As many of you know, we’re always on the lookout for ways to pursue credit card rewards.  And so far this year, things have gone well.  We’ve signed up for three Southwest Rapid Rewards cards and a Citi AAdvantage MasterCard so far and have hit the minimum spending requirements easily due to our recent home remodel.  But I had a problem, a first world problem.  I really wanted to earn the Southwest Rapid Rewards Companion pass, but I couldn’t come up with a very good strategy for doing so.  Let me explain.

Anyone can earn the Southwest Airlines Companion pass by first earning 110,000 Rapid Rewards points within one calendar year.  Earning a companion pass means that any companion of your choosing gets to fly with you for free (my companion will be Greg of course), even if your flight is paid for with pointswhich is pretty bitchin’.  So this year, I signed up for a personal card and a business card in order to take advantage of the 50,000 sign-up bonus on each.  Since I also earn 1 point per dollar spent, earning the sign-up bonus on each card would net me 104,000 Rapid Rewards points in a matter of months. Boom.

The problem is, 104,000 points is not enough to earn the Companion pass.  To do it, I needed to spend another $6,000 on my card at the very least.  This isn’t a problem in itself, but I have other credit card rewards to pursue and I didn’t want to monopolize my spending for the next 6 months just trying to earn the Companion pass.  Like I said, I’ve got first world problems.

Enter American Express Bluebird

Since I write for Frugal Travel Guy, I am always reading about crazy strategies people use when pursuing rewards.  The most popular strategy by far seems to be signing up for an American Express Bluebird account and using vanilla reloads to fund it.  But, how does that work?

Basically, an American Express Bluebird account is much like any other online checking account, except for one huge detail.  You can buy reloads for your account, called Vanilla Reloads, at many popular chain stores….and you can pay for them with a credit card.  What this means is that you can pay almost any bill with the points-earning card of your choice.  For example, here are a few types of bills that aren’t usually able to be paid for with credit:

  • Your mortgage
  • Your car payment
  • Utility bills
  • Taxes

Although I’m not usually one to try crazy schemes like this, I decided to try it out.  I wanted to know if it really worked and I also wanted to earn that damn Companion pass, got it?  Therefore, I set up a new Bluebird account and embarked on a journey to buy my first vanilla reload.  You can buy Vanilla Reloads at a bunch of stores including Office Depot and CVS and you can put $500 on each card for an activation fee of $3.95.  The only problem is that many stores won’t let you pay for them with a credit card, so there are no guarantees.  Once I made the decision to go this route, I headed to CVS to buy my first Vanilla Reload.

Instead, I bought this:

vnilla gift cardAt this point, this blog post becomes a story of what not to do.  I went into CVS without knowing what a Vanilla Reload looks like and bought a random gift card that said the word “vanilla” on it.  So basically I just bought myself a $500 gift card for no reason, which isn’t awesome at all.  All isn’t lost, of course, because my money is still technically there.  However,  I now have the lame task of paying for groceries or bills on a prepaid Visa gift card.  Let me give you all a piece of advice: Know what a vanilla reload looks like before you go shopping for one, ok?

After all of those shenanigans went down, I headed to Office Depot to see if they had any Vanilla Reloads.  And I was so excited to see that they had a huge-ass stack.  I grabbed a few and headed to the register to load up $1,000 on the real thing.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t greeted with the same enthusiasm I felt internally upon trying to complete my purchase.  The cashier frowned a little, turned to me, and shook his head.

“You can only pay for these with cash,” he said.


On my third attempt to buy a Vanilla Reload, I headed back to CVS.  And lo and behold, a whole stack of them were right where they were supposed to be.  Apparently, I just hadn’t seen them the first time around.  Here is what a real Vanilla Reload looks like:

vanilla reloadSo, I bought one, loaded $500 on it, then loaded it into my Bluebird account.  And now, shit’s about to get real.  For the next few months, I am going to pay the following bills on credit by using the Vanilla Reload/Amex Bluebird strategy:



  • Our Mortgage
  • Rental Property #1 Mortgage
  • Rental Property #2 Mortgage

The grand total of these three bills is around $3,000, which means that I should easily earn the companion pass in two months without using my Southwest card for regular spending.  The total cost for the reloads should be about $48, which is well worth it to me since the other rewards I will be earning will be worth far more than that.  And that’s how you do it.  But, if you choose to employ this strategy, make sure to buy a real Vanilla Reload, and not just a Visa gift card, got it?

Have you ever used this strategy for credit card rewards?  Do you think it’s sad that I bought myself a $500 gift card purely due to my own ignorance?