Bluebird vs. Serve

American Express has two prepaid products that are remarkably similar: Bluebird and Serve.  What’s the difference? 



On March 28, 2011, American Express announced a new product called Serve which they described as offering “Person-to-Person, Online, Mobile, and Traditional Card Capabilities in a Single Account.”  Within the miles & points community, Serve quickly became popular as a new way to run up spend since Serve could be loaded via credit and debit cards.  Once loaded, the money could be transferred to a friend, transferred to a bank account, withdrawn from an ATM, or spent via the Serve prepaid card.

Then, on October 8, 2012, American Express and Walmart announced a new product called Bluebird which they described as a “new alternative to debit and checking accounts.”  I first mentioned Bluebird in my October 8th post “Bluebird is coming. The sky isn’t falling.”  Then, once Bluebird was available to consumers, I followed up with “Bluebird takes flight and changes the game,” “Bluebird lands. Questions answered,” “Bluebird Updates,” and “Now that you have a Bluebird card, don’t use it.”  Bluebird took off in the miles & points community because Bluebird can be loaded with Vanilla Reload cards (which I first introduced in May 2012 with “One card to rule them all“).  Even more so than Serve, Bluebird offered many ways to use the loaded money: transfer to a friend, transfer to a bank account, withdraw from an ATM, spend via the Bluebird prepaid card, or pay bills.

Pick One

Bluebird and Serve are so similar that American Express does not allow individuals to own both.  People with existing Serve accounts who try to sign up for Bluebird are told that they must first close their Serve account.  Even after cancelling your Serve account, you will have trouble setting up your Bluebird account unless you use the exact same information as you had used for Serve: the same email address, name, address, etc. 

The reason for allowing only one or the other, I believe, is that Bluebird and Serve are on the same technology platform.  In order to introduce Bluebird quickly, it looks like American Express re-skinned their Serve web site, added bill pay, removed credit card funding, and changed some parameters.  I think that was a great move because it gave them a highly functional platform for Bluebird right out of the gate.  The downside is that it forces consumers to pick one or the other.  One upside is that you can readily transfer money between Bluebird and Serve accounts.  So, a married couple, for example, may choose to keep a Serve card for one person and a Bluebird card for the other in order to get the best of both.


Here are some of the major features of Bluebird and Serve compared:




Load via credit card No Yes. Limited to $100 per day and $250 per month. 2.9% fee waived until March 15, 2013
Load via debit card Online: limited to $100 per day, $1000 per month, 2% fee.  No PIN required (i.e. some gift cards that say “debit” work)

At Walmart: limited to $1000 per day, $5000 per month. No fee. PIN required.

Limited to $200 per day and $1000 per month.  People have reported success in using gift cards for debit card loads (I haven’t done so personally). Currently, no fee.
Load via prepaid card Vanilla Reload cards only. Up to $1000 per day, $5000 per month MoneyPak cards only. Up to $500 per day, $2500 per month.
Send money to others Yes, send money to friend who has Bluebird or Serve account, up to $10K per month Yes, send money to friend who has Bluebird or Serve account, up to $1000 per day, $2500 per month
ATM withdrawals Free at MoneyPass ATMs if you have made a direct deposit in the past 30 days First withdrawal per month free (other than ATM owner fees), $2 per withdrawal afterwards
Bill Pay Free to pay bills electronically (up to $10K per month) or by check (up to $5K per month) Nope
Write checks While it is already possible to write checks indirectly through the Bill Pay feature, Amex has said that true check writing is coming in 2013 Nope
Transfer funds to bank account Free. No apparent limits other than account balance Free. No apparent limits other than account balance 
International use Yes. No foreign transaction fees for purchases or ATM use Nope


Serve has the edge for gift cards and MoneyPaks

If you frequently need to convert Visa and MasterCard gift cards to cash, Serve has the edge since it allows funding up to $1000 per month this way (as debit cards). 

Similarly, if you are able to buy MoneyPaks (but not Vanilla Reload cards) with a credit card, then Serve may be a better option for you.  Note that it is much more rare to find a place that will let you buy a MoneyPak with a credit card (vs. a Vanilla Reload card), but some places do exist.  For example, The Points Guy was able to buy them at a RiteAid (I was able to also until my local RiteAid stopped allowing it).

Bluebird has the edge for Vanilla Reload cards, Bill Pay, Checks, and International use

While Office Depot no longer sells Vanilla Reload cards (see “Office Depot discontinues Vanilla Reload cards“), many other stores do.  For example, many people have reported success buying Vanilla Reload cards at Walgreens, CVS, and regional gas station chains.

Importantly, Bluebird also offers more ways to spend the money once it is in your account.  The Bill Pay feature allows you to pay any biller on their list electronically, or any other biller via check.  Also, American Express has promised to provide a direct check writing capability in the future.

Finally, don’t discount the advantage of Bluebird for international use.  Bluebird doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees for purchases or ATM withdrawals so it can be a great option for anyplace that takes American Express.

One of each?

Personally, I’ve converted both my Serve account and my wife’s to Bluebird accounts.  Some people, though, will see a benefit in keeping one person in a family on Serve and the other on Bluebird so as to take advantage of all of their best features.  It’s helpful, too, that money can be transferred across these accounts.  Before canceling my own Serve account, I was able to directly send the balance in that account to my wife’s Bluebird account.  So, if you load up a Serve account, you can move the money to another person’s Bluebird account so that they can use it internationally and/or to pay bills.

Vacation Notice

Greg (Frequent Miler) is currently on vacation. Posts have been scheduled for most days, but emails, comments, and Tweets may go unanswered for a while.

Follow me on Twitter / Like me on Facebook / Find me on Google+

If you are new to collecting miles, click here for the free newsletter
If you are new to Frequent Miler, start here



  1. The funny things is that when I called about a week after signing up, the phone rep pulled up my account and saw that I had used a work address and a different email. She told me that I would likely be contacted by someone to make sure that the different addresses weren’t a mistake. I assumed at that point that they would kill the serve application because it was clear I was on both BB and Serve. I sort gave up and didn’t think to much more about until I got the email saying my Serve account was live. When I get the card, I’ll activate it and take it for a test drive and report the results. I hope to use to move funds for Serve into BB if I can do it discretely.

  2. A number of people who got a Serve account in addition to their Bluebird account, by using a different email address, have recently reported that their Serve accounts were frozen. When they called to ask why, they were told that they could have either Bluebird or Serve, but not both.

  3. How do you go about closing the Serve account? Is it done online or over the phone? I’m searching all over the online account and I can’t find how to close it.

    Also, is bluebird able to deposit checks by just taking pics of them with IPHONE or Adnroid? Did I see that?

    Thanks everyone


    • Leo: I don’t remember the details of how to close the Serve account, but I believe there was a link somewhere on the screen when I logged into my Serve account. Yes, you can capture checks from their iPhone app (not sure about Android)

  4. Had a Serve and BB. Had no idea they were the “same platform.” I mean, how exactly would consumers know this anyway if we are not you and with your knowledge?

    Anyways, the pint is Serve sent me an email saying they closed my account because I had two. I honestly like Serve better than Bluebird. But now I only have BB. Oh well…

  5. Interesting. It seems that prepaid solutions like these are becoming more and more popular. I know another player in the space is who is doing the functionally listed and more. It will be very interesting to see who makes in over the next few years. How many players can there be?

  6. Serve has Billpay now too. Serve is a PayPal alternative whereas Bluebird is a checking account alternative. Brian, if you already have a real checking account than you should keep the Serve account since Blue Bird is really only an alternative checking account (without the protection of a real checking account, of course, since it’s not a checking account).

  7. What would stop a person from buying $5000 worth of vanilla reload cards each month and just transferring the money back to their normal checking account to pay off the original $5000 (plus fees)?

  8. Just today loaded GreenDot into my Paypal account before I had read all the horror stories posted on these blogs……….As my wife has the Serve and I have the Bluebird I am now wondering the easiest way to regain control over those Paypal funds in a “humane” way………….but if I am able to buy more Green Dots they are going into Serve……..any advice?

  9. JustSaying, link your Serve account to PayPal. You can do this by clicking the “My Account” drop down menu from within Serve. Then click on “Funding Sources” then click on “Enroll” under Direct Deposit (it should be the top option under Funding Sources. When you click Enroll on Direct Deposit it will give you the routing number and your bank account number with Serve. Enter this information on PayPal as a bank account and then you transfer money into Serve from PayPal.

  10. I am new to Blue Bird, I purchased the card to use as an alternative to my personal checking account, for eBay sales. I am unable to link this card. Any suggestions or personal experience would be helpful. Thanks in advance

    • I just ordered Bluebird free checks as that seems to be a great way to pay my mortgage each month. And since I got the Bluebird my wife signed up for the Serve to increase the ability to move funds into a checking account with the Serve.

      But on a downer note, my Office depot informed me at the checkout stand as we scanned just about every Visa, AMEX, Vanilla card they had with a cash register popup that says CASH ONLY……..and the manager seemed to think there was no way to override……the only card that was available to buy with a credit card was the $200 Visa gift card that was $6.95 per card……….So the Chase bold card is now relegated to a cable and mobile bill bill specialist ONLY……..unless I have missed something here?

  11. After buying the My Vanilla Prepaid Visa at CVS with a credit card the adventure was going to be if I could download the funds without actually buying anything………As I was back in CVS trying to buy Green Dot (no sorry, cash only) I went and grabbed a Paypal card and said can I buy this with a debit card? They said, “let’s see” and after trying as the debit card it came back with incorrect pin although I was certain I knew the pin. Ok let’s try it as a credit card…….viola……’s magic and done…….but the pain to get the Vanilla loaded on a card and the then the fees to buy the Paypal all add up to where I am spending $10 on $500 of manufactured spend doesn’t make sense……So I guess I should just be happy with the convenience store selling me the vanilla reloads to transfer to Bluebird to pay the mortgage………seems to be the only reasonable approach……..which comes to $8 per 1k which seems reasonable if it is tied to premium upgrades………..

  12. JustSaying: Regarding buying gift cards at Office Depot, yes it’s true that Office Depot recently changed their registers such that variable load visa/mc/amex gift cards can no longer be bought with cash. Store gift cards (Amazon, gas gift cards, etc) are still a very good deal since you’ll get 5X with no fees.

  13. JustSaying:
    1) The MyVanilla Debit card can be cashed out a number of ways: cash advance at bank, ATM machines, buy money orders at Walmart or RiteAid, etc.
    2) The PayPal reload cards can be bought directly with a credit card. That’s as good of a deal as buying Vanilla Reload cards with credit cards.

    • Yes I am still happy to buy Starbucks, gas cards, Nordstrom’s, and Gap at Staples and Office Depot. And to have the cell phone and cable bills paid with the Ink card. I have had “limited” success with Vanilla reloads at the convenience stores but even some of them seem to now have their cash registers programmed to decline a credit purchase for Vanilla reload. I am batting 5 for 10 on those trips……..not enough success to go beyond the Diamond attainment. And I have read horror stories on the Paypal pulls so that makes me a bit anxious there………..

  14. How exactly can funds in a Serve card be deposited into a bank account? Can a PIN be obtained to buy money orders at Walmart or USPS to deposit into a bank account?

  15. Someone set up a Serve account in my name (I’ve been having some identity theft issues)but never used it. The account stayedat a zero balance and was never used. I called to have that account shut down and closed like it never exisited and open a BlueBird account and the rep said that since the serve account was opened fraudulently then I’m unable to open a BlueBird account! Even if the Serve account is closed? Any help?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *