How to Use Bluebird and Vanilla Reloads

UPDATE: Note that you can no longer purchase Vanilla Reloads from CVS and most other locations using a credit card. Some locations do still allow it, but it’s VERY regional and VERY YMMV. You can still load Bluebird with PIN-enabled gift cards by taking them to any Walmart register – simply ask to reload your Bluebird card with the amount on your gift card.

My long-time readers and the intermediate to advanced audience will not find any use in this post, but I need to write it. I need to write it because I absolutely hate all the other “guides” that I’ve seen bloggers write on this subject because they’re either too complicated or don’t give proper information and explanations. When I didn’t feel like explaining it to a friend, I realized I had no good place to direct them to read about it. That’s why I felt the need to write a “How to Use Bluebird and Vanilla Reloads” post.

What is Bluebird?

Bluebird

Bluebird is a prepaid card created by American Express. It allows points and miles junkies like us to “manufacture” spend, or spend money buying things that we can turn around and liquidate easily. We want to do this because it allows us to easily meet credit card minimum spend requirements or simply generate points for very cheap.

There are no fees that we need to worry about with Bluebird. It is free to sign up for. Even though the registration page asks for your Social Security Number, there are no credit checks…so your credit report is saved from an inquiry. The most important feature of Bluebird is a “Bill Pay” feature, where you can easily pay bills online to a very large number of vendors. For example, my mortgage company and car loan company are both on the vendor list. More importantly to the miles/points group, we can directly pay off our credit card bills.

What is a Vanilla Reload?

A Vanilla Reload, pictured below, is nothing more than a gift card-like piece of paper that contains a secret code. You can buy these at CVS and a variety of other stores in the US. When you take it to the register at CVS, you will be asked how much you’d like to put on the card. You can load anywhere from $20 to $500 on a single card. The cost of a Vanilla Reload is the amount you choose, plus a fixed $3.95 purchase fee. For example, you can buy a $500 Vanilla Reload for $503.95. The “trick” here is to make sure you purchase it with a credit card, otherwise this whole thing is useless.

This is what a Vanilla Reload looks like.

This is what a Vanilla Reload looks like.

The Process

Okay, let’s put this together now.

1. Load the VR to your Bluebird card

You can load this $500 VR you just purchased onto your Bluebird card. Simply scratch off the back of the VR to reveal the code, go to Vanillareload.com, type in your code, type in your Bluebird card number, and boom…your Bluebird account will magically have $500 on it.

2. Pay off your Credit Card using Bluebird’s Bill Pay function

Click on “Pay Bills” after logging in to your Bluebird account, find the credit card company you want to pay (“Chase Credit Cards” or “Wells Fargo Credit Card” for example), type in the credit card number of the account you’re trying to pay, enter the amount, and then pay it. Done.

3. Pay off the rest of your credit card

If you forgot, you paid $503.95 for $500 worth of a VR. That means you’ll have to pay the extra $3.95 out of your pocket. This is a very small price to pay, as I’ll explain shortly.

 

Summary

Did you see what we did there? We created a cycle of transferring money. You pay for a VR with your credit card, then pay off the credit card with that VR, plus a $3.95 fee per $500. You’ve also created 504 points on your credit card in that process; these are the points you’ve manufactured in this process, in addition to any other bonuses you might have earned.

Answers to FAQs

  • CVS is the best place to buy VRs. You may have to go to many CVSs before you find them.
  • Many CVSs will let you buy $5K of VRs at a time (that’s $5K plus the $39.50 in fees). Others limit you to $1K.
  • You can buy $5K of VRs from CVS per 24 hours. They keep track by swiping your ID. No, the government isn’t tracking you.
  • You can only load $5K of VRs per Bluebird per calendar month.
  • Yes, you can pay off the credit card of your friend from your Bluebird account. Names don’t matter for bill pay.
  • DO NOT try transferring money from your Bluebird account to your friend’s account. You will get shut down.
  • You can load $1K in VRs to your Bluebird card per day. The day ends at 12am EST. Yes, you can do $1K at 11:59PM and another $1K at 12AM.
  • I recommend not manufacturing spend on American Express credit cards, except the Amex SPG card.

Why? What’s the Point?

Seems like a lot of work right? So why would anyone want to do this? A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a 100,000 point credit card offer. That’s a lot of points that can get you a lot of places in the world, but the minimum spend requirement to earn those points is $10,000 within the first 3 months. The average American doesn’t spend $3.3K a month on their credit card, so those people have to “manufacture” the spend. The process above allows you to do that. Buying $10K worth of VRs would cost you just $79 in fees – a very small price to pay for all those points.

Others, like myself, do this on a very large scale because we have access to multiple Bluebird accounts. Let’s say I had access to 6 Bluebird accounts. I could buy $30K of VRs a month, with the fees costing me $237 out of pocket. That’s a lot of money for most people, but this could end up saving me money.

Let’s say I spent that $30K on my SPG credit card. I would then have 30K SPG points. Let’s say I wanted to stay 3 nights in Fiji at the Sheraton Fiji Resort, which costs 10K SPG Points per night. What would the cost of those 3 nights be if I paid in cash? See the image below.

3 nights at the Sheraton Fiji

3 nights at the Sheraton Fiji

I’ll do the currency conversion for you. FJD 1,590 is equal to $846.20 USD today. And if you didn’t notice, that number doesn’t include the tax either, another 20%. That means you’re looking at over $1,000 for 3 nights at this hotel. Those same nights are available for just 10K points per night, and no cash out of pocket. I paid $237 in fees though, so it’s not completely free, but it’s still about 77% off the daily rate.

THAT’S why we do this.

If you want to have some more fun thinking about the possibilities of how much money you can save, check out my Bluebird/Ink Award Cost Chart post.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the informative blog on the Bluebird Card. I note that you recommend not using AMEX card for this process. Can you give some additional details? I am trying to pay my mortgage with my Delta Reserve Card via Bluebird.. Is there another way of accomplishing this?

    • Travel Summary says:

      The recommendation to not use Amex cards was in regards to the process of paying off your credit card from bluebird. If you’re paying legitimate bills like a mortgage then you’re completely fine. You just don’t want to create a cycle that goes from Amex to Amex.

  2. Marathon man says:

    I thought the vr and bb were for the unbanked and one should only load like $20 here or there. If someone puts $500 on there it is too much and thats a scam! No wonder Vladimir Putin sees the US as evil.

    • Michael Spain says:

      Nope. It’s not a “scam”. It is a different but permitted use of the card(s), well within VR’s and BB’s T&C. And, Vladimir Putin calling the US “evil” is like Satan saying, “Texas is hot.”

  3. Dude….C’mon, this has been covered over and over again. Were you really that bored that you had to drag this up again? In the MS world, this is like me telling people the sky is blue. When I got into this game, I followed all of the travel bloggers, read FT and other forums daily, and scaled nicely. FT has become a steaming pile and I’ve unsubscribed from most bloggers because they don’t write anything useful and I don’t need a 37-part series about a honeymoon to Italy (you know who I’m talking about). When I get ready to go to Italy, I’ll google Italy like everyone else. I kept my subscription to your blog because I do like your writing and you’re somewhat entertaining, but then you write this? You’re better than this.

    • Travel Summary says:

      I don’t write stuff like this often. The only reason I did this time was because I really couldn’t point people anywhere else to explain this process. I simply didn’t like any other “guides” out there. As they say, if you want something done right, do it yourself. So I did.

      • Marathon man says:

        http://Www.mileageupdate.com

        The defcon series #3

      • Well, as a newbie to the travel game who has been reading around for a few weeks now, I found this to be a useful summary of the various snippets I got from other places. Please keep in mind that these blogs aren’t just for people who have been reading and learning for years, like yourself. They are meant to be accessible to a wide range of readers and experience levels.

      • Hey so I got an offer from someone saying they could add money to a VR. All I had to do was give them the code off of the card. Then send them money after I’ve received the extra money. After reading this, I now know they could easily just take the money I put on there. So I found it useful.

  4. Can you expand on why you don’t recommend MS on AMEX other than SPG? is it just because of the risk of FR and/or is SPG not a true AMEX? if the latter, why not MS on the Fidelity AMEX for 2% cash back?

    • Michael Spain says:

      Because BB is an Amex product, you are more likely to raise red flags and have your accounts canceled by Amex. And before you can say it, Marathon Man, because BB is their product, Amex is well within its rights to allow whoever they choose to use or *not* use their products.

      • Okay, then why SPG and not Fidelity AMEX?

        • Travel Summary says:

          SPG is the most valuable points-earning card you can use, which is why I recommend it. There are cash-back cards that earn 5% back that I covered in an earlier post: http://travel-summary.com/your-current-options-for-earning-5x-on-credit-cards/

          • I’m confused. You recommend not creating MS with AMEX cards because Bluebird is an AMEX product and they can cross-reference. Makes sense. Yet, you claim SPG is an exception because it’s such a valuable points-earning card. Are you trying to say it’s worth the added risk? Your logic here escapes me.

          • Travel Summary says:

            The Platinum and Gold cards are charge cards. The SPG card has a fixed credit limit. The SPG card is not an exception because it’s valuable, it’s an exception because it’s looked at differently than the Amex charge cards.

  5. Michael Spain says:

    Good post, although I also have read this on other sites. I’ve recently been running into my VR card purchases being blocked after they run my DL (and before my CC) at CVS. The system says, “Error: Try again in a few minutes.” Is that happening to anyone else?

  6. Thanks for putting this how to guide together! I agree, all of the other “guides” are not as helpful for a newbie. Like you, I was trying to explain to my friend and I was looking for a guide so this couldn’t have come at a more perfect time! So thanks for putting this together!

    I do have a question, when you said you can pay credit cards with bb, aren’t you not supposed to pay the cc bill you used to buy the vr with? So for example, say I bought $5000 with my sapphire and load that onto my bb. Isn’t it not recommended for me to turn around and pay my sapphire cc bill with the bb? Won’t bb notice a trend? I’ve only been paying my cc bills for my cc’s that I don’t use for any vr purchases.

    Thanks!

    • Travel Summary says:

      I’ve used several Bluebirds to pay off credit card bills exclusively, totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last 1+ years. It is totally fine, as long as you don’t pay off most Amex cards.

      • Thanks!

      • I would just like to clear this up further. I am NOT to load a BB account with my AMEX Starwood card. At Walmart, the limit is $2,000 to load. I would likely pay my mortgage and regular bills from this account from AMEX loaded money done directly at Walmart. What I should do is get numerous Vanilla $500 cards using my AMEX card and load them onto my BB account to accumulate points. And I should NEVER load a BB account with an AMEX card directly at Walmart and then turn around and pay my AMEX bill with it? Right? Could I purchase BB reloadable cards with my AMEX card? And then turn around and pay my AMEX bill? Likely not I suppose.

  7. give some credit to travelwithgrant, he got the whole guide on his site, step by step. now if you put this post as part of Tools for future reference, then it is very useful for quick review and for beginners.

    • Travel Summary says:

      I’ve seen his guide and guides written by many others, but I like mine better. This post has already been added to my beginners guide for minimum spend requirements.

    • Thanks Choi, my 7-8 Bluebird posts are more about how to use Bluebird, but Travel Summary has a good description of why to use Bluebird. I don’t cover anything about why to use Bluebird. We need a hybrid site called Travel Summary with Grant.

  8. You did good writing this… I have friends that just start on the MS and had alotta questions that now you answered pretty clearly! Awesome job and Thank you!

  9. Hi everyone!

    I’m a newbie in this… Is there a better way to pay for bills and/or mortgage using CC? I have US Airways & United CCs (if that makes a difference), and about to open either Hilton or Chase Sapphire (travel 2-4x/year; I have many miles, but no hotel points)
    I would also appreciate advise on which CC is better to open for hotels :o)
    Thank you in advance!

    • Travel Summary says:

      In my opinion, paying the mortgage with VRs/Bluebird is the best option with regards to fees.

      For hotels, it really depends on what you want. Hilton and Hyatt offer cards that give 2 free nights at any hotel worldwide. The value of those can be tremendous if used at high-end properties. The SPG card gives a small bonus of 25K points that are better suited for mid-tier hotels, but those points are also very flexible and it’s a good card to manufacture spend with.

  10. Thank you for the concise, easy-to-follow post. It was just what I needed to take the plunge and get started using Vanilla Reloads.

  11. Is Bluebird worth getting if Vanilla reload cards aren’t for sale where you live? I live in NYC and haven’t been able to find them anywhere.

    Is it possible to load visa or mastercard giftcards onto bluebird?

  12. Cheapblackdad says:

    This was the best breakdown of bluebird I have ever seen. Well done. I don’t think I had ever fully wrapped my mind around the possibilities, but that’s because I refuse to payfor points as a part of the game.

    However, I always assumed the reason no one spoke of this as clearly as you did here was because people don’t want this out in the open. Pretty sure the days of doing this are swiftly coming to a close.

    For the record I never MS. Feels wrong to me. No knock against those who do. But pretty sure posts like this are killing this as a tactic.

    Thoughts?

    • Travel Summary says:

      I think the use of this technique is widespread, and I think all the companies involved (Incomm, CVS, etc.) are aware that people like us exist. It wouldn’t continue to exist if any of the parties involved were losing money. That means Incomm, CVS, and we are all benefiting in some way, which is why the game persists.

      I understand why it “feels wrong” to you, but I don’t have any qualms because everything we do with these transactions is within policy (as far as I know). I personally supplement my Manufactured spend with cash back cards to make sure any fees (like the $3.95 VR fee) are minimized.

      As far as posts like this killing it, that’s hard to say. Surely it’s dying a slow death, but I’m not sure how much each individual post like this accelerates it. If it’s going to die anyway, might as well take advantage of it while we can.

  13. You write of the 100,000 mile Citi offer. I thought that buying Van. @ CVS would incur a cash advance treatment, high interest from purchase date, with this use. Am I correct? Is there a nice workaround?
    Thanks!

  14. This is great!

    Would it seem impolite to ask that you please turn your prodigious talents towards a similar explication of BB’s cousin Serve? It would be appreciated, I’m sure, by many more than just me.

  15. eighteesix says:

    My research indicates places like Office Depot and CVS no longer accept credit cards for Vanilla reload purchases. Can you comment on this?

    • Travel Summary says:

      Office Depot does not, CVS definitely does. You may have a misinformed cashier or a specific store that doesn’t allow it, but I buy all of mine from CVS.

  16. Presume you’ve read the reports (mms, etc.) that this venerable cvs/cc/vrc option may be ending, as of tonight. (3/30) Any insights? For those of us still with a good bit of ms to accomplish to get the City Exec AA 10k spend, any alternative suggestions? be curious to read your take on this

    • Travel Summary says:

      I don’t have any particular insight to this just yet. I talked to my CVS Manager just an hour ago and asked about the memo. He said he just checked all memos and had not read anything about that. I don’t know if this is going to be nation-wide, regional, or just an April Fool’s joke. I’ll withhold comment until there’s something more concrete.

      • Think you can now mark this topic, this thread as “history.” Am curious though to read your details posts on alternatives to funding BB…. (and please don’t say onevanilla — it too is now “cash only” at CVS)

  17. R Mills says:

    Ok. Thanks for the summary. But–if VR (and others) are a “quasi cash” transaction, then they shouldn’t earn miles according to the Barclaycard Arrival terms. Any comment on this?

Trackbacks

  1. […] that each of these methods relies on the Vanilla Reload/Bluebird method. If that’s not a possibility for you anymore, you can buy PIN-enabled $500 Visa/MC gift cards […]

  2. […] PIN-enabled gift cards and liquidating them by purchasing money orders. As I did previously with Vanilla Reloads and Bluebird, I’ll provide a step-by-step explanation of how to do this in this […]

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