Last year Walmart and American Express launched a prepaid debit card called Bluebird. Designed as a checking account alternative, it is very popular in the miles and points community. There are a few reason for this which we will get into in a second, but lets learn a little about Bluebird’s basics:
- No fee.
- Online Bill Pay
- Free checks (free for a limited time).
- Only allowed one per person
- Up to $5,000 can be loaded per month from debit cards or vanilla reloads.
- Can be loaded at any Walmart cash register or Money Center Kiosk.
There are two ways you can sign up for Bluebird. The first is to buy a card at your local Walmart and then go online to register. The second way is to bypass going to Walmart and just register online. They will then send you a card in the mail. Here is how to do that.
- Go to Bluebird.com
- Click the “Register Now” button.
- The first page of registration requires your: name, address, phone number and for you to accept a couple of disclosures. When this is complete hit “Agree and Continue”.
- The second and final page of the registration will ask for your email address, make you choose a username and ask for your date of birth and social security number along with a pin number. When all of that information is correctly input, it is time to click “Submit”.
- You are done. Bluebird will then review your application and send you a card in the mail. Note that Bluebird does not run your credit.
Why Is Bluebird So Popular
So now that we know a little bit about what Bluebird is and how to get it, lets talk about why it is so valuable to miles and points enthusiasts. The first key feature of Bluebird is online bill pay. This allows you to use the funds on your Bluebird card to pay virtually anyone. In other words, if you can find a way to get money on the card, you can turn around and use that money to pay your bills.
So how do we load up that Bluebird card and earn points for doing it? The two main ways people load Bluebird cards is via Visa or Mastercard debit gift cards and Vanilla Reloads.
About a year ago, a law went into effect that requires these cards to have a pin number. While this pin won’t work to withdraw cash from an ATM, it does work to do a debit load at Walmart. Now lets take a look at an example of how we can leverage this.
Lets say you have a property tax bill of $500 coming due and the county doesn’t accept credit cards or charges a huge fee to pay with a credit card. To pay your taxes you can go to your local grocery store and buy a $500 Visa gift card with your credit card of choice. Depending on the card, you may need to either call or register it online to set the pin. There should be documentation in the packaging on how to do this.
You can then walk into Walmart and load this $500 card onto your Bluebird card. The first and least desirable option you have is to walk up to a cash register and ask them to load your Bluebird. They should swipe your Bluebird card and ask how much you want to load. From there the process goes just like any other debit card transaction. One thing to look at is the bottom of the receipt to verify the correct amount has loaded onto your Bluebird card.
In my opinion the more desirable option is to load the gift card to your Bluebird via the Money Center kiosk. (Please see my step by step tutorial.) Since some people report that cashiers in certain areas of the country have been denying Bluebird loads from gift cards, the kiosk comes with slightly less hassle.
I will admit it takes about twice the amount of time to complete, but it is also a good way to avoid scrutiny from the cashiers if you are loading multiple gift cards on to your Bluebird. See this post on for instructions on how to use the Walmart Money Center Express Kiosk to load your Bluebird.
Two more notes on Visa/Mastercard gift cards. These cards come with some sort of a fee when you purchase them. Most fees range from $4.95-$6.95 depending on the card. If you are buying them to meet minimum spending on a credit card, then this fee is WELL worth it.
For example if a bonus on the card is worth $600 and you are spending $20 in fees to accelerate your spending, then you come out well ahead. If you are not meeting minimum spend, try to shop at a store that falls into your credit card’s bonus category or wait for a deal like last week’s Officemax promotion where you can avoid the fees altogether.
The miles and points world went into a frenzy in 2012 when Vanilla Reloads came into wide distribution. At that time Office Depot allowed you to purchase these prepaid instruments with a credit card. Since Office Depot purchases were eligible for 5x Ultimate Rewards points on Ink cards and Vanilla Reloads or VRs come with a rather low $3.95 fee, it was the perfect way to rack up thousands of points with relatively little effort.
Unfortunately nowadays Office Depot doesn’t allow you to purchase Vanilla Reloads with credit cards, but there are still a few ways to get them. Two major retailers and numerous smaller ones allow for the purchase of VRs with credit cards. Regional store Duane Reade and national chain CVS both allow you to purchase them with credit cards. (Update: As of April 4, 2014 CVS no longer allows the purchase of Vanilla Reload cards with a credit card.)
With that said, each store’s policy can differ. For example, 90% of the stores in Las Vegas where I live won’t sell VRs with a credit card. Also, while CVS’s corporate policy allows for the purchase of $5,000 worth of Vanilla Reloads per day, many stores have much lower limits.
You may be asking why buy VRs instead of Visa or Mastercards. The main reason is that you don’t need to visit Walmart. You can load up to $1,000 per day and $5,000 per month of Vanilla Reloads right from their website. This is a cheaper and faster way to manufacture spending. (Note: Vanilla Reloads and Visa/Mastercards share the $1,000 per day and $5,000 per month limit.)
A Few More Things
Many people simply use Bluebird to buy gift cards or VRs and then turn around and pay off the credit card. This is something that you have decide for yourself whether you are comfortble with or not. Also, out of caution some people have refrained from paying their American Express credit card bills with Bluebird if they are doing manufactured spending. I will not advise you either way on this, but this is something that you have to look at yourself.
With Bluebird you can essentially manufacture up to $5,000 spending per month. This is useful for cards that have high spending requirements to get the bonus. Also, if you don’t have a lot of monthly bills, this may come in handy as well. It is a useful tool and one that is key for so many in the miles and points world.
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