American Express Campus Edition

Is this a worthy alternative to Vanilla Reload cards? 

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For many months, the following proposed experiment has been listed in the Frequent Miler Laboratory:

Amex Prepaid College Edition: Try to reload at campus Barnes & Noble using credit card or B&N gift card.

The American Express Campus Edition Prepaid Card is very similar to the American Express Prepaid card that I’ve written about many times (for example, see “One card to rule them all”).  However, this card is marketed towards University students and is distributed through Barnes & Noble campus bookstores.  Further, unlike regular Amex prepaid cards, these cards can be reloaded at campus bookstore registers.

I was interested in this card for a few reasons:

First, it is very easy to buy Barnes & Noble gift cards at a discount.  For example, currently GiftCardGranny.com lists many second-hand B&N gift cards for 12% off.  So, if it were possible to load the Amex with a gift card, one could essentially save 12% off everything! 

Second, this looked like a potential alternative to buying Vanilla Reload cards as a way to earn 5X everywhere (again, see “One card to rule them all”).  My thought was that one could buy Vanilla Visa cards (not reload cards) for 5X points, and use them to load these Amex cards.  The advantages of moving value from the Visa cards to these would be: 1) The Amex cards would be registered to your name and address and so could more easily be used online; 2) The Amex cards permit ATM withdrawals; and 3) The Amex cards are reloadable and can hold more value so you won’t risk being stuck with multiple cards with very small balances.

Preparing for the experiment

I ordered a free Campus Edition card via the Amex website.  Weeks later, I received an email saying the following:

Dear Frequent Miler,

Thank you for choosing the American Express Campus Edition Card. Unfortunately, we could not complete your order 12345 for the following reason:

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I called to ask what was up and was told that sometimes they have errors in the system that checks your identity.  The call center agent told me to simply try again.  So I did.  Weeks later I received the same error: undefined.  So, I tried a third time.  Finally, it was approved!

Dear Frequent Miler,

Congratulations! Your American Express Campus Edition Card has been approved. We are processing your order and we will send you an e-mail when your Card is shipped. Please activate your Card once you receive it.

I received the card in the mail about a week later.  I then ran out to buy a Barnes & Noble gift card, and a $500 Prepaid Visa for this experiment.  Just for the heck of it, I also tried to use a Vanilla Reload card to load money to this card, but it didn’t work.

Campus bookstore experiment

I stopped by my local campus B&N bookstore to conduct this experiment.  I handed my reloadable Amex card to the cashier and told her I’d like to load money to it.  She stared at me blankly then told me that they could only load Barnes & Noble gift cards.  I told her how this was supposed to work, but she didn’t believe me.  Was there anyone else here who could help me?  No.  Finally, I brought her over to the enormous American Express Campus Edition display in the center of their store to show her that American Express, at least, believes that these cards can be loaded at the register.  Finally she was willing to give it a try.

The cashier fiddled with the register for a bit until I suggested that she simply swipe my card and see what happens.  She did so and then was prompted to ask me how much I wanted loaded to my card.  I stupidly hadn’t looked up the maximum load amount beforehand.  I suggested $1000 (the actual maximum is $500).  She balked and said that with gift cards the most they could do was $200.  I suggested she try $500 anyway, but she seemed too scared to do so.  I gave in and agreed to $200.

I was charged a $3.95 load fee, so the total came to $203.95.  I handed the cashier my $25 B&N gift card and asked her to use that first for payment.  She didn’t hesitate, but after several attempts she decided that the register wouldn’t allow it.  I swiped my Vanilla Visa instead.  That time, it processed without issue.

Results

From the limited experiment I ran, I now believe the following to be true:

  • No, you cannot load Campus Edition prepaid cards with B&N gift cards
  • Yes, you can load Campus Edition prepaid cards with credit cards, including prepaid cards and Visa/MC/Amex gift cards.

Of course, results may vary at other locations.

Card limits and fees

Here is some useful information about the card:

  • No annual or monthly fees
  • First ATM withdrawal per month is free (other than the fee charged by the ATM owner).  All other ATM withdrawals cost $2.
  • At campus bookstores, you may load any amount from $25 to $500 onto your Card.  It appears that you must be at a campus bookstore, not at just any Barnes & Noble store (although I didn’t test that theory).
  • When loading the card at a campus bookstore, you will be charged a $3.95 fee.
  • The FAQ specifically says that bookstores may accept credit, debit or cash.
  • You cannot exceed a balance of $1,000 at anytime.
  • You cannot use a credit card to load the prepaid card online.  You can only do this at a campus bookstore.
  • Just like other American Express prepaid cards, these cards cannot be used for debit transactions despite the fact that you are given a PIN code.  The PIN is for ATM use only.

For more information, you read the Campus Edition FAQ here.

 

Leveraging the deal

Citi Forward: The Citi Forward card automatically gives 5 points per dollar for all bookstore purchases.  It would be very interesting to see if the Forward would give 5X for loading the campus addition card.  Be very careful though: Citi is much more aggressive than any other bank in treating transactions like these as cash advances.  If it treats this as a cash advance, then you won’t get points and, worse, you’ll be charged hefty fees.  Anyone up for trying this experiment?

5X everywhere: Another use for this prepaid card is for people who want to do the “one card to rule them all” trick, but can’t find Vanilla Reload cards in stock.  The alternative here is to buy $500 Vanilla Visa cards at office supply stores (Office Depot usually carries them) and then use those cards to load the Campus Edition cards at a campus bookstore.  Note that with this approach you would be paying more than twice as much as with a Vanilla Reload card.  Vanilla Reload cards cost only $3.95 each and there is no further fee to apply the value to a prepaid card.  Vanilla Visa cards, on the other hand, cost $4.95 each and then there is a $3.95 fee to use the card to load up the Campus Edition card.  So, if you buy and load a $500 card, you will have spent 1.78% of its value in fees. 

6X everywhere: Similar to the 5X everywhere plan, you could use the Blue Cash Preferred card (which gives 6% cash back for groceries) to buy $500 Visa cards at a grocery store.  Or, you could use one of the American Express Hilton cards which give 6X points at groceries, drug stores, and gas stations to do the same.  Then, you could go to a campus bookstore to move the money from the Visa card to the Campus Edition Amex card.  Keep in mind that you will incur multiple fees amounting to at least 1.78%.  If you buy and load smaller amounts, your fee percentage will be higher.  Also, keep in mind that if your goal is to cash out via ATMs, ATM fees will add to your costs.

Liquidate small gift cards: Visa, MasterCard, and Amex gift cards can be a hassle to use, especially when their value drops low.  If you have a number of gift cards like this, you could theoretically ask to load $500 to the Campus Edition Amex and use multiple bank gift cards to pay for it.  I didn’t specifically test this scenario, but I believe it would work.  Once you’ve moved the value to the Campus Edition Amex you can cash out via ATMs.

Is it worth it?

The hassle factor with this opportunity is pretty high.  First, you need to have ready access to a campus B&N bookstore.  Second, you may need to overcome the fact that cashiers have no idea how to handle these cards.  Third, the $1000 balance limit on these cards make them a far cry from being the “One card to rule them all.”  There are certainly better deals out there, but for some people, and under some circumstances, this still could be a good deal.

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. good experiment, but even the 5x one card to rule them all just isn’t worth it anymore to me. Assuming i can find an OD that sells them when i am on the mainland, I then have to run the gauntlet of the manager approval and Chase decline at the register. I then have to call Chase from the store for approval. All of this for essentially 2 points, plus i am fronting the cash.

    Between my Chase Freedom, targeted quarterly bonuses from other cards, and the UR bonuses, I still make out ok on my everyday purchases. But keep up the good work. Really love your blog!

  2. great original research. thanks for posting it. I have a feeling that Barnes and noble gift cards will work with other cashiers.

  3. Wow, I wish I knew about this a year ago when I was still in college. Hard to get to a college bookstore without paying for parking ($8 a day). I have a citi forward card and would like to give it a go. I’ll order the Amex and see what I can find out. Lots of other experiments to try.

  4. @FrequentMiler Thanks for vetting this process. Unfortunately, it seems like you got a nervous cashier. Was this at the Michigan Union location or Pierpont Commons?

  5. Miler, I assume you already had three amex prepaid cards issued in your name. So you were able to get this college card in addition to the three prepaids all in your name?

    • Grant: Thanks. I’m looking forward to seeing your results!

      Vlad: Michigan Union.

      Scott: I only have two regular Amex prepaid cards. I don’t think they count them together though. I’m pretty sure you can have 3 of those and 1 of these.

  6. You should try doing this experiment using an Amex that has OPEN savings on it. Those cards will give you 5% back for all BN purchases in addition to whatever points / cashback you are regularly getting.

    If you have a new American Express Business Gold card (for example) that you are working on a spending requirement for, this is an easy way to get that spend up, while buying the Amex Gift card (reloads).

  7. FM- Alternatively this could be a relatively easy way to mean minimum spending on any card that gives you >1% back. Based on my understanding, just loading with, say and Ink Bold or CSP, the fees would amount to 0.8%, which is still less than the 1.0 or 1.07 you’d receive from the chase cards. If its convenient, it might be a good idea to spread the wealth around to places that aren’t OD.

  8. Some Guy: unfortunately Open Savings only apply to online B&N orders so it won’t help here. Otherwise it would be awesome

    Chris: good point! This is yet another option for meeting minimum spend

    Grant: I don’t know

  9. Not a student anymore but work at a major university some weeks, and this uni has a B&N campus bookstore. I’m somewhat willing to test the Citi Forward 5X. How did the charge post on your statement? If it’s just a regular B&N transaction, would it be a purchase instead?

  10. Thanks, and hooray for being an academic living not near any Office Depots!

    Though I’ll probably only use this for minimum spending requirements.

  11. Dude, you rock! Good job on research! Don’t be too hard on yourself, not every swing at bat is a homerun!

    Thanks to Grant for the link, and in my chicago area, 2 universities participate, UofC and IIT, I drive near them frequently so I will give them a try.

    I will try buying B&N GC at grocery stores with my HHAMEX for 6X. Also, currently until 10/9, dominicks has a $10 cash coupon when you buy VISA GC, so I buy $500 + $5.95 fee and get $10 back for net $4.05, so will stock up on some of these, try to figure out how to cash them and here is a way!

    • ord-tgu: That’s great that this will work for you! Let me know how it goes trying to use the B&N gift card. I don’t have high hopes for that, but it would be amazing if it worked.

      Joe: You’re right. I’ve removed the NFL link since the $400 offer appears to be dead

      xp0: See the FAQ (here) under “How do I add money at my campus bookstore?” It doesn’t say they will accept credit cards, but it does say they “may”. Specifically: “(bookstores may accept credit, debit or cash)”

  12. FM,

    I clicked the NFL link at your best credit cards area. I did not see anything about 40,000 points. Can you confirm, if you can, 40,000 is still the deal? Thanks.

  13. Just wondering where you saw that you can load this with a credit card? I know your experiment worked and I plan on taking advantage of this soon, however I was looking on the website and saw no mention of using a credit/debit card.

    It basically just said Direct Deposit, Money Pack, or cash.

    Thanks and great post.

  14. The major downside of this card…

    “Not more than $1,000 may be loaded to your Card on any day using Cash Loading methods, not more than $1,000 may be loaded to your Card in any [28-day period] using your Funding Source or Cash Loading Methods, and not more than $5,000 may be loaded to your Card in any month using Direct Deposit. The maximum aggregate balance on your Card at any time may not exceed $5,000. We may change these limits at any time for legal, risk management, security or other purposes.”

    So this deal maxes out at 1k per month. Shame…

  15. I used the link to the card from within the online campus bookstore at a Silicon Valley uni and was approved instantly. Got the card in under a week. Just loaded it to $1k by credit card at the campus bookstore and plan on drawing cash off it slowly.
    Great for when no vanilla reload packs can be found only gift cards.
    A little complicated, but great find FM!

    (ps .did have the same issue with the bookstore employees who didn’t know how to reload a card despite huge AMEX hoardings by the register promoting it).

  16. Not that I want to kill what I am about to propose but….for those of you who dont have campus B and N around you can buy a greendot moneypak from a local store (my sunoco has them) with a credit card that gives you a good bonus for that category and then load the moneypak right onto the prepaid card

  17. Loaded $500 twice at the same store, same time.

    However this weekend I went to reload (as 28 days have passed) and the register choked on letting me load the 2nd $500. Will have to go back.

    FrequentMiler says:
    October 26, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Russell: Were you able to load $1K all at once? I thought the daily load limit was $500.

  18. FM, you are right, you cannot load more than $1000 in 28 days. Do you know if B&N register is ‘smart’ as Target’s (in terms of liquidating small value GCs)?

    Yesterday I had a chance to reload this card at our campus bookstore. I had the same experience as you are; I had to insist that this card can be reloaded there (cashier told me “no”). They (2 cashiers) tried, got stuck with “unable to load” (or something like that) message. Fortunately, there was capable guy with them, who realized how to do it right.

  19. Reply to FM
    russell: Maybe there is a max balance of $1000 as well? Did you still have money in your account when you tried this?
    There was a small balance ($134). Not sure if this is a one off, will try again next month.
    .
    Additional info – not all B&N campus bookstores allow this. I was in Albany,NY this week staying in a hotel opposite the University so I walked over to the student center and tried to reload the card. I did get them to just swipe it and it didn’t trigger the reload option. The store manager came over and explained that UoA had opted out and their decision overrides B&N. I did look around just in case to see if there were any posters etc. for the campus card and there were none.

  20. I have one of these. You can use direct deposit up to $5000 per month. The $1000 limit applies to other forms of loading.

    I tried to send a direct deposit with an online savings account but they do not allow prepaid accounts to be linked.

    I get paid direct deposit from many different sources- so I might be able to test that out.

    My question is, I got the Campus Edition card only/first. Can I get a regular AMEX prepaid, too? When I checked their FAQs, they state that one can MANAGE up to 3 cards but can only have ONE card in his name. However, AMEX offers a few different types: Regular, pass, Campus, Target.

    In my case, I got the Campus, but I think the regular prepaid card has better terms. Because the only difference I really see is that the Campus has a $1000 non-DD load limit but the regular has $2500. So I’d like to get a regular, too, but dont want to apply and have it all messed up.

  21. Greg: Yes you can get a regular Amex prepaid too (although I think Bluebird is an even better option). The 3 card limit only applies specifically to the Amex prepaid card. Each type of card has its own, independent, limits. With Bluebird, for example, you can only get one, but it has a $5K per month reload limit (or $10K per month via direct deposit).

  22. Thanks for the response. I appreciate it. My needs are probably a little bit different than most of the readers of this site, but I guess a side effect of having a well-written, informative blog is Google traffic on searches for the product while not necessarily the method. I was going to ask about Bluebird next, but I think you already answered. I am going to get the regular prepaid and Bluebird, I think.

  23. Just figured out a new aspect the Campus card that I hadn’t understood before. The monthly load limit isn’t simply $1k, it is the max balance is also $1k. As such if doing the reload by bookstore instead of by DD then each month you need to zero out the card completely. If say you loaded $1k and then took out $400 twice by ATM (plus say $5.50 in ATM fees) then the remaining $194.50 on the card will limit your next month reload to $805.50. Just something to keep in mind.

  24. This is where a starbucks card comes in handy.
    I load up the campus, pull $800 from the ATM, do a little shopping and then push the exact remainder to my starbucks card to leave a zero balance. Starbucks allows you to load any odd amount over $10.

  25. Regarding the cash advance fees…would you be interested in a thread/table where we can report success and failure regarding which cards have or have not charged cash advance fees?

    $11k to spend in the next 6 months. Easy if I can pay my rent with reloads…!!

  26. I try to login at americanexpress.com/studentid but get ERROR 500. Yes I’m using the correct login are u guys able to login?

  27. A blast from the past on a stale post, but …

    Has anyone else been unable to load their AMEX CE at a B&N Campus Bookstore?

    Couldn’t load mine last week and the helpdesk people said it was a “known problem” and “should be resolved in 5 business days.” (In other words, they had no idea.)

    Later that same day, the card wouldn’t work in an ATM with an error of “Bank Unavailable.”

    Am I the only lucky guy in the bunch? Anyone else?

  28. Two B&N Campus Bookstores stopped performing reloads in my area. Managers at both stores said it was a new corporate policy (loss prevention). I had loaded at these locations 1.5-2.5 months ago.

  29. Can B&N Campus Edition still be loaded by the Credit Card (Citi Forward or B&N). In it’s FAQ it says: “There are 3 easy ways to add money to the Card:
    1.Direct Deposit
    2.Savings or Checking bank account
    3.Cash”

    I’ll appreciate a follow-up, just don’t want to open it to find that the answer is “NO” )) reason I want to use this method is because I’m exhausting online SERVE service and Wally is far from where I live.

    THANKS EXPERTS

      • You’re THE BEST FREQUENTMILER! REALLY! I love your articles, since they really share the info, that every other blogger keeps away from public or just doesn’t know, but always push for CC sign-ups only, while you IN CONTRAST DO SHARE the valuable info and even share the Experiments! Just stumbled upon one of your older examples about “buying UR points for less than a cent”. Not the same, but a similar one can be had now with Kohl’s purchase via UR+Freedom 4Q bonus. I’m sure there is a way to improve it or use other tactics ))
        To pay my dues to you for your “generosity” I will use your affiliate links next time I’ll be applying for the CCs.

        Again, THANKS a LOT for PROMPT & HELPFUL REPLY! You’re THE BEST !!!

  30. Can I use AMEX Campus Edition loaded in B&N stores to load Serve as an credit card? If so, then I wouldn’t need to pay ATM withdrawal fees and use Serve to pay bills.

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