$500 Vanilla window slams shut at Office Depot

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On Monday I wrote about my quest to find $500 Vanilla gift cards and/or reload cards at Office Depot (see “Many flavors of Vanilla return to Office Depot. Does it matter? (update 2)“).  That morning, I visited four Office Depot stores.  Three out of four had the cards I was looking for in-stock.  And, while I wasn’t able to buy reload cards or MyVanilla debit cards at any of them, I successfully bought $500 Vanilla Visa gift cards at all three.

Variations of Vanilla Visa gift cards available at Office Depot

Even though they look different, these cards are functionally the same:

OneVanilla Visa Vanilla Office Depot Gold VanillaVisa

 

Since Monday, I’ve heard report after report from readers who were told “cash only” when they tried to buy Vanilla Visa cards.  Surprisingly, some of these reports were from people who visited the same stores in which I was successful on Monday morning.

Back on the road

Wednesday morning I set out to retrace my steps.  I revisited each store where I had been successful on Monday.  At the first stop, I plopped five gold package Visa gift cards on the counter.  The cashier rang them all up then called a manager for a security override.  So far, so good, I thought.

After the manager keyed in his code, an alert appeared on the register screen.  It said something like “Cash tender only for American Express, Visa, and Variable Load gift cards.”  Ugh.  The manager apologized and told me that this was a new policy that took effect on Monday (presumably after my visit on Monday).  I asked him if he was willing to override the cash-only restriction.  He seemed willing, but he showed me that there were no options on the screen for him to do so.  I left empty handed.

Would M&Ms help?

As I drove to the next store, it occurred to me that the result might have been different if I had included something other than gift cards with the purchase.  I wondered if the register would only balk when the entire purchase was for gift cards?  I decided to make two changes at the next stop: First, I would switch from the gold package Visa card to the OneVanilla card.  Second, I would include something other than a gift card with the purchase: a bag of peanut M&Ms.

Store 2

At the second store, there were no $500 gift cards, reload cards, or debit cards in stock.  I asked the cashier about them.  She cheerfully explained that there was a rush on the cards on Monday (I wonder why?) and that she had ordered more.  “They sure are popular” she exclaimed.  Yes, indeed.  I left with a grin, but empty handed.

Store 3

As planned, I picked up one OneVanilla gift card and a bag of M&Ms.  Just as at the first store, the cashier rang them up then called a manager for a security override.  Again, the display said something like “Cash tender only for American Express, Visa, and Variable Load gift cards.“.  This time it was very specific that $504.95 had to be paid with cash before the rest could be paid by credit card.  The manager said to the cashier “this has to do with the memo, remember?”  I bought the M&Ms anyway.  I wasn’t about to leave that store empty handed.

Conclusion

At this point, I believe the fun is over for points hounds at Office Depot stores.  There was a short lived window at some stores where the new gift cards had already been stocked before the cash-only policy was fully in place.  That explains my success on Monday.  Sure its possible that there are a few stores somewhere in the country where the registers have not yet been recoded, but if so, its probably just a matter of time.  In fact, its likely that the other variable load gift cards Office Depot sells (such as the Amazon and Home Improvement gift cards) are also now cash-only.

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