, Bluebird gets some float, payees get paid, and we get our cherished points/min spend.
    Seems pretty easy and all very legal.
    Am I missing something?

  11. @Geoff, the only problem with your strategy is nearly all my bills are paid automatically, usually on the best cc in terms of points earned, already. The few that remain are autopay from my checking account. I suppose I could pay those via Bluebird but not sure it is worth the hassle to re-arrange. But as I said, I am always re-evaluating!

  12. Rob – I think the “no ID required” aspect was always meant to be for maximum convenience of the consumer.
    Maximum convenience equals maximum use.

    The merchant is NOT responsible as long as they have followed all rules and regulations of acceptance.

  13. Carl: I’m curious then why OD would care about CC fraud then, if they were not responsible?

    Not that it matters – the world is constantly evolving and soon enough there’ll be some other interesting way to earn points.

  14. @Elaine. Many of my bills were too. The kind of stuff that simply will not accept a card(mortgages, utilities etc…). the rest of mine were either already hooked into a card or auto-debit from checking.
    I unwound only the largest ones, think mortgages and utilites, auto and life insurance, a few others.
    Now I simply pay from Bluebird. Is it a change/hassle?
    Yeah, a bit. But adding roughly 40-50,000 points per year with no additional spending is huge in this points “game”.
    A family of 4 eats up a ton of points, even off peak and/or “saver” levels.

  15. rob – I guess it’s still a PITA to OD while they prove they checked signature adequately and followed other rules. It probably at least starts as a chargeback to the merchant.

    Maybe Dan (with contacts at OD) could clarify.

  16. DO NOT go crazy and try to buy 5k worth of Vanilla. You’ll end up having to get the manager involved, CVS loss prevention involved, your credit card fraud involved and plus give CVS another reason to end allowing purchase of the gift cards with CC’s.

    So like alcohol, it’s best if taken in moderation.

    Here. Use this general rule. This allows you to keep buying vanilla, keep some for someone else and help insure there’s some left next time you come back.

    NEVER buy more than 2 cards ($500 ea.) on any visit to the same CVS per day.

    Been doing this for months in NYC and I have not had any issues other than the clerk as she timidly reads out the cost of your purchase. =)

  17. My whininess is about bluebird but not vanilla reload. I have been paying bills (rent, utilities car payment etc) with blue bord and everything was fine. Recently I made a payment to my cousin for 2000$ and the check went missing. After so many calls blue bord agreed to file a dispute. Dispute meant nothing to me so far since I haven’t heard anything from them yet. I am worried what is going to happen to my money since no trace is found yet.

  18. @ Geoff, yes, that’s exactly how I would do it. I may do a little experimenting. I think I like the Bluebird strategy better than the Paypal one. We have downsized some (house in the burbs > townhouse, two cars > one, etc.) now that our kids are grown, so it would be worth fewer points, but it may still be worth a little more effort anyway.

    I only started trying to accumulate points seriously in late November and after lots of conscientious reading, I am noticing that I learn less and less from the various blogs. Maybe it is time to up my game and devote less time to reading the blogs and more to implementation!

  19. @David. Precisely. Moderation! Never more than 2 VRs at once, spread over many credit cards, DO NOT write checks to yourself.
    @PhatMiles. I too had a check go missing. BB general customer service is brutally bad(Phillipines based, I think. They try, but…)
    I finally found BB’s fraud dep’t(a US based agent) and voila, fixed. But BB is indeed a small leap of faith due to potential recourse issues.
    @Elaine. Reading everything to start should be mandatory for anyone wanting to start this “hobby”/obsession.
    Then move on to accumulation.
    Have a goal, be smart(never, ever carry a balance), do in moderation and everyone wins(you, card companies, banks, BlueBird, Vanilla, vendors, airlines, hotels, etc…).

  20. Geoff, re: checks to yourself, what do you believe is the actual danger? I have always been curious as to why this strategy is rarely discussed.

  21. VRs are a PITA. Some CVS have them, most don’t. Some take CC, some don’t. You get the stinkeye from minimum wage employees who see you buying $500!!! and putting it on a card – you’re obviously a thief or a con artist. Managers get involved and telephone calls are made in hush hush tones. Then they want your ID “out of your wallet” and your CC to make sure “raised letters”. Some write down your name and DL number. You feel dirty after buying a VR sometimes – just from the odor of suspicion that permeates the air…

    Thankfully, there are other methods that are far less labor intensive and don’t involve minimum wage people. I’ve moved to them and VRs are only a minor sideline. Can still get 25K a month w/out any of the VR hassle.

  22. @Ron: Perhaps you look sleazy? Or treat the CVS employees like “minimum wage people” who are somehow lesser than you because of the job they do?

    The only issue I have ever had is that Walgreens stopped selling them to people paying with credit cards. Never a second of hesitation to let me buy them with CC when the cash register would allow it. I’ve never had anyone treat me as being suspicious, but then again I always chat with them and try to make it a pleasant experience for them to help me.

  23. agreed with all Geoff’s points. 2 mortgage payments a month make VR/BB route totally worth it. used to pay $50 at chargesmart, now only $16.

    not problem at CVS, easy in & out, always get a little something extra so no $503.95 showing. tried to spread out across stores.

    Walgreens – recently 2 backs out of accepting CC. currently WG is dead where I live.

  24. Another unhappy NYer here. I haven’t found them at any CVS stores in the city (guess I’m not hitting the right ones), but I did find one in NJ and had no problem before Christmas buying 2x$500 for my Southwest business & personal spends. However, when I tried to buy them again in January, the clerk looked at my NY drivers license and said “You have to have in-state ID”. I told her I had just done this two weeks before but she wouldn’t budge. Manager was standing right there and confirmed their policy. Guess I’ll have to find another way to top off my companion pass earning miles in the next week, before my Feb cycle closes.

  25. I use mine overseas for ATM withdrawls. Because sometimes things just look a bit “informal” or the country I’m visiting has a history of fraud or pickpocketing. Who wants to put their main ATM card into an unknown machine?

    The PayPal loading card appears more commonly at CVS. Not the one which goes to a “PayPal reloadable card” but one that just loads directly to a PayPal account. If you have PayPal linked to a bank account which your prepaid Amex is also on, you can transfer money in that manner.

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