Bluebird vs. Serve

Note: On January 8, 2015 American Express sent out a notice to a large number of Bluebird & Serve cardholders informing them that loading capabilities on their accounts had been terminated. For more information, see: Amex kills Bluebird and Serve for manufactured spend

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

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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  Once loaded, the money could be transferred to a friend, transferred to a bank account, withdrawn from an ATM, or spent via the Serve prepaid card.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.

Features

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

Feature

Bluebird

Serve

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.

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About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. I have one of each, and you nailed why I keep Serve. Didn’t realize I could send Serve Bluebird, this just opened up a new avenue for me, thanks!

  2. Are you aware of any particular brand of debit gift card that will load BB at Walmart or does it depend on the location? I haven’t been able to do so but maybe it’s time to run some more tests.

    • RP: That’s very interesting! Maybe it’s possible to get both as long as you sign up for Bluebird first? Are you sure that both accounts work? Did you have to use a different email address for Serve?

  3. I had to cancel Serve to get BB, but I just now signed up for Serve again. It says the account is in review for 24 to 48 hours. I did use my work email and phone number this time. Looks like those who cancelled Serve for BB may be able to get back on Serve. I’ll update when I get news.

  4. @FM: I am not sure that you can use Master card Gift card to load onto serve. Since Mastercard gift cards are issued by US Bank which does’nt support Serve, in the past I could not load Master card Gift cards to Serve. Even with Visa Gift cards, Vanilla visa gift cards does’nt work with Serve, only ‘giftcardmall’ Visa gift cards work with Serve!This is my experience!

  5. I was just able to register for a serve account using a different email address and a different phone number (home phone instead of mobile) so it looks like as long as those two things are different you are golden unless my bluebird account get closed automatically or something which I don’t think would happen? If I load multiple bank gift cards onto my paypal account would I be able to make a large purchase. For example, I want to buy a $100 product on ebay and I have several gift cards that equal $100 but not a single one that has $100 on it. Would I be able to make that purchase?

    • Joe: With PayPal, no I think you would have to pick just one source of payment. With Serve, yes, you should be able to load multiple gift cards into your account and then pay with Serve as a credit card.

  6. Thank you for the info as always. Currently, I only have Serve. I don’t have a CC that gives me a great benefit at drug stores other than a 2% CB card, which does not make this worth my while. Should I get a card or have a quarterly category bonus on my Chase Freedom / Discover / Citi Dividend, then I might change my mind. I also don’t have a WalMart close enough to make BB worth it.

  7. FM or anyone know the $5000 per month for BB Vanilla reload is for per calendar month or per 30-day period? If I loaded the $5000 from Nov 26-30, can I continue to load $5000 Dec 1-5?

  8. Can anyone explain, for Serve to send money to friend who has Bluebird or Serve account, all I need to do is to enter the recipient’s email or phone number, and amount, no address needed?

    I guess that’s how Serve/BB identify a person – meaning one can have both Serve and BB by using different email/phone number?

  9. Have you confirmed withdrawing funds (ACH) from BB to a bank account in fact works? I’ve attempted to withdraw to HSBC Advance and UPromise accounts – both resulting in return/cancellation of the fund withdrawal.

    • Mark Ruffalo: You’re right, you can’t pull money out of Bluebird via ACH, but within your bluebird.com account you can link a bank account and push money to it. Yes, I’ve done this. Within bluebird.com, click “transfer money”

  10. I am in a dilemma. I an dmy fiancee have 1 BB and 1 Serve. I sent a bill from my fiancee’s BB for my rent. When it arrived, the rental management company let me know that they can’t take a check in her name. What do I do now? Is there any way to cancel the check?

  11. How exactly does one “send” money from Serve to Bluebird? I’m in my wife’s Serve account right now and am unable to figure it out…

  12. @FM – Are the Bluebird per month load limits per calendar month or per 30 consecutive days. For example could someone who loaded the max 5k of vanilla reloads in late November start loading another 5k on December 1?

    If it makes a difference I need to make a single large purchase (>5k) for my business next week and was hoping to get the necessary funds into my Bluebird account in time.

  13. I have both accounts for a couple of months now… signed up for BB first then Serve..fyi, never had a Serve account before

  14. Miler,

    I closed my Serve before is it possible to close Blue bird and open Serve again? as its appears easier to get money pack than vanilla reload card.

  15. @FM, Thanks for the info! That was stupidly easy to send from Server to BB…wow!

    This is AWESOME because now with Vanilla Reloads no longer at OD, I can just buy a GC from Staples, load it into my wife’s Serve, send it to my BB and pay my mortgage with it! Back in the game! 😀

  16. @Gabriel – Umm, not really. Serve limit is listed as $250 per month for CC load.

    With such a low cap it is hardly worth it. Which is why I suspect the expert FM doesn’t bother with it.

  17. @russel – those cards are recognized as debit by Serve. So that’s a $1K limit + the $250 regular CC limit per account.

    Serve is pretty draconian though and will warn/freeze/shutdown accounts even with relatively low transfers.

  18. Not sure why I didn’t think to use gift cards to load as debit cards. I had a stack of visa gift cards from the Staples deal and successfully loaded to both my Bluebird (with a $2 fee) and my wife’s Serve (with no fee). Great way to liquidate the gift cards especially since I can just load them to Serve over several days and use them for bill pay on Bluebird. Thanks!

  19. I knew that there were no foreign transaction fees but do you need to have direct deposit or anything else to get free ATM withdrawals internationally

  20. My Serve card didn’t come with my name on it. Are newer ones being shipped with names embossed on the front? Maybe I’m anal, but the name makes it look more like a real credit card.

  21. Which gift cards work for BB and for Serve? I hadn’t thought of using Visa/MC gift cards to load BB, but it’s an option if VR dries. Someone above said that only giftcardmall Visas work for Serve; are those the only ones that work? Does this also apply to BB? The problem with these is that they are only sold in $200 cards at my Staples, and the fee is $6.95.

  22. @FM Great work as usual. I don’t know if its been mentioned in the comments, but you should mention in the chart that Bluebird has a 2000 monthly ATM withdrawal limit, whereas I don’t believe Serve had a monthly limit.

  23. One more question for the experts. Today, I tried to send $1,000 from my serve to my landlord via e-mail for a rent payment, however, the transaction was declined due to monthly limits. Serve’s policy states that daily transfer limits are $1,000 so I’m not sure why it would have been declined. I lowered the payment to $500 and that went through fine. As anyone had success/failures with payments of $1,000.

  24. @Chimmy
    I tried to send $1000 from my serve to wife’s BB – failed. Tried again with $500 – went through. So my thought is that daily transfer limit of serve is only $500, not $1000 as stated. correct me if I’m wrong.

  25. “Chase Freedom 5X at drugstores will be nice” but not really that big of a deal since the limit is $1500, so the most you can get is $63 ($75-(3.95×3)).

    Do you have a suggestion for a better drugstore card?

  26. I’ve had BB for about 2 months now, and I just signed up for Serve. I had to change my email and phone number, and name and address remain the same. It sent me an email and I clicked on the link the verify. But when I log in, there’s a header that says my account is “under review for the next 48 hours”. Is this to be expected for anybody opening a new Serve account? Or only those who already have BB? Should I expect any issues?

  27. Looks like Amex Gift cards will not load onto Serve, it was declined when tried to link. Debit only lists Visa and Master, Looks Like I am out of luck on unloading Amex Gift via this route. Correct?

    JudyJFLA

  28. Just an update.

    I had a BB card. Signed up for Serve last week (different e-mail) and have been in “pending” limbo the whole time. After 1.5 hours on hold this morning with the account verification department they told me can’t have both Serve and BB.

    I opted to cancel my BB and go with Serve because I have about $900 in GC registered to me that I want to load on Serve. Also, serve has a $25 load promo till end of year.

    Come next year when fees go into effect I will determine which is best for me.

  29. Similar situation for me. Have BB tried to create a Serve account with different email and phone. Got an email later asking for proof of SSN. I’ve submitted it, so now it is wait and see.

  30. Received this email from Serve a couple of days ago … looks like they now work internationally. I didn’t delve into any potential fees, though.

    “Serve
    Take Serve Around the World and access benefits from American Express. Now use Serve internationally with additional benefits.

    INTERNATIONAL
    ACCEPTANCE1
    Use your Serve® Card to make purchases virtually anywhere American Express® Cards are accepted and at ATMs2 worldwide.

    GLOBAL ASSIST® SERVICES3
    Have added peace of mind knowing you can call Global Assist Services at 1-801-449-4019 for medical, legal, travel, financial, or other emergency assistance while traveling more than 100 miles from home.”

  31. I was in limbo for a long time and when I called Am Ex I was told I couldn’t have both BB and Serve. But today I got an email saying my Serve was active. I logged into Serve and I’m back in business. Now I’m just waiting for my new Serve card to arrive. My BB is still alive too. Maybe I got lucky but it appears you can have both.

  32. Joe: Somehow I missed reading your comment earlier. That’s great that Serve now works internationally.

    Piecerate: Thanks for the update. I’m still nervous about the idea of having both (what’s going to break?), but if it works for you for a while maybe I’ll give it a try.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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

    • 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)

  36. 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…

  37. Interesting. It seems that prepaid solutions like these are becoming more and more popular. I know another player in the space is waspit.me 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?

  38. 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).

  39. 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)?

  40. 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?

  41. 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.

  42. 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?

  43. 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……..it’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………..

  44. 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.

  45. 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………..

  46. 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?

  47. 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?

    Eric ericghersh@gmail.com

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