Meeting Minimum Spend: Vanilla Reloads Still Available at Some CVS’s

I’ve had quite a bit of minimum spend to hit on credit cards recently in order to earn the signup bonuses.

And I’ve been busy. Life, blog, work, travel, award booking service, getting ready to launch voting in the Freddie Awards, putting together the schedule for Frequent Traveler University.

I’m fortunate in being able to meet minimum spend fairly easily through reimbursable business expenses. But a lot of cards in the wallet, remembering how much is left to do on each, does take up brain space. So I like to put them to bed and be done as soon as possible. One less thing, y’know?

I’m also fortunate to live one block from a CVS. (I also live two blocks from a Staples, sadly Office Depot is accessible but not nearly as close!)

My CVS has pretty much everything imaginable, from Paypal cards to Netspend and VanillaOne cards.

And buried down at the bottom on the right, Vanilla Reloads.

Sadly 6 points per dollar at drugstores on the Hilton American Express is going away in May.

But they’re still highly useful for meeting minimum spend requirements.

I needed to hit $1500 more on one card, and my CVS had exactly 3 Vanilla Reloads left. I took them to the checkout counter (first I had to find someone willing to staff a register, this CVS pushes everyone to self checkout and you can’t buy these at self-checkout registers). They rang me up no problem, they needed to do two separate transactions — (2) at $500 per Vanilla Reload plus $3.95 fee per card which is their maximum per one transaction, and then (1) at $500 for the last Vanilla Reload plus $3.95 fee.

My CVS still takes credit cards for Vanilla Reload cards, not all of them do. It seems the ones that don’t, that insist on cash only, often claim there’s a ‘new chainwide policy’ though that usually turns out to be wrong. As of this morning it is still possible to buy Vanilla Reload cards at CVS, at least at some of them.

And of course the CVS in question not only has to be willing to take credit cards for Vanilla Reloads, they also have to have the cards in stock. I’m lucky that this one is one block from my home so I can duck in to check the rack whenever I’m walking by. Sometimes they are in stock and sometimes they aren’t.

With $1500 in Reloads in hand I got onto my computer and went to VanillaReload.com. On that page you enter your Bluebird card number in the upper land hand side and then the PIN off of the back of the Vanilla Reload card (you scratch off the strip on the back to reveal the PIN number). Once entered and confirmed the funds post to Bluebird instantly.

You can only load up to $1000 per day and $5000 per month onto a single Bluebird account through Vanilla Reloads. So I will have to put the remaining $500 from today’s purchase onto my Bluebird card tomorrow (or anytime after midnight tonight).

Then I will take the funds off of Bluebird by having a check mailed through their billpay service — to someone I trust to give me back the money, to my credit card company to pay off the balance, or to various bills with merchants who do not take credit cards.

CVS remains the place most likely to stock and accept credit cards for Vanilla Reloads. But there’s no more 5 points per dollar like we used to get using certain Chase produts at Office Depot for these cards, since Office Depot no longer carries them. (To earn 5 points per dollar you would have to buy, say, a prepaid American Express gift card at an office supply store and then liquidate that gift card by buying a Vanilla Reload at CVS.)

Some credit cards now even say in their fine print that purchase of cards like Vanilla Reloads do not count as eligible spending for meeting bonuses — but in practice I haven’t seen them excluded yet from the calculation and am not even sure how the card company would know what you’ve purchased exactly, with most transactions they just know the merchant you’ve made the purchase at.

But it remains a highly useful technique for those with access to the cards!

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. @RJ I think you are attempting to do it incorrectly. You do not go to the Bluebird site to load the Vanilla you go to the Vanilla Reload site and put in your Bluebird card with the 10 digit pin from the reload and then the funds show up on your Bluebird. If you try to reload on Bluebird site it will show the $2 fee and not go through. FYI.

  2. Data point, I was in San Diego this past weekend, and went looking for VR’s, the first CVS I went into had a load of them, however, they charge $4.95 not the typical $3.95 that I was paying in Phoenix. I wanted to see if using a CC was going to work, I presented the VR, which was scanned, then I swiped my CC, at first the clerk told me that a CC could not be used, I explained I do not have a problem in Phoenix, he called his manager over. The manager told me they can not take CC, I explained that I do it all the time in Phoenix, without a problem. He said, OK, pushed a couple of buttons and wham, it went through. So not too sure what to make of this. But at $4.95/card I’m glad I only pay $3.95 back in Phoenix.

  3. Found a stack of new and wrapped Vanilla Reloads on top of the prepaid stand at my local CVS. I didn’t have a bluebird account, so kind of hesitated to buy one. I went back to my “truck” and logged on to my local Starbuck’s wifi which is located at approximately every two blocks in NYC. opened up the account with bluebird and went back to CVS and purchased one reload with $100.00 to see if it would work with my SPG AMEX card, the self serve pay stand asked for the last 4 of my SPG card and prompted for approval from the staff. The staff guarding the pay stands, did not hesitate to approve it and on i went.
    1. There was no problem purchasing the vanilla reload with the credit card.
    possibly due to the amount purchased. Approval was easy also possibly due to the amount of money purchased.

    The stack came with 10 vanilla reloads, so there are 9 left on the stand. I was tempted to take some more but i might have looked suspicious walking in back and buying more at a higher amount.
    This is the first encounter with vanilla reloads since reading up on it a month a go. I have been occasionally looking for these for that long and its today that finally came up.
    I wonder if people are just taking these home and stashing it once they find it?
    Till next time, i wonder if these will last.

  4. 31 March 2013

    I’ve bought the Vanilla reloads with my Citi card at many different CVS stores over the last few months and have never had a problem on the CVS side. They limit you to $1,000 per day (but you can go to different stores).

    The “Alternate tender required” is actually your credit card company denying the transaction, probably because the computer thinks such a large drugstore purchase is fraud. It has nothing to do with CVS. You need to call the credit card company and tell them to let the transaction go through. Citi denies it almost every time, so now I call and get them on the phone before I go into CVS. So I have them on the line at point-of-sale and they can fix the problem right away.

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