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A Vanilla Reload change at my CVS

I love paying my rent with the Bluebird® by American Express mail-a-check option so whenever I am at shopping at CVS I toss a Vanilla Reload into my basket to accompany my other purchases.  I have never had an issue paying with a credit card until today when an “Alternate Tender Required” message popped up on the screen.  I have read that several stores do not allow the purchase of Vanilla Reloads via credit card which I understand but this was particularly interesting to me because it appeared to be purely a system change as opposed to a policy change that was communicated to its employees.

From the best I can tell, no variables had changed between today and 5 days ago when I made the exact same purchase using the exact same card from the exact same employee at the exact same register.

I didn’t have 500 dollars cash on me so I asked the employee to remove the Vanilla Reload from my purchase.  This action required a supervisor to come over.  The employee proceeded to ask the supervisor what the system message meant though neither was familiar.

Has anyone else experienced this “system change” recently at their local CVS?

About the Author

About the author: Alex loves to travel and does so a lot. Logging 100,000 flight miles each year over the past 4 years, Alex uses points and miles to power his passion. Alex is continuously striving to experience the far reaches of the globe. In his day job, Alex is a Management Consultant frequently on the road advising Technology organizations. I love thinking about, reading about, and talking about all things travel. Feel free to reach me at pmmalex@gmail.com

{ 39 comments… add one }

  • Dustin December 28, 2012, 4:07 pm

    I’ve never had a problem at CVS until yesterday. At first, the cashier said that the vanilla reload was cash only. I said to just try and then she said CVS limited the cards to $1k per day per person.

  • Bobby @ Award Booking Service December 28, 2012, 4:08 pm

    Bought 2 last night no problem at CVS.

  • Albert December 28, 2012, 4:18 pm

    Also bought 2 last night in Dallas, TX with no issues using CC

  • michael December 28, 2012, 4:19 pm

    I bought yesterday at uscan machine no issues. I spoke with worker who stated they are required to check ID when purchase of any prepaid cards. No issues at POS

  • KLK December 28, 2012, 4:22 pm

    When I just got my Hilton Amex card, I went to CVS and bought 2 $500 VR in 1 transaction. No problem. Then I bought 2 more $500, with the same Hilton Amex, but that “Alternate Tender Required” popped up on the registered. I used a different credit card and it went through. At that moment, my Amex android app gave me a fraud alert pop up. So maybe it is your credit card that is declining the purchase. Hopefully it got nothing to do with CVS changing their policy.

  • James December 28, 2012, 4:36 pm

    I went to a CVS to buy VR with credit card a few days ago, a new cashier said I could only use cash to purchase “prepaid gift card”, I said fine, just remove from my basket. My friends said just give another shot with a different cashier, so today I when I stopped by to pick up some drug, I used my AMEX SPG card bought $500 VR card, no problem. So I guess it depends on the cashier completely.

  • FreeTravelGuys December 28, 2012, 4:47 pm

    I went to buy 2 cards at CVS and was asked to remove my shoes and go through their door scanner after placing my laptop in a separate basket. Was asked for a urine sample too.

  • Zz December 28, 2012, 5:10 pm

    @FreeTravelGuys,
    Nothing compared to what these guys had to endure;
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1a1wHxTyo

  • Sazzy December 28, 2012, 5:40 pm

    I had the same issued and got a call from my CC company. But, after speaking with them and telling them I was going to make a large purchase, it went through.

  • AK December 28, 2012, 6:06 pm

    I haven’t had a problem using self-checkout for VRs and credit cards.

  • Tim December 28, 2012, 6:25 pm

    I just purchased two $500 VR cards at CVS on my CITI AAdvantage Card this afternoon without a problem. Fingers crossed this doesn’t dry up.

  • Jeff December 28, 2012, 7:02 pm

    Just bought 2 today – 12/28, in Florida at a CVS where I have bought them before. You must buy only a max of $1000 a day. No problem at all. Must show I.D. Wife bought $1000 on her card also. Will go back tomorrow and each of us will buy $1000 again as we want to hit our minimum spends on 2 credit cards. Some CVS stores in our area carry the Vanilla reloads and some do not. I still buy some regular $500 Visa cards at Office Depot on my Ink card to use them as well at 5 times the points and build up my Ultimate rewards account. Tim — above, who used Citi cards to buy Vanilla reloads……don’t do it son……Citi considers these cash advances and not purchases. Bad choice.

  • SgFm December 28, 2012, 7:34 pm

    I have been using my Citi card with no problem, until today. It is a new card and I am working on a minimum spend. I used it yesterday to buy two $500 cards, and tried to do the same today. The first VR card purchase went through fine and I got a decline for the second. Literally within seconds I got a call from Citi on my cell phone, “a fraud alert”. I went through their automated system, then spoke with a CSR, and was told all should be good now (I hope). I plan to buy one tomorrow, then will have finished with my minimum spend. I just met my minimum spend on another credit card from Citi and there was no cash advance charge for any of my VR purchases using that card.

  • david December 28, 2012, 7:37 pm

    Its nothing. When I work at a clothing store, there’s a lot of busy traffic as we had a lot of large purchase buyers as their credit card company typical want to make sure its actually their card member to vertify their purchases. When we see that, we typically have to call in with an automatical teller prompt to key in their credit card. Or they choose to use a different credit card.

  • Curtis December 28, 2012, 8:38 pm

    I have only seen this when I used Amex prepaid temps shortly after purchase. Apparently they take some time to fully activate, so now I just wait until the next day and have no problems.

  • lurchie lurch December 28, 2012, 8:44 pm

    As others have noted, the issue is with Amex.

    I had the same problem.

    Call the fraud line and verify that you are who you say you are and you should be good to go.

  • JohnnieD December 28, 2012, 8:52 pm

    Had same problem using gold Amex. Got email/text from fraud dept. just used my ink bold instead- no problem.

  • alex December 28, 2012, 9:12 pm

    I used the same Ink Plus for both transactions. I did not receive a fraud alert.

  • Indsouth December 28, 2012, 9:55 pm

    I loaded $500 at cvs on vanilla reload with CC.But the vanilla card which i got had only 8 digit PIN instead of 10 digits. When i tried to load BB , i got an error since it asks for 10 digit PIN.Now vanilla says its already loaded but BB says it never loaded. I am in limbo.

  • Kroozer December 28, 2012, 9:57 pm

    “Alternate Tender Required” required at CVS register means that payment or credit card authorization was declined in my experience.

  • Tim December 28, 2012, 10:38 pm

    @Jeff: Have been using my Citi cards (both AAdvantage and Hilton Reserve) at CVS for reloads for 3 billing cycles and haven’t been hit with any cash advance fees. Seems to be treated as a regular purchase. On my way home tonight I tried purchasing four $500 VR cards. Rejected. Maximum per transaction was $1K, asked cashier for two separate transactions and she graciously obliged.

    Have your VR Reloads at CVS been consistently ringing up as Cash Advances, Jeff? Anybody else have issues where VR Cards, purchased with Citi are ringing as cash advances? In Chicago, we seem to be safe, so far…

  • Tom // Sit in first December 29, 2012, 12:18 am

    @Jeff: This is absolutely incorrect. Citi doesn’t treat in-store purchases of VRs as cash advances.

  • Jason December 29, 2012, 3:21 am

    Why are so many people just realizing that the single transaction limit is $1000? This is nothing new. And that using the same credit card to attempt back-to-back transactions will trigger an automatic fraud alert, ie, 2nd transaction declined.

  • Tom // Sit in first December 29, 2012, 5:23 am

    @Jason: Also not correct. A back to back certainly MAY trigger a fraud alert, but won’t for everyone. I’ve had three like four-digit charges on the same card and had no alert. A lot depends on your overall spend habits.

  • SgFm December 29, 2012, 6:29 am

    @Jason, I have been buying $1000 of VR cards via two separate transactions, done back to back, for a couple of months, with Chase, Amex and recently Citi. This was the first time I got a fraud alert in this way from Citi. When I tried to buy VR this summer at an OD in an out of state location (in a “funky” neighborhood), I did get a decline from Chase, and have to call in to get the transaction to go through, but then I was also trying to buy $3000 worth of cards ;-)

  • Rob December 29, 2012, 8:13 am

    Regarding the $1000 per transaction limit: is purchasing two $500 VR cards + the $3.95 in fees on each card okay at CVS (so the total is over $1,000), or are people purchasing two cards of a value of $496 or so. . . so that the total is $1,000 or less after the fees?

  • Henry December 29, 2012, 11:34 am

    No problem at CVS in PHX. I usually purchase four or six at a time in increments of two. As soon as I read your post, I picked up two this morning without incident. I have five CVS stores within a three mile radius and all are very good about stocking up when supplies are low.

  • HeavenlyJane December 29, 2012, 2:31 pm

    I always call my CC before going into the pharmacy (CVS) to let them know of my plans. I find that prevents issues at the cash register.

  • Sarah December 29, 2012, 2:48 pm

    Why are people getting so greedy and overdoing their purchase of VR cards. This will kill it for everyone. Moderation is the key….not excess overload.

  • Kate January 3, 2013, 1:05 pm

    The 3 CVS’s in my area (Massachusetts) recently made a limit of $1000 per person per day on VR purchases. If the cashier doesn’t know about the limit (most don’t seem to) then you can do $1000 per card without any problems on the register, and sometime $2000 per card depending on the store. After that I started to get the error messages… Of course, I imagine it must be different at every store – but this is what I discovered in my neighborhood this week :)

  • Justin M. January 4, 2013, 5:25 pm

    Another data point. January 4, 2013. Just received the “Alternate Tender Required” when trying to purchase one vanilla reload at CVS on my Chase Freedom. Yesterday I purchased two vanilla reloads at a different CVS 3 miles away with no problems. Yesterday I tried buying three but was told I was limited to $1000 per day.

  • michael January 6, 2013, 12:40 pm

    First problem every so far ughhh.. Just went in to the normal CVS I always use had issues. It all seems to be what manager is on duty. He first stated no charge card then I stated you kidding I buy every week. Then stated 250 Max and he stated this is to protect me LOL. I asked is this CVS policy or your own and he stated his own.

  • michael January 6, 2013, 12:43 pm

    Sarah : Moderation is pre 2012 As I have learned Grab as much as you can that you feel comfortable with. everything dies its just how quickly it does.

  • Jon January 10, 2013, 4:36 pm

    This is an issue with the bank of the card you tried to use. When “alternate tender required” comes up, that is a result of a bank card being declined.

    Call the bank that issues the credit card you tried to use. This happens to me nearly every time I go. Large purchase amounts at a place like a drugstore are generally suspicious transactions since those purchases are so rare.

  • will January 14, 2013, 9:13 am

    I bought two $500 reload packs at CVS on Christmas Eve. When I tried to load the packs I kept getting an error message saying the cards were not valid. The message said to return to the merchant where I made the purchases. I did, they told me there was nothing they could do. To make a long story short, it was over 24 hours before I was able to load the funds onto my Bluebird card. This has never happened before. In addition, the manager at CVS said they could I could only buy $1000 per day in Vanilla Reload packs.

  • Betty January 14, 2013, 9:39 am

    Same message popped up for me yesterday when using my Ink. However, my SPG Amex went through fine. Called up Chase and was told it was held for “safety” and the card was now released to be used. Will try again later this week when I go pick up prescriptions.

  • Anastascia January 14, 2013, 5:33 pm

    I was told, at two CVSs of LA county, that I must purchase the VRs in cash. I corrected him that that’s the case for greenDot, not VRs, and the clerk told me it was in an email they received about two weeks ago. Thinking it could be a district thing, I drove to a third CVS in a neighboring county and I was successful in purchasing a $500 VR with a CC.

  • James January 14, 2013, 7:22 pm

    Some upgrade in Houston, just went to a Walgreen I always purchased VR from, the system said cash only, the manager said she would like approve the transaction but the system won’t let it go through.

  • Oren January 22, 2013, 2:36 pm

    I had the same error message with my Fidelity AMEX. I spoke to the fraud department and they cleared me for large purchases in the next couple of months.

    My next two purchases of $1,000 back to back on the same card worked.

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