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7x at Staples (on our favorite product…)

Ok, so I didn’t blog about this in my previous post (Your Bluebird Card Misses You), because I thought it would be too complicated for a lot of folks to grasp, but for those of you who have been doing this for some time and know the ropes, I think you’ll get it. I’m adding some twists for your perusal.

1). Chase just (temporarily) increased the sign up bonus for the Chase Ink Plus card to 60k Ultimate Rewards points after $5k spend in 90 days. This is a great offer and an easy way to boost your point balances if you’re ready to apply for a new card. It seems like the offer will be available until May 31, 2014.

Ink Increased Bonus

If you recently (in the last 90 days) applied for a Chase Ink card, you can send a secure message to Chase, or call their customer service line to ask if they’ll increase your sign-up bonus offer from 50k to 60k assuming you meet the minimum spend.  I did this myself (having just received a new Ink card the night before the increased bonus was announced). Chase had no problem increasing the bonus by another 10k points. It just takes a second to send a secure message from your chase.com account. Please do this in writing rather than over the phone if at all possible, and save the reply you receive confirming the increased bonus.

Chase Secure Message Center

2). Staples.com is now selling $200 gift cards (they used to only sell $100 gift cards online).   The fees per card are the same as if you buy in store ($6.95/ea), and they deliver them (free) in a few days – so you’d have to plan a little in advance, but it would also save a schlep to Staples and wondering if they’ll have them in stock.   The best part? You can click through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall to get an extra 2x at Staples when ordering your gift cards, so if you go this route and pay with your Ink card you’ll be getting 7x(!).

The disclaimer on the Ultimate Rewards Mall says that purchases of gift cards don’t earn points, but in my experience the bonus 2x points get applied… Note below the 2,070 points I earned for buying $1k worth of gift cards through the Ultimate Rewards mall just last week. I’ll also get 5x, or another 5174 points when my Ink card bill arrives (the one that I used to pay for my gift card purchases) for a total of 7,244 points per $1k, or 7x!

UR_Earn_Activity

Now, what can you do with those 7x gift cards once you have them? Other than using them for groceries, purchases (or use them as form of payment for purchases made through the Ultimate Rewards Mall if you want to triple-dip) and what-have-you, you can also deposit them to Bluebird at WalMart:

  • CVS and supermarkets allow the purchase of variable load cards with any form of payment  (hint…  this includes the gift cards you got for 7x!).
  • Yes, this means that you can go into CVS (or Vons, or Ralph’s, what-have-you) with a handful of (7x) $200 gift cards from Staples.com and use them to buy two variable load $500 cards (which they sell for $4.95/ea – only $1 more than a Vanilla Reload).
  • You can then take those $500 cards to WalMart and swipe them into your Bluebird account at any register or the kiosk if it isn’t broken. NOT the Money Center or Customer Service desk
  • You can of course just buy $200 cards (at 5x or 7x) and swipe those directly at WalMart. The downside is that the cashiers often get confused when you ask them to do a multi-tender with $200 swipes. The $500′s are more efficient, but there’s the extra cost of buying them..

This is of course more effort than buying Vanilla Reloads’s and loading them at home, or from your iPhone, but the relative cost is fairly low, and a once / week trip to WalMart (they open at 8 a.m.) with your Bluebird and your SO’s Bluebird in hand would make this pretty efficient.

3). Here’s yet ANOTHER twist…  If any of your Chase Ink cards are Visa’s (if you got yours recently, or sign up for a new one it’ll come as a VISA), you can sign up for the free Visa Savings Edge program (https://www.visasavingsedge.com/members/registration.php?sid=92XXdKrlo92). If you register your card with this free program, you’ll get 1% back on everything you spend at Staples or Staples.com amongst other merchants. So for $1k worth of gift cards (total purchase of $1034.75), you’ll get a credit back of $10.35. So your out of pocket fees per $1k end up being $24.20.

Here’s how I calculated the options based on a $1k load assuming that you buy the gift cards from Staples.com through the Ultimate Rewards Mall with your Ink MasterCard (and therefore get 7x):

Option 1: 

  • Buy 5x $200 gift cards at $6.95/ea = $34.75
  • Use $200 gift cards to buy 2 $500 gift cards at CVS at $4.95/ea = $9.90
  • Swipe $500′s at WalMart

Cost per $1k = $44.65

Points earned = 7,243 (you also earn 7x on the $6.95 fees)

Cost per point = $0.00616

Total cost per month (assuming $5k deposited) = $223.25 for 36,215 points

Variation: If your Ink card is a VISA and you enroll your card in the Visa Savings Edge program and buy at Staples.com, your calculation is as follows:

Cost per $1k = $34.30

Points earned = 7,243

Cost per point = $0.00473

Total cost per month (assuming $5k deposited) = $171.50 for 36,215 points

Option 2:

  • Buy 5x $200 gift cards at $6.95/ea = $34.75
  • Swipe $200′s at WalMart

Cost per $1k = $34.75

Points earned: 7,243

Cost per point = $0.00479

Total cost per month (assuming $5k deposited) = $173.75 for 36,215 points

Variation: If your Ink card is a VISA and you enroll your card in the Visa Savings Edge program and buy at Staples.com, your calculation is as follows:

Cost per $1k = $24.40

Points earned = 7,243

Cost per point = $0.00336

Total cost per month (assuming $5k deposited) = $122.00 for 36,215 points (BEST DEAL)

Option 3:

  • Buy 2x (using AmEx Premier Rewards Gold card – which gets 2x at grocery stores) $500 gift cards with $4.95 fee/ea at supermarket = $9.90
  • Swipe $500 gift cards at WalMart

Cost per $1k = $9.90

Points Earned = 2,040 (you also earn 2x on the $4.95 fees)

Cost per point = $0.00485

Total cost per month (assuming $5k deposited) = $49.50 for 10,200 points

Option 4:

  • Buy 2x $500 gift cards at supermarket or CVS (using a card that gets 1x) = $9.90
  • Swipe $500 gift cards at WalMart

Cost per $1k = $9.90

Points Earned = 1010 (you also earn 1x on the $4.95 fees)

Cost per point = $0.0098

Total cost per month (assuming $5k deposited) = $49.50 for 5,050 points

FWIW, I went to WalMart (Crenshaw) today and swiped both a variable load card ($500) that I bought at CVS and a $200 Staples-special. I swiped the cards in two separate transactions with two different cashiers. Both times smooth sailing. No issues whatsoever. Oh, and 36k points is only 4k points short of enough to go to Europe, or Hawaii r/t.  Every month!

Anyone up for a WalMart run with me next week?

Your Bluebird card misses you…

Last month heralded the end of an awesome, but fairly short-lived period where it was possible to buy Vanilla Reloads at CVS using a credit card (amongst other forms of payment). For most of us, I would venture to say that we didn’t know how good we had it – until we didn’t have it anymore.  Sigh…

I spent much of the last month doing a lot of research and testing a variety of methods to get money into Bluebird – or otherwise manufacture spend. The truth is, there are lots and lots of ways to manufacture spend, but none of them are as almost-effortless as Vanilla Reloads from CVS were. But that’s water under the bridge now. I’m going to outline one very simple (although  - full disclosure – not without effort) way to “feed” your birdies out of the many possibilities, as I think this one is straightforward and doable, and has very low risk involved (apart from having to schlep to WalMart on a semi-regular basis).

The process is as follows:

1). Go to your favorite drugstore or supermarket and purchase a variable load VISA (this is important – MasterCard is not easy to deposit to Bluebird, and AmEx cannot be deposited at all) gift card. These can still be bought with a credit card, despite the effective-April 3rd-cash-only edict for other cards at CVS.

(A variable load means you pay a modest fee, say $4.95, to load anywhere from $20 to $500 on the card. To minimize the fees relative to the face value of the card, I suggest you load the cards with the maximum possible. Here are some examples:

Visa-Vanilla-Office-Depot-Gold  OneVanilla

 

2). Come home and get online or use your phone to set or update the PIN on the card, following instructions written on the back of the cardboard wrapper. Once your gift card has a PIN assigned, it will function as a DEBIT card

(Different cards use different websites and / or different phone numbers to “set” or “change” PINs. Please check your packaging carefully!)

3). Drive over to your nearest WalMart and get in line at the express checkout, or at any register where there aren’t twenty people in front of you. Avoid the Money Center or the Customer Service desk. Just go to a regular cashier.

WalMart

4). Hand the cashier your Bluebird card and tell him / her that you want to load it. Do NOT hand him / her your gift DEBIT card. Do not show him / her your gift DEBIT card

5). The cashier will ask you how much you want to load – tell him / her the amount that’s loaded on the gift DEBIT card in your hand. In this case, I’m holding a $500 gift DEBIT card, so I’ll say “$500, please”

6). You’ll be asked to confirm the load amount on the PIN pad on your side of the register .

7). You’ll then swipe your gift DEBIT card and when prompted, enter the PIN that you set earlier / in step 2

8). Transaction will be be complete, and you’ll be on your way!

Note, you cannot load more than $1000 per Bluebird account per day, and as always, the maximum you can load in any one month is $5k.

If you want to save on the schlep-factor (who doesn’t?) and load more than one gift DEBIT card in one trip, ask the cashier to repeat the process (starting a whole new transaction) for the second $500 gift DEBIT card. You can also load your spouse / significant other’s Bluebird card while you’re there to be extra efficient. But please be sensitive. If your cashier has a line ten people deep, step aside, let people through and get in line a second time. We need those cashiers to help us get what we want. Be nice, be polite, and be willing to either step aside or wait for another day to load if they have a long line.

Will any of you be heading to WalMart soon?

100,000 AAdvantage Miles Bonus

Yes, it might be worth signing up for this one...

This is a quick post to give you all a link to a pretty handsome offer that’s been around for a couple of weeks, but is supposedly going away soon.

The Citi AAdvantage Card is offering 100,000 American Airlines miles after spending $10k in 90 days. The card itself isn’t inexpensive – it’s $450 / year.  But before dismissing it out of hand, let’s look at the benefits that come with the card:

Citi

  • Citi is offering a $200 credit on the card, bringing the effective price of the first year down to $250
  • This is the only card that (after March 22, 2014 when American Express Platinum’s contract expires) gives the holder access to the American Airlines Admiral’s Club. If I were to buy a yearly pass to the lounge (which I used to do), it would cost me at least $450, and yes, I fly a lot, so this is a big benefit for me
  • 10,000 elite qualifying miles in any year that you spend $40,000 on the card

What can 100,000 American Airlines miles buy?  Well any of the below and many more options I haven’t listed:

  • Four round-trip domestic Coach saver tickets (25k each)
  • Two round-trip domestic Business Class saver tickets (50k each)
  • One Coach round trip to from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv on the ElAl non-stop (90k)
  • Two round-trip Coach saver tickets to Hawaii (35k each)
  • Five coach tickets from Hawaii to Los Angeles during Winter Break, then a “layover” in LA for six months, and then continue on to Europe during summer vacation

As you can imagine there are lots of other ways to use AAdvantage miles. My favorite is to use British Airways Avios to take a positioning flight on American Airlines to Hawaii, stay in, say, Kauai for a few days or so, then fly to LA, layover for six months and then continue on to Europe in mid-summer.  We’re in the middle of our Spain-trip layover now as a matter of fact.

Anyway, the bonus offer won’t last, so if you want to apply, I encourage you to think about the cost vs the benefits and if $450 (well, $250 once you get the credit) fits your budget, then go for it sooner than later.  Here are the details and a link to the signup bonus (in the interest of transparency, I don’t get any “credit” from Citi or American Airlines for mentioning their products here).

https://creditcards.citicards.com/usc/Travel/AA/2013/q3/Exec/GA/default.htm

 

Bluebird Basics

Or "How to earn points by paying bills that otherwise can only be paid by cash or check..."

A little over a year ago, American Express and WalMart teamed up to provide services to the otherwise-un-banked (read: folks who get paid in green dollar bills and don’t deposit those bills into a bank or don’t have access to a bank account for any number of reasons). Now, walking around with a big wad of bills may be comforting to some, but it’s also a risk. From storing it in the mattress, to having it on one’s person and potentially being robbed – there are many reasons why carrying around lots of cash probably isn’t the best idea.

In an effort to provide a safer place for those funds – and capture a part of the market that currently doesn’t use plastic, WalMart and AmEx created a product called Bluebird. Bluebird is a free account that solves for risk-avoidance. By putting one’s cash in one’s Bluebird account – and then having access to one’s money through a variety of instruments – on-line banking, checks, AmEx card, ATM access, etc, the un-banked have a way to protect those funds and use them safely – without the rubber-banded wad of bills. They can go to WalMart and deposit their cash into their Bluebird account. Or they can go to a retailer who sells a reload card, buy that reload card with cash, and then electronically deposit those funds into their Bluebird account. Once the funds are in their Bluebird account they can then write checks, use online bill-pay, send money person-to-person (similar to how PayPal works), withdraw from the ATM, etc – up to the amount of funds in their Bluebird account.

So, how is this helpful to those of us who *do* have bank accounts? Who already carry plastic?

Because we can fund a Bluebird account via cash, checks, and RE-LOAD CARDS. And those reload cards can be purchased using a miles-bearing credit card at some retailers.

It works like this:

1. Open a Bluebird account at Bluebird.com.

2. Once you receive your Bluebird card in the mail, go to your favorite neighborhood drugstore that starts with three letters and buy a Vanilla Reload card for $3.95, plus whatever amount of money you want to put on the card between $20 to $500.  I suggest loading $500 so that the $3.95 fee is as low a percentage as possible relative to the face value of the card.

This is a Vanilla Reload. Make sure you get this card - and ONLY this card.  Other "flavors" of Vanilla (my gift card, my vanilla debit, etc) don't load to Bluebird

This is a Vanilla Reload. Make sure you get this card – and ONLY this card. Other “flavors” of Vanilla (my gift card, my vanilla debit, etc) don’t load to Bluebird

 

3. With the Vanilla Reload card and your Bluebird card in hand, go to vanillareload.com

4. Scratch off the silver stuff covering the PIN number on the back of the Vanilla Reload and enter the ten digits on the website where it says “Enter Vanilla Reload PIN” and click “continue”

VanillaReload.com

5. On the next screen you’ll be asked where you want to apply those funds. In this case I was loading $500 which is confirmed at the top of the screen (emphasis mine…)

6. Where asked to enter your prepaid number, enter your Bluebird account number.

7. Accept the terms & conditions by clicking the button

8. Enter the security letters or text you see in green into the grey box and click “Apply Reload”

Applying your funds

9. You’ll be asked if you’re sure you want to deposit ($500) into your account ending in xxxx. Click “ok”.

Your funds will be immediately uploaded to your Bluebird account. You can verify that the funds are there by logging into Bluebird and looking for your most recent transaction – which will show the $500 upload.

Now that the $500 is in your Bluebird account, you can do a variety of things with it using Bluebird’s different instruments. For example you could:

  • Pay a babysitter through person-to-person payments
  • Write a check to the gardener
  • Pay school tuition, a car payment, rent, credit card bills, the mortgage, etc through electronic bill-pay
  • Withdraw cash for your kids’ allowance at an ATM machine

I’m sure you get the idea… :)

A few things to note:

  • The maximum load per day is $1000
  • The maximum cash (or cash equivalent) you can load per Bluebird account in any calendar month is $5000
  • The maximum amount that can be paid from an account per month is $10,000
  • The maximum any account can hold is $100,000
  • Anyone over the age of eighteen can have a Bluebird account, however only one Bluebird account per person is allowed

 

Moving funds from Bluebird to your bank account

A few readers have asked how to move funds from Bluebird to a “regular” bank account. It’s easy to do from your computer (though it cannot be done from the app). Here’s how:

 

First you have to link your Bluebird account to your “regular” bank account:

1. When logged into Bluebird, go to the “settings” page

BB Settings

 

2. Once in Settings, click on “Link Bank Account and Debit Card”

Settings menu BB

 

3. In the Link Bank Account page, follow the steps required to link your bank account to your Bluebird account.  

Yes, it says you can load money TO your Bluebird account from your bank account.  

That’s true.  

But we’re going to use it in the opposite way – to move funds FROM Bluebird to our “regular” bank account (in my case, BofA. You might have Wells Fargo, Chase, a credit union, etc)

Link accounts

 

Once you’ve linked your “regular” bank account (linking will take a couple of days for Bluebird to process – at most), you can then load your Bluebird account with Vanilla Reloads, or cash, or what-have-you as usual, and then withdraw those funds to your now linked bank account.

//

Here’s how to withdraw or move your Bluebird funds to your “regular” account (assuming you’ve already completed steps 1-3 above):

1. Once you’re logged into Bluebird, click on the settings link.  Within the Settings page, click on the link that says “Withdraw Funds”

Withdraw Funds BB

 

2. Once you get to the withdraw funds link, click on the button to “Transfer to Bank”

Tfr to Bank

 

3. Indicate how much you want to transfer and click the button.  In a couple of days the funds will show up in your “regular” bank account. Voilà!

Tfr to Bank acct

Personally I don’t do this – I use Bluebird’s BillPay service or write Bluebird checks to babysitters, the gardener, etc.  That said, moving funds electronically sure is a convenient way to manage your account without having to write yourself a check and schlep to the ATM…

Do any of you move funds electronically?

 

 

Shopping bonus – three days only at Sephora (expires 1/20/2014)

In case you need to pick anything up at Sephora (they carry moisturizers and perfume as well as makeup and other personal care items), the United Airlines Milage Plus shopping portal is having a three day special / offering bonus points on Sephora of 8x.

8x is pretty sweet, but it gets even better if you pop over to Staples first, buy a couple of Sephora gift cards with a credit card that earns 5x at office supply stores. Pay with that credit card. Then take the gift cards home, hop onto the computer and click on https://www.mileageplusshopping.com/. Use the search button to navigate to Sephora.com.  Shop as normal.  Purchase as normal, but pay using your Sephora Gift Cards.  Collect 8x United Airlines miles for whatever you buy, and 5x Chase points for paying for it with the gift cards you bought at Staples.

If 8x is sweet, 13x is even better! Of course don’t get yourself into trouble by buying just for the sake of earning points. But if there’s something you need / will use in the near future, this is a nice way to scoop up a boatload of extra points for little effort.

Sephora is offering 8x through the United Mileage Plus Shopping Portal

Sephora is offering 8x through the United Mileage Plus Shopping Portal

 

Update on Bluebird and WalMart

The quick and dirty is: Yes, it does still work. It’s just a little different from a few weeks ago (before we could load $600 and $400 in two transactions. Now we have to do $500 and $500). The details (and the story) are below. Thank you’s to Connie for pointing out how I can make the blog more readable / useful to you all.

cheeseThe one thing I can definitively say about this game (And it is a game. Truly.), is that the rules can change mid-stream. More often than any of us would like, but unfortunately it’s inevitable. The question is only how to find work-arounds or change strategies when the landscape shifts (for more on dealing with change, read the very famous book Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson)

The latest hiccup was WalMart’s policy change regarding loading of Bluebird cards (and paying for Money orders, and Bill Pay, etc). In my previous post, based on an experience I had on December 30th, and on that of another reader in early January (plus lots of anecdotal evidence from around the interweb), it seemed that WalMart had categorically stopped allowing gift cards, aka “debit” cards as a form of payment to load Bluebird.

Challenging the status quo has always been my thing (just ask my poor parents!). So I figured it was worth pushing the envelope to see what could or could not be done with WalMart, rather than giving up altogether.

There's a WalMart in Lihue (Kauai)!

There’s a WalMart in Lihue (Kauai)!

While in Kauai last week I spotted a WalMart. Of course that meant that I had to do a quick u-turn and give their Money Center / Customer Service desk a try. My car was literally steering itself into the parking lot…

I had a stash of gift cards in my wallet, so I just sat in the car for a minute and added PIN numbers. Then off I went to test out the “load <$501″ theory…

At the Customer Service desk I told the clerk I wanted to reload my Bluebird card with $500. She asked me if I was using cash or debit, and of course I told her “Debit”. I had to talk her through using multi-tender (Please enter $200. Now another $200. Now $100 {which was half of a $200 gift card – I saved the balance to load on the next transaction}), but it went just fine and a minute later I had $500 in my Bluebird account. Yay!

Since I still had $500 worth of gift cards in my wallet I went back to the same WalMart two days later. This time the transaction was less smooth. The cashier at the Customer Service desk didn’t enter the multi-tender correctly. As a result my transaction was declined “because of insufficient funds” (she entered $500, but didn’t set it up to enter $200, $200 and $100. Of course my $200 gift card didn’t have $500 available, so the payment didn’t go through). Next I tried to load just $200, but that too didn’t go through. This time it was because I messed up the PIN (my bad for trying to juggle too many things on my lap in the parking lot / when setting PINs the previous day). So I tried again to load $200 with a different gift card. This time there was no problem at all and it went right through. Yay!

So great news, but as a few of my good friends said, “Yeah, that’s awesome, but Hawaii is a little far to go to load Bluebird each week!”.

True. Very True.

So this morning I gave it a shot here in Los Angeles.  I drove to our local WalMart, went to the Customer Service desk, and promptly loaded $500 (split, as usual, into 200/200/100). The clerk asked me if I was paying cash or debit. I said “Debit”. And a moment later I was done. My friend loaded $500 on her card too. Same result, i.e. no issues.

So the upshot of all of this seems to be the following:

  1. You *can* use gift cards to load Bluebird, though the rules have changed a little
  2. Each transaction has to be <$501 (exactly $500 is fine)
  3. You can do two $500 transactions back to back to maximize your load-ability ($1000 per account per day) / make the schlep to WalMart worthwhile
  4. If you find a willing cashier and don’t have a line behind you, ostensibly you could do four $500 transactions back to back (two for you, two for a spouse if they too have a Bluebird card)
  5. Don’t show or hand off your gift cards to the cashier. Swipe them on the keypad on your side of the register.
  6. When asked how you are going to pay, say “debit”.  Set your PINs before arriving at WalMart
  7. Make sure you tell the cashier that you’re going to pay with more than one debit card (if they ask) so you don’t end up with a declined transaction for insufficient funds (this is no different than it used to be)

All in all I think this is really good news! I would still suggest that you go get an American Express for Target card as a backup (and as a convenient way to meet minimum spend), but the Bluebird / WalMart / gift card game is still “ON”.

Shopping Portal Update: 10x on Office Supplies!

The Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall has recently updated the bonus points available for many merchants (They do this regularly. Generally at the beginning of the month). A quick peek today got me all excited.

Office Max is currently offering 5x if you go through the Ultimate Rewards portal to make your purchase.  Of course if you combine the 5x portal bonus with the opportunity to earn an additional 5x by paying with a credit card that earns a category bonus at office supply stores, you’ll be earning 10x on all those myriad things sold at office supply stores (and there really are endless things available at Office Max).

Office Max is offering 5x this week!

Office Max is offering 5x this week!

Personally I ordered laundry detergent, paper towels, small bottled waters (available by the case) and hot cocoa mix. But they carry all kinds of household cleaners, snacks, beverages (loads of k-cups, if you have a Keurig machine), etc.  The list is seemingly endless.

Oh, and did I mention that they provide free shipping?

Time to stock up on supplies to organize, clean, feed and polish! And at 10x, believe me, I’ll be looking at their website again tonight or tomorrow to see what else I need now – or might need in a few weeks (like dish detergent, Nutri-Grain bars, etc).

Opportunities to collect 10x on office supply stores don’t come around all that often.  Make sure to take advantage of this while you can.

 

It’s my birthday today

IMG_0213

Birthdays.  Meh.  Never have really been my thing. It’s not about watching the calendar page turn over, or the endless march of time kind of thing. I just hate watching people I care about get disappointed when I don’t have the expected (desired?) reaction to either gifts (oh – this is the worst!) or exclamations of “Happy Birthday!”… The gift thing is hard to articulate without sounding like a complete snob.  See, the thing is, stuff that I really want – I figure out how to get for myself.  I mean, how can I ask my folks, or my husband and kids, to delight me with a stay at the Hyatt Andaz 5th Avenue in New York  - obtained / paid for through an astute collection and redemption of points. Or snagging a mistake fare to Italy for $130 round trip per person. I mean, the challenge of finding those gems, and then acting on them is at least half the fun for me, after all.  And you can’t easily wrap them up with a bow…

Given that I can inevitably find things that I like when shopping, and I can do that while maximizing my miles & points by using a shopping portal to accelerate my earnings, maybe I should just indulge in a little retail therapy. Yes, indeed, Neiman Marcus is calling my name. Hallelujah!  And if I go to their website through the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal, I’ll get an additional 6x on my purchase. That Chloe bag and the Louboutin heels have been calling my name for some time now.  And at 6x, that could add several thousand points to the coffers toward my next travel adventure.  Hmmmm…. Must. Resist. Must. Resist. Must. Resis……

 

Bluebird issues at WalMart?

Head’s up. I had a weird experience the other day at WalMart – thought it was just me, but now one of my readers said she had a similar experience. I also saw a few related comments on the web today, so it looks like there’s some merit to this:

WalMart has stopped allowing gift cards as form of payment to reload Bluebird.

Ugh.

Here’s what transpired: I went to WalMart on 12/30 and tried to deposit my gift cards. The clerk said as of a few weeks ago they could only do a maximum transaction of $501 (???. Really, $501? Such a weird number!).  I said ok – let’s just do $400 at a time. I swiped the first card and it wouldn’t go through. Register said “form of payment not accepted”. I thought it might have to do with the gift cards I was using (not the usual ones from Staples). Tried again. Same result. I thought it was just her register, or my cards. But now that one of my readers had a similar experience  at a different WalMart where both the Money Center and the regular registers wouldn’t accept gift cards as form of payment for Bluebird, I’m thinking there’s more to the story…

Edit: I’ve been hearing that it may be possible to load amounts less than $501 (exactly $500? $499.98?) using gift cards at WalMart so long as you do the load at the Customer Service center and you don’t try to load more than $500 at once. One could potentially load $500 and then another $500 in two back to back transactions. Or perhaps one $500 transaction at the Money Center, and one $500 at the Customer Service desk. Of course YMMV.

I’m going to do some more research today and will get back to you all. In the meantime, there are two work-arounds:

1). Buy Vanilla Reloads at CVS with any miles-bearing credit card. Deposit Vanillas into Bluebird account (via app, web or phone.  No WalMart runs. Yay!) and get 1x (or more if you have a card that pays more than 1x at drug stores)

This is a Vanilla Reload. Make sure you get this card - and ONLY this card.  Other "flavors" of Vanilla (my gift card, my vanilla debit, etc) don't load to Bluebird

This is a Vanilla Reload. Make sure you get this card – and ONLY this card. Other “flavors” of Vanilla My Vanilla Gift Card, My Vanilla Debit, etc) don’t load to Bluebird

 

2). More expensive, but still a way to get 5x…

  1. Go to Target. Buy one of their AmericanExpress for Target prepaid credit cards. You’ll enter your name, address and SSN into a keypad. In a few days Target will send you a pre-paid AmEx “credit” card with your name embossed (like “normal” credit cards).Target AmEx
  2. Once you receive the Target card (with embossed name), buy your gift cards at office supply stores as usual. Go to Target’s customer service desk. Load $1000/day. Pay for the load with your gift cards
  3. Note Target charges $3 per load, so you want to max the amount you load on any given day (definitely do $1k at a time so the load-fee is as low as possible).
  4. Once the money is on your Target card, go to CVS and buy Vanilla Reloads using your Target card. See #1 above (buy Vanillas, deposit to Bluebird via web, app or phone).
  5. Other notes about the Target card:
    • You can make one fee-free ATM withdrawal per month.
    • Can withdraw $400 / day at the ATM.
    • Maximum load per day is $1000.
    • Maximum load per 28 day cycle is $5k.
    • You can have a maximum balance on your card (at any given point) of $2500.
  6. Best thing to do here is try to schedule when you’re going to load your gift cards to make sure that you stay within the 28-day cycle. Load $1k on February 1st, another $1k on February 8th, another $1k on February 15th, another $1k on February 22nd, etc. Once you load your gift cards, drive over to CVS and buy your Vanilla Reloads. Pay with your Target card. That way you never exceed the $2500 max. If your spouse has a Target card as well, you can stagger the loads, or load yours and then theirs in one trip to Target. Of course this totally depends on your needs (say, if you need to load $2k worth of Vanillas to Bluebird to pay the mortgage this week)…

I know this is confusing, and more expensive than buying gift cards and loading them directly at WalMart.  But until / unless I find out differently, the WalMart option seems to be challenging right now. Will keep you posted as I find out more. If any of you have experiences at WalMart, please comment below so we can collect data points.