To provide some background for this story, you should know that Vanilla Reloads have not been available in the San Francisco Bay Area since October of 2012. Oh, how we’ve missed them and envied those who were still able to earn thousands of extra points every month while paying bills with the credit card of their choice. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read my post about this here).
Yesterday, I was minding my own business when I got a text from a good friend who is a beginning Points and Miles collector. I just smiled at his eager optimism. I had already scoured every single CVS within a ten-mile radius looking for Vanilla Reloads, and had been to the store he mentioned at least three times over the past twelve long, dry, Vanilla-free weeks.
As you can see, my initial skepticism turned to shock after he found some!!!
I quickly headed to my local CVS to see if the Vanilla Fairies had been there as well, but no such luck.
When I picked my kids up from school, they groaned when I told them that we had to do a “quick errand.” They knew the drill; we had done this dozens of times before (I really did finetooth-comb the area searching for Vanillas). Their dismay turned to glee when I bribed them with the promise of candy (a rare treat in our house), and we roared off in search of the elusive cards.
I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw these hanging coyly on the rack:
I quickly bought two. Along with the candy, my total came to $1012.91. “A thousand dollars for candy?” Bear asked, horrified. “Yes, candy is super expensive. That’s one of the reasons we never buy it,” I told him. “Enjoy.”
When I told Josh, he laughed. “I went all the way to Kentucky to get these things!” Then he grabbed his keys. “Shouldn’t I go down there right now to get some more?”
We decided that there had been enough Vanilla excitement for one day. But it is very exciting.
What Is All The Fuss About?
In the SF Bay Area, we are not able to pay our gas/electric bills with a credit card. Other examples of bills that you might not be able to pay using credit (without incurring fees) are car payments and rent/mortgage expenses. Totaling up all of these bills, let’s say you spend $2,500 a month. If you are able to find five Vanilla reloads each month ($500 each), you will spend $19.75 per month in activation fees ($3.95/card), but you will be able to load that $2,500 into your Bluebird account and use the bill pay feature to pay all of those bills.
Take Your Time, Do It Right
I personally think it is a good idea to also use your Bluebird card for lots of regular credit card purchases and routine transactions, such as a bag of groceries, a round of drinks, a Target run, or your weekly dry-cleaning pick-up. This way, you remain a profitable customer for American Express, since they collect fees on each routine transaction. If you only use Bluebird for large amounts of bill pay or ATM withdrawals, you might be shut down. I don’t know this for sure, of course, but it makes sense to go slowly and be prudent. By the same token, it makes sense to rotate the credit cards you use to purchase Vanilla Reloads.
Why This Might Be Worth Your Time
Anyway, back to our example. If you decide to spend $2,500/month using Vanilla Reloads and Bluebird, your total spend for the year would be $30,000 and you would pay $237 in fees. You could do some great things with $30,000 in “extra” spend. Here are some prime examples using various cards:
Chase Sapphire Preferred: 32,357 Ultimate Rewards points (1 point/dollar plus a 7% annual dividend). A one-way SuperSaver fare on United Airlines is 12,500 points, so this level of spend would get you a round-trip SuperSaver flight, plus you’d have 7,357 points left over.
Hilton AmEx or Surpass: 181,440 Hilton points (you earn 6x points/dollar spent at drugstores with this card). With this amount of Hilton points, you could spend time at any Hilton property in the world. For example, you could stay four nights at the Homewood Suites in San Diego for 160,000 points. This stay would cost $770 if you paid with cash. As a luxurious example, you could stay 2 nights at the Grand Wailea on Maui for 160,000 points (or pay $980). You’d also have 21,440 points left over with this example.
Citi Hilton Reserve: 90,720 Hilton points. This would get you two nights at the Homewood Suites ($385 if you paid cash) or one night at the Grand Wailea ($490 with cash). In addition, you would also earn a free weekend night certificate with this card when you spend $10,000 annually.
- Note: some people have reported that Citibank codes Vanilla Reloads as a cash advance and charges fees accordingly. If you plan to use this card, you might want to do a small test run to see how it works for you. Your mileage may vary.
Starwood Amex: 30,000 Starpoints (which would be 35,000 airline miles if you transferred them to any of Starwood’s 1:1 partners like American). You would also earn SPG Gold Status for spending $30,000 in a calendar year.
The bottom line is that this is a method of obtaining many extra points and miles which does not require a credit card sign-up or a hefty minimum spend. If you’ve already got a points/miles-earning credit card and can find Vanilla Reloads in your area, this is an easy way to rack up points just by changing the way you pay bills.
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