No, this isn’t some illegal scam on trying to steal from MasterCard. I’m not that kind of hacker. This is actually about maximizing your use of the Vanilla MasterCard (henceforth referred to as VMC) in Canada. As Canadians, we seem to get screwed over a lot in retail goods when compared to our southern neighbors, but with a little ingenuity and this article, we can perhaps try to work the system to our advantage.
I usually buy my VMCs from Shoppers Drug Mart or petrol stations like Shell or Petro-Canada. You can register it on the VMC website as a US credit card with any valid ZIP code. You just have to make sure to match the City and State to which the ZIP code belongs. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and haven’t had any issues.
One thing to note though is that if you buy a VMC that’s close in value to what you’re buying (e.g. buying a $25 card for a $22.99 purchase), some companies will do a small pre-authorization charge on the card, making the full balance unavailable for 3-7 days. Keep this in mind when dealing with services like Rdio’s Family Plan for three (which is exactly $22.99 US).
Another thing to keep in mind is that even though you are registering the VMC as a US card, transactions still take place in Canadian funds. So a $25 card will only give you whatever the exchange rate is for US funds.
The main disadvantage with VMCs is the activation fee you have to pay for at the counter. It starts at $1.95 for a $25 card and goes up to something like $7.95 for a $200 card. However, you don’t get charged periodic interest and the balance virtually stays with you until you either spend the full amount or you exceed the expiration date. VMC is one of few gift cards that don’t try to eat up your money if you leave it dormant.
For pesky minor balances of a few cents and dollars that you can’t find something on which to spend it, just buy a custom Amazon.ca email gift certificate and send it back to yourself. I’ve accumulated enough of an Amazon gift card balance on my account with all the cards I’ve bought over the years. It adds up. The reason I choose Amazon.ca is because VMC deals in Canadian funds, and trying to find the exact exchange rate used by Amazon.com is like pulling teeth. Save yourself the hassle. Also, don’t forget to login to the VMC website to register your card back to a Canadian postal code.
On a separate note, VMC also coincidentally stands for Vergil May Cry. Hmm.
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