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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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!