Friday, November 8, 2013

Looking for Vanilla in Scottsdale

Since we had 4.5 days in Scottsdale, we decided to trek around a bit and visit a few places that we don't have in New York.

The first place was Menchie's, a frozen yogurt concept popular on the West Coast. While my mother was more of a Red Mango fan, she loved the self-serve concept as well as the kid friendly design and color scheme.

My parents, however, didn't love the actual yogurt itself though. While their variety of flavors were really unique and diverse (i.e., cotton candy, pop-arazzi popcorn, toasted marshmallow, etc.), we found the flavor to be too strong and preferred a more muted frozen yogurt with just a hint of flavor. On the other hand, I'm more equal opportunity and love all frozen dessert flavors.

But the real treat was the other place we went to while in Scottsdale -- CVS. Why was the pharmacy chain such a popular spot for my parents, especially when there are so many in New York City?

Photo from "Million Mile Secrets"
Well, unlike the ones in Manhattan, these CVS stores sold the elusive Vanilla Reload cards and accepted credit cards as payment. I've eluded to these Vanilla Reload cards before (here and here), but the basic idea is that you buy these prepaid reload cards using a points earning credit card (loading up to $500 per Vanilla card) and pay the $3.95 fee. You will earn 504 points from this initial transaction.

Then we use the Vanilla to reload another card called Bluebird by American Express. The Bluebird isn't just a regular card, but rather it's an online checking account for people who don't want to (or can't) have regular accounts with traditional banks. Just log in online and have Amex send paper checks in the mail to whomever you want. Essentially, we are now able to use a (points earning) credit card to pay for things you normally had to use paper checks for.

Now that my father's Bluebird account was loaded, he can use it to send checks to our apartment landlord, make insurance payments, pay friends we owe money to, or better yet, pay down our credit card balances! So aside from the nominal $3.95/card fee, we can just rack up 504 points without actually spending $504 because we can immediately pay off the credit card used to buy the Vanilla Reload card in the first place. Looking at it another way, we bought 504 points for $3.95 or about 0.8 cents/point. When you can redeem your points at 2-4 cents/pt (or $10-20 of value per Vanilla card), you can see why this Vanilla/Bluebird transaction is so compelling.

And when your father has a special Citi Thank You Preferred card (no longer offered) that earns you 5 Citi Thank You points per $1 spent at drugstores, you understand why my father went overboard when we were in Scottsdale with these readily available Vanilla Reload cards at CVS. Those 2,520 Citi Thank You points per Vanilla Reload card are worth at least $25.20 in cash, but can be worth up to $31.50 of airline travel if transferred first to my mother's Citi Thank You Premier card. Said another way, each $500 Vanilla Reload card we bought was like earning $27.55 of "profit."

So how many cards did we buy during those 5 days in Scottsdale? According to my father, not enough...

Fair warning though, putting all your CVS spending on the same credit card will likely elicit suspicion from your credit card company. As such, it makes a lot of sense to spread out your transactions across a variety of different credit card issuers (Amex, Chase, Citi, Barclays, Bank of America, etc). The last thing you want is to have your bank shut you down for unusual behavior.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for creating this wonderful post, i really loved reading it.....