The latest and greatest with gift cards is the news by the Federal Reserve that all gift cards will eventually come with a PIN.
Why this matters
Some people like to dabble with cash back and gift cards, but this blog focuses on miles/points so I won’t be covering that. Also, I don’t dive into money orders, because I use Bluebird to accomplish the same tasks. I feel like money orders are so 1980, but maybe I’m missing something.
Moving on…Right now, the best tool to pay bills online in the toolbox is Bluebird. And the best way to fund Bluebird is through Vanilla Reload cards. However, Vanilla Reload cards aren’t available everywhere.
But now that some gift cards have a PIN, you can load your Bluebird with them. This is a big opportunity for those who don’t have access to Vanilla Reloads, and it also opens up the ability to capitalize on grocery store category bonuses. And, sometimes you can double dip if your local grocery store gives you gas points for purchasing gift cards (a frequent promo).
This may also bring back the 5x earning potential at office supply stores, but it will take more work since $200 is the largest increment that you can buy in gift cards at Office Depot, Staples, and Office Max. This increases the cost, since each card has an activation fee. But you don’t have to go buy Vanilla Reloads anymore with your Visa gifts like I was doing after Office Depot quit selling Vanilla Reloads directly. That was a sad day.
- You can’t withdraw money from an ATM with your gift card if it has a PIN.
- Not all Mastercard and Visa gift cards have PINs, so it’s best to test the waters before diving in deep.
- It appears some people have had trouble with Mastercard gift cards and PINs, so you may want to go with Visa.
My experience from this weekend
This weekend, I ran up to my local grocery store, Randalls (a Safeway chain), to test the PIN gift cards out. I didn’t find any US Bank issued Visa gift cards, but I did find some MetaBank Visa gift cards. I bought a $100 gift card just to test it out. Randalls had up to $500 gift card options to choose from. The activation fee was $5.95 for the $100 or the $500 increment. It’s obvious what increment you would ideally want to buy, but I was testing.
When I got back to the car, I inspected the receipt and there was nothing about setting up a PIN (there is for gift cards issued by US Bank), so I googled how to assign a PIN. I came to a Hack My Trip blog post with a phone # to call that he got from DansDeal. I dialed the number (888-524-1283) and followed the initial steps, then pushed 5 and set up my PIN. Took 2 minutes, tops.
After that, I drove to Wal-Mart. Something I don’t like doing, but I’ll do anything for miles & points. [You can load your Bluebird online with a DEBIT card, but only $1,000 a day, and there's a $2 fee. Remember, there's also a $5,000 monthly limit when loading Bluebird (this includes Vanilla Reloads).]
At Wal-Mart, I went to the Money Center Express automated machine which didn’t have a wait or any people to deal with.
I went through the steps and within a minute, I had my Bluebird funded with the Metabank Visa Gift card. Cha-Ching. Next time I buy a gift card from a grocery store, it will be for the largest ($500) increment possible.
I haven’t been to an office supply store yet. But again, the largest increment you can buy is for $200. Office Max sells Metabank gift cards in $200 increments with an activation fee of $6.95.
When buying gift cards, don’t overdo it. It’s important that you stay within your means and base your purchases off of your income, credit limit, etc. This will look different for each of us.
Also, not all gift cards have PINs yet. For example, the Vanilla gift cards don’t currently, but will soon. Gift cards issued by US Bank and Metabank can be assigned a PIN. You can see which bank is backing a gift card by looking at the back of the card.
I hope this helps, and please comment with your experiences down below.
— Geoff Whitmore