So Far Earning 5x on “Everything” With a Reloadable Card Isn’t Going Well

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I like earning as many points as possible for each and every purchase my family makes. 98% of the time that means using a rewards-earning credit card as opposed to cash or checks. A few months ago, I branched out into occasionally purchasing prepaid cards at an office supply store using my Ink Bold Charge Card so that I would be earning 5x Ultimate Reward points for purchases made at an office supply store (the Ink Plus℠ Business Card and other Ink products will work as well).

I’m relatively conservative with much of this stuff, so I stuck with a $500 prepaid Visa, MasterCard, etc that you use until it is empty and then toss. They were easy to find at my local Office Depot, and I trusted that one $500 gift card each month wasn’t going to be a big deal to anyone. It earned me 2,500 Ultimate Reward points each month, and allowed me to earn 5x when paying for things like dry cleaning, swim lessons, doctors appointments, and other types of purchases that would otherwise have just given me 1x.

I think that strategy is pretty solid for almost anyone – you will end up with 30,000 Ultimate Reward points just by purchasing one $500 gift card each month with an Ink card. If you also put your cell phone, home phone, internet, and cable expenses on the card you may find yourself closer to $1,000 on the card each month without even trying hard. That means you will earn 60,000 Ultimate Reward points on the card each year without much risk or effort. If you aren’t at least doing that, I highly recommend considering it. Getting the Ink Bold Business Charge card or the Ink Plus is not that difficult for many people, and it is well worth it.

After a few months went by and I read more and more about prepaid cards on the Frequent Miler, I decided to step it up a notch and I started buying two $500 gift cards each month. I would pay about a $5 fee for each purchase, but that was easily more than offset by the UR points I would earn. That strategy was also pretty easy and well worth it.

Then I got curious about the various reloadable cards. I decided it was fate when an Amex Prepaid card and a Vanilla reload card were both available at my local Office Depot last week. I purchased a $500 prepaid Amex and a $500 Vanilla reload card. Read this “One Card to Rule Them All” post by Frequent Miler if you aren’t yet familiar with this method.  I went to AmericanExpress.com/prepaid and converted my $500 Amex to a permanent prepaid card that offers some purchase protection and can be reloaded. I still only planned to purchase about $1,000 or so for this card each month, but I liked the idea of it being a “permanent” card.  These cards also allow ATM withdrawals with a PIN, but don’t plan on going crazy with that. It will be a nice feature to use occasionally though! You can also order an Amex prepaid card online directly without having to find one at your local store.

It only took a couple of days for my “permanent” prepaid card to arrive in the mail, and today I went online to verify the $500 was on the card, and I also called in to activate the card. That was a totally simple and painless process. A few minutes later I went to the Vanilla reload site to reload the $500 Vanilla card to my new “permanent” Amex card. I got an error message with code “83”. I tried two more times and got the same message, so I did what the screen instructed and called the Vanilla company. This is when things started to go downhill.

The woman who answered was very chatty and friendly at first and verified that she could see the reload had $500 on it, but once she got the same error code as me she sounded like she was trying to end the call as quickly as possible, and told me to take the card back to the store where I bought it. I asked her how that would help and what should I say at the store. She just kept saying they are the only ones that could help me. I again said I’m not sure how they will help since Vanilla can see that I purchased the card and how much is on it. After hitting a wall again with her, I asked to speak with a supervisor.

A supervisor came on the line within a few minutes and seemed to agree that going back to the store would not be very helpful. He seemed to be under the impression that I had purchased an Amex that was not compatible with the Vanilla reload. Truthfully, I was somewhat worried about the same thing as it is quite confusing with all the different types of cards and reloads. However, I compared the pictures of Frequent Miler’s prepaid cards with my own and they looked the same, so I was fairly reassured I had the right ones.

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The supervisor agreed to do a conference call with Amex to see if we could get to the source of the problem. He was pretty vague about what error code 83 was, but it didn’t sound good. We got Amex on the line and we went around and around about which prepaid card I have. The Amex rep also at first seemed convinced that the two products weren’t compatible, but then started getting pretty weird and vague like the first Vanilla rep had done. He would neither confirm nor deny the products were compatible, but said I should reload it a different way such as with a bank account, and that I should get a new prepaid card if I wanted to use the Vanilla reload I had purchased.

I asked how buying another prepaid card exactly like the one I bought would help. He then said that while the reload I had purchased was compatible with the prepaid Amex I had, there was a fraud code on my account due to something on my application. I asked how there could be a fraud alert when the application was approved, the card was sent, I just successfully activated it, and it hadn’t yet been used. After some back and forth with the fraud department, he said there was no problem with the application, but that the problem came into play because I tried to load a reload card on the prepaid card as soon as I activated it. He said that I need to wait five hours to do that or it may trigger a fraud alert. He then assured me that I could use the card now, but I needed to wait five hours to add the reload card.

This all just sounded a bit crazy, and I had already gotten so many answers and guesses about the issue that I asked for his extension so I could call him back if there was still an issue in five hours (and what was so magic about five hours?). He said they don’t provide their extensions, but he would put notes on my account so I wouldn’t have to start all over if I called back. However, he said that was absolutely unnecessary as there would be no problem in five hours. I waited about nine hours before trying to again reload, and I got the same lovely error 83.

That means I get to have another call with Amex tomorrow. Today’s calls were already over an hour long with no resolution, so I am not looking forward to doing this again. I know people are doing all sorts of “fancy” things with these reloadable prepaid cards, but so far I am dramatically unimpressed. The PITA factor has thus far been quite high, and I am kind of regretting not just sticking with my non-reloadable $500 cards as I never had an issue with those.

I’m withholding final judgment on this method for busy families for a bit longer, but so far I am liking the single use $500 gift cards better. I will post an update once I (hopefully) get a final resolution on this issue. I’m curious to know what other issues people have encountered with the prepaid cards? Has anyone else heard of a “five hour” fraud issue?  Perhaps I am just having really bad luck so far.

 

Disclosure:  I do receive a commission if you are approved for a credit card using one of my affiliate links.  As always, thanks for your support.

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Comments

  1. I can’t believe you hit this problem on your first try! While some readers have reported similar problems, I’ve never had any. Readers who reported an issue like this (I’m not sure if it’s the same as yours, though) had to get Office Depot involved. Ultimately an Office Depot manager had to call someone somewhere to clear up the problem. Not fun at all.

  2. Sorry to hear about all of the trouble. I have the prepaid Amex but have not tried reloading it yet with a Vanilla prepaid. It seems like that might be more hassle than the points (PITA factor, as you said).

    With the $500 use-once cards, how did you keep up with the remaining balance on each card? How did you zero out each card without leaving a little balance at the end? This might be the way to go, even if I give up the Amex purchase protections.

  3. @FM, I have no doubt that bad luck played into this one, but there really was nothing that should have set off any “alarms”. I’m going to start the battle again soon, but sadly it won’t take many more of these hassles for me to be done with the reloadable prepaids. Ugh!
    @Jason, I mentally keep up, but you can check online or most receipts have the balance printed at the bottom. I often “finish them off” at Target as they will just take the remaining balance automatically.
    @Ryan, you can jump straight to buying the permanent Amex, or you can convert that prepaid to a permanent (with 500 initially loaded on it).
    @patrick, ha ha. I am just taking the bad luck for the team I think.

  4. I ran into the same problem. I tried to reload after just activating the Amex prepaid I called and got the same responses. I decided to wait a 24 hours and try again this time the reloads went through right away. I think it has something to do when you first activate the card I haven’t had any problems since

    • @Luke, I hope that is the case for me as well. I’ll try again this afternoon and see. Hopefully I am getting my problems out of the way at the beginning, but this really is crazy annoying. Glad yours cleared up!

  5. I think post number 2 hits it on the head you got the temporary reload card. I just did the same exact process last week but after reading I decided to get a card directly from Amex for me and my wife. I had to wait a few days but they showed up. Also Amex sent me info to set up additional info on my account online so I did that. Finally found an office depot with the Vanilla reload and have it all working. I would suggest if your looking to do this just to search out the prepaid card on the amex website. Its now listed under the cards that are available.

    • Darrell, in the end I have the same prepaid that was sent directly from Amex, it just started as a temporary. Have others had problems with doing it that way?
      Ken, so far you are absolutely correct on the reloadables. The one time use cards were great for me though. IF I hadn’t read so many successful stories I would have already thrown in the towel on this, but I’m holding in a bit longer to see if this is just beginner’s (bad) luck before I write it off.

  6. @Jason C

    I have found the easiest way to zero out any prepaid card is to buy an Amazon gift card for that tiny amount and apply it to your Amazon account.

  7. That stinks. Sometimes the hassle of some of these things isnt worth the points. This seems to be one of those cases.

  8. I survived amex FR after sending them my tax info with some explaination. But couldn’t do anything when CHASE closed all my cards including the ink bold business card.
    I think I know why mine were shut down although chase would never tell me the reasons. unlucky this time!

  9. I had a very interesting delay in the purchase of my last Vanilla reload – A manager insisted that he make a copy of my ODepot receipt and verify that the card was loaded (via some mysterious computer in the back). This was all AFTER I had paid and signed for the card.

  10. I also got the permanent card straight from Amex and had no problems. However, every time I go to OD to buy reloads there is some problem. Usually, they are just out of them. When they have them, the register often provides a “Must call for authorization” message that precludes the sale from proceeding. The cashier never knows WHO they are supposed to call. It always takes a manager’s involvement. The first time this happened it took a full 45 minutes of the manager getting bounced back and forth between OD headquarters and AmEx to finally get the magic code to override this. This has nothing to do with me, as at this point I haven’t even presented my INK Bold, so it isn’t like I’m flagged as a frequent buyer or anything. Very frustrating. You might be onto something with just sticking with the one-time use card.

  11. MP – If it makes you feel better, Amex refuses to approve me for one of their prepaid cards but had no problem giving me credit cards! 😉

  12. Don’t worry, you can always just ask Vanilla to cash out your reload pack and send you a check. I’m surprised people don’t actually do that more often as an easy way to clear a few thousand in spending.

  13. MP – the Amex prepaid and Vanilla Reload is a very fickle relationship. I had a similar situation even though I had been using the card for several months successfully, and after a code 83 and back and forth with both firms neither of them was going to get any fixes. In the end I waited a couple of days and tried again and it worked. I think a big cause for these loading issues has to do with the amount that can be loaded per day, per month, etc. I believe that the AMEX computers may be a little off on the business rules and that causes conflict with Vanilla. Despite a couple of these issues, I just save all of my receipts until the money is clearly loaded from Vanilla to Amex (you can check at americanexpress.com/prepaid) happens instantly and then if I run into an unknown error I wait and try again a day or two later. It may not be the best way to address the problem but it is the lowest hassle. Talking to Vanilla and Amex is not productive, ever.

  14. I have been using the Amex prepaid card with the Vanilla reload cards and I have no problems at all. I ordered my prepaid card online by the way.

  15. Just take a deep breath, remain calm and don’t make so many waves. Wait a day or so and then try loading again. It should work perfectly well. I just loaded a second batch of Vanilla Reloads after a month interval and its been working like a charm. As the man says, “One card to rule them all!”

  16. I had one of my prepaid cards temporarily frozen because I looked up the PIN numbers for the cards online. I have 3 cards total. The Amex phone agent said that looking up all the numbers in succession caused a fraud alert. They unfroze the card right away. Otherwise, they are working great. They make the perfect travel card due to no forex fees and ATM function.

  17. I am no longer jealous of those of you who love near office depots! Clearing off low value gift cards is no problem. Just wish I had PIN access to make true debit purchases.

    • I save ALL my $500 throw away cards. That way I can periodically go back and check to see if I have a balance just in case. In addtion, I number each one with a marker and keep a spreadsheet of them so I can track spending and balances easier.

      And as far as clearing of “misc” amounts… just go to a gas station and pump the gas until it quits. It won’t go past whatever balance you have on the card.

  18. Sorry to hear about your bad 1st experience. Been using these for months now and never had a problem. The Temp card and the Permanent card you get in the mail from Amex after you call them are 2 different products. Amex transfers whatever amount you have in the temp card to the permanent one and then you can go ahead and reload 4 times in the first month ($1k max a day)and then continue normally up to $2.5k in the future months (always at last month’s 1st reload minus 1 day). I have always been able to reload within 1 hr after buying the reloads from OD and the funds are available for withdrawal from the perm amex within seconds. Be patient and do not keep calling and accelarating the problem as they might flag the account.

  19. You can only load $1000 of reloads to your permanent prepaid every 24 hours. You can only load $2500 total on the card at one time.

    I also have found out that you can’t buy the regular blue prepaid AMEX and use it within the first hour. I think they’re worried about people using stolen credit cards to buy the prepaids and then running to buy stuff at the apple store or best buy or whatever.

    Be careful about using the $500 throw away cards for things you might want to return. Some stores can only give credit back to the card you charged it to and if you’ve thrown it away, you’ll have to get a store credit.

  20. I did get an error (I think it was error code 83) when I tried loading within a couple hours of activating. I tried again the following day and it went through fine.

  21. I had issues with my permanent card that was upgraded from a temporary card bought at OD. Ordered one directly from Amex for my wife and had no problems. Went round and round with Amex on my upgraded card. I had loaded $50 from my bank account to the card to get a $10 gift card when they were offering that and even though the $ had been deducted from my bank account for over a week, it was not showing up on my card and I couldn’t load a vanilla. Wife’s card, again had no problem. Talked with a supervisor and frustratingly was told I would have to wait 3 days and they would have “someone” review card and get back to me. They even were telling me crazy things like the card hasn’t been issued yet, even though I had the card in my hand and was reading them the security number. Predictably nobody from Amex called and I called back 5 days later. The first person I talked to was miraculously able to manually load the $ that was supposed to be there and vanillas have worked fine since. He had to involve the tech department and said it was a glitch and they were having problems with the upgraded cards where people bought a temporary first. I would suggest asking them to try and get the tech department involved. That’s what it took for me but I sure wish I could have the three hours back that it took me to get things straightened out. Good luck!

  22. My wife had this problem, I ended up talking to someone with a non-American accent at AMEX. He was confussed, took my contact details and said he would call back in a couple of days. A 5 days or so passed and we had heard no word. So, I just tried a reload and it worked.

    The bigger question seems to be, where can one buy the reloads? My Office Depot is out (and there are always plenty). I’ve gotten to know the manager and he says it’s just me and 2 other people who buy them on a regular schedule. I even went to another OD to find they had none as well.

  23. $1000 limit per 24 hrs not true on Perm AMEX Prepaid

    10/06/2012 INCOMM VANILLA PACK RELOA 250 Williams ATLANTA GA – Value Load 500.00
    10/06/2012 INCOMM VANILLA PACK RELOA 250 Williams ATLANTA GA – Value Load 500.00
    10/06/2012 INCOMM VANILLA PACK RELOA 250 Williams ATLANTA GA – Value Load 500.00

  24. I had a reloading problem yesterday as well. I load my prepaid Amex card monthly, and it was always smooth sailing. Yesterday when I tried to reload my Amex card, I kept having an error message (dont know what code it was), and I called Vanila reload. They told me they saw I have $500 on the reload card, and they get my Amex number. After putting me on hold for 5 minutes, they manually transfer the Vanilla to my Amex card. Maybe they have a glitch on the system yesterday. I will try another one next week and let you know if I have any problem with it

  25. I had the same problem with code 83 on my very first Vanilla reload as well. Lots of back and forth with Vanilla & Amex – neither cust service seems to know their products very well. The last person I talked to at Vanilla actually seemed to know what was going on and said that there was a per store limit to the number of cards that can be activated each day – that is what code 83 corresponded to. She didn’t know what the limit was, but it makes sense I guess in case the store has embezzlement issues. Anyway, I waited until the next day and the load then went through without an issue.

  26. Cardinal Fang (of Monty Python fame) works in mysterious ways. Surprize and fear are the two biggest weapons of his Spanish Inquisition. That is why institutions get all fuzzy about helping you when there is a fraud flag raised on your account. You are a heretic.

    That said the Cardinal Rule is that internal controls degrade over time. Would not surprize me at all to hear multiple stories of what does or does not work with the cards. Inconsistency only enhances the elements of surprise and fear.

    Good luck going forward.

  27. Slightly off topic: Data point on myvanilladebitcard. Some are reporting load errors due to problem with vanilla reload serial numbers not being unique across all the vanilla products. Apparently upon myvanilladebitcard initial load, the system validates whether the vanilla product serial number is a valid reload source. When that serial number is not unique across vanilla product line (Mio, NetSpend etc.), and that card’s serial number is also attached to an invalid load source, the load fails. No known fix exists as of 10/12/12

  28. Great topic and informative comments, although so sorry, MP, to read of your difficulties. Last spring I began participating in this reloadable process, but I have to say, at least for my lifestyle, other than a better purchase protection, the standard gift card bought w/my Ink suits me just fine. I understand the paring down of carrying less plastic has appeal, but I haul around several cc’s all the time anyway, so I’m fine w/o the reloadable. Pretty sure I’m missing something insightful, though, as so many are devotees of the reloadable. I mean, I don’t even need its ATM feature since I use my Ink or Sapphire for everything anyway. Maybe I just suffer from a case of habits are hard to change.

  29. A few months ago, I bought a single gas giftcard at Staples. The clerk asked me when I planned to use it because the system was telling him that it would not be active for 24 hours. I think that all giftcards are ripe for fraud and we should expect more hassles in the future.

  30. @mommypoints: My experience has been like others have reported above,

    Error codes: have to do with some rules AMEX has to limit amounts within a day, within 24hrs, within 28 days etc. Best bet is to try after atleast 24 hours

    Vanilla customer service: cannot help much with loading issues since they are on AMEX end.

    AMEX customer service: wait times of 10-30mins have been common recently. The calls are painfully slow and followups mention dont proactively happen since they just create ticket for some other department to research but no followup is done till you call back and are put on extended hold while they figure out latest update.

  31. Anyone in the business of loading up and try to cash out almost the whole amount – how would you do this with the Amex Prepaid? This way you can meet min spending + get points at the same time at the expense of a small transaction fee.

    But how ??

  32. I haven’t had any problems with mine –

    the only error I received was when reloading $1k at lunch one day, then trying to reload another $500 in the morning the next day – I simply ran into the $1k/24hr limit. I waited until after lunch and had zero problems…

    Bern – regarding the cashout – Amex will cancel your account if they suspect that you’re taking advantage of it in that manner. You can try it, but just a heads up that it may not last long if you try to do so.

  33. Yeah, the PITA factor seems too high for me to try this — too busy. But if I were you at this point, I would wait to try again for 24 hours since the last try, rather than trying every 6 hours or so. It might be that multiple tries could hurt you (although I have no idea what I’m talking about, having never done it). Hope it all works out from this point forward!

  34. Lawrence wrote:

    “I also have found out that you can’t buy the regular blue prepaid AMEX and use it within the first hour.”
    .
    Actually it is 70 minutes on most every Amex prepaid/gift card. I once spent some time going over this with one of their tech guys when my purchase at Costco was refused. Had to sit in the food court for 20 minutes and wait.
    .
    I have done many thousands on the permanent Amex prepaid/Vanilla reload from OD cards since about May without a hitch. Once I hit a daily limit and got an error. Waited a couple days and it worked fine thereafter.
    .
    With Amex Blue Preferred crapping out on us next year, I hope this one holds for a while. Otherwise, back to the Hilton Surpass/Citi Hilton Reserve at the supermarket.

  35. It’s surprising but true that the Amex card you get by upgrading from a temporary one is different than the one you get by signing up online for a new card from the get-go. I know this because when the Bluebird card was announced, everyone who had an upgraded card got an email from Amex that their account was going to be closed in favor of the new Bluebird. They later sent a retraction email. They did not send either email for cards that were ordered directly.
    .
    So, it could be that the upgraded cards are having trouble right now simply because of the launch of Bluebird.
    .
    My recommendation, if you still can’t load your card tomorrow, is to order a new card online and then load it when it arrives. Of course, you might as well jump right to the Bluebird card…

    • @FM, I probably should have waited for the bird to land! I will be ordering that one online for sure. All is clear now – I think. New post coming tomorrow.

  36. Regard to prepaid visa that you bought at staple. I dont have InkB, just SP so I cant take advantage of 5x, however I want the $500 visa through UR mall but to my surprise not available online. The max is $100. is there a way to get the 500 card online ?? Thanks

    p.s what is the fee for the $500 card

  37. What a pain! I had an issue the other day with my card where I couldn’t view my pin number online. Apparently I had viewed it to many times so they locked my account! After 2 calls to AMEX they finally reset the pin code and told me that I could not look at it more than 3 times in a 24 span or else it would be locked again only this time for 30 days. My suggestion is to make sure you have a custom pin number for your card that you can memorize so that you don’t have to always look at it when you want to withdraw money from the ATM.

  38. A pain indeed, from one family person to another, I am sorry this happened to you. It is obvious to me that THEY (the Amexs and fraud teams and Vanilla people) really want to completely inconvenience anyone who has a family (or for that matter, anyone who dares to claim they have a busy life and just wants solid help on these sorts of issues!)
    .
    Anyway I had no probs with my pp Amex cards but I already had them for a bit when I first loaded VNs to them so I have no idea about start times. I do however wish these entities would simply TELL US UP FRONT that we should wait say a business day or something before using them! Do they tell? NO! They instead assume WE did some sort of fraud just because this problem happened to us.
    .
    So yup, yours was a matter of bad luck, sadly. Not a great way to start out but hey it gives me a strange sigh of relief to know that others are finally experiencing the same level of bad juju I have been moaning about on forums for many moons now and being accosted just for talking about it. I mean, seriously, I don’t want that to happen to you, nor would I wish for any person to run into such negative stuff as this Amex PP debacle you found yourself in, but we all must, as you already similarly stated above, note that many of these PP companies we deal with in our points schemes and mileage magic are perceiving us and our activities to be just plain bad news no matter what we say about it.
    .
    I’m glad to see in your updated post that things have worked out now! Lesson learned: One must be able to float (and possibly wait for weeks) ANY funds used in any of these things.

    • @Ken and jun, anything is possible. However, being reasonable with all of this and staying under the radar greatly reduces that chance. You are buying the gcs with Chase and then loading them on an Amex prepaid (or at least most are), so be careful with both banks and don’t go too crazy.

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