Many flavors of Vanilla return to Office Depot. Does it matter? (update 2)

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UPDATE: This was great while it lasted, but the opportunity closed quickly.  Please see: $500 Vanilla window slams shut at Office Depot.

$500 Vanilla gift cards, MyVanilla Debit cards, and Vanilla Reload cards have recently been spotted in Office Depot stores across the country, but most people are being told “cash only”.  Developing story…

image image image
Vanilla Gift Card Vanilla Reload MyVanilla Debit
Load once in-store. No fees after purchase. Load once in-store. Use to reload other cards such as Bluebird or MyVanilla. Buy in-store and register with your name and address.  May be reloaded repeatedly.

 

Gone and back again

Vanilla Reload cards disappeared from Office Depot stores last November (see “Office Depot discontinues Vanilla Reload cards“), and Vanilla gift cards and MyVanilla cards loadable to $500 disappeared in February (see “Office Depot discontinues $500 Visa/Amex cards“).  Both of these events were significant losses because it was possible to earn as many as 5 points per dollar (see “Best category bonuses“) when buying these cards at Office Depot.

Then, last week, Travel with Grant reported ” $500 Visa Gift Cards are Back at Office Depot!”  Since then, reports have come in from various locations across the country where people have spotted not just Visa gift cards, but Vanilla Reload cards, and MyVanilla debit cards as well. 

The appearance of these cards may have been premature.  When Grant returned to the store where he had previously found the gift cards, he found that the cards had been taken away.  He was told that they weren’t supposed to be on display until Monday, July 8th.  I heard a similar story at my local Office Depot store (see “Will $500 Visa cards appear on Monday at Office Depot?“).

Cash only?

The reappearance of all of these cards is only interesting if we can pay with a rewards earning credit card (and preferably one that earns bonus points at Office Supply stores).  Unfortunately, I’ve heard from many people now that they have been told “cash only” at the stores they’ve visited.  Is that policy nationwide or store by store?

5X or not?

If we can buy gift cards with credit cards, will we still get bonus points by using credit cards that offer office supply bonuses?  Commenter “M”, in my blog says maybe not:

word is that possibly- and i say POSSIBLY- these might not get 5x. a little bird in the form of a manager friend told me that they were supposedly coded in register POS differently than before per chase request. i don’t want a stack of thousands of cards at 1x, so i for one will only try a few until i SEE that i receive 5x after statement generates. i cannot confirm any of this, so each person must make his own choice. but i wanted to give a heads up to everyone just in case. i mean it is rather odd that these would just ‘suddenly, magically’ re-appear out of the blue. it is definitely possible that chase has found a new way of doing things after the tsunami from before and studying the problem for several months. time will tell…

And, Gabriel writes:

Also, regarding rumors that these might not count as 5x…I found some data that unfortunately supports this claim. I’m not sure if this existed a couple of months ago, but if you look up the merchant category codes for Office Depot at Visa’s merchant category database, you’ll notice that each Office Depot has TWO categories it reports at. One is office supplies (5943) as well as “General Merchandise” (5965). The Gen Merch category also reports L III Summary L III Line Item detail as well, which means Chase will know that you bought a gift card and not actual office supplies. Perhaps this is why OD is now coming back with the $500 cards…they may have actually figured out a way to prevent us from earning 5x (and thus paying a higher % of transaction fees towards chase).

This one is going to take more time to sort out (unless all stores really do go cash-only).  For more about merchant codes, see “How to find bonus merchants.”  If this does happen, a solution for both this problem and even the cash-only problem (if your local Office Depot store likes puns) may be to use the Amex SimplyCash card which earns 5% cash back at office supply stores (up to $12K in spend per year).

Learning the real story

Will Vanilla gift cards, Vanilla Reload cards, and MyVanilla debit cards really be on display at Office Depot stores across the country today?  Will they be cash-only everywhere or just in certain stores? Will we earn Office Supply bonus points?  I’ll check my local Office Depot stores this morning to get the scoop and I’ll update this post as I learn more.  If you visit your local Office Depot store today, please let me know what you find!

UPDATED INFORMATION:

 
10:05 am EST update:

I visited two Office Depot stores so far this morning.  The first store didn’t have any $500 Visas or Reload cards in stock yet (they checked when I asked).  Before I left, they made a point in telling me “you know they are cash-only now.”  “Even the Visa gift cards?” I asked.  “Yes, all cards loadable $20 to $500 are cash only because people were buying them with stolen credit cards.”  Rats.

The second store had no interesting cards on display, but when I asked they got out a big box of Incomm cards.  I bought four Vanilla Visa gift cards and a bag of peanut M&Ms.  The register display momentarily said something about “cash only”, but the store manager quickly entered her override code and I had no problem paying with a credit card.  I then asked to buy a Vanilla Reload card.  They tried to ring up the reload card, but the system kept reporting “denied”.  This was well before asking for payment.  Apparently the Office Depot registers are not yet reprogrammed to allow Vanilla Reload cards again.  I expect that will be fixed soon, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to pay with a credit card.  As to the 5X question, I logged into my Chase account and saw that the entire purchase showed up as a single transaction (gift cards + M&Ms).  I believe this means that bonus points are safe.

1:15 pm EST update:

I visited two more Office Depot stores in the area and I was successful buying $500 Visa gift cards at each one, but had no luck with Vanilla Reload cards or MyVanilla Debit cards. 

Store 3: I tried buying one of each: Vanilla Reload, MyVanilla Debit, and a Vanilla Visa gift card.  Just as with store 2, the Vanilla Reload card couldn’t be rung up at all.  The same happened with the first MyVanilla Debit card, but when we tried a second one it rang up successfully.  Unfortunately, it also showed up with $30 in sales tax!  I asked them to cancel the transaction and try again, but the same thing happened.  No thanks.  Instead, I simply bought the one $500 Visa gift card and left.  Through this process, I had more time to see what was going on with the register display.  I was wrong before when I thought it said something about “cash only”.  Instead, it said something like “Merchant tender not allowed.”  I think that means that you can’t pay with Office Depot gift cards or store credit / rewards.

Store 4: Only gift cards were on display, so I bought two.  No problem.

Conclusion

It seems as if $500 Vanilla Visa gift cards are indeed back at Office Depot and purchasable via credit card if allowed by the individual store.  Its possible that Office Depot issued a nationwide ban against accepting credit cards for these purchases, but if so, the rule is not widely followed (at least in Southeast Michigan).

Vanilla Reload cards and MyVanilla Debit cards are also back in some locations, but it seems that the registers are not properly coded yet for them.  It will be interesting to see what happens once they fix the glitches.

As to the 5X vs. 1X question: I’m pretty sure that we’ll still get 5X if we pay with a credit card that offers 5X at office supply stores.  I won’t be 100% sure until my statement closes and I see how many bonus points I earned, but I’m confident enough to proceed accordingly. 

On a side note, it was nice to see the gift card racks looking like they used to:

IMG_2042

IMG_2043

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