American Express to Discontinue Vanilla Reloads and MoneyPaks

Vanilla Reload RIP

Many of us haven’t purchased a Vanilla Reload card since CVS stopped accepting credit cards for them last year. Others have found alternative sources and continued to load up the maximum $5,000 each month on their Serve or Bluebird cards. Unfortunately, that gravy train is ending for good, with American Express announcing that starting April 1, 2015, they will not only stop selling Vanilla Reload cards, but Greendot MoneyPaks will also be eliminated on February 1, 2015.

This eliminates a convenient manufactured spending source for many folks out there and adds an extra step to their routine. You can still load Bluebird and Serve at the register, so if you can buy Simon Mall or Visa gift cards with a credit card, then you can continue to unload them via Bluebird/Serve. After Walmart stopped accepting Visa gift cards for money order purchases, the cashiers continued accepting them for Bluebird reloads, so hopefully that won’t change. 

For the lazy manufactured spenders (guilty) who don’t enjoy the bureaucratic cluster**** that is a typical Walmart shopping experience, now is as good a time as ever to pick up an American Express Serve card. It’s not much, but you can do $1,000 per month in credit card loads online. While that may only amount to 12,000+ points or miles per year, it’s one less trip to Walmart each month and takes just a minute to do. So if you haven’t made the switch to Serve, the elimination of Vanilla Reloads as an easy online load/reload should serve as extra incentive.

Another convenient option, if you’ve been relying heavily on Vanilla Reloads, is manufactured spending with an American Express for Target card. It’s more costly, but these costs can be largely eliminated by purchasing American Express Gift Cards through a shopping portal and using them to load the AFT card. If you can get your hands on the coveted REloadit cards that are available at most grocery stores, then you’ve really hit the jackpot. These cost $3.95 per $950 and can be loaded onto a variety of prepaid cards. Every once in a while, I’ll try buying these at a grocery store and the cashier will actually approve the transaction. Focusing on REloadit cards isn’t a reliable strategy, but if you can occasionally buy them with a credit card, you’ll get almost twice the points for the same price of a Vanilla Reload.

While it seems like the points and miles game is generally on a downward spiral, there are always alternatives and it’s up to us to adapt. I am starting to lean more heavily on credit card churning, with $5,000 being a much easier way to earn 50,000 points than actually spending $50,000. Manufactured spending certainly isn’t over, it’s just going to be more of a challenge going forward.

HT: The Forward Cabin

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How to Continue Manufactured Spending Without Walmart

Walmart no more manufactured spending

Update 9/21/14: It appears OneVanilla cards can again be used to purchase money orders and load Bluebird at Walmart.

Recently, word got out that Walmart no longer accepted Vanilla Visa gift cards for Bluebird reloads or money order purchases. Several readers have been emailing me about how to unload their Vanilla Visa and American Express gift cards now that a major manufactured spending source has been eliminated. I covered what to do in this scenario a few months back, but with so many new readers I realize some folks must have missed it. In the previous post, I listed the following alternatives for unloading Visa gift cards:

  1. Unload the balance onto American Express for Target 
  2. Buy money orders elsewhere (grocery store, US post office)
  3. Unload your gift cards via Amazon Payments
  4. Use Evolve Money to pay your mortgage and household bills
  5. Get an American Express Serve card

All of these are still valid options for those who are stuck with Vanilla Visa gift cards, in addition to the following:

1. Mastercard and Visa gift cards. You may be able to use your Visa gift cards to buy Mastercard and non-Vanilla branded Visa gift cards, depending on the store policy. This is less than ideal, since Mastercard gift cards have higher fees, but certainly an option if it’s your last resort. If you pick these cards up at your local grocery store, simply use the Visa gift cards with the PIN as a debit card and the cashier won’t ask for your ID.

2. Buy Greendot Money Paks. In my early manufactured spending days, some Riteaid stores were selling Greendot Moneypaks with $0 fees. I found one in downtown Oakland, which only accepted debit cards. Since Vanilla Visa cards are PIN enabled, you could buy Greendot Money Paks and either use the funds to pay a participating merchant or load them onto your Paypal account, then transfer the balance to your bank account. Do this in moderation, since Paypal is known for shutting people’s accounts down arbitrarily, and taking months to return the funds to the accountholder. Anyway, this deal is worth looking out for at your local Riteaid.

3. Vanilla Reload Cards. The Vanilla Reload bubble burst just a few months ago with news that CVS would stop accepting credit cards for VR purchases. Since then, I come across an Albertson’s and Safeway store that accepted debit cards for Vanilla Reload cards. At $3.95 per $500 card, that’s not a bad way to unload your Vanilla Visa gift cards. The best part? You can liquidate them from the comfort of your home.

Future Manufactured Spending Options

Once you’ve unloaded your existing gift cards, you may wonder how to proceed now that the demise of Bluebird loads via Vanilla Visa gift cards has put a roadblock in the process of liquidating American Express gift cards. Here are a few ways you can continue your manufactured spending activities:

1. Simon Mall gift cards. I’ve covered this before as a better alternative to Vanilla Reloads. Simon Malls sell PIN-enabled Visa gift cards in increments of up to $500 for a $2.95 fee. At some malls, you can set up a business account, which will enable you to buy gift cards in $1,000 increments for the same $2.95 fee and in larger quantities.

Simon Mall Visa gift cards can also be purchased online for a higher $5.95 fee. After you place an order, you’ll get a coupon code for $2 off your next purchase.

2. Non-Vanilla Visa gift cards. As of this writing, you can continue to load Bluebird and buy money orders with non-Vanilla branded Visa and Mastercard gift cards issued by US Bank and Metabank. Visa gift cards purchased on, Simon Mall gift cards, and Mastercard gift cards found at most grocery and office supply stores are all good for Bluebird loads. You can buy Visa gift cards from the grocery store and unload them via money orders at the same location (if that’s an option), the post office, or any other place that accepts debit cards for money orders.

3. Vanilla Reloads at grocery stores. This is going to be a hit or miss. I’ve had luck buying Vanilla Reloads at a Savemart grocery store as well as at a local FoodMaxx. Pretty much every major grocery chain carries these, with different policies regarding acceptable payment forms. Try your local grocery store and see if they’ll let you pay with a credit card. I miss the hassle free days of buying Vanilla Reloads, loading them online, paying off my credit cards and never stepping foot into a Walmart…

For the most part, nearly every store that sells ReloadIT packs or Vanilla Reloads only accepts cash or debit for them. However, every once in a while you’ll come across a Safeway or other store that will take credit cards – or a really cool cashier who will do an override when the register prompts a cash payment. It never hurts to try and you may just find your next great manufactured spending source.

The important thing to take away from this is that you may need to try different methods and not all of them will work out. Some will be more costly than others and more time consuming. Try them until you find a new manufactured spending routine that works for you.

There are a few other gift card types out there with low fees, though the sources that shared them with me asked me not to blog or publicize those methods in any way. I’m going to stick to my word, but if you want to learn about additional ways to manufacture spend, keep an eye out on the manufactured spending forum on Flyertalk. Navigating the forums can be a hassle, but worth it as you’ll occasionally come across a gem that the major bloggers haven’t yet discovered and exploited.

Disclosure: I will earn  small commission if you sign up for the American Express Serve card with the link in this post.

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Newbie Guide to Manufactured Spending: Earning Miles with Debit Cards

Mile-earning debit cards Suntrust Delta Skymiles Debit Card

Suntrust Delta Skymiles Debit Card

Update 9/21/14: The Suntrust Delta Skymiles and Alaska Airlines debit cards are no longer available.

Debit cards are a great manufactured spending tool, especially if you have less than stellar credit and can’t get approved for reward cards. For seasoned credit card churners, mile-earning debit cards present a cheap way to supplement and diversify manufactured spending. Below is a list of debit cards that earn miles, along with the different methods of manufactured spending they can be used for:

Suntrust Delta Skymiles Debit Card

The Suntrust Delta Skymiles debit card has a hefty $75 annual fee, on par with most credit cards, but rightly so: It earns 1 mile per $1 on all spending, and 2 miles on purchases made directly with Delta. For the purpose of buying money orders, this card is by far the most lucrative. On the down side, you are earning miles with Delta, which makes it a hassle to redeem miles and seems to be on a never-ending quest to devalue their award chart. There is also a business version of this debit card, though it earns just $0.5 miles per $1 and has a ridiculous $120 annual fee.

UFB Direct Airline Check Card

UFB Direct offers an Airline checking account that comes with a debit card, which earns 0.5 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent. Earnings are capped at just 120,000 miles per year. The card has no annual fee, and since UFB is an online bank, you can deposit money orders using their smart phone app (which has it’s issues, but generally works ok).

Alaska Airlines Debit Card

The Alaska Airlines Debit card is going to be discontinued on May 31, 2014, but those who already have it can put it to good use until then. I wouldn’t even worry about using it moderately to avoid account closures – with two months to go, I doubt they’ll look too closely at your spending patterns. Plus, Bank of America is an awful bank and I wouldn’t mind if they pulled the plug on me. The Alaska debit card earns 0.5 miles per $1 spent.

All of these debit cards can be used to generate miles cheaply with the following tools:

Money Orders. Money orders are most often purchased at Walmart. Most of the Walmart locations I’ve been to will record your personal information (name, address, driver’s license number) if you purchase over $3,000 in money orders. I always stick $2,900 to be safe. The cost for Walmart money orders is $0.25-0.77 cents per $1,000. The amount varies by location.

While you can certainly hop around to different Walmart stores to stock up on money orders, be mindful of what your card provider’s daily limit is on PIN transactions.

$0 fee Greendot MoneyPaks. Riteaid carries Greendot MoneyPaks that have $0 fees. Buy these, load them onto your Paypal account, and either cash out via money orders or bank transfers (keep the latter in moderation).

Bluebird. If you don’t have access to a CVS (for Vanilla Reloads) or Walmart (to buy money orders or load Bluebird with a gift card), you can use your mile-earning debit card to load Bluebird free of charge.

Square Cash. Sign-up, download the app, link your debit card, and use it to send money to trustworthy friends/relatives willing to either transfer you the money or give you cash.

American Express Serve. The American Express Serve card can be loaded with both credit and debit cards. If you’re going to use a debit card, it makes the most sense to use the Suntrust Skymiles card, since it earns the most miles. At 0.5 miles per $1, it makes more sense to use a credit card.

Thoughts or questions about this topic? Please comment below.

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Newbie Guide to Manufactured Spending: Green Dot MoneyPak

Green Dot Moneypak Reload Options

I have yet to find a merchant that allows credit cards as a payment option on Green Dot Moneypaks, but your experience may vary. Moneypaks can generally be found at drugstores, gas stations, and grocery stores in increments of up to $500. I did find a RiteAid in Downtown Oakland that sold these fee free and accepted debit cards – this is pretty much only lucrative if you can use the Suntrust Skymiles debit card, which pays out 1 mile per $1 spent.

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Newbie Guide to Manufactured Spending: Vanilla Reload Cards

Vanilla Reload

Vanilla Reload Card

Recently I outlined the basics of manufactured spending, including the key reload/prepaid cards involved and methods of unloading them. In this post, I’m going to expand on Vanilla Reload cards, the costs associated with them, where to get them, and how to unload them.

Vanilla Reloads are the most common and easiest tool to use in the manufactured spending game. These cards come with a $3.95 fee and can be purchased at participating retailers (i.e. CVS, 7-Eleven) with a mile-earning credit card in increments of $500. If you’re able to buy these with a credit card that pays out a category bonus at select merchants (i.e. grocery store, gas station, drug store), the fee is minimized further by the additional miles you’ll earn.

They can be loaded onto nearly a dozen prepaid cards and cashed out in numerous ways. One of the cash-out options involves ATM transactions. In addition to any fees imposed by the debit card company, the ATM operator will also charge one (usually around $2-4). Costco has one of the lowest ATM fees ($1.25), so that is a great place to unload your balance.

Below are the least expensive prepaid cards you can use to unload Vanilla Reload cards:

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Newbie Guide to Manufactured Spending: Prepaid Cards and How to Cash them Out

Vanilla Reload

I’ve had many hobbies: Travel, reading, writing, drawing (I know, it sounds like the hobbies get more and more boring). All of these things have given me a sense of calm and serenity. Chasing points, on the other hand, gives me a rush. While most other people would panic over a $1,000 purchase at a drug store, I get a thrill out of it. When I see 40,000+ miles post on the various accounts at the beginning of each month, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

Thus, I try to seize every opportunity to earn as many miles as possible. Manufactured spending is a major part of that strategy. The basic steps and key players involved in manufactured spending with credit cards are as follows:

Step 1: Buy Reload Packs

  • Vanilla Reload
  • Greendot Moneypak
  • Greendot Cash Reload
  • Paypal My Cash Reload
  • REloadit

Step 2: Load Onto Prepaid Cards

  • ADP TotalPay cards
  • American Express Bluebird
  • American Express Serve
  • Greendot card
  • MyVanilla Debit
  • Netspend
  • Paypal Business Debit MasterCard
  • PayPower
  • Univision Prepaid cards
  • Vision Visa Prepaid cards

Step 3: Unload Prepaid Cards

  • Amazon Payments
  • ATM
  • Bank Transfer
  • Bill Pay feature
  • Cash back at grocery store registers
  • Money order
  • Square Cash

Direct Load Alternatives

  • Visa and Mastercard Giftcards
  • American Express for Target
  • Visa Buxx

If you have numerous people in your household over the age of 18, you can capitalize on this even further.

The next post will go into detail about where to buy these cards and how to unload them at minimal cost. A good rule of thumb is to keep your costs under $10 per $1,000 spent. This way, you’re spending under $1,000 out of pocket for every 100,000 miles, which can be redeemed for a roundtrip business class ticket to Europe, or two off-peak economy tickets. We’ll go over redemption options in upcoming posts as well.

Before undertaking any manufactured spending activity, keep in mind that it’s very important to be organized and pay off your credit cards on time to avoid interest and late fees.

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