Sunday, May 19, 2013

Manufacturing Spending - Bluebird and Vanilla Reloads Made Simple

Buying Vanilla Reload prepaid cards and liquidating them with Bluebird is one of the best ways to manufacture spending.  The objective is to put a lot of spending on your credit card without having to pay for it and thereby pocketing the points.

The process takes time, but it can be a very good way of meeting spending thresholds for sign up bonuses on new credit cards.

I've gotten a lot of questions over the last few months from readers and friends related to how Bluebird works so I thought I would dedicate a post trying to simply the process.

This a diagram that shows how it works.  I will explain in detail but it all comes back to this picture:

Step 1 - Buying Vanilla Reload Cards at CVS

I've starting with a picture of the Fidelity American Express credit card because that is my card of choice for most transactions (2% back everywhere), but you can substitute with the card of your choice.

You can buy Vanilla Reload cards at CVS with a credit card.  Most other places will not allow you to use a credit card.  In Buffalo, where I currently live, Vanilla Reload cards are abundant.  My understanding is that in New York City they are much more difficult to find.

Vanilla Reload cards come in denominations of $20-$500 with a flat fee of $3.95 per transaction so the best deal is to buy $500 cards for a total cost of $503.95 per card.  You now have a $500 Vanilla Reload card.  Most CVS stores cap you at $1,000 a day.

Step 2 - Sign up for a Bluebird Account

Sign up for a Bluebird prepaid account.  It takes a week or so for the card to come so do this right away.  If you have a Serve account you will need to close the account as both accounts cannot be open at the same time.

Step 3 - Load $500 Into Your Bluebird Account

This is often where I lose people.  You have to use the Vanilla Reload system to add money to your Bluebird account and this is how.

Go to  The site should look like this:

There are two boxes, in the one called "card number" enter account number on the front of your Bluebird card like so.  I chose the number from the fake bluebird card in the first picture at the beginning of the post.

On the back of your vanilla reload card is a place to scratch off a 10 digit pin.  

Scratch that off to reveal the pin and add that to the second box at

Double check everything so you don't give $500 to someone else and click submit.  There is now $500 in your bluebird account.

Step 4 - Pay Your Credit Card Bill from Bluebird

Log in to your Bluebird account and click on "Pay Bills" in the top left corner.  You account should have a balance of $500 instead of $0.

The next window will ask you "Who do you need to pay?"  

For the Fidelity American Express you would type "FIA Card Services".  If you want to pay a regular Chase, American Express or Citibank card you would type "Chase", "American Express" or "Citibank", respectively.  When the correct company comes up click on them.

It will then ask for a nickname and account number.  I would put in Fidelity American Express for the nickname, but you can put in whatever you want.  For account number you should put in the account number on the front of your credit card.  In our example for the Fidelity American Express card, it woud look like the following:

Click on "save and pay now".  You will only need to enter this information once as it will be saved in your account.

From there you should be able to pay your credit card bill.  This will complete the circle.  It takes a few days for the payment to post to your original credit card and it will say something like "electronic payment - $500."

Bottom Line

In our scenario, with the Fidelity American Express, you get $10.08 of rewards and pay $3.95 for a net of $6.12 for each $500 you buy.  In my opinion, it isn't worth the effort just for the points, but everyone has their calculations.

On the other hand, this can be a great method of creating spending for sign up bonuses.  If you need to spend $5,000 in 3 months for a sign up bonus to get 50,000 miles, you can get your 50,000 miles for just $39.50 in fees and minimal effort.  You will still get your regular rewards so if you get one mile or cent per dollar, you will also get 5,039 miles or $50.39 to offset the $39.50 in fees.  Otherwise, sign up bonuses can be much harder to qualify for.