Minimum Spend is No Longer an Issue for Credit Card Signup Bonuses

The advent of the American Express Bluebird card has been a huge development for frequent flyers in the miles and points game.

It’s a product for the ‘unbanked’, American Express has partnered with Walmart and that should provide insight into the target market for the product. It’s a prepaid American Express card (for folks who aren’t getting credit cards) combined with an online bank account — it holds money, accepts direct deposit, and allows you to pay bills by check through its bill pay system. And you can even withdraw funds from an ATM machine.

The key feature though is the ability load funds into the account by buying Vanilla reload cards with a credit card. You’re basically buying money with a credit card for a fee of $3.95 per $500 card.

And then you can pay your credit card bills through Bluebird’s online bill pay system.

You can also pay other bills that way too, with merchants who do not usually take credit cards. You can earn miles for your rent or mortgage, which has long seemed the holy grail of miles and points.

What it means, though, is that you have an extra $60,000 in spending available at your fingertips each year. You can load $1000 per day, up to $5000 per month, onto Bluebird with Vanilla Reload cards.

That means you have $60,000 more to play with to meet minimum spending requirements for credit card signup bonuses.

Back in April I wrote about Ways to Goose Your Spending to meet the requirements for credit card signup bonuses. I wrote about using Amazon payments for $1000 a month, free after rebate items, and other ways to ‘manufacture’ spend.

But all of those pale in comparison.

Some folks have been frustrated searching for the holy grail of buying Vanilla Reload cards at stores that were earn them bonus spending, but that’s not an option for everybody. Folks in the New York metro area were pretty much shut out of that. Finding them at office supply stores, grocery stores, or drugstores where they’ll let you make your purchases with a credit card is tough in some places. The whole middle of the country, more or less, has been awash with Vanilla reload cards. Finding them in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas has not been a problem as far as the reports I’ve seen go.

For many it’s been fool’s gold.

That’s ok, once you decide to use Bluebird to help you meet the minimum spending requirements for cre3dit card signup bonuses, you can do that by buying your Vanilla Reload cards anywhere that sells them and accepts credit cards for their purchase.

From the Vanilla website:

You get a Bluebird card. Then buy Vanilla Reload cards with the credit card you want to meet minimum spend on. Load Vanilla (money) onto Bluebird, and then pay your rent or mortgage, or even pay your credit card bill directly. You meet your minimum spend requirements nice and easily.

Bluebird is of huge value, even if you aren’t able to find reload cards at bonusable stores.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I tried finding Vanilla at stores just like these for the past months. Either they dont have them or they are cash only. No chance you’re gonna be able to walk into the “Li’l Cricket or Cigarette City” and buy 5k worth of vanilla on a CC.

  2. I know you probably keep posting items about Bluebird because it draws traffic to your website, but I really think the proliferation of blog postings on the Bluebird detrimental to the deal. We need to let the buzz on this deal die down a bit otherwise more and more people are going to get in on it and it is going to die.

    New postings on the blogs each week just seem to keep the buzz alive and bring new people in on the action who have no experience in the mileage game. These people are going crazy with it in ways that is going to draw unnecessary attention to this deal and will ultimately lead to its premature death.

  3. I’ve found many patches of beans growing wild around MSP, for those in the area PM me on FT for details.

    @evan- how can you launder something that’s clean to begin with? Maybe you have a plot of beans you want all to yourself…

  4. I agree with MSP2anywhere….everywhere I looked I’ve found them. Don’t worry i’m leaving some behind 🙂

  5. I got my Bluebird but I’m stuck on the sidelines. Can’t find a Walgreen’s, OD, or CVS with reload cards in stock – let alone one willing to sell via credit card. For all practical purposes the deal is dead in San Diego.

  6. @Seth there is no discernable traffic pattern from bluebird posts. This is the biggest miles and points opportunity in a long time. Bluebird though is something American Express has been pushing in a big way out into the world. I suspect that — for now — they appreciate that buzz. I know many people at American Express and have heard to concerns from them… What I think is more likely to get pushback is the Chase component. Which this post doesn’t discuss, I’ve kind of already done that and feel like that doesn’t need to be written about more than it already has.

  7. @MileageUpdate there are some places that it is easier than others. They’re widely available in the middle of the country. Fortunately my local office depot has restocked otherwise I would pick them up during my travels. But if you can’t them at the most convenient places, look where their target demographic is most likely to be found.

  8. On flyertalk there are a couple of posts (one last night and one this morning) of empty OD that were flush a day ago. Reportedly OD employees told them the product is being discontinued at OD. Normally I would think that these were just scare stories but the two posters have not been posting scare talk on flyertalk in the past. Might want to run out to your OD today to check on the situation and buy some reloads if they still have them in stock if OD is the place you have been buying your reloads.

  9. Gary- Do you know if you can buy a Vanilla card at a 7-11 or CVS and then take that same card to Office Depot to reload it and get 5x the points with Ink? Or can you only reload it at the place you bought the Vanilla card? Thanks

  10. the SPG credit card offers Gold status at $30K spend in a year. I am at ~25K. is it work it to buy 10 vanillas to hit the $30 k amount and get gold status? I will be at starwoods at least 10 days in January.

  11. Just because you are not laundering money doesn’t mean that BB will not suspect and and take action against you for thinking you are laundering money. IE: I once got in on a deal for Publix grocery $10 off coupon. I went around tounn getting $10 off their store cards. Once I started using THEIR gift cards to buy another one of THEIR gift cards several store managers said I wasn’t allowed to do that simply because of federal laundering laws. In that case it was up to each store mananger’s disecretion. I found only a few that allowed it when they saw it happening. BB doesn’t need humans looking over this activity, but a human will make the final decision to investigate it further and take action.

  12. @Matthew – SPG Gold isn’t worth much but it helps you avoid the worst room, gives you 4pm late checkout, and free internet. Whether that’s the best use of your spend depends on your preferences and other opportunities. 10 days in January is a great start on next year though — shoot for 50 nights (including award nights) in 2013 for Platinum! And remember your SPG Amex (and potential SPG business Amex) contribute nights towards that as well.

  13. It looks like the party is over
    From an East Coast location of Office Depot “we will no longer be carrying them company wide”
    I cannot confirm that information to be 100% official and I hope its incorrect

  14. @Gary, thanks for the info. I will be staying at the westin Maui and the Kona Sharaton so i think i may go for the chance to get upgraded. Its sort of a late honeymoon

  15. Glad my local office depot just stocked up, but regardless of what Office Depot does the point of this post is that these cards are really useful and you can buy them at plenty of places that are NOT office depot

  16. Exactly, i have only found them at a gas station in my town but it has already allowed me to meet the spending requirements for 2 AA cards @ 90000k miles and 2 free nights at hyatt.

  17. There are some greedy people out there. I mean buying the whole supply of VR in one visit is one thing, but leaving the store with unregistered VR is just bad(they can come back and register the VR in the future). This tactic throws off the entire stock system making it appear the store has VR in-stock, thus preventing re-stocking.

  18. We are waiting for my wife’s Sapphire MC (thanks for posting a while back that we can get another 40K bonus!!for another Sapphire card as the Visa’s annual fee was coming up) so we can start working our min spend on that card.

    We have been conservative with Chase and have put a good mix of spending on the Sapphire cards (previously the Visa and the upcoming MC). Normal everyday spend plus the “Jungle” and soon a little “Bluebird”.

    I can use the Bluebird to pay the mortgages on my rental houses. I just have to document everything in the event that is needed in the future. I am starting out very slowly with the Bluebird.

  19. Buying BB with Chase Bold at OD, you have mentioned it’s wise to have “diverse spending”. Are you saying here that you can put $60K a year of spend on regular ccs, then use BB to pay off those cc charges, without any concern of either AMEX or the cc companies shutting you down? That’s the way it reads. Is that what you meant ?

  20. Even if you can’t find the reload cards, isn’t it advantageous to buy other gift cards at OD (mine has Vanilla Visa cards) and still get the 5x spend bonus? I know you are trading off other cc spend, but 5x is still a pretty good deal.

  21. @Jeff – that was the original thing about the INK cards, 5% off on everything via gift card purchase at office supply stores. And for meeting minimum spend if you don’t mind tying up your minimum spend amounts for as long as it takes to spend the value of the gift cards. If you only have 2k for min spend for bonus it is not a big deal but for some 10K carried on gift cards would be a lot to tie up. But yes, still good play for 5% off everything via regular gift cards at office supply places.

  22. Krusty
    OD location shared that they will not be restocking these
    so what you find in stock is what you find
    I managed to drive to a store that had the last two in my city.Its not looking good but I hope I’m wrong

  23. @MrChu – unfortunately no. And most of the places that do sell the reload cards require cash. There are some stores like a small percent of Walgreens that don’t have the cards coded as cash only and one or two of the minimarts will often let you buy the reloads with a credit card. So the hard part is finding a place that will sell them to you on a credit card. Super easy experiment to do yourself. Look at the list of places that sell them then go out and try to buy one at one of those places with a credit card. It seems kind of a local thing. If you find a place that works for you you probably want to keep it to yourself.

  24. Gary,

    I didn’t mean to imply you were making postings as a cheap grab for easy traffic, just that people are clearly looking for information about Bluebird cards and if you don’t post any they will go to other blogs rather than reading yours. Publicity over the Bluebird card is not solely your fault, but is something that is the responsibility of all the blogs. If you all agreed not to post about the bluebird card, things would likely cool down, but the chances of that happening are nil, so I understand why you continue to post. I was just venting my frustration at the entire situation.

    I know you are located in the DC area as I am. Care you share which of your stores recently got a new shipment?

  25. @Seth – I’d go today. On flyertalk there has been one report of a store that still had them because the manager interpreted the memo to mean you could still buy them today.

  26. There are no reloads at WalMarts, even though the Vanilla website says so. Even if there were, there’s no guarantee that you could use a CC. CVS, however, is either carrying them or getting ready to (slots on their GC rack say “VR Reloads). And they do take CC, for now.

    I know that it’s next to impossible for folks in NY and CA to find them. But hey, you get to pick the Prez evey 4 years, so let the rest of us enjoy this deal, OK?

  27. CVS still allows you to pay with CC, but don’t count on it lasting very long. Seems as if they didn’t place the restriction in the register for the new prepaid cards.
    I think it’s pretty clear that the stores aren’t making money when selling these at $500 via CC.

  28. Thanks for ruining another deal.

    The office depot in NYC was overrun with people looking for the vanilla cards. Manager mentioned they will no longer carry them.

  29. @Tim – I went to four CVS last night. None of them had vanilla reload cards in stock but three of them had spaces on the rack for them. That’s my plan for meeting minimum spend on the cards I just got. I have four CVS close to me so I am going to visit them each day this week and hope reload cards show up on the rack and they allow me to buy them with a credit card. If they got cards, I’m buying em.

  30. When the first several hits for searches on “Bluebird Vanilla” and similar phrases, are the usual blog suspects – some showing in step-by-step photographic illustration, it’s no surprise this died so soon – at least as far as the most reliable source of VRs that allowed CC purchase. The need for blog page hits, CC referrals, and greed kills again. Guess no one learned anything from the Mint.

  31. Ryan, This isnt dead so no sense claiming it is. Vanilla and BB are big programs that just launched. IMO, its just starting not stopping you just have to be smart about it.

  32. Just went out and bought 3.5K of reloads, now that it’s dead. Left a few for someone else, if they happen to venture to my OD 5 minutes away.

  33. @ MileageUpdate – I’d say easily meeting spend with vanilla reload cards is more dead than alive since for many of us Office Depot was the main source. I’d say it is dead for the Chase INK cards since the main play there was vanilla reloads at Office Depot which is dead now. It’s hard to find a place where you can use credit cards to purchase vanilla reload cards. My local Walgreens have racks full of them that taunt me but they come up as cash only on the register. If CVS stocks them and allows purchase with credit card that will help me a lot. Others have reported success at CVS so that is my last great hope.

  34. There’s no point in griping about bloggers killing any deal. Clearly a critical mass of bloggers has been reached in this space when it comes to disseminating info about any deal. If one chooses not to share a deal out of a desire to preserve it, there are three who will beat a topic to death because it is in their financial self-interest to do so (read: Million Mile Secrets). Call me cynical, but is it really realistic to ask a large group of people (be it bloggers or miles junkies in general) to uniformly exercise restraint when a lucrative deal like this comes along? Really, if you want to keep a really good deal secret, we should kill Flyertalk and Milepoint.

  35. My Office Depot and a city nearby are both done. I asked the manager at my neighboring city OD and he said they were pulled this morning. They have tags all over the card stand that appear to be inventory tags. Several sections of the stands are empty, not just the reloads. At my local store the Vanilla Reload area is now AMEX prepaids.

  36. Yeah, just checked in with the only OD in MA, I was told the Vanilla Reloads are gone and will not be coming back. I only started doing this six months ago, and did only 2K or so a month, sad to see it go at OD. I have found a Walgreens that will take CC, but the Hilton Amex 6X is not nearly as valuable to me as the Ink UR points 🙁

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