It could happen to you: improperly activated OneVanilla cards

There are a few situations that are guaranteed to strike horror into the heart of any travel hacker: denied boarding on a cabotage fare; having to make or change a reservation through a BA call center; making a United connection in Chicago.

If you manufacture spend, you may lose sleep over closed bank accounts or American Express financial reviews, but there's no worse possibility than your money just...disappearing.

Last week, I bought an improperly activated OneVanilla card. Now that the situation has been resolved, I want to share my experience.

Why are OneVanilla cards improperly activated?

In the last few years, I've purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars in OneVanilla prepaid debit cards. While they're not as useful as they once were, due to the recent inconvenience of using them at Walmart and new limits on Evolve Money bill payments, for example, they're still useful for Serve loads at Family Dollar store locations and other debit transactions, like grocery store money orders (where available) and Kmart bill payments.

On Thursday, for the first time, next to the OneVanilla card on my receipt, instead of the word "ACTIVATED" I saw the word "ACCEPTED," and below that the phrase "PREPAID CARD ACTIVATION WILL OCCUR WITHIN 24 HOURS:"

It's impossible to say for sure why the card was improperly activated, but in hindsight one thing has assumed greater importance in my mind: while purchasing the cards, I somehow ran up against the $5,000 daily CVS purchase limit, even though this was my first purchase at CVS that day. Whether it was a computer error or a function of the daily cutoff time CVS's servers use, it was an ill omen.

What to do if your card is improperly activated

Sure enough, when I attempted to check the card's balance online and over the phone, the system responded that no such card existed.

I remembered reading reports from some folks on FlyerTalk that their cards sometimes weren't immediately activated, so I waited the full 24 hours before calling into the number on the back of my OneVanilla card: 1-877-770-6408.

It was a fairly simple matter to reach an actual person, to whom I explained the situation. He looked up the OneVanilla card's number, saw it was improperly activated, and then needed to collect some information:

  • The date and time of the purchase;
  • the STR# number from the receipt;
  • the last four digits of the card's packaging (also available on the receipt);
  • the address and phone number of the store where I purchased the card.

Finally, he asked that I fax or e-mail a copy of the receipt and my driver's license. I opted to e-mail the documents to the address he provided,

While the customer service representative said the activation process could take up to 3 business days, I found my OneVanilla card had been activated by this morning, or a day before the self-imposed deadline he gave me.

While for some reason I was still unable to use the OneVanilla card at Family Dollar this morning (a problem I've had once before), I was able to fund an Amazon Payment with it, and consider this particular case "closed."

Lessons learned and reinforced

While my fairly meticulous bookkeeping made this situation a minor annoyance, rather than a catastrophe, it certainly drove home the importance of tracking every dollar of manufactured spend until it's safely ensconced in an FDIC-insured bank account or has posted as a payment to a credit card.

Here are three more tips to keep yourself out of trouble:

  • Check receipts immediately to make sure they correspond to the packaging of the cards you purchased. After opening the packaging, write down the last four digits of the card number (I write the digits directly on the packaging);
  • If a card hasn't activated properly, point it out to the cashier immediately and see if they can resolve it in-store. If not, note the cashier's name in case you later need to file a chargeback with your credit card company;
  • The sooner you contact the prepaid card issuer, the sooner the problem can be resolved. Don't just hope an improperly activated card will eventually be activated.