Vanilla changes

In the past month or so, Vanilla Reload cards have become more and more difficult to find.  Many stores that used to have a ready supply have sold out and have not restocked.  What’s going on?  I don’t have the answers, but there are a number of clues…

Vanilla Reload website changes and a new card

As Giddy for Points reported here, the website for reloading Vanilla Reload cards has undergone a dramatic facelift.  And, the new site shows a very different looking card:

Vanilla Reload website won’t reload

Yesterday, readers reported that the Vanilla Reload website wasn’t working when they tried to reload Bluebird cards.  The quick fix is to call to reload:


CVS policy changes

Donnie Law reports here that CVS is planning to roll out new policies regarding how Vanilla Reload cards are sold.  No details yet as to what these new policies may be.  Let’s hope that credit cards will still be allowed!

Amex Serve rolls out big changes

American Express’ Serve product continues to evolve.  Finextra gives a summary of some recent changes here.  The part that caught my eye was this:

Free Cash Load Network: Starting this November, American Express Serve customers will be able to take cash to the register at more than 14,000 participating CVS/pharmacy and 7-Eleven stores and add it to their American Express Serve Account. This is made possible through a relationship with InComm and its Vanilla Reload Network.

This paragraph implies that instead of buying Vanilla Reload cards, the Serve card will need to be brought to the register and reloaded there.  It sounds a lot like Bluebird “swipe reloads” at Walmart doesn’t it?  If so, will this be in addition to Vanilla Reload cards or instead of Vanilla Reload cards? Will they allow credit cards?  Debit cards?  Will we have to wait until November to find out?

What it all means

It appears to me that Amex has been happy with the Bluebird rollout, but is not satisfied with keeping an exclusive partnership with Walmart.  Instead, they’ve made Serve increasingly like Bluebird, but without the Walmart exclusivity.  Does this have anything to do with Vanilla Reload changes?  Maybe.  Amex is certainly big enough to be in a position to convince Incomm to change their product.  Of course, the two developments coming around the same time could be coincidental, but my guess (and it is just a guess) is that they’re connected.

It seems likely to me that the CVS policy changes, if they happen, are driven by the need to have a new way to load cards like Serve. 

I believe that the current lack of Vanilla Reload cards in stores is due to the fact that Incomm stopped producing the old cards and have not yet rolled out the new ones.  Regarding the broken Vanilla Reload site: maybe it’s not working because the new site is designed only to load new Vanilla Reload cards? 

Anyone have information or good guesses about what’s going on?  Comment below.

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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  1. I can confirm my closest store that was out of VR for 3-4 weeks is now healthily restocked with the new cards with more logos on it (as you have it above). That’s my guess as to what happened.

  2. Oh come on your source is another blogger who spoke to an assistant manager at a CVS who was sketchy on the details other than something is coming? Why not just reference random theories from the FT CVS thread?

  3. I think the changes are going to be negative. CVS stores here in NYC have been hiding cards behind the counter and in their offices. Some stores have gotten rid of them all together. My BA card has been denied at two stores for VR purchases while I have had no problem buying other items. I see a big change coming.

  4. My local Certain Valuable Stores have been fully stocked of late, as they have been since the rollout almost a year ago… That said, the VR-BB gravy train has to come off the tracks at some point. c’est la vie

  5. I had a hard time finding vanillas (found a little stack of the old ones yesterday), and also had a hard time reloading them into bluebird with the new website, but it finally worked. We’ll see what happens.

  6. One of the stores near me has gotten new stock in the last 2 weeks after being out for about 4 weeks. The new stock consists of the new cards so the managers I spoke too were spot on about the shortage being due to new cards coming out. I have not had a chance to check other stores(no pressing need to!). I loaded my BB last night with no issues.

    My guess is that they will still allow CC purchases. Would seem strange to raise limit to 5K then completely reverse course. If the true concern is people purchasing too many how does going to cash or debit only solve the problem?

    The smart thing would be to do is to scan DL for all VR purchases no matter how small. It is possible that the stores are not connected to one another so that scanning DL right now only prevents you from going over the limit at that one store and even then you can squeeze a bit more out by going at different times in the day.

    What really needs to happen on Serve now is they need to raise the monthly limit or even better let you have both BB and Serve!

  7. The new VR website is a little different. Before, it was:

    1) Input Bluebird Account# and VR# and hit submit.


    1) Input VR#, click reload.
    2) Iput Bluebird Account#, click reload.
    3)Scroll to the bottom of the T&C’s, than click submit.

    The big difference now is that you have to scroll to the bottom of the T&C’s. I tried just clicking submit a few times and I would get an error message.

    Once I scrolled down the T&C’s, I was able to successfully load my Bluebird.

  8. I tried loading my vanilla reloads last night and found that it wouldn’t work on both my Ipad and my laptop, however when it did it on my phone it worked. It is a lot harder to scroll to the bottom of the T&C’s but it still worked.

  9. The new VR…still has MIO logo on it…as you reported, they will be converted to MVD…I guess we’ll suffer another round of shortage?

  10. @Dan
    “If the true concern is people purchasing too many how does going to cash or debit only solve the problem?”

    The concern is CC fraud.

  11. I’ve noticed a change to the ice cream at my most frequented CVS, however it is not the card shown here. it’s basically the same as the old car, but they keep adding more logos to the bottom, and the back now has a new kind of scratch off material. Additionally the cards now start with the #7 where as before they always started with #6.

  12. I had a little trouble last night with the VR website as well. Hit the submit button, and got an error message that the pin had already been used. Scared me to death, thinking I was going to be out $503.95, but hit the submit button several more times, and it went through.

  13. to commentors above who saw the new card on the rack but did anyone try to buy it ? if they dont allow to buy with cc then its really dead in the water. please post any results of your purchases. thanks

  14. I managed to load an old style card late last night around 11:30 EST on the new site. Loaded it Monday, Tuesday (old site) and then issues Wednesday all day until almost midnight. My local CVS still has a stack so I may need to buy a few more soon or take them before they are taken off the shelves!

  15. My CVS has a new policy. they have some kind of a device that reads the holograms or something on the ID and on the credit card as well under unltraviolet light. they would not sell the vanilla until they ran both the ID and the credit card thru that device and it confirmed they were genuine.
    after all that my freedom card was declined… I had to use Citi AA and go thru the process again.

  16. After repeated attempts to find a Vanilla Reload card at CVS in A2, MI, I finally found one in Columbus, Ohio on Sunday evening. When going to purchase the Vanilla reload card and another item in the store, my transaction was rejected by my AA Citi Bank Visa card. (I’m getting very close to the 50,000 AA bonus sign up spend bonus.) I received a text message from Citi Bank to verify the transaction. I verified and was successful in loading my Vanilla purchase to Bluebird on Tuesday morning. I don’t know if Citi Bank flagged my transaction because it was done in another state from where live and typically make most of my transactions, however, it was the very first time I had a transaction blocked and received a text notification from Citi.

  17. Some what related to this subject-I got a new Delta Amex card and it stated:

    “Purchases to meet the spend requirement do NOT include fees or interest charges, balance transfers, cash advances, purchases of traveler’s checks, purchases or reloading of prepaid cards, or purchases of any cash equivalents.

    Not sure how they can see this but anyone had experience buying beans at the pharmacy and not having gotten miles for the pourchase? Thanks!

  18. I got the last two old design cards at my local CVS last night. Didn’t have problems loading them on the new site, but I’m not a fan of the new design. The old one was simpler and more efficient for loading.

  19. I purchased 2 VRCs at CVS this morning with my Chase Hyatt and Citi Hilton Res card. No problem with either. There are the old designs. Haven’t tried loading on the new site yet.

  20. I hope companies haven’t found a way to keep gc and reload purchases from counting for points. This has been a fun ride and I’d hate to see it end.

    The new beans at my location look much like the old ones, except there are new logos added.

    I wonder if Walgreens will change their policy…

  21. I tried buying $2,000 worth of old ones ($1k on two separate cards) at one CVS last night (Oct. 9th) and it wouldn’t work, even though I’ve been buying them there for a few months.

    Went to the CVS down the road, and then was able to buy $2,000 worth of old ones. Weird!

  22. The reports of purchase failures: I strongly suspect Incomm is going through some serious IT issues with upgrades not just to their site. Network failure to incomm with decline any purchase. Try it again and like magic it works. Patience is needed for the transition, I guess.

  23. Thanks for linking to my post.

    I stopped by one of my two local CVS stores this morning and they were re-stocked (old design) with VR cards. On Monday they were flat out for the first time in months. There was a new cashier and she gladly accepted credit card payment for 10 cards.

    We’ll see if and when this new policy rolls out.

  24. I have seen fewer VR at the two CVS stores (north Kansas City), over the past monts, but just bought $2500 worth on the chase bold w/o problem. They did have a problem with the computer and so they did one at a time. At the other store I bought $3000 and they rang them up together. It seems neither store has the same system or rules. At one store the cashier asked me if my wife had stayed home. I was clueless what she meant, but she had me confused with another guy who brings in his wife and they both buy thr VRs.

  25. There is a problem with the website. After the first successful load the second may fail with a “Pin has already been used”. I just closed the tab, cleared the cookie and was able to reload without issues.

  26. Forgot to mention. CVS is now entering the last 4 digits of the credit card. I do the whole transaction at the Self Kiosk and now it pages the attendant twice. The first time he just presents his badge and not a problem. But when I enter the payment, it pages the attendant one more time and he has to enter the last four digits of the card. Then he verifies against my DL. This has been going on since mid Sept.

  27. I am tormented on what to do.

    I have found a VR way with a unique angle. If I post it online it will not last long. If I keep quiet, I am sure it will eventually come out and some other blogger will get all the glory 🙂

    Friends have asked me and I told them please don’t, I have a family of four to take care of 🙂

    Am I being selfish for keeping it all to myself? I am not in the business of revealing secrets and this is one of the very few times I personally have come up with one. Or maybe you guys all know about it and this whole CBSing is a smoke screen 🙂

    And no I did not steal this from Flyer Talk.

    Am I going to be painted as yet another blogger killing deals?

    Seriously folks, I am having some major moral dilemmas right now.

    I should have kept my mouth shut 🙂

  28. I’ve purchased reloads twice this week. Both times, I was able to only purchase one at a time. Tonight, the clerk at CVS said that I needed to use a debit card. I said, “No I don’t. I can use credit cards.”. It did work with my Chase Sapphire. This was in SE MI, but the reloads are getting low on the rack. I purchased the old style. That was my only option.

  29. @TravelBloggerBuzz—I’ve struggled with this too. Not trying to plug myself but I wrote a post on the topic in which I used the way the HIGC went down as an example to compare how different people handled exposing the deal in different ways. Two different people thought they had discovered it and both chose a different way to publish on it. The person who actually was the first to publish on it did so in a very open point-blank kind of way. The other blogger (who thought he was breaking news) chose a clandestine clue-giving way in an effort to preserve the deal. I like the latter, which is kind of what you’re doing already just by letting people know in a I know something you don’t know kind of way. Hopefully that way fewer people exploit and subsequently kill the deal, or at least increase its longevity. Either way, it’s not selfish of you to keep it a secret, but wanting to publish on it before someone else does and gets the credit is also understandable.

  30. My super dependable neighborhood CVS was out of beans for the last 2-3 weeks. I asked my friendly cashier last week, and he looked in the system and told me that it was because their card supplier was not sending the cards due to redesign (cards were on order). This week they did get the new cards. These had the security strip improvements and some new logos, but no color change to green as shown in your image above. I was able to buy and load via the newly redesigned vanilla reload website early this morning.

  31. TBB–Every once in a while I’ll run across things which run the risk of being quickly beaten into the ground if I mention them, so I keep quiet about it. Not necessarily because I’m even doing the deal, but because others surely are and I figure I’d just ruin it for them to nobody’s benefit.

    As for Vanilla reloads, it looks like they’ve replaced their reliable old website with a buggy new one. Loaded one card successfully, got an error on the second, loaded it to my wife’s card instead and it worked.

  32. @TBB I understand. I’m not sure if I should tell anyone but I’ve recently been successful with my experiments in alchemy, perpetual motion machines, and time travel. I’m been debating whether mankind will be better off with this knowledge or not. It’s quite a burden to me. I’m going to keep thinking about it.

  33. Just cleaned out the last two VR cards at my Charlie Victor Sierra……..had to uncover them behind the game cards hidden at the bottom rung……..then whoever put them there had the audacity of taking the two I hid elsewhere on the rack……….but alas the manager tells me he ordered 60 more today and they will be here Monday…………interesting now at this store they have them again and they move off the shelves in waves…………if you are willing to buy “ahead” of “loading time” then it is a lot less stressful hunting…………

  34. just for the record I haven’t stooped to hiring homeless guys to hang out and stand in line for when they come in……………

  35. Thanks for linking to my post. Still seeing the old cards at my CVS but I’m sure they will be transitioning soon.

  36. My favorite CVS still has a large stock of the old cards and I bought several yesterday. Tried to load from my smartphone in the parking lot as usual and got as far as the “are you sure you want to load the $500 to this card, this is irreversible” step, then when I said yes I got an error message that a system error had occurred. Having already read this post I didn’t panic but called the 877 number and got all the VR loaded successfully to my MVD and BB cards. Took 12 minutes on the phone to get the cards loaded, so I’ll be glad when CVS gets the new cards in and I can load from my mobile web browser again.

  37. Yesterday my Charlie Victor Sierra manager said they had an automatic reorder in place of 60 cards when they sold out but it obviously wasn’t working and that he would go in and reorder again………seems there is a problem on the “supply side”……..
    Question is: Does the lack of supply have anything to do with breaching the line of credit cap that the card issuer has? IE Are they slowing the supply of cards based on the amount outstanding on the cards and can’t ship more new ones until a certain amount is paid off? It can’t be they are incompetent in the production of these plastic cards?

  38. Yes, seems those VR’s are harder to get by. Many of my stores(CVS) have not had them in almost 3 weeks. Got lucky to find some two days ago and had no problems reloading the old design on the new VR website. Funny thing is that the cashier made me do two transactions and both times with the 503.95 charge on two separate CC’s each CC flagged my cards for fraud and I had to go online and verify the amounts charged. Could have called also as I had both CC’s call me and leave me messages about potential fraud activity. FIRST time this happened and both CC’s have been used before to purchase VR’s.
    Anyone had similar experience ???

  39. I am a vanilla
    Enthusiast and was buying about 10K per month in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC. My local CVS as well as several others around me were always fully stocked with beans. Now, for three or four weeks there is no sign of any. Not the old ones or the new ones or anything. It is both sad and frustrating. I asked a few managers about it and all of them are very very grumpy and mean, and gave me no other information. 🙁

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