$500 gift cards back at Office Depot (or not?)

In the past few days there has been some buzz in the travel hacking community about Office Depot starting to ease back into the variable $500 Visa and Amex gift cards (the ones you load from $20 up to $500 for a small fee), MyVanilla debit cards (can be loaded with up to $500), and the holy grail of prepaid reloads, the Vanilla Reload gift card. If you’ve been following these cards for a while, you probably know that Office Depot stopped offering these cards because you could buy them, pay with your Chase Ink card, which pays 5x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at office supplies stores, and then either convert them into cash or pay certain expenses with your Amex BlueBird account like mortgage, student loans, car, and other items that you couldn’t normally pay with a credit card.

Well, it now seems like Office Depot is making a move with these cards again, and they’re starting to slowly appear nationwide, which means that we could all go back to the stores and start buying $500 cards and if paying with our Ink cards, earning a cool 2,500 points for each card, which makes this one of the most valuable trades out there. But not so fast:

While cards are starting to pop up, many people are reporting problems buying them. On Monday, it seemed like the regular Visa and Amex variable gift cards were working just fine. The Vanilla Reloads seemed to be a problem. Most customers reported that when they tried to buy them, they weren’t properly coded in the system by Office Depot, so they wouldn’t ring up at the registers and people couldn’t buy them.

On Tuesday, I visited three Office Depots in my area and had no luck with two of them, but this is what I found in the third store:

ReloadsGift-cards-at-Office-Depot

All the cards mentioned above just had paper fronts on the rack, and you needed to pick one up, take it to the register and ask the cashier for a real one, which they had locked up behind the counter. I grabbed a Vanilla Reload card and asked the cashier to ring it up for me. I actually asked her if I could buy it with a credit card and she said yes. But after she found them, I ran into the same problem as everyone else, which was that the Vanilla Reload card wouldn’t ring up. She told me that they had just put them up on the rack that day, and that they hadn’t been coded in the system, so she couldn’t sell it, and asked me to go back in a couple of days.

Also on Tuesday, shoppers started reporting that they received the same error above for the Visa and Amex variable cards as well. The registers wouldn’t allow the purchase.

So as of today, we are all in waiting mode to see what Office Depot’s next move will be. My best guess is that most of these cards will be back on the shelves, but some stores will probably determine individually what their policy will be as far as accepting credit cards as a form of payment. It also looks like Office Depot and Chase are tinkering with the way the gift cards and reload cards will ring up, so that if you buy them with your Ink card, you will not get the 5x points per dollar. However, this is all speculation as those who have bought the cards in the past few days before the deal went bust appear to have earned the correct amount of points.

I would continue to monitor this situation as it unfolds, and as soon as it appears to be working, you can start getting your feet wet and trying to buy one or two cards at your local Office Depot and test out if it works correctly for you. As always, do not abuse this benefit should it start working for you. Use it in moderation. The last thing you want is Chase severing its entire banking and credit card relationship with you due to abuse of benefits, and they could do it!

If you want to monitor the latest developments, you can follow our site, or also follow The Frequent Miler, who has a very good article that is regularly being updated by him and his readers with the latest news.

UPDATE, 7/10/13 2:00 p.m. EST:
It appears that the party is over and the deal is dead at most stores nationwide. Most people are reporting that ALL cards above require cash only. I will try my own experience at my local store and update this post, but it looks like the deal was short lived. Good for anyone who was able to make some purchases during the couple of days they were accepting credit cards.

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