The Vanilla Sky is Falling

Don’t worry, you can still buy Vanilla Reloads with a credit card…for now, at least. But you can no longer deny that the difficulty with which you can do so is increasing, and “reports” are now turning into reality slowly but surely. Last night, my CVS guy told me some interesting information that can only be seen as a negative for those that use Vanilla Reloads to earn cheap points, assuming the same applies to your stores.

I went to my local CVS with the plan to buy just a single Vanilla Reload. I decided to do this because I only had about $600 in available credit on the card I wanted to use (the Chase British Airways card that I’m trying to hit $20K with). Normally I buy two, but this unusual circumstance made me decide to only buy one instead of using a different card or doing two separate transactions.

It turns out that was a great decision.

As soon as I walked in, the manager saw me and bolted for the back room. I finished my transaction with a cashier that I know very well (he doesn’t even check my ID anymore), and as soon as that happened the Manager came running up with a piece of paper and said “alright hold on a second guys.” The wonderful scent of vanilla suddenly vanished from the air around me as I knew nothing good could be coming next. (How’s that for imagery? I should write a novel! Maybe not…)

The Manager explained to me and the cashier that there is “new legislation” that requires all gift card transactions over $1,000 to be recorded on a “form” that’s to be reported to the IRS. That’s the piece of paper he was holding – a form with about a dozen fields to be filled out by the cashier regarding details of the purchase. I asked what some of the fields were and he told me it was mostly basic stuff: Full name, driver’s license number, type of credit card (Visa/MC/etc), and transaction amount, among others that I couldn’t get a glimpse at. I didn’t feel comfortable asking to see the paper.

The paper looked something like this, with the fields to be filled in manually by the cashier.

The paper looked something like this, with the fields to be filled in manually by the cashier.

The motivation for such a form is clear – people that participate in the Vanilla Reload/Bluebird game clearly spend a lot more on credit cards than they normally would. I’m a pretty good example of this. I’ve spent about $30K this calendar year alone between CVS, Rite Aid, and Office Depot on reload cards, and I sure don’t make a salary that would support that kind of spend (assuming it wasn’t all getting paid off directly). There are people who think that’s a lot of money, and others who would call me an amateur because they spend tons more than that. It’s what I felt comfortable doing.

I work next to a plaza that has an Office Depot and CVS next door to each other. Oh, the damage I did...

I work next to a plaza that has an Office Depot and CVS next door to each other. The damage I used to be able to do was significant…

The IRS now apparently wants to track some of these larger purchases, and according to this Manager, whom I trust, it’s only for gift card purchases. Take that for what it’s worth, though. It’s easy to say “new legislation” and “IRS form” and other scary-sounding terms, but any way you look at it seems like the clamps are tightening around us.

There have always been reports and actual occurances of this type of tightening of rules. In November, I was able to buy 6 Vanilla Reload cards on 3 separate transactions from the same CVS. Then we found out that 6x HHonors points at drugstores from the Amex Hilton Surpass card was going away. Then CVS started to only allow two reloads per person per day (which you can easily work around by catching employees on the morning and evening shift separately). Then Hilton destroyed their HHonors program (which could be unrelated). Then we couldn’t use prepaid Visa/MC/Amex gift cards to buy Vanilla Reloads. Now, buying $1,000 worth of gift cards at CVS requires a lot more information than I want to give. Thank goodness I was only buying one!

I’ve recently read other reports that credit card usage was going to be completely taken away at CVS for Vanilla Reloads. It was unsubstantiated, but the person that indicated this said he heard it from a CVS employee that he trusts. Similar reports have been around for weeks, so it’s not quite the end of the world yet. But it does seem our window is closing once again.

So should you run out and buy all those Vanilla Reloads that you’ve probably hidden throughout the CVS? I suppose you could, but assuming your CVS got the same email that mine did, I wouldn’t recommend buying more than one a day now unless you’re completely fine with proving your information. If yours hasn’t received the same email, great! Ignore this post and continue on your merry, points-earning way.

This doesn’t quite mean the end of Vanilla Reloads at CVS just yet anyway. Remember, Office Depot used to be well-stocked with these reload cards all the time and Ultimate Rewards was the popular program. Then they weren’t, but CVS magically started carrying these cards and HHonors points became all the rage. We can always hope that something new pops up if/when CVS does take that final step to lock us out.

There’s always a new deal, a new way to earn points, a new way to game the system. This one was and is particularly amazing because it cuts down a lot of manual work and other annoying steps since we can pay our bills directly. Remember, this is just one method by which you can earn points. I recently wrote about free Green Dot MoneyPaks, and one of my most popular posts has been my post on the various methods you can use to earn tons of points.

I've slowly started to diversify, and I recommend you do the same!

I’ve slowly started to diversify, and I recommend you do the same!

If that’s not enough for you, I have two things to say. First, read Hack My Trip’s post “Don’t Be Greedy.” Second, head to FlyerTalk if you want to learn other methods. There’s a dedicated section to “manufactured spending,” which is essentially what this is.

With that being said, I’m curious to know your recent experiences. What “rumors” or other information have you picked up from local CVS merchants or others in the points community regarding the status of Vanilla Reloads? Did CVS ask for your information when you tried to buy gift cards?


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  1. I’m diversifying to the Paypal (4k limit monthly, but be careful as they can be touchy if you get greedy) and the Paypower: (referral link, get $10 bonus, feel free to start a conga or sub your own) which takes the reloadits up to $950, up to $9500 a month. The Paypower has a $5.95/month fee, but it is offset by one reload as they are only 3.95 each. I figure between the 3 it will be ok.

  2. Thanks for the info, I just purchased 5 VR’s from CVS this Friday with a credit card, in 3 separate transactions, no questions asked, nop forms to fill. The manager checked my id, but that’s it, she just wanted to verify if the names match. I really hope CVS at least keep it as what it is, it’s already too much hassle.

  3. In the past 3 weeks, employees at least 3 different locations have made mention of an e-mail regarding gift/pre-paid card purchases. At each of them, I was told there would be a transaction limit of $1000 per day. After reading your post, I believe that managers would rather avoid having employees fill out forms and simply keep those transactions to under $1000.

    Who knows.

    To show my inability to multi-task. I accidentally posted this comment on the WanderingAmerean. A fail on my part, for sure. LOL

    • My CVS stores have that email printed and next to each cash register. I think most people want to avoid filling out forms…waste of time!

  4. could this be a perfect storm brewing ? there are no other methods that can replace bb for paybill feature, manufactored spend, yes but not paybill.

    • We knew it wouldn’t last. When you think about it, this method has been one of the most perfect methods ever considering the ease with which we could pay our bills. All good things must come to an end I suppose.

  5. I’ve noticed something else happening at CVS stores in Phoenix…all of a sudden (last few days) my credit card doesn’t work., it says something like unauthorized transaction. However, I just give my CC to the clerk and they swipe it on their end and it’s gone thru. I’ve got a feeling this is going to be over in about a month. They have always written down the last 4 digits of my CC number. There’s also an incredible amount of inconsistency between CVS stores. I’ve only had one ask for my ID but because my CC name didn’t exactly match my Driver’s License name I got rejected…couldn’t believe that. About half the stores no one cares if you pay by CC, about 1/4 say it’s not allowed, and the other 1/4 don’t have the cards I want (PayPayl cards).

  6. I am doubting that this is an IRS requirement since most IRS-related reporting methods requires an SSN (like Paypal’s IRS reporting requirements and how Green Dot requires SSN). I bet this is a CVS thing until we start seeing these at Office Depots, Best Buys, and all other stores across the nation that sells gc’s.

  7. Anyone else confirming this? I also have a cashier similar to yours, she knows me by first name and we BS every time I come in. I bought two today no problem.

  8. Agree with Steven. My CVS has dozens of VRs. Clerks ring them up as if I’m buying a Diet Coke. Never even a remote issue. I think I’m the only one person who buys them.

    • @Geoff

      I always enjoy when they ask what I am buying them for, or they mention another 1 person buys these. One CVS my wife goes to when she is on her AOR, always tries to guess hotel or airline points, She thinks a CVS worker also does this game. The entire store always asks her about traveling when she buys them.

      • “My” CVS doesnt even ask for my license. I show it anyway. I’ve purchased VRs with my wife’s new cards with no issue. Gotta get those minimum spends done:)
        In all seriousness, my rules are never more than 2 at a time, never use BB to write checks to myself and everyone is a winner here.
        The problem stems from people hoarding them and picking up 10 or 20 at a pop, due to their local scarcity, I suspect.

  9. I haven’t been able to find a single VR for several months now. Either there are a lot more people in my city who have become hoarders and know exactly when they get stocked, or the 4 or 5 CVS stores in my area no longer stock them at all.

    • Yes, it is ABSOLUTELY NOT an IRS requirement. I am a tax law expert and worked 32 years at the IRS designing and writing instructions for forms like these. The IRS is interested in CASH transactions over $10K. The law requires NO REPORTING of credit card transactions!

  10. Anything that keeps the riff raff out is ok with me. But this isnt anything like the end. CVS has a good cap on it so abusers cant buy 10-20k at a pop and walk out on the payment.

  11. I had my CVS try it as well. “Sir, the IRS requires this on gift card purchases over a certain amount.”

    Me: “Interesting, were you informed of the IRS form they need to have filled out? I’ll just file it with them directly.”

    CVS: “Um, no, we’re required to submit it.”

    Me: “On gift cards, right?”

    CVS: “Yes.”

    Me: “Phew, this is a reloadable card, you can’t use this to purchase anything, so it’s not actually a gift card.”

    Walked out with my 2 VR cards about 2 minutes later, no form.

    • I was wondering about using this argument. I feel like it would depend on the cashier as to whether he/she will accept that or not.

  12. The IRS tracks transactions over $10k – they could care less about you buying these cards, or your ability to pay your credit cards. These are not taxable.

  13. Bought 2 @ $500 at a CVS in Costa Mesa, CA yesterday. They said there were new requirements and produced the “Form” and entered my info on it. Definitely did not look like any IRS form to me.Oriental cashier kept saying IRS, IRS – Maybe they are just trying to scare us into moderating our purchases and will block regular purchasers at some point. Who knows!

    • To Rod, I certainly appreciate your field trip report but will take an ‘offence ” with your choice of word “Oriental”, You can substitude with “Asian Decent ” but not Oriental as of outcast and derogatory.

  14. Charlotte, NC is a mixed bag. Today my local CVS cashier told me that I could no longer use a credit card to purchase VR’s. I reminded her that I purchased them last week. No go. Drove 5 miles to another CVS and no problem. Bought two for $500.00 each and no forms or anything.

  15. Found a stack of new and wrapped Vanilla Reloads on top of the prepaid stand at my local CVS. I didn’t have a bluebird account, so kind of hesitated to buy one. I went back to my “truck” and logged on to my local Starbuck’s wifi which is located at approximately every two blocks in NYC. opened up the account with bluebird and went back to CVS and purchased one reload with $100.00 to see if it would work with my SPG AMEX card, the self serve pay stand asked for the last 4 of my SPG card and prompted for approval from the staff. The staff guarding the pay stands, did not hesitate to approve it and on i went.
    1. There was no problem purchasing the vanilla reload with the credit card.
    possibly due to the amount purchased. Approval was easy also possibly do to the amount of money purchased.

    The stack came with 10 vanilla reloads, so there are 9 left on the stand. I was tempted to take some more but i might have looked suspicious walking in back and buying more at a higher amount.
    This is the first encounter with vanilla reloads since reading up on it a month a go. I have been occasionally looking for these for that long and its today that finally came up.
    I wonder if people are just taking these home and stashing it once they find it?
    Till next time, i wonder if these will last.

  16. Hey this looks like the CVS Pharmacy located on Bristol St. In Costa Mesa that’s right next to the Office Depot! 😉

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