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False Alarm: CVS Still Accepting Credit Cards for Vanilla Reload Purchases

Vanilla Reload

Update: As of 4/5 CVS is no longer accepting credit cards for Vanilla Reload purchases.

As I predicted, the news that CVS would implement a cash-only policy for Vanilla Reloads was simply a regional change. That didn’t stop folks from going on a buying spree this weekend (guilty) and the corresponding Flyertalk thread exploding with hysteria. I headed to the closest store, where the racks were now fully stocked and the cashier had no problem ringing up my purchase with a credit card.

On Twitter, there have been several reports about locations in Michigan, South Carolina, Florida still accepting credit cards, while Michael W was told otherwise at a Brooklyn CVS. That seems to be a case of an overzealous manager who claimed the rule had always been cash-only. He would have had success at the next location if they hadn’t run out of Vanilla Reloads (see the feeding frenzy mentioned above). The manager did verify with him that the store would not be implementing a cash-only policy.

Overall, we seem to be safe. I’ve been to CVS stores all around the Bay Area and can attest that over the past year alone, several stores that used to take credit cards changed their policy to “cash only” – some reversed this decision and lowered the purchase limits, then increased them again. I never know what I’m going to get, walking into CVS on any given day. One thing is clear though: There does not appear to be a nation-wide memo to go cash-only. At least not yet.

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Ariana Arghandewal

33 Comments

  1. Are the stores you frequent pretty well-stocked? I live in the South Bay and would hate to do the drive to the city just to find out they are out… Also, I tried giving Citi a heads-up about a large purchase and they did ask where. I said I wasn’t sure because I was still shopping around but it sounded like they wouldn’t just put a note to ignore “all large purchases”. How do you go about letting them know so that your $5K purchase doesn’t trigger a fraud alert?

    • The South Bay is the worst place for VR’s. The only places I know of are in SF and Berkeley. Also, if you ever make it out to Vacaville, there is a well-stocked CVS in downtown – I’m pretty sure I’m the only one buying VR’s there. I did call Citi a couple of weeks ago to authorize a purchase I was about to make at Gift Card Mall. The first time you make a large purchases at CVS, it’s good to give them a heads up (say you’re stocking up on items for the office) OR start off buying in smaller denominations (i.e. $1k) so they don’t trigger an alert, then work your way up slowly.

      • SF CVS no longer taking CCs on VRs. Went to my regular SF CVS store for VRs and was shown the POS screen stating Cash Tender.

        Would be interested if you find another store in SF or Berkeley that treats it differently after today.

        • Which location was this? There are two on Market street that have worked well for me in the past.

          • Doesn’t matter now. Vanilla Reload is dead, Long Live the One Vanilla!

          • I’m heading to my local CVS to give this a shot today. Rick (FTG) has been happily buying these since the shut down.

          • CVS has hard-coded this into the register to only accept cash.

          • Thanks for catching that. I updated all the other posts with a disclaimer, but overlooked this one.

    • The memo said “As of 3/31 the acceptable form of payment will be cash” and since that hasn’t been implemented yet, it’s safe to say we’re in the clear. On top of that, several folks have reported that cashiers and managers have told them their stores had not received this memo. It’s the latter that is the most convincing piece of news that this was in fact just a regional change.

      • Seems like your post was premature. I am hearing word from all over the country of other stores switching to cash only by 4/4. I would not make the assumption that this is regional, as it will take time for CVS to roll out the changes through the network.

        • I heard about the 4/4 date as well. Again, I think these are regional changes. The memo clearly stated 3/31 and yet store managers were telling customers they never got the memo. Even if they are rolling it out by the end of the week, the stores would have been notified by now.

  2. I wouldn’t be so sure about crying false alarm… Rolling out a software update to all registers at the same time would be a disaster if something went wrong. I see this as a phased approach and it might not hit the West coast for a few weeks – but it is coming.

    • Rollouts do take time, but if this were a national thing, you would think all the other stores would get the same memo. The fact that they haven’t gotten one makes me think it was simply a policy change at select stores. I’m sure eventually this will get shut down, like every other deal in this game.

    • Have you tried different stores? Seems to be a mixed bag, with some stores accepting cc’s and others requiring cash.

      • I agree…..which part of NYC you tried Ken..manhattan?? i’m in Queens, so far 1 store is taking it, while the manager is watching the cashier rang me up and both didn’t say a thing nor mentioning about going cash-only!! I rang up 1K for 2 days straight.

  3. I was part of the buying frenzy, and went to two additional CVS’s today. At the first one I was able to buy them with a cc no problem, but at the second one, only ten minutes away, the manager told me it was cash only and showed the cashier the memo so he’d know of all the gift cards they now have to accept only cash on. So the memo was in the hands of a manager at a CVS in SoCal.

  4. I have been to 3 CVS stores in NYC today that know me, that I have bought from consistently and have always taken my credit card AND their computer system rejected all transactions via the use of credit card. CASH ONLY. In NYC the game seems to be OVER. At least, I cannot buy vanilla reloads via credit card.

    What I don’t understand about all this concerning money laundering is that using drug-money-cash to buy reloads would be money laundering and turning it clean by depositing it in the bank via reload, but using a credit card that requires identification and a paper trail is NOT money laundering!!! Something else is going on here and
    NO one is talking about it ? I think the credit card companies put the squeeze on CVS to STOP. Comments please.

    • Thanks for letting us know, Joe. Maybe Michael W. will share his Brooklyn source with you.

      The reason for this policy change is that criminals are stealing people’s credit cards, using those to buy VR’s, and cashing them out. These criminals can take your card info and forge a card with the same number and their names on them, so there’s no way for CVS to combat this other than to stop taking credit cards altogether.

  5. The frequent flyer community takes a sigh of relief. However, I feel like the damage has been done. Check out this post from Matt at Saverocity, if you haven’t already. The gist is that frequent flyers need to be more responsible and should take obvious precautions when going about situations like this. Although there might have indeed been no new nationwide policy, the frequent flyer community still shot themselves in the foot when going around asking CVS managers and employees about the memo.

    Do you happen to know which region of the US this memo is taking effect? If you already know the answer to this, then great. However, I would rather you don’t ask anyone from CVS about which region it is.

    http://saverocity.com/travel/problem-problem/

    • I agree, the frenzy that ensued will probably bring unwanted attention to us. My approach has always been “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Never ask questions and if prodded about the reason for VR purchases, say it’s a budgeting tool. Some people get excited and give the cashier a tutorial on how it’s done.

      But then again, I think with all the money laundering and fraud surrounding VR’s, it’s only a matter of time before CVS puts a stop to VR sales.

  6. I posted this on Gary’s blog, but yesterday, when I went to a CVS here in NE Ohio, I was able to get 5K worth of vanilla reloads. The cashier, who was very friendly showed me the memo and told me “today is the last day” (even though technically yesterday was supposed to be the last). Also, she had a whole stack of cards behind her desk (none in the gift card rack). The memo clearly said that the policy will be rolled out chain-wide by 4/4

    • Thanks for sharing. That’s very odd. At this point, I’m preparing for this to fall apart at any second. And take advantage while I still can.

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