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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.
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.
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