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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.