There has been a lot of fuss in the past couple of weeks over the new American Express joint-venture with king of the hillbillies Wal-mart named Bluebird, a pre-paid debit card. There is no doubt this is a very valuable addition to the toolkit of earning miles. However it is not the be-all-and-end-all that some of the hype would suggest.
I will not re-hash at length here how to use the card to earn miles. Rather I will point to the excellent analysis already performed by Million Miles Secrets and Frequent Miler on their blogs. However to summarize how Bluebird makes earning miles easier, here are the key takeaways:
1) It can be loaded using “Vanilla reload” cards which are sold specifically at Office Depot. If you buy these at Office Depot with a Chase Ink card (Ink Bold, Ink Plus, Ink Classic or Ink Cash) then you will earn 5x points on the purchase. The cards are not free and cost approximately $4 per $500 load
2) It can also be loaded using a miles earning debit card such as the SunTrust Delta debit card but only in Wal-mart stores. Shudder.
So those are the two basic miles earning strategies you can use to load the card, then the second part of the trick is unloading. And the one big trick here is the Billpay feature. You can use the Billpay to pay anyone or any thing, so your rent, your mortgage, yourself. But to be clear – this is nothing new. This is exactly the same concept I blogged about in August. The only difference here is that I think there is a general assumption Amex will be less likely to shut accounts down for running large bill pays. Only time will tell if that is the case.
Now loading using a debit card is not that exciting. The maximum is $5k per month so $60k per year. So that is 60,000 Delta miles, or 30,000 Alaska miles if you went with the Bank of America Alaska debit card. You can earn that many miles typically through just one maybe two credit card sign ups. So this is not revolutionary.
The exciting bit is using the Vanilla reload cards bought at Office Depot. The max you can do here is $50k per year as capped by Chase. So in theory you could earn 250,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per year. Now that is an exciting amount of points, and hard to replicate with sign-up bonuses. But first of all just finding the required stock of Vanilla reload cards is going to be a problem. I can tell you here in the RDU area they are pretty much gone from all the Office Depots. A friend of mine swiped a couple at one store last week and told me there were around 20 left. I went there a couple of days after this and they had all gone. With this amount of exposure, there is only going to be a very limited number of these things available. I am sure there will be thousands of hours and gas dollars wasted across the miles community by people fruitlessly hunting for these little reload cards.
The second issue is going to be if all people do with their Ink card is buy Vanilla reload cards at Office Depot, I can assure you they are going to get shut down. I think it’s true of the debit cards too if they are maxed out.
Reading the tea-leaves I see the following Frequently Asked Questions about this deal coming up:
Q: I just had all my accounts closed down by Chase. Is there any way I can get them re-opened?
Q: I just had all my accounts closed down by Chase. Does that mean I will no longer be able to open new accounts and get sign up bonuses?
Q: I just had my Delta bank account shut down by SunTrust. What can I do about it?
A: Fight to get your money back and forget about getting any more Delta points
You get the picture…!
I think the summary is take it easy, if you can find some of these Vanilla cards at Office Depot by all means use them, and remember there is nothing new here and if you keep reading here I will continue to show similar deals that let you earn thousands of miles.
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