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Many people who live or work near well stocked Office Depot stores have been happily reaping the benefits of earning 5 points per dollar on all purchases through the trick I presented in the post “One card to rule them all.” Lately, with the arrival of American Express’ new Bluebird product, that trick has become even more profitable since it is now possible to earn 5X not just for credit transactions, but for bill payments as well! (see “Bluebird takes flight and changes the game“).
In order to play the 5X everywhere game, you need two things: you need a Chase Ink card (see “Considering and Reconsidering Ink“), and you need to be able to buy Vanilla Reload cards at an Office Depot store. The first is relatively easy [see “How to sign up for the Ink Bold (or Ink Plus)“]. The second can be a challenge.
While many of us have been happily buying Vanilla Reload cards as needed, many others have been seething on the sidelines. Some have no Office Depot stores anywhere near them. Some live in places where Office Depot doesn’t carry Vanilla Reload cards and/or seem to be always out of stock. These groups need a backup plan!
5X Backup Plan Overview
The key to this backup plan is that the American Express for Target prepaid card can be reloaded at Target cash registers using any credit card. Since Visa, MasterCard, and Amex gift cards can be used like credit cards, they can also be used to reload the Target Amex card. If you’re able to earn 5X (or more) by strategically buying bank gift cards (or prepaid cards), you can load those cards onto the Target Amex card. Then you will have the almost as good “one card to rule them all.”
Step 1: Get the American Express for Target card
In order to get the American Express for Target card, you need to go in person to a Target store that carries them. You can find those stores here. Unfortunately, finding the store is just half the battle. It can be surprisingly difficult to find this product in a store that carries it, and even then there are challenges to getting the card. For details of how to get the card, see “How to get the American Express for Target card.”
Note that the card that you buy at Target is just a temporary card and cannot be reloaded. You should wait for your permanent card to arrive before proceeding to the following steps.
Step 2: Buy bank gift cards or prepaid cards for extra points or cash back
If you’re unable to buy reload cards, Vanilla Visa cards are a great alternative. These can be loaded once at the register, up to $500, with a tacked on $4.95 fee. Here are some ideas for how to buy Vanilla Visa cards and other bank cards for extra points or cash back:
- Use a Chase Ink card to buy the Vanilla Visa card at Office Depot. You will earn 5X Ultimate Rewards points. Often, if Vanilla Reload cards are out of stock, it is still easy to find and buy Vanilla Visa cards.
- Use a Hilton HHonors Amex card to buy the Vanilla Visa card at a drug store, grocery store, or gas station. You will earn 6X Hilton HHonors points.
- Use a Blue Cash Preferred card to buy the Vanilla Visa card at any Grocery Store. You will earn 6% cash back (soon to be limited to $6K in purchases per year)
- Use any American Express business card with OPEN Savings to save almost 7% when buying Visa gift cards at OfficeMax (see “10% off everything and 7% off everything else“). Note that this trick is highly dependent upon your local OfficeMax allowing gift cards to be used to buy other gift cards.
Note: If you don’t understand the difference between Vanilla Reload cards and Vanilla Visa cards, please see the post “The many flavors of Vanilla.”
Step 3: Load the gift cards onto the Target Amex card
You have to go in person to Target to use credit cards or bank gift cards to reload your Target Amex card. Target charges $3 per load so the best value is to load the max allowed $1000 at a time. Don’t worry if your bank gift cards are in smaller denominations. The Target register is smart enough to drain the gift card and then ask for payment for the balance. I have successfully used as many as 5 forms of payment for a single load, and I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t do even more. Even when using multiple forms of payment to get to $1000 (really $1003, due to the load fee), the load fee is charged only once.
Just as an aside, it used to be possible to pay for the reload with Target gift cards, but in the past several months Target has been cracking down on this option. The last time I went to Target to reload, a big message appeared on the register that said that Target gift cards may not be used as payment for this transaction (or something like that).
Step 4: Use your Target Amex card (almost) everywhere
The main advantages of the Target Amex card over using individual gift cards are:
- Ability to make larger payments.
- No need to carry many different gift cards.
- Card is fully registered to your name and address and so it works well for online purchases (unlike Vanilla Visa cards which only allow registration of your zip code).
- ATM use. You can withdraw money at any ATM.
Unlike the Bluebird card and generic American Express Prepaid cards, though, the Target Amex card cannot be used outside the United States. Specifically, the FAQ states: “can not be used outside of the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
- When buying gift cards and prepaid cards there is usually a fee for each card. The best value is usually the highest denomination card available (e.g. $4.95 to buy a $500 Vanilla Visa card).
- Target charges $3 per reload in-store
- Amex charges $3 per ATM withdrawal after the first free withdrawal each month. Note that ATM owner fees apply as well. One good option for many are Costco ATMs which charge only $1.25 per withdrawal. You do not need to be a member to use their ATM.
- Number of cards: Each person is allowed up to two cards. Only one may be purchased in a day.
- Maximum balance: $2500 per card
- ATM withdrawals: Limited to $400 per day
The backup plan described here isn’t quite as good as “One card to rule them all” and it is a far cry from what is now possible with Bluebird (“Bluebird takes flight and changes the game“), but it can be a good option for those who otherwise can’t play the 5X Everywhere game.
In addition to providing a 5X everywhere alternative, the Target Amex card has some other nifty uses. For example, I’ll follow-up soon with details of how best to use this card to meet credit card minimum spend requirements. Additionally, for those sitting on lots of bank gift cards (for whatever reason), the Target Amex card offers a pretty easy option for liquidating those cards!