Maximize Points with Vanilla and Bluebird

I just reread the title of this post and realized that it sounds like a very strange children’s show on a hipster cable channel.  I love that image.  If you were looking forward to reading about the adventures of Vanilla and Bluebird as they navigate the land of Points, I apologize in advance, because this is not that kind of post.

This is a post about how to increase the amount of points you are currently earning each month, by making it possible to pay all of your bills with a credit card.  All of them.  Yes, even your mortgage and your car payment.  And your daycare provider.  And PG&E.  Every single bill.  Unfortunately, not all of you will be able to do this easily, but this method is available to everyone, although it might require a little extra effort or strategy.

The “elevator pitch” version of the strategy is simple: get a Bluebird (prepaid debit) card from American Express, then buy Vanilla Reload cards with the credit card of your choice and load them onto your Bluebird.  Using the Bluebird “pay bills” feature, pay any bill you like.  This method can net you thousands of extra points each month.  For example, if you’ve got a $1,500 mortgage and $500 worth of other previously-unpayable-by-credit-card bills such as a car payment or various utility bills, you can now earn points on that $2,000 – in addition to your usual monthly credit card spend.  

This is great news because it means thousands of extra points per month.  It is also great news if you are trying to meet credit card spend.

Let’s expand on the elevator pitch.

First of all, what is a Bluebird card?

A Bluebird card is a prepaid debit card from American Express.  You can get a Bluebird online for free, or at any Walmart for $5.  Since the card is prepaid, it does not affect your credit.

How does the Bluebird card work?

You can load up to $10,000 on your Bluebird card, and then use this money in various ways:

  • You can use it like an ATM card.
  • You can use it to pay bills (a very important feature!)

There are no transaction fees, load fees, foreign transaction fees or bill-pay fees.  ATM fees are waived when you set up direct deposit.

You can load the card using Vanilla Reloads.  You can load up to $1,000 every 24 hours and up to $5,000 a month with reload packs.

You can load the card at any Walmart using a miles-earning debit card (Alaska Airlines or SunTrust Delta).

What is a Vanilla Reload Card?

A card that can be purchased in increments up to $500 with a fee of $3.95.  You can then load this money onto your Bluebird card. Vanilla Reloads can be found in the gift card section of some drugstores, some gas stations, and some grocery stores.  A Vanilla Reload looks like this:

 

How can I earn points by loading my Bluebird card using Vanilla Reloads?

The trickiest part of the entire transaction is finding a CVS or Walgreen’s that will allow you to purchase reloads with a credit card.  Since there are huge metropolitan areas where this is impossible (hello, San Francisco!), you may need to take a road trip in order to capture this elusive prey.  You can also plan to visit local CVS/Walgreen’s when you travel to other cities.  Josh recently had success at a CVS in Kentucky.

Once you track down the cards, you are usually limited to 2 $500 cards per transaction.  Obviously you can get around this rule by walking out of the store, then walking in 5 minutes later to purchase more cards.  However, since American Express is wary of suspicious transactions, I would exercise restraint and caution when purchasing reloads.  Slow and steady is the way to go here.

Which card should I use to purchase Vanilla Reloads?

Anything but a Citibank card.  Citi treats these as cash advances so you will be charged a cash advance fee – totally not worth it!

Here are just a few examples of cards that might be good choices:

The Hilton Amex or Hilton Surpass.  Both of these cards earn 6 points per dollar spent at drugstores.  If you spend $2,000 a month on your Bluebird, this translates to 144,000 Hilton HHonors points per year.  This would be enough for a long weekend (3-4 nights) at most Hilton properties.

The Starwood Preferred Guest Amex.  $2,000 a month would get you 24,000 Starpoints.  This would equal 29,000 airline miles if you transfer these points to most of their airline partners, because you get a 5,000 point bonus when you transfer at least 20,000 miles at a time.  You can also earn Starwood Gold status if you spend at least $30,000 on this card per calendar year.

Chase Sapphire Preferred.  For $24,000 spend per year, you would earn 25,680 Ultimate Rewards points (1 point per dollar, plus a 7% annual dividend).  Lots of possibilities for great points redemption with this one. For example, this is enough for a round trip supersaver flight on United.  These flights can sometimes retail for $500-$600, so clearly great value to be had here.

Keep in mind that it might be a good idea to alternate the cards you use to purchase Vanilla reloads.  You don’t want to do anything to arouse a bank’s suspicion.  If a bank thinks you are not playing by the rules, you could be shut down and all your points could be taken away.  That would be a terrible fate, so it is really best to tread lightly here.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with using prepaid and reloadable cards.  It’s not illegal and there is nothing against it in the T&C of any credit card points programs or agreements.  Just enjoy it in moderation.

That being said, back to our regularly scheduled program: Bluebird and Vanilla are your friends.

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