Working Harder to Earn Points: Vanilla Reloads

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I posted a couple of weeks ago that I was “out of miles and points”.  Of course I’m not really out of miles and points, but some of the accounts that I like to see with relatively healthy balances are looking pretty sickly after doing lots of award bookings before the Hyatt and United award charts change(d).  I have been super busy the last few months, and had gotten a bit lazy on some of the ways to earn miles and points, and it was time to get off my lazy tail and work a little harder at this hobby.

I am in the middle of refinancing our house, so I’m holding off on any new credit card applications until that is done (though all the ones we have on our credit reports have been a total non-issue thus far, and our credit scores were still in the highest category for the best interest rates).  However, I can make the cards I already have work harder for me.  Today that took the form of working harder to hunt down Vanilla Reloads that can be purchased with a rewards earning credit card, and then applied to my Bluebird® by American Express where I can use then use the funds loaded to pay bills, send checks to people, etc.  If you have no idea what I am talking about, I recommend Googling “Bluebird and Vanilla Reloads” for lots of good basic info on how this process works.  This Flyertalk thread can also be very helpful if this method of points earning sounds interesting to you.

This is not something I recommend for those brand new to the hobby, but it is a good intermediate step for many.  There are those that take this and similar concepts to an “expert” level, but that will never be me.  I’m too boring and too busy for that, but I do need to earn some more points, so I’m putting my toes back in the water.  I also think the risk of raising any red flags is dramatically reduced if you stay in the shallow end of the pool on this one.


This method of earning points works best when you can buy a Vanilla Reload card at a store where you earn a category bonus on one of your cards, though the reloads can be pretty hard to find, so sometimes you just take what you can get.  It can also be very helpful when you are trying to hit a spending bonus on a credit card to trigger a sign-up bonus or annual spending bonus.  Today my goal was to find a reload at a gas station, as I had a card that is paying a nice bonus on gas stations purchases.  The first gas station I went to was all sold out of the cards, which can be a pretty common occurrence.  Finding stores that sell them, but won’t accept credit cards to purchase them can also be a very common occurrence.

However, I kept trying and the second gas station I went to was happy to sell me some gas and a nice side of a plastic white card loaded with $500, paid for with my handy credit card that earned me a nice chunk of valuable points.  I am actually only out the $3.95 that the Vanilla Reload cost (and the 10 minutes it took me to go to two gas stations) as I will use the money I loaded from the reload onto my Amex Bluebird to pay bills.    I also had success at a popular three letter named drugstore that had previously not had reloads in stock for what seemed like forever.  That purchase did trigger a fraud alert on my credit card that was resolved by simply clicking in my email that it was a valid transaction.  I have recently had to verify many more purchases in that manner, so it was not a big deal at all.


I had gotten lazy on this method of earning points, in large part because I had a couple strike-outs in a row where the stores did not have the cards in-stock.  I’m glad I started trying harder, as it resulted in earning some pretty easy miles and points today.  Are you doing similar things to get your point balances back up?


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  1. i believe you’re in Houston. I’m also in Houston but i have never found a Valero that would take a CC for VR. care to share the location via email? i’m probably 0/10, and i’m usually pretty good at making friends with cashiers to help me with this hobby. but not at valero!

  2. Curious, are you (and others) doing full 1007.90 transactions at the pharmacy, thereby triggering the license scan, or are you flying under the radar (mebbe 495+3.95×2)? I can’t get a grasp on how big of a deal the license scan is…. Personally, I come under 1k for 90-95% of my purchases, but every once in a while I drop 2k+

  3. Hasn’t the VR game been blasted around the blogosphere enough already? You guys are hastening the demise of this way of printing miles/points.

  4. @Brian – I am not worrying about the license scan. I think it is only stored by the store for fraud purposes. And what we are doing is not in any way illegal – we aren’t laundering money. And Kroger scans ID for all GC purchases so we cannot get away from it. But mainly I don’t feel like sitting at the store ringing up 9 VR separately. I guess I am an optimist :).

  5. I went into a relatively new CVS near me and found tons of these VRs. But I haven’t yet checked as to whether they accept credit cards. If they do, my CSP will be all over it.

  6. Man. Bread for 99 cents, a gallon of milk for $2.99, and eggs for $1.29? With prices like those at a convenience store, I might have accidently forgotten about the Vanilla. 😉

  7. CVS is just too unfriendly here in Eastern PA with any type of reload cards. Everywhere I’ve tried it’s been a no go unless you’re using cash. Ugh.

  8. CVS’s north of San Francisco work fine. -4’s too, at least for the VGCs (the VRs are coded into the register not to work). I may try a couple of Valero’s for VRs today. We’ll see if any of the ones near me work.

    In San Jose most of the -4’s don’t accept CCs. Had no issue at CVS though. I’ve been accepting the license scan. Live with the lack of category bonus most of the time. Would rather have 1 SPG or UA mile than 5 or 6 HH.

  9. Hi MommyPoints, love your blog! Thanks for letting us know about the gas station success in the Houston area. Could you, please, share with me the Valero location via e-mail?

  10. Also trying to meet a category bonus n our two cards with spending at gas stations or -4 stores, but have spent too much time for the 3 out of 6 cards my husband and I need. Trying to forget about it, because Greg is right… it does get a little obsessive! If I stumble upon something, great, but otherwise, I’ll be grateful for the sign-up bonus and wait for the quarter with restaurants.

  11. Can anyone tell me why I don’t get 2x to buy gas using Ink card? I always buy gas at Arco or rarely at Valero in CA? When I called Chase, I was told they are categorized as groceries, not gas. Thanks

  12. @globetrotter — you just told US why you’re not getting the bonus: the locations you’re buying gas from have coded themselves as groceries, not gas stations.

  13. @Glenn – please let us know how things work out in NorCal…I’m up there for work quite a bit, and have had zero success at Valeros and others.

  14. Thanks everyone for sharing info! I won’t email the exact location of this gas station for two reasons. First, they only had a few so it would probably cause more frustration than solutions for folks to drive into it. The other reason is it isn’t limited to one store, but every gas station of this type I have been to in the Northern suburbs of Houston has been willing to sell them with a credit card…they just may or may not have them in stock that day.

  15. Good to see that a former employer champions plastic recycling. While we have Valero in South Florida I have yet to card them being far too busy with paper recycling.

  16. @Dad to Go: Thank you so much! I had luck at those outfits previously with VRs, before they switched to cash only. I’ll give the VGCs a go with my Freedom…again, thanks.

  17. Guys make SURE the VR card is activated before leaving the place of purchase, that the receipt last four digit activation serial matches the card last four digit and that nothing funky is visible on the scratch label.

    Failure to check for this, means you could end up in an unfortunate situation and SOL. Calling a credit card to request a VR chargeback can have negativeconsequences too!

    And know that some risk is involved in playing this game. Chase could close you down, Amex may FR your accounts. Assess your risk tolerance!

  18. @Jorge, thank you for the advice. I’ve been doing the VR thing about 18 months, and so far I guess I’ve been lucky. Currently, I’m just looking to leverage my Freedom Q1 5% category – my tried and true VR purchasing card hasn’t been discussed in this thread, BTW – no deal killing here! 😉

  19. Hey Summer, thanks for the advice on Valero. I had previously looked for VR’s there and didn’t find any so I figured they didn’t carry them. Your post made me go back and sure enough they had them. They also took my credit card. One question though, I used my Chase Freedom card and the charge shows up as “Corner Store”. Do you know if they consider Valero’s to be Gas Stations? I don’t want to buy any more VR’s until I see if I get the 5% bonus for the charge.

    • Buddy, on “Blueprint” it is coded as a gas station, so I think it will be fine since they do sell gas there. However, you are smart to be sure before investing more time/money.

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