How to Load Debit Gift Cards Onto Bluebird at Walmart (VISA, Simon Mall, Etc.)

by FI Fighter on May 5, 2014

in Travel Hacking

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Now that the Vanilla Reload game is no longer viable (unless you are able to locate VR cards at a non-CVS store), I’ve been forced to resort to other means for loading my Bluebird card. Since I’m unable to locate VR cards in the Bay Area, I’ve turned to using debit gift cards for loading onto Bluebird. With these debit gift cards, the only way to load them onto Bluebird is by making a trip to Walmart.

Update 5-29-14: The rules of this game change quick! I’ve been hearing from various sources that loading debit gift cards at Walmart is becoming increasingly more challenging, and in some cases, the cards are being denied (transaction failures) when trying to load through customer service, cashier, or kiosk. YMMV… If you are considering trying this, it might be prudent to attempt smaller amounts at first (try just one or two debit gift cards at a time, or load less funds onto each card) to make sure everything still works at your local store. Please feel free to leave a comment about your own experience below!

Objective: Earn Reward Points!

For my own situation, I have lots of mortgages to pay (five rental properties; ~$4,500/month), so it only makes sense for me to continue using Bluebird so that I can earn more credit card points/miles. Sure, I could make these payments directly from my own checking account, but I wouldn’t earn ANYTHING! And that’s no fun… By using Bluebird, I’m able to purchase debit gift cards with credit cards (which DO earn me points/miles!) and still pay my recurring monthly bills.

However, you don’t necessarily need to have lots of mortgages to pay in order to take advantage of the opportunities available to earn more reward points. You can use Bluebird like you would a standard checking account and pay for other things such as: student loans, rent, utilities, credit card bills, etc.

There are many great rewards promotions out there, such as the Citibank AAdvantage Executive card. By spending $10,000 in three months, you will earn 100,000 AA bonus miles.

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For many people, spending $10,000 in three months would qualify as a difficult task. If you make use of Bluebird, you would only need two months to load $10,000 worth of debit gift cards onto it (Bluebird is capped at $5000/month). By utilizing Bluebird, you can clear the minimum spend requirement in the allotted timeframe, and earn the bonus rewards. Once the funds are in Bluebird, they won’t expire, so you can spend like you would a regular checking account (or transfer funds back out). No more time pressure!

In this article, I will outline step-by-step the process involved in loading a Bluebird card at Walmart using debit gift cards.

There are a variety of debit gift cards out there that will work, but for simplicity (and clarity), I will focus on two specific cards:

1. VISA Gift Cards (Vanilla)

2. Simon VISA Gift Cards (US Bank)

Purchasing Debit Gift Cards

VISA Gift Cards:

VISA gift cards (Vanilla) are readily available and easy to locate. These gift cards also come in Mastercard variety, but I have heard from others where on occasion these don’t work successfully at Walmart. If possible, it may be safer to just go with the VISA variety.

Step 1: VISA Gift cards (Vanilla) can be found almost anywhere, but if you want a sure bet, visit a CVS store. Yes, although the Vanilla Reload cards got shut down by corporate (can only be purchased with cash), CVS stores are STILL accepting credit card payment at this time for VISA gift cards (Vanilla).

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Step 2: Locate the gift card aisle, which every CVS store should have. These VISA gift cards (Vanilla) come in a variety of different packages and styles (shown below).

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VISA gift cards

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Different styles

Step 3: Make sure you are buying the right cards. In order to load gift cards onto Bluebird, you will need to make sure that the VISA gift card (Vanilla) you are purchasing is indeed a debit and has a pin number.

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Frontside: Look for “Debit”

To check for this, flip the gift card, and on the back, you should find in bold text: “Select any 4 digit PIN at first use“.

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Backside: Make sure gift card has debit pin

Step 4: Purchase the VISA gift card (Vanilla) with your credit card (use whichever credit card you need to meet minimum spend requirements on, or the card that you would like to earn more miles/points on). There is a $4.95 purchase charge fee to activate these VISA gift cards (Vanilla). To maximize your dollars, load as much as possible. At CVS, the maximum amount you can load onto each card is $500. Some grocery stores, and other retailers who also carry these VISA gift cards (Vanilla) only allow loading for up to $50 on each card… This is why I recommend going to CVS for purchasing these VISA gift cards (Vanilla).

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VISA debit gift card

Simon VISA Gift Cards:

Simon VISA gift cards (US Bank) may be more difficult to locate, but I would say they are worth the hassle. Just like with the VISA gift cards (Vanilla), these cards can be loaded to Bluebird. The purchase charge fee for these cards is only $2.95, and you should also be able to load up to $500/card. If you qualify for a corporate account (business), you may even be able to load $1,000/card. For only a $2.95 purchase charge fee, that’s a great deal!

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Local mall that sells Simon gift cards

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Simon gift cards

Pin Numbers

For the VISA gift cards (Vanilla) there is no phone number you need to dial to acquire a pin number. You simply make up a 4 digit pin number on your first use (at Walmart). It can be anything… 1234…

For the Simon VISA gift cards (US Bank), you will need to call in and obtain your pin number prior to your trip to Walmart. The phone number is 1-866-300-9401.

Step 1: Call 1-866-300-9401

Step 2: Press 1 for English.

Step 3: Enter 16 digit account number found on front of Simon VISA gift card.

Step 4: Enter 3 digit security code found on back of card and then press #.

Step 5: Press 1 to check balance on the card. Confirm this amount is correct.

Step 6: Press 1 to go back to the main menu.

Step 7: Press 7 to get your 4 digit pin number.

Loading at Walmart

Once you’ve purchased a VISA gift card (Vanilla) or Simon VISA gift card (US Bank), the next step will be to load these funds onto Bluebird. Unlike Vanilla Reloads, you won’t be able to load these debit gift cards online, or in the comfort of your own home.

Unfortunately, the only way to complete the “loading to Bluebird” step is to visit your local Walmart store.

There are three ways to load Bluebird with a debit gift card at Walmart.

Kiosk Kate:

Step 1: Walk up to the Walmart MoneyCenter Express machine, or “Kiosk Kate”. Under ‘Card Services’, select ‘Walmart MoneyCard’.

Yes, there is also a button for “Bluebird” directly underneath ‘Walmart MoneyCard’. Personally, I have never selected that and am not sure if it works or not (it very well could work). I’ve ALWAYS just gone with selecting ‘Walmart MoneyCard’ and NEVER had a problem with it… I would recommend you select ‘Walmart MoneyCard’ and the rest of this step-by-step guide will assume that’s what you selected. ;)

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Step 2: Select ‘Reload’.

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Step 3: You will be able to load $20.00 to $1,100 at one time to your Walmart MoneyCard. If you are loading to Bluebird, you are limited to $1,000/day, and $5,000/month. Select ‘Continue’.

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Step 4: Swipe your Bluebird card.

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Swipe Bluebird

Step 5: Select amount you are loading. For most cases (if you are trying to max out each debit gift card), you will select $500 (or $1,000 if you qualify for Simon Corporate Card). Once you’ve inputted your amount to load, hit the ‘Enter’ button.

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Step 6: Select ‘Finish and Pay’.

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Step 7: Select ‘Debit’ as Payment Type.

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Step 8: Swipe your debit gift card and enter your pin number. For VISA gift cards (Vanilla) you make up a 4 digit pin number on first use. It can be anything you want it to be! For the Simon VISA gift card (US Bank) you need to telephone 1-866-300-9401 before getting to this step (see above).

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Swipe debit gift card and enter pin

Step 9: Select ‘No’ when asked for Cash Back.

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Step 10: All done! Take your receipt and smile. :) If you are trying to load multiple debit gift cards to Bluebird, tell the cashier you want to do another transaction. Repeat Steps 1-9.

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Cashier:

The cashiers at Walmart are trained (most of them) to know how to help you load funds onto Bluebird using a debit card. From my experience, they typically don’t ask you for ID or to see you debit gift card. YMMV.

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Cashier approach

Step 1: Wait in line and wait your turn. :)

Step 2: Tell the cashier that you want to load your Bluebird card.

Step 3: Hand your Bluebird card to the cashier.

Step 4: Tell the cashier the amount you want to load (Again, $500 would be a typical answer if you are maximizing the load on each debit gift card, or $1,000 if you are using a Simon Business Card.).

Step 5: Confirm the amount on the touchscreen.

Step 6: Swipe your card.

Step 7: Take you receipt and leave happy. :) If you are trying to load multiple debit gift cards to Bluebird, tell the cashier you want to do another transaction. Repeat Steps 1-6.

Customer Service:

Customer service is usually my last resort, and I only use this when Kiosk Kate is down, or the lines to the cashiers are too long. Customer service reps have been known to be more difficult from my own experience, and are more likely to ask for ID and to see your debit card before following through with the loading process. Depending on the customer service rep you get, they may deny your attempts to load and say, “we don’t accept gift cards.” Since the VISA gift cards (Vanilla) and Simon VISA gift cards (US Bank) each have the word “giftcard” or “gift card” plastered onto the card, it might be hard to get around that… Again, YMMV.

Step 1: Wait in line and wait your turn. :)

Step 2: Tell the customer service rep that you want to load your Bluebird card.

Step 3: Hand your Bluebird card to the cashier.

Step 4: Tell the cashier the amount you want to load (Again, $500 would be a typical answer if you are maximizing the load on each debit gift card, or $1,000 if you are using a Simon Business Card.).

Step 5: Confirm the amount on the touchscreen.

Step 6: Swipe your card.

Step 7: Take you receipt and leave happy. :) If you are trying to load multiple debit gift cards to Bluebird, tell the cashier you want to do another transaction. Repeat Steps 1-6.

Summary

Vanilla Reloads may be a thing of the past (thanks to CVS), but the travel hacking game lives on. Sure, the approaches we have to use today are a bit more tedious, but for those who are looking to earn lots of travel points and miles, the game is still definitely worth playing. With today’s methods, unfortunately, this means you’ll probably need to spend a lot more time at your local Walmart to get the job done.

One trick I like to use is to visit my local Walmart around 8:50 PM PST. This way, I can load $1,000 to Bluebird, wait until 9:00 PM PST (the $1,000 limit clock on Bluebird resets at 12:00 AM EST), and then re-load another $1,000. By doing it this way, I can load $2,000 on each Walmart trip. One thing I have observed, though, is that if you try to “overload” Kiosk Kate with $1,500 or $2,000 within a 10-20 minute window or so, she has been known to complain and lock-up. If she does lock-up, you will need to seek assistance with a store manager to reset the machine… If this happens to me, I usually just give up on the machine and go wait in line, instead.

No one said it would be easy… but if you want to earn the points, you gotta do the work. It’ll be worth it (hopefully!). :)

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 dannyNo Gravatar May 5, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Thanks for the clear steps! In terms of the cards saying “gift card” on it, I am not sure if it was you or another blogger who suggested a particular brand of gift cards that didn’t say this on the front. I just can’t think of the name right now.

Reply

2 FI FighterNo Gravatar May 9, 2014 at 9:28 am

Danny,

If you can locate debit gift cards that don’t say “gift” on it, it will probably come across less scrutiny, but by no means is it guaranteed to work.

I’ve heard of some stores clamping down on this, and they are no longer accepting certain cards.. mostly anything that says “vanilla” on it.

Good luck!

Reply

3 TraderNo Gravatar May 6, 2014 at 6:38 am

Great job! If I only had this possibility around here (Portugal).
You have a lot in your hand, there in the US.
Cheers

Reply

4 FI FighterNo Gravatar May 9, 2014 at 9:29 am

Trader,

Yeah, this game is great in the US, and not every country allows for things such as this.

This may not go on forever, so I’m just trying to accumulate as much as I can, while it still works.

Cheers!

Reply

5 JC @ Passive-Income-PursuitNo Gravatar May 6, 2014 at 10:48 am

Thanks for the step by step guide. I’ll be giving it a go whenever I get some time. In the meantime, I’m heading to Vegas on Thursday. Not travel hacked though.

Reply

6 FI FighterNo Gravatar May 9, 2014 at 9:30 am

JC,

It’s getting more difficult to hack these days, so I’m hoping it’s only a matter of time before a more convenient solution emerges.

Take care and have a great trip!

Reply

7 Dave @ The New York BudgetNo Gravatar May 6, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Rats! No Walmarts here in NYC! Oh well, I’ll keep me ear to the ground for the next big strategy!

Reply

8 FI FighterNo Gravatar May 9, 2014 at 9:31 am

Dave,

You might want to try looking into Evolve Money… I haven’t researched into it too much, but on the surface it sounds kind of promising.

Take care!

Reply

9 KathyNo Gravatar May 6, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Newb question – what specifically is giving you rewards/points – the Bluebird card?

Reply

10 FI FighterNo Gravatar May 9, 2014 at 9:32 am

Kathy,

The credit card spend to buy gift cards earns you the points/miles since it lets you clear the minimum spend requirements (e.g. spend $3000 in 3 months to earn 40,000 miles).

You can use the gift cards to do whatever, but a lot of people like to use Bluebird b/c it works like a checking account that lets you pay bills… It’s especially awesome b/c you can pay for things like mortgages that you normally wouldn’t be able to do directly with a credit card.

All the best!

Reply

11 No Nonsense LandlordNo Gravatar May 6, 2014 at 2:19 pm

I am going to study this a bit closer. I have major access to USB, and can get a corporate card. So, it may be worthwhile.

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12 FI FighterNo Gravatar May 9, 2014 at 9:33 am

Eric,

If you can get a corporate card, that would be awesome since it would only be $2.95 for $1,000.

Take care!

Reply

13 SundeepNo Gravatar May 6, 2014 at 4:40 pm

I’ve been wanting to jump into the rewards points game earlier this year when I had a few big ticket items to buy, but then gave up due to the perceived hassle and recent devaluation of points.

Based on how much I do spend monthly (now a second apartment and associated out of town costs that gets expensed for work), I think I’ll give it a shot.

Thanks for the step by step and also the recommendation on cards a few posts back.

Reply

14 FI FighterNo Gravatar May 9, 2014 at 9:34 am

Sundeep,

It is more hassle these days and chances are pretty good that you’ll eventually come across a store that won’t accept the cards.

To be good at this game, just like real estate, you have to be willing and able to take “no” for an answer… over and over again.

Just the nature of the beast, unfortunately.

Best of luck!

Reply

15 CodyNo Gravatar May 12, 2014 at 1:01 pm

I recently got an AMEX business platinum card and am trying to get the 100K points as quickly as possible..

I did read in the terms and conditions “Eligible purchases do NOT include… purchases or reloading of prepaid cards, or purchases of other cash equivalents”.

Do you have any experience with AMEX card point systems? Do most credit cards have this line in the terms and conditions?

Thanks!

Reply

16 FI FighterNo Gravatar May 12, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Cody,

I don’t have any experience with AMEX cards, so that may very well be true… So far, I haven’t had any problems with other products: Citi, Chase, BoA, etc.

Best of luck!

Reply

17 RefinerrNo Gravatar May 28, 2014 at 10:33 am

I’m going to try this out! I need to be able to pay my rent and student loans on credit card in order to get the 100k AA card so this is perfect. Thanks for another great post! I’ll let you know how my adventure goes…

Reply

18 FI FighterNo Gravatar May 29, 2014 at 7:10 am

Refinerr,

Good luck! I’m still working on clearing an AA card as well. Hopefully all goes well for you.

Cheers!

Reply

19 RandyNo Gravatar May 29, 2014 at 5:16 am

Arrgg. I bought 6k in Visa at Staples.com. for 3 family members. I’ve only been able to load 1K (and that was hit and miss) on my son’s account. I’ve activated them and loaded a pin, but they are not going through at the register, or at the kiosk. (excepte for the ones that DID)
Any thoughts? I did NOT register them.

Reply

20 FI FighterNo Gravatar May 29, 2014 at 5:37 am

Randy,

Can you try another Walmart store, or attempt to purchase a money order with the debit gift cards?

I just heard from a friend that my go to store now shows transaction failure when attempting to load… I will look into it more when I get back in town next week… If anyone has more info to add, please share below.
Thanks.

Reply

21 RandyNo Gravatar May 29, 2014 at 6:56 am

I tried our other Walmart – at the counter. While they appear to go through – once it’s time to print the receipt – it too shows “transaction failure.” Havent tried money order yet – as this is a new problem. I suspect this option too is closing up. Sigh. It is odd though – since SOME of the cards did go through on one account.
I did see in the t&c at Bluebird that there (now?) seems to be a $1000 monthly limit for debit cards.
Thanks for your input.

Reply

22 FI FighterNo Gravatar May 29, 2014 at 7:05 am

Interesting… I have had problems when trying to load too much too soon with the kiosk… And going over $1k in one day and over $5k in a month with the cashiers.

$1k/month limit on Bluebird would be something new… I guess we will know for sure next month in June, which is just around the corner.

Reply

23 RandyNo Gravatar May 29, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Ok – now I feel really stupid. I looked back and we HAVE put 5K into each of our accounts – during the month of May. (The Amex gift cards were too good to pass up.) The story of how I got Amex to Bluebird is a story for another day.
Sorry for the stupidity – I suspect I’ll be able to load our Bluebirds again by Sunday. Thanks for the help!

Reply

24 FI FighterNo Gravatar May 29, 2014 at 9:01 pm

No worries and I hope the $5k is indeed the source of error. A bluebird reduction from $5k to a lesser amount would be a huge blow to this game. If anything, I was hoping for a increase in the cap ceiling.

Best of luck!

25 Mr. McGiblettsNo Gravatar May 29, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Same thing just happened to me tonight in south Riverside County. I bought one $500 Vanilla Gift Debit Visa 3 days ago and was able to load it onto my Bluebird at the Customer Service/Returns Desk. So I bought two more yesterday and when I tried to load them tonight, they kept swiping as credit instead of debit.

I just got off the phone with Vanilla Visa Customer Service. I explained my situation and she had no idea (I figured they wouldn’t but it was worth a shot). I’m going to try this next: buy something cheap like a pack of gum, tell the cashier I am using a Debit Card, swipe the card and hopefully be prompted to select a PIN which would then “convert” it into a debit. Thoughts?

Reply

26 FI FighterNo Gravatar May 29, 2014 at 8:59 pm

I like that idea and if it fails you can always just wait until Sunday June 01 and try again. The monthly limit for bluebird will be cleared and we can all see if a lower cap has indeed been enforced.

Best of luck!

Reply

27 MikeNo Gravatar July 1, 2014 at 11:30 am

Is this still valid? What Walmart stores have the self-serve Money Center Express kiosk (Bay Area)?

Reply

28 RandyNo Gravatar July 11, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Everything’s back to normal at my kiosk. I’m on the East Coast – so can’t comment on Bay Area locations. Seems like all of the Walmarts have the Kiosks in Richmond.

Reply

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