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Two Better Options than Vanilla Reloads

ReloadIT Prepaid Cards

Update: As of November 22, 2014 Simon Mall gift card fees have increased to $3.95

My initial prediction about my trip to the South Bay being a dud turned out to be unfounded. This is largely thanks to readers who shared their manufactured spending sources with me. I came away with some viable alternatives to Vanilla Reloads which either have been off-limits where I live, or I was simply oblivious to. Here is what I found:

1. ReloadIT cards. First, Nagi filled me in on a place that accepts credit cards for $950 ReloadIT cards. The place also had $0 fee Paypower cards, but those had “cash only” stamped on them and the cashier wouldn’t take credit cards. However, she pointed out that I could buy Visa, Mastercard, and American Express gift cards with a debit card. What about credit? “Yes, you could do that if you wanted to.” She did have to do an override to get the transaction processed, but this consisted of swiping a card, which was quick and easy. In all, I walked out of there with $2,400 in gift cards at a cost of $13.85.

This isn’t going to work everywhere, but it’s worth a shot to try buying ReloadIT cards at your local gas station or grocery store. I’ve tried different stores up and down the East Bay and Sacramento until I lucked out. When you factor in a credit card with a category bonus, the points really add up and at an even lower cost.

2. Gift Cards at Simon Malls. Reader, bmau09, alerted me to another Vanilla Reload alternative. The information desks at Simon Malls sell $500 gift cards with a $2.95 fee. I’ve never heard of Simon Malls (Westfield dominates where I live), but he pointed out that a prominent outlet mall near my town is in fact a Simon Mall. As far as I know, there is nobody else in the area into travel hacking, so unless all those German and Japanese tourists who get hauled in from San Francisco are in on this too, I will have an entire gold mine to myself.

There is also a mall out in the South Bay that is affiliated with the company. After my ReloadIT purchase, I was running late and didn’t have time to explore this further, but reader Tony did. He notified me that the information desk at the mall did in fact take credit cards and since they are US Bank issued, you can use them to set a PIN.

This is terrific news for those who were upset about the Vanilla Reload shut down. Not only is the $2.95 fee less than the cost of Vanilla Reload cards, it’s almost half the cost of purchasing Visa and Mastercard gift cards in stores (which can cost upwards of $6.95 per $500). Here are two possible ways to maximize your earnings on these purchases:

1. American Express Gift Cards. I’ve gone on and on about this, but buying American Express gift cards purchased through a shopping portal is my favorite way to manufacture spend. Currently, BeFrugal is offering 3% cash back on Amex gift cards. On a $5,000 purchase, you’re looking at $150 cash back (minus $8.95 shipping and $7.90 in fees). BeFrugal does have a coupon code that waives the fee for Business gift cards, but you need a tax ID to buy these.

Unload the Amex gift cards by purchasing Visa gift cards at the information desk and you’re looking at a net profit of $103.65.

2. Bonus Category. What possibly makes this even more lucrative is the Q4 Chase Freedom category bonus. On the list is “select department stores,” which include Macy’s, Nordstrom, Sears, etc. If purchase at a Simon Mall information desk gets coded as a department store, you could be looking at a 5% cash back/5 point per $1 payout on Visa gift cards. This is limited to just $1,500 for the quarter, but even with restrictions, 5 points are better than 1.

When the Vanilla Reload shut down was just a rumor, I stated that I was not worried because we’d all have to adapt and something better would come along eventually. Sure enough here it is.

Disclosure: If you use the BeFrugal link in this post to sign up, I will earn a $5 referral bonus after you make your first purchase.

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Ariana Arghandewal

76 Comments

    • Thanks for sharing, Michelle! Now that I have this new source, I can load up.

      • I signed up for the Amex shipping for a year for $99 and use SYNCGIFT to remove the fees. I also had them “personalized” with my name to get around the occasional “your name has to be on the card” and checking to match your ID questions.

        • Just be careful with codes. Sometimes if you use a code that isn’t provided by the portal, you won’t qualify for the cash back.

        • Maria,

          Did you try using a citi cc to buy AMEX GCs through the online portals? Do you know if it goes through as a CA or purchase? Wondering if I should use my AA exec to meet spending requirement this way?

          • I did my purchases at a mall. They show up as a mall/retail purchase.

      • Michelle didn’t specify this in her post, but you can use Amex gc’s to buy Visa gc’s and then cash those out via money order.

  1. Mind sharing where you got the ReloadIT’s from? I used to get them at Safeway, but my store went cash-only just recently =( Also, which mall sells the USBank gift cards? I realize you may a non-disclosure clause with the people who filled you in on those places, so I understand if you can’t share details. Just thought it was worth asking. Thanks in advance!

    • I really can’t share the ReloadIT location, since a reader shared that with me confidentially. Keep trying Safeways, though. As for Simon Malls, they have locations all over the place. The one closest to me are the Vacaville and Napa outlet malls.

      • Fair enough but about the Simon mall gift cards… I thought they were AmEx cards. I thought yoh couldn’t use PIN for those. I do know where 2 Simon malls are, if they happen to be visa cards, I’ll be on my way there! Thank you very much!

        • Nope, they also have Visa gift cards. A reader headed to his local mall yesterday and confirmed it.

          • Yes, they sell Amex and Visa gift cards. You can also buy them online in bulk, but I’m hesitant to fill out the form and give that much info. This is how it’s coded on my Citi bill:

            04/05/2014 XXXXX MALL 4820 LOCATION 502.95
            Merchant Category: MISCELLANEOUS / SPECIALTY RETAIL STORES
            Person: XXXXXXX

            And for Amex:

            XXXXXX MALL 4820 PERSON $502.95
            Doing business as:
            XXXXXX MALL 4820
            ATTN MALL MNGMNT OFFICE
            ADDRESS
            UNITED STATES
            Category: Other – Miscellaneous

          • Thanks for sharing this Maria! I’m giving this a shot in October and seeing if “mall” still qualifies for “department store” bonuses.

      • Was this at a Safeway? Did u not get a manager override issue for Reloadits that are more than $500?

    • Right? If you’re in my neck of the woods, Napa and Vacaville outlet malls are both Simon Mall affiliated.

  2. This is super awesome!! Yup, a lot of outlet malls are Simon Malls, and I think you can even get Shopkick points with checking in (at least I remember seeing it before…don’t go shopping too much). Thanks for sharing! Also thanks to Michelle for sharing the Barclaycards Amex source!

    • Shopkick at Simon Malls is worth exploring. I first heard about Shopkick a few weeks ago when reading a blog post about earning rewards at Office Depot. I don’t know which blogger to credit for finding out about it first, but it would be amazing if it’s possible to earn Shopkick rewards at Simon Malls. I think Visa gift cards at Simon Malls might have been going on for a while, but I didn’t know about it until a couple days ago.

      Ariana, how do you deal with security when buying Amex gift cards? It’s an amazing deal, but the risk of them getting stolen or lost in the mail makes it scary. I heard from a reader on Frequent Miler that it’s possible to get trackable shipping, to reduce the chances of it getting lost in the mail. However, is there any way to reduce the risk of them getting lost or stolen between when the gift cards arrive and when you get home? Getting a P.O. box is not an option, because you usually need a physical address to sign up for a credit card, and you need to ship Amex gift cards to the same address as on your credit card account. Maybe put a lock on your mailbox?

      • I’m not too concerned about it for two reasons. First, these are usually sent via UPS expedited mail and I get them within 1-2 days. The doorbell rings, I pick up the envelope and it’s never just sitting there idly for someone to steal. Second, if they do get lost in the mail, you can file a claim with your credit card company to get your money back. I’ve had an issue before with lost merchandise in the mail and it was taken care of by the credit card company. Both Chase and Citi are really good with processing claims, and I’ve heard great things about Amex as well.

        • The problem is that either you or someone you live with has to be home when the deliverer comes. If I have work or other commitments on a daily basis, and I don’t know the approximate time the deliverer comes, then it’s hard to be home every time the gift cards arrive. What options are there to protect against situations when I’m not home when the deliverer comes? If I put a mail slot on my front door, would the deliverer drop the gift cards in the slot so that they will be sitting inside the house before I get home? It might be hard to install such a slot if I ever end up moving to an apartment, but a front door mail slot might be an option for the house I currently live in.

  3. So just Bluebird deposit the Simon mall GCs? After setting pins?

  4. Exciting news concerning the Simon Malls! Simon is throughout New Jersey. Have 3X & 4X Amex GC shipped overnight this coming week. Was wondering how I was going to cash out. You’ve made my day. Thank you so much. On the way to the mall on Monday, I’ll swing by Target to explore the Amex Target card option. There is light beyond the demise of the beans.

    • You are using Amex gift cards to buy Simon non Amex gift cards with pin?

      • Not with a PIN. They accept credit cards and Amex gift cards are processed like credit cards.

        • I believe s/he meant to ask if you used the AmEx gift cards (without PIN) to purchase Visa gift cards, which do allow for a PIN to be set. I could be wrong, though…

        • Yes I meant your cashing out your Amex gift card to buy Simon visa/mc gift card. Cool! I have a Simon mall two-minutes from Walmart will be interesting to test this out!

  5. I thought the best feature of the VR was the ability to bill pay it immediately instead of messing with a place to load it. I wouldn’t call getting any extra step and “something better” coming along. Someone who had multiple BBs could easier MS without dealing with the problems inherent in venturing out to load them

    • It’s an extra step, but you’re paying less to manufacture spend. On $100k per year, for example, you’re spending just $590 to earn those miles as opposed to $790. Factor in the Amex gift card and you’re pocketing more cash with these gift cards than with VR’s.

      • ? Need to consider there are far fewer malls you can hit and they surely aren’t as convenient as your local CVS. For those lucky enough to be near a mall where they will sell in quantity, it’s still a hassle – that $1 “savings” is mostly ephemeral. And then you still have to cash out, which is an additional expense (of time/and or $).

        • True, but this is half the cost of buying Visa gift cards at a grocery store. As for the cash-out expenses, those are off-set by buying Amex gift cards online (3% cash back) and using those to purchase Visa gift cards at Simon Malls.

          • Yes, but we are comparing CVS not grocery. And for grocery, you should be using bonus cards like PRG/BC/TY.

            I like the added choice, but doubt there’s real savings. The extra effort will be needed coupled with fewer locations will offset the lower fees. And methinks it’s unlikely Simon Guest Services are set up to swipe $5K of cards in a few minutes every day…

          • There are savings if you live near one of these malls. Now that CVS is out of the picture, grocery stores are the only source left and if you have a minimum spending requirement to meet, it may be your only option. I wouldn’t buy $5k in a day, maybe $500-$1,000.

  6. For concerns about delivery times and UPS for Amex GCs…join the UPS My Choice Premium and you can call to change the delivery time anytime you won’t be able to pick up at the original delivery time.

    How to cash out of ReLoadITs?

    • Yeah, already saw that. The thing is, most stores in the Bay Area were already cash-only. This one in particular was hard-coded into the register, but the cashier did an override.

  7. ** WARNING **
    I spent $500 on a Visa Simon Gift Card, took it directly to WalMart, and was unable to load it to BB. Spent the next 38 minutes with an incompetent CR, explaining to me how there was a technical glitch that would not allow me to set a PIN. His supervisor (29 minutes later) would not offer me a refund, but did allow me to set a PIN, as long as I did not expect ti use it for cash back.

    This seems questionable at best. SE Pennsylvania.

  8. Have any of you used the Befrugal.com link to buy AMEX cards? I’ve seen reviews on the web saying both good things about this site, but also a few that urged some caution. What’s the scoop?

    • With shopping portals, you should always take screenshots in case the purchase isn’t tracked. All portals can be fickle, and this is one way to protect yourself.

  9. Received a $1K AmexGC today as a test. Fee free card and free overnight. Went through the Alaska site 3X miles using Amex gold for 1X MR. Went to OC Mall in central Jersey and they only have Amex GC … no Mastercard or Visa. Said they’ve only ever had Amex GC. Next, 1/2 mile down the road I visited Target. Took two Amex for Target to the register. Loaded one for $500 and was declined for the second. Had my Wife load the other for $500 using her ID. Total cost $6.00. Next step is to read up on the Amex for Target and attempt to load on BB @ Walmart on Wednesday. It’s a hassle but once I get this down and learn the in’s & out’s, I’ll start expanding to a few $K per week on my way home from work. Lots of Targets and Walmarts in Jersey. I’m gonna try another Simon’s Mall tomorrow, maybe they have VisaGC’s?

    • Unfortunately, you can’t load Amex for Target onto Bluebird. Even though Amex gc’s/prepaid cards have PIN numbers, they can’t be used like debit cards. Also, next time buy the Amex gc’s from a cash back portal – this helps offset the fees AND you make a pretty hefty profit. BeFrugal currently offers 3% cash back.

      • Went to Albertsons in TX yesterday and bought a Visa GC/DC for $25. I had to register it online to get the PIN (which I was able to do on my Smartphone via QR code on card sticker). Albertsons had cards capable of being loaded up to $500, but I’m not sure if the fee goes up incrementally with the amount. I took it to Walmart and successfully loaded it on to my BB card using their ATM that takes BB or Walmart money cards. I did start out the transaction by pushing the “Walmart Money Card” button instead of the bluebird button. That’s what this guy did in his video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7GY7SbOeiU
        and it worked. Hoping to add AMEX step next from befrugal.

        • Thanks Chris. The $500 cards only have a $4.95 fee, so be sure to get that one next time to save on your MS cost.

  10. Okay, can’t load onto BB. I believe you can cash out @ an ATM, right? Have a fee free ATM right around the block from my house. I think I read you can take $400 per day? I know about BeFrugal 3% but I like getting 3K Alaska miles per $1K Amex GC in addition to the 1K MR.

    • Yes, it’s $400/day via ATM. Amex gives you one fee-free withdrawal per month, and after that it’s $3. Also, you can have tw Amex for Target cards.

  11. Simon Malls, in Tennessee anyway, are now only selling AmEx gift cards- not Visa or MasterCard gift cards. Representative said it was the new Simon Mall corporate policy.

  12. Went to Simon mall & saw the Visa card. Said great I’ll take $500. Handed her my Amex GC & it all crapped out from there. Back to my $4.95 cashout method (ugh)

    • Did you try using a credit card? At just $2.95 per $500 that’s still lucrative.

      • @Samian Did you have a personalized Amex GC with your name on it or just a plain GC?
        Thanks!

        • I don’t think I’ve tried a AGC there, but they run as credit. At my location I swipe everything myself. I usually use my Barclays for 2x or something I’m trying to meet spend on.

  13. If I don’t have access to Simon Malls, can I just order the VGC from their website? Shipping may increase the cost, but still pretty lucrative.

    • Sure, if it makes financial sense to you. If it’s more than the cost of Visa gift cards at Safeway ($3.95-$5.95) I wouldn’t do it though.

  14. When you use Amex GC to buy VGC at the information center in Simon Malls, how do you pay with multiple Amex GCs?

  15. Simon Mall in Ontario CA said today no AGC to purchase their VIsa Gift Cards. Regular credit cards are cool….bummer was gonna save $3 per card vs. grocery store..!

  16. Hey! I was wondering if anybody has already tried whether Simon mall gift card purchases count towards the Q4 Chase Freedom bonus now that Q4 has started. Would love to hear about any successes/failures!

  17. No – simon mall is not included in Q4 Freedom bonus. Just tried yesterday and the transaction posted today not showing 5x points.

  18. That’s too bad. Thanks for checking this out and reporting back!

    Any other idea how Q4 Freedom bonuses could be useful for MS?

    • Nothing, unfortunately. On the plus side, the categories are pretty common so most folks will be able to earn a decent amount of points from regular spend.

  19. I am a newbie and just obtained BB card. Can I buy Simon Mall VGC with my CC, load it to BB via ATM and just use the pay bill on BB? why is there a money order step after BB? Thanks

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