Buying Money With Money for the Miles: Go Beyond Bluebird’s $5000 a Month Limit, and How to Play Even Without Vanilla Reloads

I’m going to say a bit today about the current status of ‘Bluebird’ and ‘Vanilla Reloads’ as a mileage-earning strategy, and offer some tips for folks that are already pursuing that strategy to do it even bigger while also offering something to the folks that haven’t been able to take advantage so far because they cannot find Vanilla Reload cards in their area that can be purchased with a credit card.

Buying Money with Money

Vanilla Reload cards — the holy grail, the ability to buy money on a credit card and use the money to pay off credit cards while earning points in the process — can be difficult to find in some cities, and folks run into all sorts of different policies when trying to purchase them.

I’ve written about these cards in the past. The simplest thing, once you’ve found them, is to use them to load an American Express Bluebird card.

Everyone should have one of those cards, if they don’t already, they do require a social security number when you sign up but don’t run your credit. They’ll send you a free card in the mail.

It’s a product for the ‘unbanked’ — it’s an online bank account of sorts, combined with a debit card, you can make purchases or use online billpay or take cash out of an ATM.

It’s also the mileage junkie’s best friend because it lets you buy money (Vanilla Reload, or load fundsat Walmart with a mileage-earning debit card) and liquidate the money back into a bank account, my preferred method is billpay since you can have checks sent to anyone you wish.

Finding Vanilla Reload Cards

Office Depot no longer sells Vanilla Reload cards, that’s a shame because you could earn 5 miles per dollar using cards that bonus office supply spend.

One workaround, for folks that have access to Vanilla Reloads, has been to buy American Express gift cards at Office Depot for the 5 miles per dollar and then use the gift card to purchase Vanilla Reload cards at another store. It’s more expensive but still worth the points.

The problem is that Vanilla Reloads aren’t everyone, and not every place that carries them will accept credit cards for their purchase. So it’s a scavenger hunt, some people give up frustrated.

Alex’s local CVS now only takes cash but these policies always seem to vary by store — sometimes stores only accept cash. Other times cash or debit. Some place a limit on how much they’ll sell you in a day.

Here’s a story that shows just how much ‘your mileage may vary’ these policies are. And each store has a different story for what their policy is, why it’s like that, and often they relay that the policy applies to all stores in their chain when you’ll find another store in the same city with a different policy.

Some stores believe these are popular amongst drug dealers. Well, we all need to get our fix somehow. In this case, we’re just mileage junkies.

But bottom-line is you need to visit your local CVS and Walgreens stores especially (although Dollar General works too if there’s one nearby), and then suss out what policy will be enforced.

It’s Worth the Time to Search

Vanilla Reloads — along with free transfers up to $1000 a month via Amazon Payments — remain one of the best ways to meet minimum spend for a credit card signup bonus, and it also lets you do things like pay bills which don’t normally accept credit cards (like rent or mortgage) and earn miles.

That’s because American Express Bluebird cards, where most folks put put Vanilla Reload funds onto, allow you to use those funds with their bill payment option where they send checks. So you can effectively buy money with a credit card, then use that money to pay off the credit card. Or use the money to pay rent or mortgage.

Going Beyond Bluebird’s $5000 a Month Limit with Vanilla Reloads

For folks that are the true ‘haves’ amongst mileage collectors — those that have found stashes of Vanilla Reloads they can purchase with a credit card — the greatest wish is to go beyond the $5000 limit per month that Bluebird imposes.

Those folks should consider the My Vanilla Debit card (“My Vanilla Personal Reloadable Prepaid Visa card”). And others can get into the game, too, even without Vanilla Reloads, which I’ll get to in a minute.

You can load $2500 per day onto the card, and can have a balance on it of up to $9999. There’s no billpay function, they charge for ATM withdrawals, and they charge 50 cents for each transactions. Ouch, right?

No. Because as Dan’s Deals wrote earlier in the month, you can get a cash advance at a bank for 50 cents regardless of the amount you’re requesting.

Some banks will only work with a permanent card if you want the cash advance. You can only get up to 3 permanent cards (per person, they register to your social security number, of course each member of your household can have three).

The permanent cards are what you want if you have access to Vanilla Reloads at a Walgreens or CVS near you. Because you then can go well beyond the $1000 per day / $5000 per calendar month limit that Bluebird imposes. And the cash advance fee of 50 cents is the same, whether you’re taking out $500 or $9500.

Reports are that Chase banks can be iffy for this — some don’t like to do it at all, some won’t do it on temporary cards. Lots of positive results with Bank of America. Really, though, it all comes down to whether you have access to a bank that is willing to participate.

Using This Strategy Without Vanilla Reloads

The best case scenario is to find a bank willing to take the temporary cards that you buy at CVS. There’s a $3.95 fee per $500 card, go to a bank and take out all but 50 cents (the cash advance fee).

And do that without limit, you no longer need to worry about finding Vanilla Reload cards at all.

Two Strategies for MyVanilla Debit Cards

That leaves us with two ways to maximize these cards:

  • If you can find Vanilla Reload cards that you can purchase with a credit card, max out by getting up to 3 registered MyVanilla Debit cards and you can load up to $2500 x 3 per day. And if you have a bank near you that will give you cash advances, you can take the full balance off each card for a 50 cent fee.
  • If you do not have Vanilla Reloads available near you, you want to find a bank that will allow you to cash out temporary cards. These are the ones you buy at CVS for $500 plus $3.95 fee and then cash them out en masse for a 50 cash advance fee apiece.

If you’re in the odd situation of being able to find Vanilla Reload cards but not MyVanilla Debit cards, you can order a starter card online.

(Some folks may even have one of these laying around, I’ve gotten emails from readers that accidently bought these cards instead of Vanilla reloads on their first attempt to fund a Bluebird card.)

A Word of Caution

If you do lots of these over and over with a single credit card or single credit card issuer they may not like it.

Some folks are afraid of American Express ‘financial reviews’ (they want to see lots of financial information like tax returns to make sure you’re able to pay back the credit they’re extending). This scares or enrages some, I’ve always viewed it as a cost of doing business with them.

And I’m always cautious with Citibank because they have a tendency to consider lots of things as cash advances (which don’t earn miles, but do accrue interest). When I’ve opened bank accounts where the initial funding can be done by credit card, I’ve generally done it with a Chase card rather than one from Citibank (even when the bank I was opening the account with was Citi!). Although I don’t see how these purchases would get flagged that way.

But go slow, mix up the cards you’re using for purchase.

This takes work.

You’re going to have to do some of your own investigations if you want to pursue this strategy.

  • You need to get out in your town, or wherever you’re traveling, and find Vanilla Reload cards and see what stores that have them are willing to take credit cards for their purchase. Be prepared to be refused, then you have to try another store.

  • You need to go into a bank, maybe several. Peronally I’d buy one MyVanilla Debit card and experiment. If I couldn’t ever find a bank willing to give me a $499.50 cash advance for my $500 card, I could always liquidate the card through Amazon payments or fund my Kiva account with it.

This isn’t a ‘sit at your computer terminal, or just hop over to Office Depot’ kind of thing.

It takes investigation and local sleuthing, but when you’ve found the stores that have what you need you’re able to churn out large quantities of miles every month at very little relative cost.

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, 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. @ Gary,

    You have mentioned this on your blog a few times – “When I’ve opened bank accounts where the initial funding can be done by credit card, I’ve generally done it with a Chase card rather than one from Citibank (even when the bank I was opening the account with was Citi!)”

    I just want to check if this option is still available ? Am asking this as I’ve also read reports about Chase marking such transactions as ‘cash advances’ & not as ‘purchases’… thanks in advance !

  2. @Vaidy Chase hasn’t flagged such transactions as cash advances in my experience, do you have a link you can point me to?

  3. Seems like the only way to make this worthwhile for everyday spending (not just meeting signup requirements) is to get at least 2-3x, hopefully 5x points. Obviously Ink comes to mind.

    The problem is this requires so many steps and all the breaks have to go your way. You have to get an OD or Staples or whatever that will sell you an AMEX or Visa GC on your Ink. Then you have to find a CVS that will take CC (that AMEX/Visa GC) for VR. Then you load your VR to your MVD. Then you have to find a bank that will cash advance your temporary, unnamed MVD.

    So 3 errands at friendly stores/banks. It’s not worth it to just go CVS(VR)->MVD->Bank as there is no big multiplier at CVS…

  4. @Al thats what Im doing.. buying 1008 UR / Amex / SPG points for $7.80. This way I figure its nearly impossible to get shut down. If you are repeatedly doing this with 5X or 6X then the card companies are bound to hate you.. but with only 1X, the card companies are still profiting off you so have no incentive to shut you down

  5. Per the website it states: – What are the ATM withdrawal and load limits on the MyVanilla Card?
    You can load a maximum of $500.00 per day onto your Card, and thethere is a $2,500.00 total maximum deposit limit per day from all deposit sources (loads and ACH direct deposits). The daily ATM withdrawal limit is $400.00. Please review the online Cardholder Agreement for the most up-to-date information about your MyVanilla Card. This is different then the 2,500 per day you states?

  6. I dont understand your two strategies in your blog. I understand the first one but not the second one. the only way this makes any sense is if you can purchase the my vanilla debit card pre loaded with the 500 dollars with a rewards credit card. IF the store don’t have vanilla reloads or wont sell them using a credit card but do have the pre filled 500 dollars debit card and will sell them using a credit card it makes sense. but if the store wont sell the reloads with a credit card surely they wouldn’t sell the preloaded my vanilla debit cards with a credit card either. am i missing something?.

  7. i am seeing at myvanilla site that *Some retailers have the ability to apply your funds directly at the register.

    has anyone experience with this?

    and, can someone tell me how to combine 3 my vanilla debit cards into 1?

  8. Regarding the HHonors Surpass AMEX card being declined at CVS, I have had the same thing happen. AMEX said it wasn’t them.

    One time when it was declined, the clerk said “Let me swipe it on the register… sometimes the (customer remote swipe thingy) doesn’t work.” So she swiped it at the register, and it worked. Last couple times I used it I asked the clerk to swipe it, and both times it worked fine.

  9. am i the only 1 whos unable to transfer $ from vanilla to bluebird??? plz advise. thanks

  10. OK – So, which cards provide 5x or 6x for drugstore purchases? Are these Vanilla no longer available at Staples or OfficeDepot? I can then use my Ink card…

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