Don’t worry, you can still buy Vanilla Reloads with a credit card…for now, at least. But you can no longer deny that the difficulty with which you can do so is increasing, and “reports” are now turning into reality slowly but surely. Last night, my CVS guy told me some interesting information that can only be seen as a negative for those that use Vanilla Reloads to earn cheap points, assuming the same applies to your stores.
I went to my local CVS with the plan to buy just a single Vanilla Reload. I decided to do this because I only had about $600 in available credit on the card I wanted to use (the Chase British Airways card that I’m trying to hit $20K with). Normally I buy two, but this unusual circumstance made me decide to only buy one instead of using a different card or doing two separate transactions.
It turns out that was a great decision.
As soon as I walked in, the manager saw me and bolted for the back room. I finished my transaction with a cashier that I know very well (he doesn’t even check my ID anymore), and as soon as that happened the Manager came running up with a piece of paper and said “alright hold on a second guys.” The wonderful scent of vanilla suddenly vanished from the air around me as I knew nothing good could be coming next. (How’s that for imagery? I should write a novel! Maybe not…)
The Manager explained to me and the cashier that there is “new legislation” that requires all gift card transactions over $1,000 to be recorded on a “form” that’s to be reported to the IRS. That’s the piece of paper he was holding – a form with about a dozen fields to be filled out by the cashier regarding details of the purchase. I asked what some of the fields were and he told me it was mostly basic stuff: Full name, driver’s license number, type of credit card (Visa/MC/etc), and transaction amount, among others that I couldn’t get a glimpse at. I didn’t feel comfortable asking to see the paper.
The motivation for such a form is clear – people that participate in the Vanilla Reload/Bluebird game clearly spend a lot more on credit cards than they normally would. I’m a pretty good example of this. I’ve spent about $30K this calendar year alone between CVS, Rite Aid, and Office Depot on reload cards, and I sure don’t make a salary that would support that kind of spend (assuming it wasn’t all getting paid off directly). There are people who think that’s a lot of money, and others who would call me an amateur because they spend tons more than that. It’s what I felt comfortable doing.
The IRS now apparently wants to track some of these larger purchases, and according to this Manager, whom I trust, it’s only for gift card purchases. Take that for what it’s worth, though. It’s easy to say “new legislation” and “IRS form” and other scary-sounding terms, but any way you look at it seems like the clamps are tightening around us.
There have always been reports and actual occurances of this type of tightening of rules. In November, I was able to buy 6 Vanilla Reload cards on 3 separate transactions from the same CVS. Then we found out that 6x HHonors points at drugstores from the Amex Hilton Surpass card was going away. Then CVS started to only allow two reloads per person per day (which you can easily work around by catching employees on the morning and evening shift separately). Then Hilton destroyed their HHonors program (which could be unrelated). Then we couldn’t use prepaid Visa/MC/Amex gift cards to buy Vanilla Reloads. Now, buying $1,000 worth of gift cards at CVS requires a lot more information than I want to give. Thank goodness I was only buying one!
I’ve recently read other reports that credit card usage was going to be completely taken away at CVS for Vanilla Reloads. It was unsubstantiated, but the person that indicated this said he heard it from a CVS employee that he trusts. Similar reports have been around for weeks, so it’s not quite the end of the world yet. But it does seem our window is closing once again.
So should you run out and buy all those Vanilla Reloads that you’ve probably hidden throughout the CVS? I suppose you could, but assuming your CVS got the same email that mine did, I wouldn’t recommend buying more than one a day now unless you’re completely fine with proving your information. If yours hasn’t received the same email, great! Ignore this post and continue on your merry, points-earning way.
This doesn’t quite mean the end of Vanilla Reloads at CVS just yet anyway. Remember, Office Depot used to be well-stocked with these reload cards all the time and Ultimate Rewards was the popular program. Then they weren’t, but CVS magically started carrying these cards and HHonors points became all the rage. We can always hope that something new pops up if/when CVS does take that final step to lock us out.
There’s always a new deal, a new way to earn points, a new way to game the system. This one was and is particularly amazing because it cuts down a lot of manual work and other annoying steps since we can pay our bills directly. Remember, this is just one method by which you can earn points. I recently wrote about free Green Dot MoneyPaks, and one of my most popular posts has been my post on the various methods you can use to earn tons of points.
If that’s not enough for you, I have two things to say. First, read Hack My Trip’s post “Don’t Be Greedy.” Second, head to FlyerTalk if you want to learn other methods. There’s a dedicated section to “manufactured spending,” which is essentially what this is.
With that being said, I’m curious to know your recent experiences. What “rumors” or other information have you picked up from local CVS merchants or others in the points community regarding the status of Vanilla Reloads? Did CVS ask for your information when you tried to buy gift cards?