It all started with Frequent Miler posting about one card to rule them all. Then it was everywhere. If you have read any blogs from prominent Frequent Flyers in the past few weeks, you have heard about the new king in town for achieving mileage earning bliss: The American Express Bluebird card (this is not an affiliate link, because no affiliate companies actually write me back because this blog is still too small for them. Boo). Bluebird is a prepaid card from American Express that allows you to pay bills, use at ATM’s, and make ACH payments by using it as a bank account.
This is because you can add funds to your Bluebird card using Vanilla brand reload cards purchased with the Chase Ink Bold card at Office Depot locations to earn 5x points on your purchases. The Chase Ink Bold card allows for 5x points at dollars spent at office supply stores, and Office Depot carries vanilla reload cards.
The value proposition is hard to deny – earn 5x points on things you normally earn 0 points on, like paying your mortgage or rent, withdrawing money from an ATM and more. The Vanilla brand reload cards are a license to print points if you play the game right.
All you need to do is load your Bluebird card (limit of $10,000 balance at any time) with these Vanilla reload cards, and then you can pay off all of your debts while earning points.
The problem is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find Vanilla reload cards at Office Depot. Perhaps this is a case of travel bloggers rushing to stores, or perhaps these stores have caught on to the game, but these cards are nowhere to be found.
I went to my local Office Depot today, expecting them to have vanilla reload cards after seeing them listed on this post. In fact, I went to the store twice – the first time I saw plenty of Vanilla brand cards gift cards, but I wasn’t sure if they could reload a bluebird card to them. So I had to go home to do some more research.
The second time I came equipped with a picture of what a vanilla reload card should look like and headed to the store. These cards were nowhere to be found. The American Express cards sure were there, but vanilla reloads section was completely empty. There were plenty of other cards, but no vanilla reloads.
Unfortunately, these other cards don’t allow you to reload your bluebird card with their funds, and hence don’t allow you to pay your mortgage and other expenses using ACH withdrawals, so I wasn’t interested in them. I needed Vanilla and I needed it now.
I went to the local Staples to see if I had better luck, but the cupboard was bare. No sign of Vanilla Reloads anywhere.
This lead me to a dilemma. While this deal is great (5x points on your mortgage will get you multiple first class international tickets each year), I began to think that it was a mirage. Constantly chasing after something that I will never get to.
Is the combination of an Ink Bold + Vanilla Reloads + the Bluebird card our savior or is it a mirage? I am beginning to think it’s too good to be true.
Let’s start with the limits. For the Ink Bold, the maximum bonus one can receive at office stores is 250,000 points (on $50k in spend at office supply stores). This is about $4,000 in spend per month. The maximum that you can reload a bluebird to is $10,000 at a time. This is enough to pay the mortgage for many people, but it may be difficult to keep sufficient balances if you put a lot of expenses on the card.
The next barrier is that you can only buy reload cards in $500 increments. So you need to be able to find 5-8 cards each month to make this work. The availability doesn’t seem to be there.
As someone who subscribes to the theory of the time value of money, I am not sure it’s worthwhile to visit Office Depot every day to see if they have cards in stock, make sure that I have the balance in my bluebird account to pay my mortgage, and keep track of all of the details.
But then again, what is there to lose? None of this is illegal, and this is definitely the single largest earning opportunity that I have heard of in my two years studying the points and miles game.
So I would say that I am cautiously optimistic. But I am also taking a contrarian perspective until I see it work.
It turns out I’m not alone. I saw a post from Frugal Travel Guy where he asks: “is Bluebird really a game changer?”
I ask the same thing as Frugal Travel Guy – is it really a game changer?