Buying Vanilla Reloads at CVS With a Credit Card May End Chainwide By April 4th

CVS apparently sent out a memo to store managers that they would no longer be accepting credit cards as payment for certain prepaid and reloadable financial products, effective March 31.

My favorite local CVS didn’t know anything about the change and indeed, despite reports by many that their CVS’ would no longer sell them Vanilla Reload cards via credit card, I was able to buy more yesterday.

So what’s actually going on?

The memo from CVS corporate seems genuine, and sent by the person there in charge of the product line. And yet not every store has stopped selling the cards this way.

  1. Some people have surmised that it’s really regional rather than nationwide, since some CVS stores have stopped selling these via credit card and others have not.

  2. More likely, some stores are enforcing the rule based on the memo they’ve received, while others didn’t pay attention to the memo.

  3. And the company is rolling out updates to their cash registers (“POS” or point of sale systems) that won’t allow payment for these cards to be made via credit card.

  4. Software updates like that for a company like CVS don’t happen in real-time, so they’re rolling out over a period of time.

  5. That means if your local CVS is still selling you Vanilla Reload cards via credit card, that may not last more than a few more days.

One commenter identifies themselves as a CVS employee and says their memo tells them the update will roll out by April 4.

Another commenter said they were told April 4 at their local CVS, and were shown a memo saying that.

I have no way to independently verify these reports. And if true, they seem to be referring to a different memo than has been reported elsewhere. Which in itself strikes me as odd, that there would be more than one memo on this over a period of a few days. Although it certainly seems possible, and consistent with the rest of the facts as we know them.

Point here is: just because your CVS hasn’t stopped letting you pay for Vanilla Reloads with a credit card, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear, the change may roll out through the rest of the week.

Here’s hoping mine makes it to the weekend, then perhaps I’ll be in the clear? Somehow though I’m not that much of an optimist.


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. Bought $5k worth at my Washington DC CVS yesterday (3/31), but their POS system had been updated by this morning to only accept cash. 🙁

  2. Appreciate the updates as they certainly gave the BA blog crowd an advantage over someone not keeping in touch thru the blogs………knowledge is power………then each responds according to their ability/need………

  3. I just bought $5000 in Iowa, and spoke with the manager. He reported an email received this morning from corporate, stating cash pay only after April 4.

  4. Tried to buy some in Boston yesterday and the system wouldn’t accept credit card as a payment. One manager had no idea why it wasn’t working and he mentioned it to another manager and he said it was cash only now.

  5. Bought $5K today. Was told as of Wednesday, 04/02/14 …Cash ONLY …. in Central New Jersey. Will pick up another $5K tonight. Was great while it lasted!!!

  6. Gary,

    I haven’t seen a lot of discussion as to why the *stores* are limiting the ability to purchase these kinds of things with credit cards. Are they simply losing money on the transaction fees? I never got into this, but did partake quite a bit at Office Depot when they had $500 Visa gift cards.

    I always thought the banks would get pissy about all of the points they were paying out, so it’s a bit surprising that the stores are cracking down. Any idea why?

  7. @Dan – Two possible drivers. First I assume that the margins on the cards when loading $500 are less than the credit card merchant fees. Second there’s additional fraud risk — you steal a credit card, buy a bunch of reload cards on the card quickly to turn the card into cash.

  8. Confirming from NorCal, here in rainy Davis California.

    CVS#1 had plenty on the rack. Bought just 1, no problems no mention.

    CVS#2 keeps them behind the counter, thus clerks more attuned. This clerk informed me without asking, that all reloads would go cash-only “on April 3rd”. And that “it would be nationwide April 4th”. There may be some mixed messages here about “on” or “after”, but still the point is my days of easy MS are ending this week.

  9. Worked yesterday. My Silicon Valley store now allows only 5 cards to be purchased, (down from 6 last month).

    On a side note, has anyone been successful making large purchases at CVS with an FIA issued card? Despite repeated attempts to call customer service and get this pre-authorized, FIA insists on having a merchant do a telephone authorization when the card is referred (not declined, in their words) at purchase and every attempt at large purchases returns a “Must use another form of payment” message on the POS terminal at CVS

  10. My father had 4 different stores in DFW tell him that VRs will be cash only starting tomorrow. Down to the final hours for sure.

  11. As long as CVS continues to sell One Vanilla gift cards, this has minimal impact on me. They can be used to load BB at WM.

  12. Now that I think about it, it’s particularly indicative of CVS unloading stock, that both my stores had them on a Monday.

    Normally shipments arrive on Tuesday evening and stocked on Wednesday. Invariably by Thursday afternoon both stores are out of Vanilla or nearly so. To have them both have plentiful stock on a Tuesday morning tells me CVS is unloading whatever it had in the pipline before the policy change decimates sales.

  13. Does anyone know why the cash only policy will not apply to Visa or MC gift cards? Isn’t the possibility of fraud just as applicable to those cards?

  14. @Gary, I never entered a WM til I started doing the CVS/WM/BB/MO dance. I now realize we are fortunate to have a baby WM in the neighborhood.

  15. As all reports are so mixed, my question is whether the regular Visa Gift Cards will also go into the Cash-Only rule or this is not like the other cards, in fact it’s not mentioned in the email picture that was published in all the blogs the other day

  16. I bought in for $15k over the last few days. That’s enough vanilla to last through June. The ban looks to be for real this time so starting in July it’s time to start looking at other channels.

  17. Maybe speculate that this is driven by Incomm (aren’t all the products listed theirs?). I suspect they had some kick-back to CVS to cover interbank fees that exceed the reload fee, but they’ve pulled the plug.

    If true , the funny thing is incomm will see its revenue tank as there must be a staggering imbalance in their sales comparing $20-$50 occasional loads of their target market and MS $5k daily loads. They’ll be more profitable but I bet someone’s head will roll as they massively miss their targets.

  18. @SJCRussell You may be on to something as I’ll bet their business model had a shrinkage calculation that works fine at the $20-$50 level but the MS crowd blew those numbers out of the water……..probably the head has already rolled or their banker has put the squeeze on them as they did their due diligence/audits………then again this could be Putin $$ and he’s had his credit line to incomm enbargoed………

  19. My local CVS in Boston tried multiple times, but POS would not allow for credit card VR purchases. What other chains allow credit card VR purchases?

  20. Deal still alive in So Cal as of April 1. Clerk didn’t make mention of any changes to come.

  21. Tried at 4 difference Cleveland area CVS stores; 2 yesterday, 2 today. All were completely out of VR cards, and a clerk that knows me pretty well acknowledged that the policy was changing.

    I’ve never had to visit more than 2 to find stock. Not sure if there was a run on these, or if CVS just pulled their stock locally. But the cupboards are bare here, and I just realized I was $3500 short of a specific AS award level. I may have to put Real Spend on the card (after Amazon Payments for 1k) … yikes!

  22. Last night I was told my a store manager that “Southern California stores will accept cash-only as of April 4th”. So the date seems to be accurate – at least for this part of the State.

  23. please remind everyone how you maximize a vanilla card, should anyone still find one available

  24. Gary, as of 4/2 CVS is dead in Northern Virginia. I went to two stores this morning and they would only take cash. One manager let me try anyway. I got all the way to the signature screen (they were even cheering for me) but the POS system wouldn’t take a cc. The manager said he sold some on 4/1 at 11pm and it worked. It is officially dead.

  25. @Dave – have you tried the Clarendon store or Merrifield store? I haven’t tried today (I’m on travel) but they have been goldmines to-date.

  26. I just picked up $5k a few minutes ago. The cashier said I should be good today and tomorrow, but they are planning to update the MD-area registers on Friday.

  27. @Carol Have you tried buying One vanilla gift cards with a credit card since April 4th? Can you buy the One vanilla gift cards at other places besides CVS with a credit card? Would you explain how these cards work? Thank you…..

  28. If anybody else has bought the One vanilla cards could you tell me where credit card payment is excepted? Thank you

  29. @Carol Have you bought the One vanilla gift cards at other places besides CVS with a credit card? Have you bought them at CVS with a credit card since April 4th? Thanks

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