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The Bluebird and Vanilla Reload Cards: Earn Miles Paying Bills

Update: As of April 4, 2014, CVS has made a chainwide change to not accept credit cards for Vanilla Reloads. 

The American Express Vanilla Reload card has increased our abilities to collect miles and points paying our bills. You can: Spend $500 on a miles earning credit card to buy a Vanilla Reload card at your local CVS or drugstore, load the credit onto the American Express Bluebird card and then use the credit on the Bluebird card to pay your mortgage, rent or tuition bill. Normally, these expenses may not take credit cards and this is a good way to earn miles through these sorts of transactions.

The American Express Bluebird card is a free card (without credit pull) that you can basically use as a bank account and debit card. You can use it to buy merchandise, send checks to people or pay regular monthly expenses such as rent, tuition, mortgage and utilities. You can load it directly from a checking account or through a debit card, but the most lucrative way for miles and points seekers is the Vanilla reload.

Vanilla Reload

The Vanilla Reload is sold at drugstores like CVS and works as credit you can load onto the Bluebird card. You can use a credit card to buy a Vanilla reload card and then load the funds onto the Bluebird card. You can then use the Bluebird card as a regular debit card or to pay bills such as tuition, rent, mortgage or anywhere else you can send a check for bill paying purposes.

Vanilla reload

The Vanilla Reload Basics

How do I get a Bluebird card?

You can order a Bluebird card by going to www.bluebird.com and ordering the card directly from the website. It will come in the mail in about 7-10 days.

Where do I find Vanilla reload cards?

The best place to check for Vanilla reload cards is your local CVS. Since many people are buying these, many locations are sold out. I have not been able to find these cards in NY, but two out of three CVS by my parents’ house in NJ have them. You can buy up to $1000 per transaction although some CVS locations have recently raised the limit to $5,000. It’s been reported that some Walgreens will only accept cash for them so you may have to look in a few different places before you find these cards in stock. That said, your luck may vary and I was able to find a ton of them by my parents’ local CVS.

How to I load a Vanilla reload card onto a Bluebird card?

To load the card, go to www.vanillareload.com. It will prompt you type in the PIN number of your Vanilla reload card and your Bluebird card number and the loading is instantaneous.

What are the limits for how much I can load onto a Bluebird card?

You are limited to loading $1000/day onto the card or $5000/month. This allows you to spend $60,000 a year on the card.

How do I pay my bills with the card?

To pay your bills, log in to your bluebird.com account and go to pay bills. You can add the payee by typing in your bank name and account number. It usually takes a few business days for the payment to process so don’t wait until the last minute. I personally have never had it take more than two business days, however.

The Best Cards to use with the Bluebird/Vanilla reload

I like to use my most valuable cards for paying my bills. Don’t forget, you can also use Vanilla Reloads to meet minimum spending requirements as those rent, mortgage and student loan can really add up!

  1. Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard: After the initial $440 sign-up bonus, the card gives 2.2% cash back redeemable toward any travel expense.
  2. United MileagePlus Explorer Card: The United Mileage Plus Explorer Card gives a 10,000 mile bonus when spending $25,000 on the card in a single calendar year. If you spend $25,000 on your bills and use the United MileagePlus explorer card via Vanilla Reloads, you will get 1.4 miles per dollar.
  3. Starwood Preferred Guest Card: Starwood Preferred Guest points are very valuable for hotels and transfer to a ton of airlines at a 1:1.25 ratio. That is, for every 20,000 Starwood points, you can transfer to 25,000 airline miles.

Additional Resources

Bluebird website

Vanilla Reload website

Comments

  1. Nguyen says

    @Professor,

    Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my question thoroughly. I am learning a lot from your site. We have never been in Caribbean, and I am learning how to get there and also to the Grand Cayman :-)

    Once again, I really appreciate all of your help and your time.

  2. ben says

    Hi, are you aware of any place in NYC which allows credit card payment for VR cards? I have been searching for these places for a while. Thanks and cheers.

  3. Greg says

    Hi, I found your site very interesting and went to look into Vanilla ReLoad cards at CVS. It seems that there is now corporate type signage that only cash can be used to purchase any type of debit type card product, of which they consider Vanilla ReLoad to be. I’m glad that you were able to take advantage of this “loop hole”. However, it appears that anything that is too good doesn’t last for long. Would appreciate knowing if it is still possible to utilize this strategy in other ways.

    • says

      It’s true it has become increasingly difficult to find Vanilla Reloads at CVS that will take a credit card, but not all CVS’s have been able to implement the cash-only policies uniformly. You may have to look around a few different CVS locations before you find one that works. I haven’t been able to find any in NYC by me so it’s really luck of the draw, unfortunately.

  4. Shwe says

    If I buy a couple of the vanilla prepaid cards at a cvs/walgreens in NJ, can I refill them at a CVS/walgreens in NYC?

      • Shwe says

        Hey – thanks for the response. I get that, I should rephrase my question:

        Can I buy a vanilla reload card in NJ for $3.95, take it to NYC and load $1000 on it at a random CVS there? Or will they not be able to do it since they don’t sell vanilla reload cards in that particular store.

  5. Andy says

    Once the VR are purchased from CVS, how much does it cost to load onto Bluebird? Is it only free by going to Walmart (but limit of $1000/day, hence 5 trips to load $5000)? Any other way to load the Bluebird card with VR for free? Thanks

  6. says

    I haven’t had any problems with my Bluebird account only funding it with Vanilla Reloads. Also, the way to use Bluebird for your loans is that you can pay your student loans via the online check sending option. You can also enter any Bill pay account for a bank, as an example.

  7. Jay says

    I visited several CVS & Walgreens in/around my usual stomping grounds, and none of them accept credit cards as a form of payment for Vanilla Reload cards. After a frustrating afternoon, I asked the cashiers at the last two stores why they didn’t accept CC’s, and they said they weren’t sure, other than the store doesn’t accept CC’s as payment for reloadable cards. I’m in DC, so do I have to travel up to NJ to get some cards?!

    • says

      I have never found Vanilla Reloads at Walgreens that accept credit cards. I also really don’t know about card availability in DC. I was able to find Vanilla Reloads with credit cards when I was there in April, but i really don’t know where it was as someone else drove… things also may have changed in 6 months!

  8. Kris says

    Hi professor, This whole thing about vanilla reloads..Doesn’t this actually turn up to be an extra expense in reality? For example, I buy $3000 worth of VR’s using the credit card and load them to BB and pay the CC used to buy them. That is actually 3000 dollars out of my account (not $47) for getting those 50000 miles, correct? It is possible I am missing the point completely. If I however buy a gift card, it makes sense. Can you please please clarify?

    • says

      Every time you buy Vanilla Reloads, you are only paying the $3.95 associated with buying the Vanilla Reload card. That is, when you buy 2 cards for $1000 in currency, you only spend $7.90. The other $1000 you get back in however you choose to use it (rent check, credit card bill) in the exact amount. e.g. if you have a 50,000 sign-up bonus and need to spend $3,000, you’d buy $3,000 in Vanilla Reloads and pay $23.70 in fees. The $3,000 you still have and can move it to your checking account or pay the credit card bill you used to buy the Vanilla Reloads.

  9. Kris says

    Here is my logic. Say I have $1000 in my bank account. I buy $500 worth of VR card. And if I now use the $500 VR to pay off my CC, I am left with $500 for the rest of my expenses. However if I buy the $500 as a GC, even though, I might have paid a little more in fees, it is however available to me to use for my expenses maybe around $993 or so? Do you agree

    • says

      You would buy Vanilla Reloads with the same credit card that you pay off. You don’t need to withdraw money from your bank account for this except to pay the $3.95 fee. At the end, you spend $503.95 on your credit card, paid off $500 and are out $3.95 only :)

  10. Jonny says

    Nice blog. A few quick questions.
    1) Is there anything stopping me from getting multiple BB cards to get past the 5K/month limit.
    2) Can I bill-pay from BB directly to my bank account or cut myself a check, or better yet bill-pay to the purchasing CC directly?

    • says

      You can only get one BB card per social security number. If you have a wife or kids or friends, they can get additional cards as well. You can bill pay to the credit card directly, you just have to pay to the credit card issuing bank and use your credit card number for the account.

  11. Steph says

    Help! New to this, just got my first cc chase Ink Bold and need to meet 5k spend. Ordered bluebird, went searching for VR’s here in phoenix…all I could find was a black card that says my vanilla prepaid visa $3.95 fee..the packaging is totally different then the picture you posted. If they allow me to purchase this card at the CVS will it work to fund the bluebird to pay my mortgage?

    • says

      Hi. That the ‘My Vanilla Debit’ and you cannot use them to load Bluebird… in fact, you use Vanilla Reloads to load My Vanilla Debit. I saw you sent me an email… I’ll respond to that with a few links to other ways to load Bluebird and pay bills.

  12. Bob says

    I buy Vanilla Reloads all the time at CVS’s in Charlotte, NC. Yesterday, for the first time, a new cashier said, “Oh, these are for points”. I said, you are the first cashier at CVS who has ever recognized that. She replied, “I buy them all the time to fund my H&R Block debit card, the points are great”.
    My question is can I pay Federal taxes with a Bluebird check?

    • says

      Bluebird works as a debit card and there should be an option to pay taxes with a debit card through some processing agencies. You can also order checks for your Bluebird account and use these to pay taxes as well, though these checks are not free and I believe they cost around $20 for a book of 50.

  13. rosie says

    professor – how do I earn miles on bluebird card? forgive me for my questions – am still learning a lot about traveling for free and in style like you and so many others!!!

  14. Prof. Hava`i says

    Hi Professor. That 1,000 per day load limit needs to be minded. Found out the hard way. I inadvertently tried to load three $500 cards on same day, one in the morning, two in the afternoon. Via the vanlillareload web site, they appeared to load just fine, but they didn’t. (which I confirmed when I went into the Bluebird web site. Called a rep., on Sunday, and got an overseas rep. with less than helpful English. She was polite, yet kept putting me on hold, then gave me three different answers as to what I should do. I was worried I’d somehow thrown away $500.00 and couldn’t prove it.

    Tried again today, with a different rep. who painstakingly worked with me and vanilla reps, cross-checking the Vanilla card pin #’s with what did and did not deposit. What a hassle — yet glad they eventually straightened it out. Lesson learned, follow the limit guidelines closely — and keep records of which cards were “loaded” to the Bluebird account which day and at what time.

    Re. the paper checks mentioned above, great to have them — for unexpected needs. (got mine for free — read elsewhere that promotion still going)

  15. Christopher Castle says

    Hi professor,
    My wife and I are Starwood Elite 4 members through our vacation ownership and I have been following several blogs about mileage & travel. We have the Starwood Amex and the Delta Gold Amex for the Starwood/Delta crossover rewards programs, and their combined benefits. We are lifetime Gold members with Starwood (and with crossover rewards with Delta now too… YAY!!) and are working towards becoming lifetime platinum members for both.
    I want to commend you for your blog and the information you provide concerning BB & Vanilla cards. I do have a few questions about BB and Vanilla still and hope you can help provide a little clarity.
    1) I thought when I reviewed the Starwood Amex fine print that it specifically states points are not awarded for gift card reloads. In reading your blog entries above, is it your experience that this is only for reloads and not purchases? I was ready to pull the trigger about 18 months ago to get another Starwood Amex under my name for the sign on bonus points with spending the 5k in 6 months, but backed off after reading this in the other blogs.
    2) my wife and I live in Colorado and find flying out of DIA a problem when it comes to maximizing our travel for the least out of pocket. My question is, do you have a recommendation for programs, or other blogs that provide a breakdown of programs specifically by location of their nearest airport?
    I know this is quite a tall order to be asking, but who knows, maybe the network of bloggers who write similar blogs on travel would be willing to post information about their specific travel choices based on the airlines that hub out of their local airports. For example; DIA hosts several airlines as hubs, United, Frontier, and Great Lakes, they are also a concentrated airport for Southwest which I think it means Southwest has a mini-hub out of Denver. Based on your experience and your location/airport which airlines, credit cards, and destinations do you find to be most lucrative? For example, sometimes Airline X, which has this credit card, allows us to travel to A,B,C & D, because this specific airline frequently has airfares to A, B, C & D which are greatly discounted every few months. Like I said I know it is a tall order, but if you happen to have a general idea of such instances, or others who may be aware of such instances out of DIA, I would greatly appreciate it, and I am sure the other followers would be grateful for this type of information also.

    Semper Fi

    Chris in Denver

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