Update: Emerald loads at Walmart

Back in April I reminded my readers that under the right circumstances, it might be worth loading HR Block Emerald cards at Walmart, claiming that paying $3.74 per $999 load could be justified if your earning rate were high enough.

Since then, I've run several experiments with my trusty new Suntrust check card, and found that things aren't quite as rosy as I had hoped.

The terms and conditions

As I wrote in the comments to that earlier post:

"[The $999 load limit] is my belief based on the Emerald T&C's:

'The maximum amount of cash value you may load to your Card each day is $999.99.'

And this Green Dot website (among others): https://www.moneypak.com/page/rapidreload

'The cashier will swipe your card and add cash directly to your card (up to $1,000 at Walmart as long as you do not exceed the card load limits). A service fee of $3.74 applies.'

Unfortunately, I appear to have been overly optimistic.

My experience

My first attempt was to load $996 at a regular Walmart register. The register beeped and alerted the cashier that the maximum load was $500. I loaded that amount, and the cashier told me that if I wanted to load more than $500, I needed to do it at the Customer Service desk, which also functions as the Money Center at that Walmart location.

On my trip to Walmart today, I started off at the Customer Service center and had the same experience: I couldn't load more than $500 at a time. This Walmart, however, had a separate Money Center, and I asked the cashier there if she could load more than at the Customer Service center. She told me the limits were the same at both counters.

Since I had already loaded $500 I couldn't try and load another $996 today anyway, because of HR Block's daily load limits.


While it's certainly possible to conjecture that higher loads might be possible at the Money Center at Walmart locations that have both a Customer Service desk and Money Center, I'm personally inclined to doubt it.

My preliminary conclusion is that in fact the Emerald can only be loaded with up to $500 at a time, at a cost of $3.74.

What does that mean for us? Paying 0.748 cents per Skymile is pressing against the upper bound of what you should consider worth paying. Yes, Skymiles can be redeemed for 1 cent each against the revenue cost of Delta tickets, and when booked in First Class, such Pay With Miles tickets even earn Skymiles and Medallion Qualification Miles. If you book a lot of paid First Class tickets, this is a decent way to get a 25% discount on those reservations.

In general, however, I wouldn't consider this an opportunity worth scaling as long as there are so many other, cheaper ways to generate the same number of miles.

Charlotte preview: Vanilla Reloadables

As readers know, there will be a gathering in Charlotte this weekend of some of the participants in the March manufactured spending competition (#milemadness) and readers who are interested in getting to know us better. Additionally, we'll be joined by some of the more, shall we say, reclusive members of the travel hacking community. I'm very excited to be presenting, and even more excited to be able to meet some folks I only know over e-mail or through enigmatic posts on FlyerTalk.

This week I though I'd share some reflections on my experience in the competition, and maybe elicit some subjects from readers and Charlotte attendees for further conversations.

I lost #milemadness – but that's ok

The manufactured spending competition privileged speed of liquidation, since you couldn't manufacture additional spend until you had liquidated an instrument, whether it was Vanilla Reload Network reload cards or electronics you bought for resale.

Additionally, all the spend we manufactured was "weighted" by the "Fair Trading Price" of the points currencies we earned. Whatever the advantages or disadvantages of FTP as a system for pricing points, it meant that those who were earning Ultimate Rewards points – especially at high multiples – were able to easily lap those of us stuck manufacturing almost any other points currency.

On the other hand, I ultimately manufactured about $43,000 in spend during the four weeks of the competition, or about $1,500 per day, an amount that I'm perfectly satisfied with. The ability to manufacture that much spend on a sustained basis puts all of my travel and financial goals within reach, which is one reason I finally became confident enough to decide to start blogging and writing full time.

Vanilla Reloadables

In today's Charlotte preview, I want to explain the reloadable prepaid debit cards I used to manufacture a big chunk of that $43,000.

"But FQF," you may well object, "Vanilla Reloads aren't a viable tool anymore! Why would anyone be interested in that?"

The answer, of course, is people who still have access to Vanilla Reloads.

Bluebird ($5,000)

Bluebird, and its cousin Serve, forms the hard core of most manufactured spending strategies.

  • Limits: $1,000 per day, $5,000 per calendar month;
  • Loading: online using Vanilla Reload Network, or in-store at any Walmart register;
  • Unloading: transfer to a linked bank account, or pay bills directly;
  • Adverse action: none.

JH Preferred ($11,000)

The JH Preferred card is a branded clone of the generic MyVanilla Debit cards. However, it's still possible to sign up for a JH Preferred card even if you've already used up all 3 of your MyVanilla Debit shutdowns.

  • Limits: $2,500 per day, $5,000 per month published, limits only loosely enforced in practice;
  • Loading: online using Vanilla Reload Network;
  • Unloading: PIN-based transactions at Walmart;
  • Adverse action: Many reports of shutdowns for over-the-counter bank cash disbursements.

Momentum ($4,000)

The Momentum prepaid card can only be applied for in-person at a limited number of check-cashing establishments. It's a very expensive and abusive product, with a high risk of shutdown.

  • Limits: $2,500 per day (5 loads);
  • Loading: online using Vanilla Reload Network;
  • Unloading: $1 over-the-counter bank cash disbursement for the entire card balance;
  • Adverse action: closed after third cash withdrawal.

HR Block Emerald ($5,000)

This is a great product that can be a bit tricky to sign up for, since you need to either have your taxes done in-branch at a HR Block location, or convince them to give you a card without having your taxes done. It is similar to Bluebird, but cost $3.74 to load at Walmart registers.

  • Limits: $1,000 per day, $5,000 per rolling 30-day period;
  • Loading: online using Vanilla Reload Network or in-person at any Walmart register (costs $3.74);
  • Unloading: ACH pull directly from the account;
  • Adverse action: none.


There you have it: a full $25,000 of my total manufactured spend during the competition was through Vanilla reloadable prepaid debit cards.

On the one hand, that's not a terribly creative approach to manufacturing spend. On the other hand, even if I were earning at a rate of one mile per dollar, that means I could have spent $197.50 (plus unloading costs, plus time) for enough miles to fly roundtrip anywhere in the continental US.

Reminder: you can load Emerald cards at Walmart (but probably shouldn't – yet)

Today I finally got around to running an experiment I'd been thinking about for a few months. When you log into your HR Block Emerald card's online account, you'll see on the right-hand side of the screen the following reminder:

I don't know about you, but when I see the words "swipe" and "reload" right next to each other like that, the gears start turning.

Emerald cards can't be loaded with PIN-based debit cards at (my) 7-Elevens

Unfortunately, although I was able to find a cashier willing to try, I found that the registers at my local 7-Eleven store locations do not allow PIN-based debit cards to be used to pay for swipe reload transactions.

Let me stress that this doesn't mean they aren't allowed at any store locations. One of my compulsive habits is attempting to buy PayPal My Cash cards at 7-Elevens when I'm traveling, and I succeed about 25% of the time, although they've been hard-coded for cash only in my town for many months now.

So this may be another "Your Miles May Vary" situation.

Emerald cards can be loaded at Walmart

Walmart administers a reload network they call "Rapid Reload." A single swipe reload costs $3.74, and can be performed at any Walmart register.

This has never been a good value, and still isn't while money orders for up to $1,000 can be purchased for $0.70 and bill payments in any amount up to $9,999 cost $1.88 or less (although additional reporting requirements are triggered by transactions exceeding $2,500 – or even less at some store locations).

So no, you shouldn't wake up tomorrow morning, change your whole miles-and-points strategy, and start paying 4 times more for the same amount of manufactured spend.

But allow me to point out that there are readily available techniques that are still lucrative after adding $3.74 per load of up to $999.99.

And if your store or district manager decides to play Carl Hanratty, you might decide it's worth keeping your head down and paying a little more to avoid the eagle-eyed agents at the Customer Service or Money Centers.


Everything is still running smoothly in my sleepy New England town.

But when I think about the end of our current "golden age" of manufactured spend, this is the future I see: one where we'll have to work a little bit harder and pay a little bit more in order to earn the same amount.

And those who handle the transition best are going to be those who are already aware of all the options available now, before that day finally comes.

Update on HRB Emerald load limits

Since reporting last Wednesday that HR Block Emerald prepaid MasterCards are (finally) reloadable using Vanilla Reload Network reload cards, I've been tracking my loading activity with the goal of establishing the card's limits (since it is not even published in the terms and conditions of the card that it can be loaded with those instruments). Here's what I found:

As you can see, there's a rolling, 24-hour load limit of $1,000. There also appears to be a weekly or monthly limit of $5,000 in loads – although it's also been hypothesized that it's a limit of 10 loads of any kind, so if you were loading lower-denomination cards for whatever reason, you might end up being able to load less than $5,000.

As a reminder, you can use your Emerald card's routing number and account number (called "DDA" for some reason) from the account's home page to pay bills or transfer money from the account to any bank, credit card, or other payee that allows it. Unfortunately, American Express for reasons known only to themselves does not allow you to link bank accounts with account numbers over a certain number of digits, so I have not been able to successfully link my Emerald card as a payment source for my American Express cards. Of course, for a mere $0.95 I could pay my American Express bills directly from the HR Block Emerald interface, which I might consider doing under certain conditions.

BREAKING: HR Block Emerald card Vanilla Reloadable

I reported back in October that the redesigned Vanilla Reload Network reload cards had "MasterCard rePower" listed on the front. I linked to a list of MasterCard prepaid cards and speculated that it might be possible to load some of them using Vanilla Reload Network reload cards.

I went out and hunted down a few of the most promising cards on the list, including the Mango checking account alternative and the HR Block Emerald card, both of which had no monthly fees or fees that were easily waived (in Mango's case, through a single $500 deposit each month).

Unfortunately, as I reported at the end of October, neither the Emerald nor the Mango card ended up being loadable using Vanilla Reload Network reload cards.

I stuck both cards in my drawer and forgot about them until I saw this post from a few days ago on FlyerTalk. There, user SoCalStew reported success loading his Emerald card, writing:

For a brief shining moment, a couple of weeks ago, I was able to stuff a few VRs into my Emerald Card. This is how it looked on the Emerald site.


Then they pulled the plug on reloads. Comes up as a "Code 21" on the VR site.

Fortunately I had a few Vanilla Reload Network reload cards lying around, so I dug out my Emerald card and tried it for myself.


I can now report that for at least some users, HR Block Emerald cards are Vanilla Reloadable. This is terrific news because back in October when I first got my Emerald card, I confirmed that it's also possible to pay bills using ACH pulls – for free – from the Emerald card account. That makes it possible to liquidate Vanilla Reload Network reload cards at no additional cost once they've been successfully loaded to the Emerald.


A few minutes ago I was able to load just two $500 reload cards to my Emerald account before receiving an error that I'd reached the limit on the number of loads allowed. I'll continue attempting to load money to the account over the next few days, weeks, and months and report back any other load limits I'm able to discover.

Reader experiences are of course more than welcome.

Update on MasterCard rePower network

At the beginning of the month I suggested that since the latest Vanilla Reload Network redesign included MasterCard rePower on the front of the card, it might be possible to load MasterCard prepaid debit cards using Vanilla Reload Network reload cards.

The Experiment

To test this theory, I picked what looked like two of the most promising cards: the H&R Block Emerald prepaid MasterCard and the Mango alternative checking account. The Emerald card doesn't have any monthly fees, and the Mango card has a $5 monthly fee that's waived when you load $500 or more during your statement period.

The Result

Unfortunately, neither card is currently loadable using Vanilla Reload Network reload cards.

However, in the course of my experimenting I did discover that Mango allows outgoing ACH transactions . That means that if you are able to load the account (for example, using Green Dot Moneypaks, available in some areas and at some merchants for purchase by credit card), then you can easily liquidate your balance by entering your Mango routing and account numbers in your credit card issuer's bill pay function.

In Other News

It isn't really the focus of this blog or my book, but I should also point out that Mango offers a 6% APR savings account alongside its checking account product. This is more than you'll earn leaving your money in virtually any other FDIC-insured instrument. You'll earn 6% APY on the first $5,000 in your savings account when you "enroll" in their direct deposit service. According to the site, you "enroll" by making 2 payroll deposits totaling $50 or more within 90 days. If you max out the $5,000 cap, and then deposit and bill pay out $500 each month in order to avoid the monthly fee, then you'll earn $300 per year in interest (actually slightly less since it's 6% APY, not APR, and you won't earn true compound interest above the $5,000 level). You won't get rich using this technique, but there's also no reason not to do it, since if you're manufacturing spend then you probably have a fair amount of month-to-month liquidity. You're allowed up to 5 transfers between your Mango checking and savings accounts each month.

One other note: while Mango suggests linking your bank account or PayPal account as a funding source, I was unable to use my Mango routing and account numbers to add the account to either Bank of America's "transfers outside the bank" function or PayPal's "withdraw" function. However, I was able to add Mango as a "linked checking account" to Bluebird. Your Miles May Vary.