My Miniature Experiments with Bluebird, Vanilla, etc.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a few unique opportunities that Bluebird presents, and for a long while it was one of my most-read articles. Like most people, I’ve been trying a couple of different things when it comes to loading my Bluebird card using the Vanilla Reload packs and working with other prepaid cards. I don’t know how helpful these will be to everyone since it’s mostly my own anecdotal evidence, but I thought they were interesting enough to post about.


This one may be obvious, but the load limit is not a 24 hour load limit. The clock for me resets at 9PM PST, or midnight Eastern time. I can load $1K before that time, and another $1K after that time on to the same card. Again, this might be obvious to some but I know of many others who did not know about this.


If you’re like me and spend lot’s of time traveling or commuting, you likely have some dead time on your hands. This was the case for me, so I tried loading my Bluebird card from my iPhone through the website. I did this and kept getting an error message, so I decided that it was not possible on my phone.

A few days later in a completely unrelated conversation, a friend told me that I should use the Google Search app instead of Safari for my browsing as it was faster and “just better.” I started using it, then thought to myself that maybe it’s worth another shot to try reloading using the new app. Sure enough, I was able to load my Bluebird card without any issue using the Google Search app. I imagine other browsers/apps would work as well, as long as it’s not Safari mobile.


I had a relatively positive experience the first time I went to my local CVS to buy Vanilla reloads. I was looking to buy 6 ($3K worth) of them using my SPG Amex. The cashier informed me that she would have to do 3 separate $1K transactions to make it work (2 Vanilla’s each transaction). That didn’t bother me at all, except for the worry that 3 identical transactions may get flagged for fraud. That didn’t happen, and all three transactions went through with no issue.

Just 3 days later I went back to the same exact store for another Vanilla and a different prepaid card (for a different experiment). The cashier looked at me and said “I can’t do it.” I asked why, and she said there’s a $1K per transaction limit so she can’t do both. I gave her a confused look while explaining that $500 +$500 is $1K, but no amount of mathematical logic could have convinced her. I agreed to two transactions and paid for the first with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card. No problem. I tried paying for the second with my Sapphire Preferred card and it was denied, likely because it was flagged for fraud as a duplicate transaction (at this point I’m cursing at this lady in my head). I pulled out my SPG Amex and the transaction went through with no problem. The cashier mentioned that her District Manager had put the $1K rule in place.

I went a third time the same night as my second try above, hoping for a new store employee. Unfortunately I saw the same crazy lady, but I thought I’d try anyway. I hand her a single Vanilla Reload card and say $500. She looks at me with a blank stare and says “I can’t do it,” then stares at me for another 10 seconds. Finally I give in and asked “why?” and she says “I’ve reached my limit.” I didn’t know whether to laugh at or cry because of this lady. She clearly has no sense of the rules and is downright awkward. Even with a $1K rule, it would have to be on the purchaser, NOT the cashier!

She calls over the Manager and says “I can’t do it, I’ve reached my limit. I sold him $1K earlier today.” The Manager comes over to me and asks “You bought $1K earlier?” I said yeah, I needed one more. He says they were told not to do over $1K a day. I asked if we could try, and he said that it wasn’t a system thing, just a rule they were told about. I asked if I could come back in the morning to buy another $1K worth, and he said yeah.

For me there were three takeaways:

  1. My local CVS, and based on a few Twitter responses many others as well, has a $1K limit.
  2. Not all employees are clear on whether the $1K limit is a per transaction or per day limit.
  3. This $1K limit is not necessarily coded into the registers. In each of my attempts the employees weren’t willing to even try.

Do with that what you will.


I was ecstatic to hear I could pay my mortgage with Bluebird, and even more excited to see that my mortgage company was a vendor in Bluebird’s system. On the night of 10/31 I scheduled a mortgage payment with my account number in the memo field, and the expected payment date was 11/1. By mid-morning on 11/1, I had already received a “thank you for your payment” email from my mortgage company. It took less than 12 hours!

This wasn’t obvious to me before, but it’s clear that a physical check is not sent to some of the pre-loaded vendors, but rather an electronic payment is sent. This is great for me because my automatic ACH payment previously cost me $7.50 a month, so now I save that money AND get points for it!


I scheduled payment for my property tax on the same night I scheduled my mortgage payment. Again, I was lucky that my county’s tax office was pre-loaded in the system. I put my assessment number in the memo field and sent payment, with an estimated arrival date of two days later on 11/2. After two days my Bluebird account showed the transaction as “complete,” yet the county had not yet received payment per their online system. The payment did finally show up 3 days later on 11/5.

I’m not 100% sure, and maybe others have a concrete answer, but it sounds like this delivery was made with a physical check. It seems Bluebird marked the transaction as complete after they say delivery should have been made, and my county likely took a few days to process and enter it into the system. Either way, a five day payment is definitely not a bad thing!


I’ve only tried this once, so my experience might not be typical (that’s the long way of saying YMMV). I attempted to pay parts of an Amex card and parts of a Chase card. The payments were scheduled on a Thursday and expected to post Friday. They did not post until the following Wednesday.

It just so happens that the weekend in between was when super-storm Sandy began to roll through the East coast. Did it effect the payment timing? I have no idea. All I know is that it was expected to take one day and took 6 days. Even if this is the norm, it’s still absolutely worth it.


I went to a local Pavilions (part of the Safeway family) to purchase a REloadit card. This store had the $950 variety, so I of course picked up that one. At the register the cashier asked if I’m paying with cash, and I said I wasn’t. She said “it says cash only on it” and I asked if we could try to see if it works. She said “well I did it once before on accident so I know it works, but I was told I shouldn’t do it again. Let me go ask a Manager.” She went to ask the Manager, and he said cash only. Rats.

I went to another local grocery store called Albertsons (part of the SuperValu company) and found the same $950 REloadit cards. I went to pay, and noticed the cashier had an eyesight problem as she was using a magnifying glass to read the price off a magazine. I thought “OK, if it doesn’t work here I’m not sure it will work anywhere.” She scanned it without a word. I said I’d like the full $950 value, and then she asked me to slide my card. The credit card machine froze. This happened two more times. The Manager had to be called to unlock the machine each time, then noticed that the gift card was a “cash only” card, and said it wouldn’t work with a credit card. With that being said, the system did also freeze with my purchase of cough drops right afterward, but finally went through the second time.

Despite my experience, many others have reported success. I plan on trying again at both locations and others.


I doubt I just blew anyone’s mind with the above information, but I know there are A LOT of people that did not know about this stuff. One way or another I hope everyone can learn something from it, and I’d LOVE to hear about your experiments and findings. Feel free to leave me a comment or send me a note on Twitter @TravelSummary!


If you enjoyed this post and the others on this blog, feel free to follow me via the link on the right side menu and via Twitter @TravelSummary.


3 responses to “My Miniature Experiments with Bluebird, Vanilla, etc.

  1. Thanks for the update. I’d love to be conducting experiments of my own, but I haven’t found any CVS in the SF peninsula yet that carries the VR cards.

    • I’ve realized that I’m actually lucky with my CVS. Many on Twitter have reported their CVS not taking credit card or not having them at all. But keep looking and hopefully they’ll turn up!

  2. Pingback: Now I Know Why Everyone Blogs About Bluebird and Vanilla Reloads | Travel Summary

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