By Julian, author of Devil’s Advocate…
Not since the Apollo moon missions has there been a more fragile piece of technology than the Walmart MoneyCenter Express ATM kiosk.
The WME was designed to be a powerful device with the flexibility to handle many financial tasks with ease. Unfortunately, the blueprints were then handed to a team of monkeys who preferred to spend their time jumping up and down and screeching at their programming screens instead of building a properly working piece of equipment.
That being said, there’s a fundamental rule to using the MoneyCenter Express. This vital rule has been well covered on Flyertalk but not anywhere near enough on the mainstream blogs. The reason I know this is because when I go to Walmart to use the WME, about 50% of the time I find it frozen and unusable because the person who tried to use it before me didn’t know or understand this rule.
So yes, there’s a bit of a selfish angle to today’s post. Not only will it help everyone if we can disseminate this information to more people, but it will also help me personally if it means the machine is working when I want to actually use it.
The $1,999.99 Rule — It’s a Commandment!
First, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Walmart MoneyCenter Express or why points and miles enthusiasts care about it, you should check out this excellent guide written by our very own Shawn Coomer. Shawn does a great job explaining how to use the WME to load Bluebird and Serve with PIN-enabled gift cards and without having to deal with a Walmart cashier.
So what’s the rule to keeping the machine working? It’s very simple, and it’s this…
You cannot load more than $1,999.99 within 10 minutes
without causing the machine to lock up.
That’s $1,999.99 total. Not $1,999.99 per load. Not $1,999.99 per card. Not even $1,999.99 per person. It’s $1,999.99 per 10 minutes. Period.
Right now some of you are saying, “Wait, I thought the load limits for Bluebird and Serve are $2,500 in one day and $5,000 per month.” That is correct. But those are the card load limits. There is an additional limit built into the actual Walmart ATM kiosk. For the machine itself, the load limit is $1,999.99 per 10 minutes. It’s also a rolling 10 minutes, meaning the machine is always monitoring the previous 10 minutes from whatever time it happens to be at that particular moment.
It’s not just about me?
The WME has no idea if 1 person alone or 10 people in a row are loading their Bluebird and Serve cards. All it cares about is time.
So if the person in line in front of you took 7 minutes to load $1,900 onto their Bluebird card, and then you step up to the machine and try to immediately load a $200 gift card onto your Serve, you’ll crash the machine. The previous person’s $1,900 plus your $200 went over the $1,999.99 limit in less than 10 minutes.
This means you have to be aware of what happened on the machine in the 10 minutes before you got to it.
How do you do that? Well, if you walk into Walmart and there’s a person already using the WME, it’s pretty easy to determine (from a respectable distance) whether they’re loading Bluebird and/or Serve. (Hopefully they also read this post and know the load limits themselves.) Just pull out your phone and start a timer so you can make sure you don’t overload when they’re done.
What if no one using the kiosk? I know, I know… when you see a working WME and no one using it, it feels like Christmas morning! But it comes down to simply being patient and not immediately starting to load. Feel free to stand at the machine and explore some of the functions so that someone doesn’t start using it ahead of you. But don’t instantly start loading gift cards.
Also, note that ATM withdrawals do not count against this limit. So if you needed to take cash out of your regular bank account, this is a perfect time to do it. Take your time and you’ll be able to burn 4-5 minutes on that first ATM transaction before you even start loading.
Some other tricks to slow down loads.
Once you’re underway, you’ll want to time your loads so you don’t break the limit yourself. One good method is to start by loading your lowest denomination gift card first and then alternate lower ones with higher ones. For example, if you’ve got a mix of $100, $200, and $500 cards, don’t load all the $500’s at once. Start with a $100, then load a $500, then load another $100, then a $500, then a $200 and so on. That way you’re keeping yourself under the overall limit.
Also, if an actual Walmart customer appears who just wants to use the machine to withdraw money, stop loading and let them do it. As previously mentioned, ATM withdrawals don’t count against the limit, so not only are you being nice by letting someone get their business done, you’re also saving the machine from locking up.
Finally, note that loads made with an actual Walmart cashier also do not count towards the $1,999.99 limit. It’s a machine-only limit. So if you’ve loaded $1,900 on the kiosk and it’s only been 7-8 minutes, you can go find a cashier to do a load. That will take enough time so that when you come back, you’ll be beyond 10 minutes and able to load more.
Why is there an “extra” limit anyway?
This $1,999.99 limit is known as a “velocity limit” and it’s designed by Walmart in an attempt to prevent fraud. If the screen says “Approval Needed” or “For your protection an associate will help you complete this transaction” that means the velocity limit was exceeded and the machine will not proceed until a manager comes over and unlocks it via a code.
In theory, the idea is when someone is loading a large amount of money in a short amount of time, Walmart wants a manager to take a look and make sure there’s nothing suspicious or illegal underway.
In practice, what actually happens is the machine stops working and the manager simply ignores it since resetting these machines 20 times a day is pretty much the bane of their existence (if you don’t include shoplifters, lazy cashiers, unstocked shelves, customers who want to know why the lawn mower now costs $19.29 when last week it only cost $18.79, the guy in the parking lot who seems to be operating an unlicensed gun store out of his trunk, and just generally being a manager at Walmart).
OK, so maybe it isn’t the bane of their existence, but they’ll often ignore a locked WME, thereby rendering the machine unusable for hours or even days. If you can get them to come over and type in their code, you’ll be off and running again, but it’s a whole lot easier to just not hit the limit in the first place, right?
Finally, keep in mind that some individual Walmarts appear to have set their machines to a velocity limit even more restrictive than the standard $1,999.99. If you’re certain that you’re under the limit and the machine keeps requiring a manager’s approval, then your machine limit may be set lower. You’ll just have to be extra slow and hyper aware of how much you’re loading until you can determine your machine’s specific limit.
This is NOT a secret. Tell everyone!
It helps all of us if everyone knows these limits, so spread the word. If you’re at a Walmart MoneyCenter Express and someone comes up who doesn’t know the limits, tell them. Don’t be shy, and don’t let them simply “try it.” They won’t be helping you or themselves when the machine stops working. If they don’t believe you, show them this post. Bookmark it so you have it on your phone.
Remember, friends don’t let friends exceed the velocity limit. Especially if you’re in L.A., in which case I promise I’ll be your friend forever if you just stop crashing my machine, okay?
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