My Vanilla Reload / Amex Bluebird Strategy

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A new year, a new strategy with my Vanilla Reload purchases. I typically like to purchase a total of $5,000 in Vanilla Reloads a month. This covers my rent, electricity, and some other odds and ends – I pay this off by loading it onto my American Express Bluebird card and then unload the money by writing checks from the account (that are currently free!)  Although Vanilla Reloads are difficult to find in NYC, I am somehow able to purchase the 10 I need each month and load each of them with the maximum amount of $500. While this costs me an additional $39.50 I get much greater value out of the points/miles earned! I also have a strategy to which credit card I am using at any given time.

Quick synopsis for those of you new to the Vanilla Reload/Bluebird game: 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.

How I will be maximizing my Vanilla Reload purchases and the credit cards I will be using. I’ve outlined my strategy pretty much for the entire 2014 calendar year. For the most part there are very specific reasons for which credit card I’ll use.

  • January: Southwest Airlines credit card. I purchased $10,000 to get my Southwest Airlines companion pass which I wrote more about a few weeks ago (my strategy for getting the Southwest Airlines companion pass)
  • February: AAdvantage World Elite Mastercard. I just applied for this card (related blog postand need to spend $10,000 on the card within the first three months. I will be able to do this easily with VR purchases throughout February and March.
  • March: AAdvantage World Elite Mastercard. Will need to continue meeting my minimum spend requirements.
  • April: InterContinental Hotels Group credit card + Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard. I am planning on applying for both the IHG and Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard in the beginning part of the year. I will also have Mr. Deals apply for the IHG card as well. The IHG card has a minimum spend requirement of $2,000 (related blog post) and the Barclarycard Arrival World Mastercard (related blog post) has a $1,000 minimum spend requirement. In just the month of April I’ll be able to meet the minimum spend requirement on three card just by purchasing Vanilla Reload cards!
  • May: Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard. I currently have a ton of points and miles, so wouldn’t mind some cash to use on other travel related purchases where points and miles are not available or not worth it. $5,000 on this card equates to $111 which easily makes up for the $39.50 spent. 
  • June:  Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard. Again, I am still trying to increase my point balance on this card. I like to be able to use these types of points on car rentals.
  • July: Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard. For the third month in a row which will give me a total of $333 where I only spent $118.50 to earn this. The difference will pretty much cover the cost of a week long car rental (which we typically need during our Florida vacations).
  • August: Citi Hilton Reserve credit card. This Summer I will be applying for this card as I want to get the two free weekend nights (the current welcome bonus) as I will be planning a trip to Europe next Summer (I know, thinking far in advance, but it will be our 5 year anniversary!). The minimum spend requirement on this card is $2,500. But, with this card if you spend $10,000 in your cardmembership year you get an additional free weekend Hilton night to use.
  • September: Citi Hilton Reserve credit card. To continue to earn the free Hilton night.
  • October: Starwood credit card, Chase Ultimate Rewards card, or Barclaycard Arrival Mastercard. Whenever I do not have a specific card to use, I always use my SPG or Chase Ultimate Rewards earning credit card. Now that I will have the Barclaycard Arrival Mastercard I will add that to the mix. As of right now I am not sure what points I will need. Typically, SPG is my go to as I always can use these points either at Starwood hotels or transfer them to airline miles, giving me more flexibility. I never get less than 2 cents per mile when redeeming so it is better than the Barclaycard Arrival, but sometimes I prefer the hard cash right back in my pocket.
  • November: Probably will be saved to meeting the minimum spend on a credit card TBD!
  • December: Saving it for meeting minimum spend. If not, will have to see where I am low on points!

I am actually pretty impressed myself that I just planned for the entire year. Of course, some of this might get shifted based on an awesome credit card welcome offers (which I can only hope for!)

This posts details out “Which credit card to use for Vanilla Reload purchases,” and highlights the perks you get when meeting a certain spend threshold on the card. With spending X amount you can earn hotel status, qualifying miles towards airline status, free nights, companion tickets, etc.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. I just did my first Vanilla reload yesterday and today! Purchased at CVS using a Citi HHonors Signature Visa for 3x Points. I still get value out of Hilton, but really was just testing. Will probably use the AA World Elite for the next few months when it arrives. It would be nice if it had some relevant spending categories.

    I planned on just paying my CC bill from Bluebird as I read you could do with GreenDots/Rushcards combos, but maybe I will have to pay my rent. Does Vanilla/Bluebird not work in the same way?

  2. Where in NYC, specifically Manhattan, have you been able to find a CVS with them? I’ve been striking out for months but granted have ventured too far away from where I live to do so.

    On a side note — is there anything at Duane Reade that can help hit min spends?

  3. Forgive my ignorance as I am relatively new to your blog but I have a couple questions. If you have already addressed these please feel free to point me to the relevant post and I would really appreciate it. You have talked so much about these reloads lately that I am very intrigued.

    1. How does applying for all of these credit cards impact your credit score? i would think it would affect greatly based on my understanding which would impact your ability to then get more cards? As for annual fees, do you keep all of these cards open? or close them once you get the signup deal? How many CCs do you have open at a given time?

    2. What is to stop you from buying the reloads with a CC, then turning around and writing a check against those exact same funds to pay off the CC you used to purchase them? I seem to see all the notes saying it is used for rent etc. Does this not work or have some other kind of negative impact?

    • @Kelly – No problem!

      1. In regards to credit score, I’ll put together a post for this week. Credit is based on a number of factors.

      2. You can write a check to any of the banks to pay off your credit card bill.

  4. Even better when you have a spouse in the house, 2 separate Bluebird accounts. Currently using one to do $5000 a month on Delta Platinum card buying vanilla reloads and loading the other with $5000 a month for household bill pay using a Delta Skymiles Suntrust Checkcard at Walmart.

  5. Where in NYC, specifically Manhattan, have you found any luck with CVS having vanilla reloads? I’ve been striking out.

    Also, any Duane Reade strategies for meeting minimum spend?

    • @Mike – I live uptown and walk into my few local CVS’s on almost a daily basis. While I typically strike out, I am lucky here and there. I have best luck when I am in the suburbs. Between NYC and the burbs I am able to purchase $5k/month.

  6. Where are you purchasing these VRs? I am in DC/Baltimore area and no one is taking Credit Cards for VR purchases. CVS, 7-11, Walgreens… no one.

    • @Juno, I am in NYC and while I strike out most of the time, I am lucky a handful of times. I also do walk into a few different CVS’s almost every day. I typically do best when in the suburbs.

      I haven’t had luck at Walgreens, 7-11, or Duane Reade

  7. Jeez, are all the Boarding Area bloggers based in NYC… no wonder CVS is almost always sold out when I’m looking. Can’t some of you guys move to jersey or something… :-p

  8. Just a heads up, don’t use Barclaycard with Budget car rental. Budget isn’t coded as a ‘travel’ merchant, so you won’t get to use the points to credit the car rental. Not sure about the others… I know Barclay works with Airbnb, IHG and Southwest purchases.

  9. @dealswelike I guess I have to develop a thicker skin… It’s a bit embarrassing when you get rejected at the counter… “No credit! Cash only” uggh!

  10. Hmm… aside from doing it to meet spending requirements, it seems like a huge amount of work – ex. in May you made $71.50 or just $2.38/day = a cup of coffee? And that doesn’t factor in all of the time spent and risk of being shut down.

    • @Cogswell – I personally do not find it to be much work at all. I have it pretty down packed. I walk by two CVS’s almost every day so for me it is so easy to quickly pop in. It also gives me something to do on my long walks with a stroller! I’ve been doing this for quite some time and see no reason of being shut down.

  11. #16, rpsandiego…thanks for the heads up on Barclay card and budget. I have a budget reserved in about two weeks and would’ve probably tried to wipe it out with Barclay. Blessings to you! I’ll prolly use UMP for the insurance benefit.

  12. i just tried to purchase the Vanila Reload (as of Feb. 2014,) but the register said “cash only”. I called the Vanila Reload customer service number; it explicitly says “…apply fund to your card with cash…” Any idea?

  13. Re:# 24. Tread softly when dealing with Wells Fargo. I didn’t listen to all the bad reports I heard about them. Then they actually stole $280 from me via their ATM with no resolution! They are crooks and I paid a price for not listening to other peoples experiences.

  14. I tried to purchase Visa Vanilla cards on credit and I was told by a CVS cashier that store policy doesn’t allow visa gift cards to be purchase on credit.

  15. As of 4/1/14 you can no longer use a credit card to purchase My Vanilla Reload cards at CVS – was a great plan – but foiled!!

    If anyone finds another venue to purchase My vanilla reload cards on a credit card – definitely post here!!

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