What if VR Disappeared Tomorrow? Crafting a Post VR Earning Plan

I’m here today to challenge you to start your own critical thinking about MMRs.  We discussed this yesterday, saying that when we’re closest to empty we must think our most critically. When we have large balances we happily continue the status quo, and in Miles that means Vanilla Reloads (VR). I mentioned in earlier posts that I didn’t want this blog to be all about spilling secrets.  It isn’t wise to discuss things in all their glory in public places.  There are some great blogs out there for this: Million Mile Secrets, and the Frequent Miler blog to name two.

We could argue the merits of posting deals online for the world to see, and many of us have.  I tend to take the idea that the deals are usually killed by scammers and credit card thieves, who use the same tricks we use to steal big money.  But that doesn’t mean that publicly posting your deal can’t negatively impact you as well.  For example the popularity of VRs has led to shortages, hiding, and hoarding of cards.  The deal isn’t dead, but for some of us it might as well be.

Imagine a World With No VR.VR

In response to my announcement that I’ve not bought a single VR this year, Milenomics reader Reese wrote that VR’s have been absent for about a month now in her location.  This got me thinking about a world with no VR. My decision to stop purchasing VR was somewhat on purpose–availability was too spotty, and I was too often driving somewhere leaving empty handed. This not only drove up my carrying costs, but wore me down as well.

I’m always trying to bring costs down to as close to $0 as possible.  Ideally I’d like to make money on every deal, but that’s obviously not realistic.  The fact that I changed my focus from wholesale earning of miles and instead to smarter earning has greatly increased my earning.  This year I’ll likely earn 1 million miles, at an average cost, including my T-rate, of under $.010 each mile. Of that 1CPM a lot of it is my time.

Today I ask you to craft a plan that involves no buying of VR.  Force yourself off of the ice (cream). Doing so will have two effects: First you’ll have time to stop and think about deals, reassess your options.  Secondly, you’ll be forced to experiment with other instruments.  I’m not saying you can’t buy VR–I’m saying that you absolutely should be supplimenting VR with something.  If tomorrow VR disappeared–what would you do?

The Staples Effect: Getting Stuck With Less Than Ideal BuysStapled

Have you ever got to a store and, unable to find what you’re looking for, you cave-in and buy less than ideal instruments?  I call this the Staples Effect. When Staples used to sell $500 cards it was ideal for purchases.  Now $200 gift cards are the max there people still argue that the economics of the deal work.  When you drive there and they’re out of $200 cards but have $100 cards you might even start to convince yourself that with 5x UR the $100 purchase is better than nothing. You just got Stapled–you’re likely out more time and energy than is worth for those 500 UR, not to mention the purchase fee.

The Staples Effect occurs at other stores–I’ve just named it after the most popular store that has done it to so many of us.  To break out of this–we need to be working against the popular strategies, finding our niches and filling those out to the fullest.  When we swim against the popular current we’re buying things others overlook–and we’re having no trouble finding them.  We also learn the stores that work best for us, which might be much closer than the local CVS.  All of this drives our costs down, but also our success rate up.

Oh, the Irony of All of This

Yes, the irony of a blog telling people to not follow the popular, blog driven, deals is not lost on me.  And I also understand how frustrating not specifically spilling out details can be to some of you. For that I can only say: Stick around for the long-run. The more you focus on your needs and demands the better you’ll get at all of this.  We do discuss deals openly after they end, as we did here, and here.  Details can be learned from this, and applied to current and future deals.  Instant Gratification this is not–but good things come to those who wait.

I’ll be able to speak more openly during future in person settings, hopefully I can work that out soon enough.  For now, keep reading and studying your @Milnomics. The basics are Save money and Save miles.

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About the author

- Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I'll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.


  1. Life without VRs is not pleasant. I have been using the Amex for Target card as manufactured spend, but it is more expensive than VRs are, and less convenient. I am also trying to be very careful not to put too much on the Target Amex, as I have Amex cards that I don’t want to have closed down on me. Really hoping that whatever changes are being made to the VR program still allow credit card purchases, and that CVS stores in my area start carrying them again.

    (I’m a woman, btw.)

    1. Thanks for the feedback Reese. I was pretty sure, but never like to assume online. Updated the post with the correct pronoun.

      I have to say Nor-Cal and Atlanta are like a 1-2 punch of bad VR Availability, possibly the worst in the country. I have on good athority that some of the VR issues are incomm supply chain related, others are just serious demand and not enough supplied cards (hence the hiding, and hoarding of cards).

  2. The CVS clerks I’ve spoken with in both locations claim that VRs are VERY popular, but their vendors haven’t been stocking them. I have asked if the stores are not going to carry them anymore, and the clerks plead ignorance. I’ve made calls all over both areas to see if smaller communities have them, and they are not to be found anywhere. Very depressing.

  3. My friend, if driving to a few stores to find VRs “wore you down” then I’m quite shocked you’d even play the miles game. If you need fodder for blog fill I can understand that, but please…

  4. There are plenty in my neighborhood, but buying points via this route (unless you’re using the SPG) amounts to purchasing the points at almost .008. That’s a bit to steep for me and a waste of bluebird space. There are other schemes, albeit slightly more cumbersome, to get the cost down.

    1. Agreed, and all part of why I left them behind me as well. Did you stop purchasing on purpose or move on due to VR supply shortages?

  5. I just started doing MS a couple of months ago. After weeks and weeks of spotty availability, I’ve noticed that 1 of the CVS stores close by has moved the VRs behind the counter. Now there is a solid 3 inch stack there, and I can buy all I want.

    My guess is that the “competition” was shoplifting them and loading them elsewhere giving a 2X, 3X or 5X bonus.

    By the way, the CVS manager seems to be fine with the whole MS thing, and just wants CVS to be where people get their ice cream.

    1. Welcome. From my discussions with management at local CVS stores people stealing them is a serious issue. They usually return to the store with them, just stealing them to ensure availability. Also hiding them in the store is a problem as well. I wish they’d keep them behind the counter at all CVS… I absolutely hate driving to a CVS, wasting my time and travel and finding the cupboards bare. All part of why I really dislike VR.

      Had a good conversation about the new “never sell gift cards over the phone” which pops up now at CVS. Apparently people were calling and saying they were from corporate and processing orders with stolen credit cards. The cashiers were scratching the number and giving the pin over the phone as well. Can’t believe that it wasn’t an inside job… CVS has a way of identifying actual corporate calls and these scammers were not following that protocol and still were able to fool the cashiers into processing the orders.

      1. PS: I guess at this point, I could start looking at expanding my horizons. $0.0079 per mile or point is 3 to 5 times more efficient than butt-in-seat mileage runs, but clearly I need to start looking at what I can do to get more bank for my buck. I’m in your 201 category, except I am too old for any thing longer than 3 hours in ordinary coach and I need to cover both my wife and myself and quite possibly my wife’s parents.

        1. Ingeniero: .0079 is much more efficient than BIS mileage runs. In fact that’s why I call my spending trips MMR’s (Milenomics Mileage Runs). A 201 who will be booking 4x Business seats is looking at 300k-400k miles per trip. The good news is you should have access to a Quad-Earn/Quad-Burn type of setting, so long as your in-laws play along and apply for cards/allow you to open BB’s in their name.

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