Category Archives: Vanilla Reloads

Further Experiments with Bluebird, Vanilla, etc.

People seemed to appreciate my last post on a few “experiments” that I ran, so I’ve decided to write about a few more things that I learned while figuring out all this prepaid stuff. You had a short play-by-play last night of this if you happen to follow me on Twitter (which I highly recommend you do).

CVS

As recent as my last post on experiments, there were PLENTY of Vanilla Reloads at CVS. Fast forward to this week where I visited 6 different CVSs (in the same general area) and found exactly zero Vanilla Reload cards. With that being said, one Manager said that his system shows 10 in stock but doesn’t know where they are. He also was very helpful in terms of when things are restocked (though it didn’t quite work out that way this last time I went). The lesson is: be friends with the Manager.

CVS and Office Depot as neighbors. I USED TO have it good…

Walgreen’s

There’s only one Walgreen’s that’s nearby me, so I decided to go there after my impressive 0/6 day at CVS. To my shock and amazement, there were 9 Vanilla Reloads! I picked up 6 of them and went straight to the register. The cashier gave me a funny look when I said I wanted $500 on each. When he saw me pull out my credit card, he said “my screen says cash only.” I asked if he’d be willing to try and he said “OK, let’s try one.” He scanned it, added $500, I pressed “accept” on the electronic pad, and then his screen froze. It returned my electronic pad to the accept/reject screen, which I tried again. Nothing.

I’ve read that many people have used Walgreen’s successfully. In my case, the system simply did not allow it despite a willing cashier.

Pavilions (Safeway company)

I picked up the REloadit card from the same Pavilions I went to in my last post, where it didn’t work. The cashier again said cash only, and I asked him if he was willing to try. He said no and kind of made a big deal out of it and called the Manager. She came and I asked if she could just try, and she said “these are the only ones that are cash only.” This store seems to be well-trained in REloadit card policy.

Albertsons (SuperValu company)

I once again tried buying a REloadit from the same Albertsons as last time. The register froze on my last trip but I wasn’t so sure the cashier was competent, so I wanted to try again. I picked up another $950 card, but this time asked to load just $500 (just to change it up from last time). The register froze once again despite a willing cashier.

Bluebird Load Limits

Bluebird’s FAQs state that you can load $5,000 “per month” using Vanilla Reload packs. I put that in quotes because of the activity I’ve noticed in my own account, which doesn’t seem to match up with their FAQ statement. Here’s when and how much I added to my card:

  • 10/24: $1K
  • 10/25: $1K
  • 10/30: $500
  • 10/31: $2K
  • 11/2: $1K
  • 11/9: $1K
  • 11/10: $1K
  • 11/11: $500
  • 11/12: $500
  • 11/13: DENIED

Let’s look at the amounts I added here. In calendar month October, I added $4.5K. In calendar month November, I added $4K. I was denied adding anything more on 11/13, which means that it CAN’T be a calendar month rule since I was under the $5K limit. It must be something else.

The only other monthly rule that makes any sense is a rolling 30/31 day period. Based on my previous deposits, that doesn’t make any sense either. In fact all $8.5K of my deposits were made within a 30 day period. I have no idea why I was denied several times.

Update: Points to Point B pointed out in the comments that my 10/31 deposits likely fell into November. This makes sense because it would mean I’ve already loaded $5K in November, thus being denied additional Vanilla deposits. It seems to be a calendar month rule.

When I got denied I decided to add those VRs to my regular Amex Prepaids. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get a hold of any additional VRs for quite some time so I’m unable to try any more.

I wish I knew how they defined “per month” because I can’t figure it out!

Bluebird Bank Transfers

I didn’t expect Vanillas to run out or expect to be denied additional deposits, so my account was left a little lower than my next mortgage payment amount. I decided I should just top off my Bluebird account with a direct transfer from my checking account to cover the mortgage payment. When I went to do this, I read a note that said it would take 5 days for my money to appear. That would be cutting it too close for my mortgage payment – I certainly didn’t want to risk a late payment and/or any kind of mark on my credit score. Now I know for next time – deposit early if it’s a checking/savings deposit!

I assumed it would be instant or take 1 day max, but it will take 5 days!

PayPal

Experiment in progress, but I’m trying to take this one slow based on what I’ve been reading. No offense to The Points Guy, but I don’t think he did enough to warn people of the dangers in his recent post. He’s been using his PayPal account actively for 10 years so he was lucky enough to get a warning. Read the comments and read other posts and you’ll find about 90% of them say to avoid PayPal at all costs. Make sure you have the ability to float money if you’re still going to try this.

Help!

Does anyone have anything to add to this? Was your experience trying to load to Bluebird different or the same as mine? I’d love to know about your experiments!

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Now I Know Why Everyone Blogs About Bluebird and Vanilla Reloads

I know why so many bloggers have blogged about Bluebird and Vanilla Reloads. It was already pretty obvious and some had even discussed this on FlyerTalk and Twitter, but I now have hard evidence to prove it.

I’ll use my stats from 11/20/12 as an example. My main referrer was Google, and here are the top 5 search terms used to get to my site: Vanilla Reloads, CVS Vanilla Reload, Bluebird Vanilla, CVS Amex Vanilla Reload, Hungry Bear Subs. Okay that last one was kind of a fluke, but you get the idea.

In fact, aside from my post on the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai (which the international readers love btw), the words “Bluebird” and “Vanilla” are the words that drive the most traffic to my website aside from Twitter. I find this extremely interesting because I’ve only written about Bluebird three or four times.

I’d be willing to bet that many bloggers look at these statistics and feel the need to write more about the topic. Whether it’s purely to increase traffic to their website or because they legitimately think their readers want more on the topic, the sheer volume of these articles is likely driven because of the statistics.

Update: Gary Leff of View from the Wing was kind enough to note his top search terms DO NOT include Bluebird or Vanilla. Thanks go to him for taking the time to comment on this blog with his experience!

I have a couple of things to say about this. First, the fact that every blogger writes about the same topics over and over. I’m not a fan of this. If View from the Wing is the first to post on the 25% off British Airways Avios sale, do The Points GuyOne Mile at a Time, Ghetto IFE, New Girl in the Air, Live from a Lounge, and Travelsort, among others, also need to post? Most didn’t add any extra information – it seemed to basically be a repeat. MileValue, on the other hand, did some extra analysis and added value with his (long) discussion of Iberia.

To their credit, many popular bloggers decided not to mention this sale, or did so only in passing. I very much appreciated Million Mile Secrets’ post giving credit to One Mile at a Time and not overly analyzing anything. He clearly recognized that it had already been done and there was no use repeating it. A simple mention was enough.

To the argument that each blogger has different readers and thus needs to post on everything separately, I say this: I think that is unlikely. I think most people in the points game are smart enough to realize that reading just one blog is not good enough, and so I think the audience reads multiple. Even if you do have a dedicated readership, a simple mention like Million Mile Secrets made is plenty sufficient, in my opinion.

I don’t want to blow that out of proportion though – it’s more of a pet peeve. There are bigger issues in the points blogging world! (See Travel Blogger Buzz for more on that)

Item 2:  It seems like a vicious cycle has been created regarding Bluebird and Vanilla Reload cards. The Frequent Miler did a great service to the points world by providing us this information. Every other blogger recognized the true value of this new points-creation system and decided to write about it as well. The result is that more people have participated in this deal than any other points deal that wasn’t giving away free stuff. Everyone knows about Bluebird and Vanilla, but not everyone knows every detail about them. They do know, however, that since it’s already been written about so many times, an answer to their question must be out there somewhere. So they Google it.

Googling it leads to them finding answers to their questions, whether on my blog or on the dozens or hundreds of others that have written about it. As I mentioned before, bloggers see the source of their traffic. I’d say it makes many of them inclined to write about it a little more than necessary, and then the process repeats itself.

I think this is our new reality. Word spreads too fast now, and if there’s a deal to be had it’s likely going to be very short lived. Given this new reality I wouldn’t be surprised if, when the next amazing deal arrives, people go all-in and max it out as soon as they can, leaving little or nothing for the late-comers. Perhaps the late-comers will leave the points game at that point, leaving a smaller, stronger group. Or maybe the points bubble will finally collapse. Either way, winter is coming.

Yes, this is the post-apocalyptic points world.

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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.

THE $1K DAILY LOAD LIMIT FOR BLUEBIRD/VANILLA

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.

LOADING ON VANILLARELOAD.COM FROM YOUR iPhone

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 vanillareload.com 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.

BUYING VANILLA RELOADS FROM CVS

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.

PAYING MY MORTGAGE USING BLUEBIRD

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!

PAYING MY PROPERTY TAX USING BLUEBIRD

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!

PAYING OFF CREDIT CARDS WITH BLUEBIRD

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.

BUYING REloadit CARDS FROM GROCERY STORES

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.

SO WHAT?

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!

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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.