BlueBirds and Gift Cards – October Edition

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Gift cards. I both love them, and hate them. They can be a very effective tool to leverage for earning extra miles and points, but this isn’t always the simplest process. I typically shy away from anything that involves too many steps, too much time, or too much risk. I just don’t need the points that badly considering there are easier ways to get them, and I don’t have the time or patience for complex schemes and processes.

That said, I do like to earn some miles or points for things like paying my student loans, and since I haven’t seen a Vanilla Reload that can be purchased with a credit card in my parts since I don’t know when, my method of reloading my Amex BlueBird card has been mostly limited to buying Visa gift cards and loading them onto the BlueBird at Walmart. I honestly get a little lazy and don’t do this very often, but this week it was time to play another round of gift cards and Bluebirds. It seems that every time I do this the game has changed a bit, and that always makes for a more interesting experiment…and a long day.

Buying gift cards:

Many people purchase their gift cards online these days via giftcardmall.com or similar and go through a portal like ebates.com that gives cash back that can offset some of the fees to purchase. This can be a good strategy, however, on this particular day I picked up a variable load $500 Visa gift card issued by US Bank at a local Kroger’s grocery store (no, it did not earn fuel points).

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I then got a $200 Visa gift card issued by Incomm at my local Office Depot. I paid for both with rewards earning credit cards that earn bonuses at the respective types of stores where they were purchased.

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I prefer to find one or two types of gift cards that have worked well for me in the past and keep using them since they all seem to have their own quirks. My favorite was actually one that I used to be able to buy at Walmart, but all the Walmarts in my area stopped accepting credit cards for Visa gift cards, so that method didn’t work anymore.

Setting a pin number:

Loading gift cards to the BlueBird has worked well for me since about April when a pin function was added to gift cards. All you have to do is set a pin (and that specific process varies by type of gift card), and then historically you have been able to load them on a BlueBird just like you would from a debit card at Walmart.

With a US Bank-issued gift card, you are able to call the 1-800 number on the back of the card and select a pin using a touch tone phone. This is super simple and has worked fine for me in the past.

With an Incomm issued gift card, you can’t set a pin until you use it to make a purchase somewhere that has a key pad. You can then enter any 4 digit pin you want to have your purchase process as a debit transaction, and then you can continue using that pin on future transactions, such as loading it at a Walmart money machine. This process is more annoying and potentially wasteful, but I simply bought a pack of gum I needed anyway at Walmart and then the card was ready to go.

Loading the gift cards to the BlueBird:

I then went to WalMmart #1 (which is always an adventure by itself), and attempted to load them on the Walmart Money Center Machine.  The machine was going very slowly when I selected the BlueBird option (which wasn’t an option the last time I tried this method).

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After multiple attempts, the machine kept failing after I would scan my BlueBird, but before I ever got to the process of scanning the gift cards. So, I knew it wasn’t a problem with the gift cards. After several attempts with the machine, I waited in line to have an actual person help me. Any cashier at Walmart can load your BlueBird.

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One of the many error screens I got

 

The cashier was able to scan my BlueBird just fine, but when I tried to use my US Bank issued gift card, it kept giving a “tender type not accepted” error. After a couple of tries I was starting to get looked at like I was up to no good, so I said thanks and left to see if the Money Machine was working at another Walmart.

At Walmart #2 the Money Machine was not working at all, so I didn’t get to try that method there. I again waited in line and again got the same error using my US Bank gift card. At this point I was pretty much ready to call this method busted, but went to one more Walmart to make sure.

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At Walmart #3 the Money Machine was working the best of the three, but it still was hanging up before I could ever get to the part where I would scan my gift cards, so again I knew that was not the specific problem at hand.

This time when I waited in line I tried my Incomm issued gift card and it loaded just fine and instantly to my BlueBird. Given my new adrenaline rush from success I again tried the US Bank issued card, but it failed with the same “tender not accepted” error.

By now I was thirsty, so I tried to simply buy a bottle of water with the US Bank gift card and process it as a debit transaction, which is something that card was clearly designed to do, and that also failed. I was able to use the card when it was processed as a credit transaction that didn’t require a pin.

I’m 100% sure that I was using the same pin number that I set over the phone, but I ultimately might have botched it by first trying to use the card as a debit with the last four digits before calling in to set the pin. That works with some types of gift cards, but with this particular version, that initial botched attempt seems to throw the card into permanent debit chaos. Since this is not at all my idea of a fun way to spend an afternoon, I’m a little gun-shy to try that type of gift card again in the near future, though I am sure I will eventually do so as it is an easy card for me to get my hands on.

Is it worth it?:

I still kinda hate gift cards, and probably always will. I’m a busy mom and I need simple and reliable methods of earning points, neither of which really applies in the long run with most gift cards. I’m sure if I did this with more regularity, had a good system down, and played with larger amounts of gift cards it would be easier, but that just isn’t going to happen in the near future. I may try a little harder to find Vanilla Reloads when I am traveling around the country since this gift card method rarely goes smoothly for me, and you can load reloads online…though even that sometimes has its hiccups. The good news though is that the process of loading gift cards to the BlueBird at Walmart is still working, although all three of the Money Center Machines that I encountered this week were not able to complete that function.

Note that clearly this isn’t necessarily a free way to earn miles and points (well at least not this time, it potentially can be when done online via a cash back portal).  I paid about 7/10 of a cent per point for the $200 gift card for points that are easily worth more than double amount (and more like triple to me) and then paid $5.95 on the $500 gift card for points that are worth up to $20 toward airfare.  In theory will now be able to pay things like my student loan, or car payment, or whatever via my BlueBird account with the money that was loaded.  However, since the $500 gift card didn’t load, I will either have to resolve whatever the issue is with that card, or just use it as a credit card, which means I can’t load it to the BlueBird.

I also want to mention that if I was not doing this not only for my own points earning, but also for the purposes of this blog, I would absolutely not be going to multiple Walmarts since it took a good part of my day (not to mention gas) driving from place to place. This is also not at all a method of points earning that my husband would want any part of, so don’t annoy your partner by dragging them through this process with you unless they are just as points crazy as you are!

So this round of Bluebirds and gift cards ends with a partial success for me, but I’d love to hear how your current system is going for you!

Comments

  1. It is always a PIA doing gc at Wal-Mart. The machine is either too slow, works but gets stuck or stops after first $500.I once had a store junior manager staring at me when I was doing bluebird atm transaction, he even demanded I show him my cards and he questioned how I got them. I complained multiple times to corporate office and even thru facebook. I told them I was using atm macho.e to withdraw money to shop at that Wal-Mart but the agent stared at my transaction and it was invasion of my privacy and he had no business looking and blabhblah. After a month , I received $100 Wal-Mart gc in the mail. I stopped going to that Wal-Mart for 2 months. I recently went there , the machine stopped working. I was the same exact junior manager and this time he was so helpful

  2. FYI… don’t use the BlueBird button, just use the Wakmart money card button, it will work. Also, the Vanilla Visas dont require a purchase to set the PIN. Just use the last 4 digits when loading at the kiosk. No need to waste any and make a purchase. Lastly, the US Bank ones can be tricky with the PIN, sometimes it takes another call to change the PIN so I avoid those. Stick to the Vanilla ones.

  3. You mention “Many people purchase their gift cards online these days via giftcardmall.com or similar”. Where else besides giftcardmall can you do this? I see 1% at Ebates which on $1k of cards equals $11.90 in fees – $10 cash back for a low cost of only $1.90 in costs for 2 cards. Pretty good.

  4. Miss the days of fuel points for GCs…that being said, sometimes WalMart’s BlueBird network is down and you can’t load it using anything. Would also suggest resetting your pin, sometimes it doesn’t set the first time correctly.

  5. Geoff, jealous!
    Jim, yuck! I totally understand what you are saying though. I hate having folks look at me like I am up to no good, but thankfully I haven’t had something like that happen yet!
    Lee, yeah I have had much better luck with the Vanilla ones, but just didn’t see them on this trip. I tried the Walmart button like I used to have to use, but it wasn’t working any better on this particular day.
    Devon, until a month or so ago folks were buying them directly from Chase online fee-free, but that ended in late September. Giftcardmall may be the main source currently, but it wouldn’t shock me if there was another source somewhere I’m just not aware of.
    trajan81, you and me both! Yeah the pin on this one is just not cooperative in the slightest.

  6. Special Conditions for GiftCardMall.com

    Exclusions: Cash Back is not available on gift cards for Hess Gasoline, Gulf, Safeway, BP, or Best Buy; or on Visa gift card, Visa purchase Fee, Customization Fee, Shipping Cost, or Tax.

    So no cashback from Ebates.

  7. Given your blog’s target audience, I don’t think you should post anything about BB and GC. I think in your case it is more sensitive than other bloggers.

  8. Does anyone know if you can use the gift cards as debit cards to buy money orders at Walmart? That could be especially useful for minimum spend on my husband’s new Ink card.

  9. I have better luck with kiosks at the Wal Mart Neighborhood Markets than the ones at Wal Mart Supercenters. Also, here they won’t take a $500 load, I have to do a $400 and a $100 load for each $500 GC.

  10. In addition to the problems you’ve described (I’ve gone to FOUR Walmarts in one day!), I’ve also had kiosks crash on me while I’m trying to use them to load money. It typically takes about 10-15 minutes to get someone to help me, then another 20 minutes for them to reboot the kiosk to get it working again. I’ve mostly given up in gift cards as too much of a pain.

  11. I detest Wal-Marts but trek there once a month or so for points earning. It NEVER goes smoothly and I always have to set aside at least an hour for the process. I try to go alone, but on occassion have one of my kids with me. Just the MENTION of the word Wal-Mart sends them into fits now.

  12. k, I know it says that, but that does not seem to be how it operates based on many reports.
    Sam, mine allows the purchase of fixed value Visas with a credit card, but not the variable amount ones.
    Nic, I hear what you are saying and I don’t cover it often. However, tons of families out there do use gift cards and want to be able to earn some points for daycare, mortgages, student loans, etc. so I think a modest amount of coverage makes sense. It certainly isn’t my focus though.
    Kate, I have heard of folks doing that.
    Paul, interesting. Always changing with these machines.
    Chris, ugh!
    Lynn, totally agree with all of that!

  13. I have been having success with gift cards and bluebird. I moved away from VR since they are hard to find and only purchase Vanilla Visa Gift Cards at Gas Stations with Ink and Amex for 2x. Loads without a problem to BB at WM kiosk, customer service area, and registers. When HIGC were load able, I was able to earn rewards at the gas stations to redeem for Amazon or other gift cards, or fuel discounts.

  14. Hey MP,
    Next time you make a trip to Las Vegas, stop by a CVS and pick up some Vanilla Reloads. It looked as though CVS was going to no longer allow VR to be purchased with a credit card. But, they have now revised their policy here and VR can be charged to the tune of $5k per day.

  15. I am probably a more old style points and miles collector. As you said, if it involves too many steps, too much time, or too much risk, it is not for me. Also, I refuse to waste my time at any “Hell-Mart”. Sorry, but I prefer Target 🙂

  16. Plenty of VRs in my area, been buying and loading the maximum onto my BB each month. As I mentioned to you in a recent email, I am experiencing trouble with BB. In the last month, THEY have chosen to stop payment on two checks I have written from my BB account, even though THEY have pre-authorized the checks. Not a fuzzy feeling when you think a large bill has been paid only to get a call from BB stating they have stopped payment on the check. UGH I want to keep on using BB but my confidence in them is greatly diminished. Found their customer service to be AWFUL. I want those points from purchasing VRs but, much like your experience, it all comes with a price we Moms can’t afford: time, energy and frustration!

  17. I was buying a lot of vr, then Hilton Amex stopped the extra bonus at drug store and vr became scarce, so switched to chase gc. But driving an extra 40min rt to Walmart just doesn’t pay any more now I have to pay a fee on gc. So I switched to buxx, cheaper fee than vr and gc and less driving.

  18. I’m new to all of this:

    I have of a B of A Alaska Debit Card. Does anyone know if I can use that to purchase gift cards and receive the 1 mile for every $2 spend?

  19. Oh boy, I just HATE going into Walmart. I still have $45,000 in Chase gift cards that I need to liquidate. That’s 23 trips over the next few months provided I bring my wife, but she hates the store even more than me and won’t always go with me. Wish there was another way…

  20. Until August 31, Kroger would issue fuel points for variable load Visa purchases (at least were I live). Not only that, but during weekends, they would give you doble points. A $1000 Visa gift card purchase, gave me, many many times, 2000 fuel points, that if maximized at Kroger gas stations, they meant $70 in gas savings. (1000 points were $1 discount per gallon up to 35 gallons). I would bring two cars to the gas station and fill them up, paying $2.41 per gallon. I used CC that gave me doble points in supermarkets, and then went to Walmart and loaded the cards into BB…To me this was the best overall deal ever in this game. Unfortunatelly, Kroger does not issue fuel points any more for variable load GC, but they still do for regular gift cards (4X points by the way…) so if you buy Visa GC at Staples at 5x, and then use those to upgrade to other GC at Kroger and get a fuel refund….Ill let you think the rest of the story…

  21. @michael – you can but that is a very expensive way to go. $5.95 fee for 250 points. At 2.4 cents per point you can buy points cheaper directly from the airlines.

  22. The card that I use to load Bluebird I buy right at Walmart. It is a variable load card that says $25 to $500 loadable. It is a birthday card. Right on the back of the card it says that the last four numbers of the account number are the pin number. It only costs $4.94 to buy. I use a points/miles credit card to purchase the card. I then immediately take the card out of the packaging and walk up to the customer service desk and tell them I want to load my Bluebird. It has worked for me every time since I first got the Bluebird card shortly after it was introduced.
    I do not understand why everyone has such complicated problems loading a Bluebird when one can simply get the birthday card at Walmart everyday.

  23. On the one hand, I guess the heavy hitters are those who got the Citi TYP with 5x unlimited for 1 year. That is a no brainer.
    But to get a mere small ratio with a gift card and have to go thru all the hassle and end up buying points even if at 0.008, nah not worth it.

    On the other hand, I just cleared tons of points by using the 36x and 16x offers at Sears and Ebags

  24. Does anybody know if Citi considers Walmart as a supermarket? I know how to check the Visa category website, but Target looks like a grocery store on that website and Citi still considers it a discount store. Is Walmart the same?

  25. Instead of selecting “Bluebird” on the Wal-Mart Money Center machine, select “WalMart MoneyCard” – like we all did before the “Bluebird” option showed up one day. This option still works for loading my Bluebird.

  26. At least you have more than one WM that has the correct ATM. In my area there is only one! At least half the time it is not working. I also have found far fewer issues with the ATM when I use the Moneycard button not the Bluebird button. I have found that no matter what, first thing in the morning the ATM doesnt work right until my first transaction is cancelled.

  27. The closest Wal-Mart to me doesn’t have the kiosk so I have to load at a register or the money center customer service desk. I haven’t had any issues (even with a cashier who was doing a Bluebird reload for the first time). There is an extra screen that pops up before you get the confirmation of the $500 debit and swipe your debit card and if you aren’t patient (which I rarely am), it won’t work.

  28. i haven’t seen those machines in walmart in chicago suburbs, minneapolis, or nw maryland.

    surprised to see problems with visa cards, and also that you were able to purchase a gc at office depot with a cc.

    my local OD will not accept cc for gift cards. maybe for a branded one like starbucks? absolutely not one of these though.

    mc gift cards worked for me in the past as debit, but the last 5 did not. so i am spending them down currently. no problems with any visas yet. but the mc will run as credit no matter what at wally world in my experience.

  29. Kiosks suck and always break, rebooting them sometimes works but it takes 20 minutes. You can get any cashier to reload them for you but some aren’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. Wal-mart speak for the reload action is a “70 action code” I have had greater success with confused cashiers when I tell them what they have to input.

  30. I had to go to four Walmart’s last month to load the last $1k of my monthly $5k load. It was a fiasco. The machine was broken, the machine broke while using it, the machine was so slow that a line formed while I reloaded. I like cheap points but my time is too valuable. I still bought some Visa GC’s in Oct and am using them for misc stuff. I’ll wait for the next big thing to come along.

  31. I just recently purchased the Amex Serve reloadable card at CVS (no purchase fee till Dec!!) with my United Card. From what I read the Serve card is like the Bluebird but has no fees (if purchased in TX, VT and NY) what so ever except if using other ATM. Do you know if the purchase will get me some United points? Loaded $200 onto the card just to try out.

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