One week later

A week ago I revealed an exciting new way to maximize point earnings.  By signing up for an American Express Prepaid card and using a Chase Ink credit card to buy reload cards at Office Depot, you can essentially earn 5 points per dollar for all purchases, and without needing to juggle multiple gift cards.  To learn the basics of how this works, please see the original post for more information: “One card to rule them all”.  If you have further questions, please see the American Express FAQ.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been almost giddy when making purchases.  Buying groceries: 5X!  Buying gas: 5X!  Buying dinner: 5X!  Buying Daily Getaways: 10% off and 5X

So, now that we’ve had a bit of experience using the cards, what have we learned?

Availability

In the FAQ mentioned above, Amex states that the temporary cards are not available in Arkansas, New Jersey, or Vermont; and that the permanent cards are not available in Arkansas or Vermont.  That implies, to me, that NJ residents can order the permanent card online.  However, I believe that you will have to go out of state to find reload cards to buy at Office Depot.

In addition to the stated availability limitations, a few readers have reported being unable to find these cards at their local Office Depot stores.  While most stores do sell them, it seems that some do not.

Buy with credit card

This scheme opportunity relies on being able to buy reload cards at Office Depot using your Ink credit card.  A few people have reported that their local Office Depot did not allow them to use their credit card for these purchases.  In at least one of those cases, the Office Depot manager claimed that you couldn’t use credit cards to buy any gift cards.  Let me assure you that if that is a rule, it is specific to certain stores and not at all what most people have found to be true.  In fact, most readers have reported success in using their credit card to buy reload cards.

Criminal Feelings

A few people have reported that while they were allowed to use their credit cards, the Office Depot personnel made them feel like criminals when purchasing the cards.  I think this comes from the fact that some criminals do buy gift cards and prepaid cards as a way to launder money or to cash out stolen credit cards.  Just remember that there is nothing illegal with what we are trying to do.  And, if you can, try shopping at a different Office Depot.  My local store has been very pleasant to me for all of my purchases.

Link, Like, Love: Not!

A reader who goes by Kadence reported that you cannot link these Amex Prepaid cards to Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare for additional Amex savings.  Rats!  The Terms & Conditions for all three promotions state: “certain cards are not deemed Eligible Cards, including Prepaid Cards”.  You can see the full T&C here: https://sync.americanexpress.com/facebook/Terms.aspx

International Use

I called Amex and they confirmed that there are no foreign transaction fees with these cards!  Further, you can use these cards at international ATMs.  I asked about Paris, specifically, and was given a large list of banks where the card would work for ATM withdrawals.  I’m not organized enough to actually carry around a list like that (plus I didn’t write them down), but when I’m in France I’ll give it a shot at an ATM or two.  As always, you may be charged a fee by the owner of the ATM, and Amex will charge you $2 per withdrawal after the first withdrawal each month.

Tracking Balance and Expenditures

A reader asked if tools like Mint.com would work for tracking expenditures on these cards.  I was sure that the answer would be no, but I gave it a try anyway.  Amazingly, it worked!  Just add a card of type “American Express Gift Card” and then you can use Mint.com to track your expenses and your balance.  Very nice!

Unfortunately, I tried the same thing without luck with two other apps: Neither GoWallet nor Expensify knew how to handle these cards.

Read My Lips: No Taxes

A few people have been charged sales tax when buying prepaid cards and reload cards.  You should not have to pay sales tax.  If you are charged tax, I’d recommend against completing the purchase.  Sales tax will essentially wipe out the 5X gains.

Debit Cards: Not

People keep asking if these cards can be used as debit cards.  The answer is simple: No.  When using these cards you need to identify them as credit cards.  If you want to earn miles with debit purchases, take a look at the SunTrust debit card recently described by the Frugal Travel Guy.

Other Vendors

I received a number of questions about whether the reload cards could be purchased at Staples or OfficeMax.  Currently, the answer is “no”.  Hopefully they’ll appear in more locations soon.  It’s also my understanding that we are likely to see more reloadable prepaid cards on the market soon to compete with the Amex cards.  Please let me know the second you see one!

Other Options

If you don’t mind using non-reloadable cards, there are plenty of great alternatives: Buy $500 Visa cards at Office Depot (5X); Buy $200 Visa cards at Staples or OfficeMax (5X); Buy $100 Visa cards at Staples.com after clicking through the Ultimate Rewards Mall (10X).  With all of these options, the card fees reduce the true “X” a bit.  To see more about these options, including the “true X”, see: “What’s my X?

Let me know

Whether you’ve been successful or unsuccessful in buying reload cards, please let me know.  Also, if you’ve found any creative ways to use these cards, I definitely want to hear that!

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About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. Have been using the prepaid flawless until yesterday at CVS. Their machines would not process it correctly. I find that a little humorous since this CVS carried stacks of the regular prepaid visa and Amex cards. Other then that this card have been working great at gas stations and all sorts of others stores while we have been on vacation.

  2. I could not transfer funds from my temporary to my permanent card because I did not state I wanted to do so when I ordered the permanent card. (this is what the customer service agent said).
    I also confirmed that there are no foreign transaction fees. I am headed to France next week so I’ll be sure to try it out in stores, hotels and ATM’s.
    I have not had any problems getting reloads from OD, but I might buy a few extra and hold for next month.

  3. I bought the prepaid card with $500 on it and the reloadable card with $500 on it. I went online to request a permanent AMEX card, how long does it usually take to arrive?

  4. Gowallet may not work but tango card app works perfect for my Amex gift cards. Prepaid card is still in the mail.

  5. My local Office Depot in NYC has temp Amex cards, but apparently reload cards sell out quickly as they are very popular among tourists. Go figure.

  6. Do you know if these AMEX prepaid reloadable packs at either Safeway or OfficeMax?
    I tried looking around in Safeway, couldn’t find any!

  7. I’m curious to know what happens if you attempt to make a purchase when you don’t have sufficient funds on the card? Would it use the remaining balance for the purchase like a gift card with the transaction balance to be paid in cash or would it simply deny the transaction?

    I’m just curious if anyone knows how it works. Thanks

  8. Thanks for the mention!
    I use the visa gift cards to pay my Chiropracter and then deposit the insurance checks! This works out great for her bc the ins co takes forever to pay a claim. I’m going to ask the math tutor if he’ll take gift cards!

  9. I have a question. Iknow the chase ink gives 2 points per dollar for gas but what if my gas is $23. 60 or $40 .02? do we get the points for cents?? Same for chase freedom 5 points per dollar grocery deal, what if my grocery is $30.15?

  10. I can echo what #5, Maxim, said. The Office Depot in NYC is cleaned out. I asked when they could be expecting more and the manager said “No idea, it’s not up to us”.

  11. @Srini – The current answer is no. See above, under “Other Vendors.” Also, spending at Safeway wouldn’t get you the 5x points on your Chase Ink. (Though it would get you $ back on the Amex Blue Cash Preferred.)
    @sam – Chase adds up all your purchases at the end of the billing period, and then awards extra points. They do round up to the nearest point each statement period when purchases are at or above $X.50.

    However, your spending doesn’t carry across statement periods. If you spent $X.49 in March and $Y.49 in April, you don’t get the extra (one or more) points that come with combining for $X+Y.98.

  12. Do you know if the prepaid amex can be added to a paypal account and used to make a payment through paypal checkout. This could be a way to use it online for sites that do not accept american express, but do accept paypal. I haven’t received my permanent card yet, so haven’t been able to try myself.

  13. Scott – I do not see why it wouldn’t work for PayPal since it should look and act like a credit card.

    Grant Thomas – I ordered my online on 05/01 and received it on 05/07

    FM – It would seem to me that any discussion about any other card is moot at this point (except in states that do not have OD). I still hear blogs talking about 2x for Chase Sapphire for dining or 3x for AMEX PRG for travel. 5x everything!!!! BUT, I will still do Discover cashback promotions at 5% (Dining until May 31) and PenFed for gas at 5%

  14. @sam – $23.60 in gas will earn 45 total points on the Ink. $40.02 will earn 80 total points on the Ink. $30.15 in groceries on the Freedom will earn 151 on the Freedom in the current quarter.

  15. Dude if I were you I would have waited a month to update on this. “28 Days Later” would have made such a dramatic title! hahahah!

    • Perryplatypus: That’s very strange about CVS! Thanks for the input.

      Smitty06: Thanks for the tip: when signing up for the permanent card, make sure to select the option to transfer funds from the temporary card. I don’t remember that option, but it was a few weeks ago when I signed up.

      Grant Thomas: It took about 4 or 5 days for me to get the card. Others?

      jkm1317: Thanks for the tip! I’ve never heard of the tango card app.

      Maxim, ShrinkTheGlobe: Good to know. That must be frustrating. I bet the “tourists” are the NJ residents rushing into town to buy the cards 🙂

      Srini: No. See harvson3’s reply

      tbemille33: I expect this will vary from store to store just as with regular gift cards. Some stores have registers that automatically take what is left on the card and then charge you separately for the rest, others simply report the transaction as denied.

      Kadence: Great ideas!

      sam: See harvson3’s replies

      harvson3: Thanks for helping!

      Scott: I haven’t tried it, but I expect you could do that.

      DrSifu: I agree! However, lots of people still don’t have Ink cards and/or can’t get them. Also, there’s still plenty of need to talk about other cards for meeting minimum spend requirements and hitting high spend bonuses. So, I do plan to cover other cards as much as I can.

      Del: Nice one. I had to Google that. It’s not too late, I can still do a “28 days later” post…

      Mark: You’re lucky! I tried at my local Kroger to buy a green dot pack, but was denied.

  16. No Office Max anywhere near me, so I can’t participate. In fact, it makes me feel forlorn to miss out on such a bonanza. You owe me compensation! 😉

  17. The only thing to keep in mind/make sure to take into consideration would be that the fee isn’t negating your entire extra points. In other words, if you use the $100 visa card that you get from Staples, you are paying $105.95 to get that $100… essentially paying 6%. So, while 10x points is the equivalent of 10% back, in reality, you are only getting 4.05% back. If you use that at Petsmart for example, you are actually losing money because if you go to the UR Mall, Petsmart actually is a 5x provider.

    So the key here is to make sure you’re using it for non UR mall provider – maybe that is already understood but just wanted to point that out as a means of clarification. The table in “what’s my X” only shows the X that doesn’t take into account the opportunity cost of using that card for a particular merchant that might qualify for higher points.

  18. Thank you for the replies @harvson3 & @FM

    for Safeway – we can use Chase Freedom (Safeway is categorized as a Grocerry store and the current quarter’s 5% cashback is for Grocerry Stores on Freedom).

    So – It wouldn’t do much good to me, if I go to Office Depot – as I don’t have Ink! (Darn..I should have applied for one..I did kind of an app-o-rama in the last recent past, so wouldn’t test my luck anytime soon – even the minimum spend requirements have gone up:(.)

    @FM,
    is there anyway in which we can subscribe to a topic – and get emails when there are replies?

  19. Maybe it sounds really a stupid question, I would appreciate very much if anyone could help me figure out what’s the exactly process to reload $500 at Office Depot with a CC(Ink etc.) to the permanent Amex re-loadable card. I received the permanent AMEX card that I ordered online($0 balance) and took it to Office Depot cashier to ask for load $500 onto it. The cashier said that they sell Amex gift card(I did saw before but now all the Amex gift are gone at the store) but don’t reload it. Seems I must missed some steps here.

  20. @Alan – The point about not cancelling out potential UR mall multipliers is a good one.
    @Srini – My apologies; I forgot about the Freedom. Personally, I used the Freedom to buy my local grocery store’s own cards (which have no fees) for grocery shopping after June when there won’t be a Freedom bonus on groceries.

    • Alan: I value UR points higher than 1 cent each, so the Staples $100 gift cards are closer to 6X in my view (see “What’s my X”). Either way, keep in mind that if you shop at a place like Petsmart you could go through the UR mall again and use the $100 Visa to make your purchase (as long as the total bill is $100 or less). That way your total “take” is 11X by my count or 9X by your count.

      Srini: I’m hoping that we’ll get a “subscribe to this post” type of feature, but we don’t have it yet. Sorry.

      Jack: Step 1: buy Vanilla reload cards at Office Depot. Step 2: go home (or somewhere with an internet connection) and browse to the website listed on the reload card. Step 3: enter your Amex card number and the PIN from the reload card into the website. Now the money has moved from the reload card to your Amex.

  21. @FM
    To get UR points – you need to go to the merchant’s website from UR mall and then buy stuff with a Chase card I thought? Isn’t that so?

    • Srini: The UR mall is one way to get UR points. Another way is to buy things with certain credit cards (Sapphire, Freedom, Ink). The Ink cards give 5 points per dollar automatically at office supply stores.

  22. I hope you realize this will likely end sooner rather than later, and here’s why…Office Depot and other merchants are losing money in heaps on these reload transactions. At the current 2.5 or 2.75% (or higher) merchant fees, a $500 reload purchase is costing a retailer $11+ in fees while they only recoup a fraction of the $5.95 reload fee that they charge you. How long do you think these large retailers will take a loss for your points collection?

    Secondly, by definition what you’re doing COULD be a criminal act. Read the Patriot Act…in particular the part about money laundering and purchasing cash-equivalent monetary documents (prepaid cards & money orders) with non-cash payments. Even when paying with cash, there is a strict limit on purchase amounts and frequency written into the law. I’d tread very lightly if I were you in doling out advice on how to “game the system” in this regard!

    • HockeyCoachBen: I’ve been assured by an industry expert that Office Depot profits from selling the reload cards. He told me that they are a very different product from green dot money packs (even though they appear to be similar). There must be a mark-up on these that is not the case with green dot. I’m certainly no lawyer, but I’m also sure that there is nothing illegal about using the Amex prepaid cards and buying reload cards. I have to admit that I haven’t read the Patriot Act, but if you can point me to a relevant paragraph I’ll take a look.

  23. PS – a prosecution by the US government against WalMart about 2 years ago is the reason you will never be able to buy reloadable “cash” cards or money orders at their stores. Very sketchy to get involved in this hobby!

  24. Ugh – another correction… I meant to say “you will never be able to buy reloadable “cash” cards or money orders USING CREDIT CARDS at their stores.” Sorry for the multiple posts!

  25. @FM,
    I understand that. But to get points through UR mall, we need to make the payments on the merchant site with chase cards..isn’t it? (I’m referring to your 9x/6x/11x example above about staples.com)

  26. Great way to kill a good thing! Do you really think this is going to continue to work??? Chase is going to drop 5x on Office Supply stores very soon all because you chose to publicize something many of us already figured out. What’s in it for you? I’m sure it’s purely for your ego. There is no other explanation.

  27. First of all, I enjoy reading the blog and the “fresh” content. Secondly, some of the questions asked upstream are borderline ignorant. If people can’t read simple English and figure things out, they are in the wrong place.

    @FM, don’t sacrifice your credibility and “freshness” for spelling things out so simply that “even a caveman could do it”.

  28. My story worked just like Frequent Miler said it would. I ordered my American Express Prepaid Card online on the AX Website. This way I did not have to pay the 4.95 that is charged for a temporary card available at Office Depot. It arrived in the mail about 5 days later. I ordered it with a 0 balance. Once I had activated by phone and then setup my online account I purchased 1000.00 of Vanilla Reload cards with a total service charge of 7.90 with my AX Business card which has a 5% rebate for Office Supply Store purchases. I figure my total net rebate after fees is 4.25%. Where I was getting only 2% cash rebate with my everyday credit cards, I will shift all of those charges to this prepaid card with the exception of purchases where AX is not accepted.

    By the way, I had no problem purchasing the Vanilla cards with a credit card. The cashier did tell me that I was his 2nd only customer who purchased such amounts where the charge actually received a valid approval code. Apparently these cards are targets for fraudulent usage. I like the fact that the prepaid card is registered with my name and billing address just like a credit card so that it can be used in most applications where a credit card could be used. My OD had plenty of Vanilla cards in stock.

  29. FM, it looks like chase is releasing its own prepaid debit card called Liquid. Seems like a halfhearted attempt to compete with Amex, as there aren’t any obvious retail reload options.

  30. After get help from here figure out how to reload,
    I went to OD to buy Vanilla card. The cashier said they are all withdrew by card company including visa gift cards on the whole island. There are some issues on it but she did not say specific what it is. I am going to check OfficeMax to see the visa card withdraw or not, I bought there a couple days ago. If not, I will check with OD manager. I live in Honolulu.

  31. Hah, I just read that post in more detail. Your work was 100% copied. I’m glad that guy plagiarized…. the glory of the internet.

    Direct quote from the end of his post matches your blog entry
    “Don’t be greedy, please. Even if you only put $1000 per month onto this AMEX card, you will earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points! That’s a lot! If you use this trick in moderation then you should be safe to earn huge numbers of points, year after year, without fear of bank retaliation. If you go too far, you will get shut down. If many people take this too far, the whole deal may get shut down”

    • Milezjunkie: Yes, I believe this will continue to work for quite a while. I wouldn’t have published it otherwise. Time will prove me right or wrong.

      DavidAL: Thanks. I won’t change

      chuck: Great, thanks for the feedback!

      Bangkokiscool: Thanks, I saw that. I agree, the Chase product isn’t too interesting, but I do expect to see many competitors come out soon. Hopefully some will allow Vanilla reloads!

      Jack: That’s strange. Anyone else have trouble in Hawaii?

      Steve: Ugh. Thanks for pointing this out. Plagarism lives!

      Srini: No prob

  32. @FM Getting 5X on everything via this method means that the Ink Bold card has mainly (or only) Office Depot purchases in large amounts. Isn’t that going to trigger the unwritten “perk abuse” clause, inviting Chase’s wrath and receiving the dreaded “account not used as intended” letter?

    I had a lot of spend this year and already over 250K UR points in multiple Chase card accounts. If accounts get closed then previously earned UR points cannot be redeemed, seems too big a risk to take.

    • Kroozer: I definitely understand! Everyone needs to find their own comfort level with this since there is no perfect roadmap to show how to stay within Chase’s good graces. I do recommend, at the very least, that everyone put some additional spend on their Ink card beyond the OD purchases.

  33. Here is an interesting thought. Costco only takes AX cards. Their co-branded AX card gives 1% cash back on all Costco purchases. As far I have seen all other Ax cards will receive only .25% cast back per Costco’s website. If Costco will accept the AX Prepaid card, I will be getting 4.25% back!

  34. remember: Chase Ink cards (at least the Classic and Bold) give you 5X points on Mobile phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services as well. That makes them great cards in the first place. The OD/AMEX PP loophole makes them fantastic.

  35. @chuck: Get the executive membership at Costco and get an additional 2% back — Yield of 6.25 if you pay with your AMEX PP/Vanilla reload/Office Depot/Chase Ink card(s).

  36. #44 post: I confirmed that OfficeMax still selling Visa gift card. But All the Office Depot store in Hawaii don’t sell Vallina reload anymore. When I asked for OD manger to explain the reason he referred me to a person in store who in charge of Gift Cards and she just simply saying that OD don’t carry it anymore. Is there any other store allow buying Vanilla reload cards with CC? Even I don’t get 5x but still a great deal to earn 1x and get cash instead of using regular bank ATM when you need cash.

  37. I just loaded up an American Express Prepaid card with Vanilla reloads from Office Depot and made two purchases I had been planning. When I went to the American Express page to see the transaction history, I noticed it included two charges in ADDITION to my purchases for $1 labeled: Purchase (AXP) w/ Bal Return & AVS

    Anyone else seeing this?

    • chuck & moro: Thanks for the tips!

      Ian: Glad it helps

      Jack: I’m not aware of other stores, sorry

      Michael: Those $1 fees are temporary holds to check the validity of your card, they will be reversed out after a few days.

  38. Can you use the AX Prepaid Card at the gas station without going inside the station…by paying at the pump?

    • David: Yes. Gas stations put a temporary hold of $75 or so on the card before allowing you to pump gas. As long as you have a large enough balance on your prepaid amex it should work fine (I’ve done it).

  39. Just wanted to mention that there is a limit on the re-load amount at $2,500 per month so be careful. I just bought and tried to reload $500 on my prepaid permanent amex card but it would not accept the transaction although I had just 300 left in the card. After several back and forth calls with Vanilla reload cust svc and amex they figured out that i was over the $2,500 monthly limit so have to wait until mid June to start adding funds to the prepaid card…what a bummer…Plus when I was at my local Office Depot they dad to call in the transaction to marstracrd 800 nr as their corporate had instructed them to do so with the prepaid reloadable cards (my transaction/purchase had already been completed and authorized by Chase when they made the call to MC?!?!?!). Strange, don’t understand the reason but hopefully just a security precaution on their side that won’t affect the points earned with the transaction.

  40. can someone tell me how people living outside the us can work this(will be visiting so can pick up in shops),but are there issues with loading from overseas credit card>
    can it be loaded via paypal??

  41. So I finally jumped in on this one last weekend after receiving my card from Amex via mail. My first stop to Office Depot (Eisenhower in A2) was interesting enough – I found the vanilla reload rack almost completely empty, although luckily there was another small batch of them sitting adjacent to the cash register. I picked one up and passed it to the cashier and ask to load $500 onto the card, simultaneously pulling out my Ink card and setting it down in front of her. She gives me a very long look and then asks for my ID. Not thinking much of it, I give her my license. She walks away and gets a manager and brings him to the cash register. She points out my credit card to him and said she had another guy that came in last night and bought 14 of the reload cards, and was using the exact same credit card. He quietly spoke a few words to the cashier and she proceeding to ring up the sale. It seems that some managers and employees have noticed the correlation between the reload cards and the Ink or perhaps a company memo has been issued to management. My guess is that this item will become a cash-only purchase in the very near future.

  42. Same problem here with OD in Hawaii. So, how is OM treating those VISA prepaid card purchases, can you buy it with CC or you have to use cash? Could that be possible alternative?

  43. Purchased the AE Reload from an Office Depot (with Ink Bold) here in Houston with no problems. Points immediately reflected the purchase but not the bonus. How long should I wait to see the bonus?

    Many thanks!

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