Bluebird soars higher

While Bluebird continues to be one of the best tools available for collecting points and miles (see “Bluebird takes flight and changes the game“), it is just now living up to its promise of becoming a full fledged checking account alternative.

In my first ever post about American Express’ Bluebird card (see “Bluebird is coming. The sky isn’t falling“), I quoted American Express’ promise to add check writing capabilities:

In the first quarter of 2013, Bluebird will be adding additional features, such as more options to deposit money and check-writing capabilities.

And, true to their word, with a few days remaining in the first quarter, American Express did indeed add check-writing capabilities to Bluebird.  Additionally, they added Check by Mail deposits, and FDIC insurance.  They also raised the total account balance limit to $100,000 (but only for funds added through Direct Deposit and Check by Mail deposits).

Feature-wise, Bluebird now really does have all of the pieces needed to be a good alternative to a checking account.  The best part is that American Express charges no fees (except for ATM fees, which can be avoided by setting up direct deposit and using MoneyPass ATMs).  On the other hand, many readers have complained about Bluebird (often due to customer service issues) so they may still have a way to go to earn the average person’s business.

For points collectors, Bluebird has become incrementally better.  You can still buy Vanilla Reload cards at certain various stores (using a credit card in order to earn points), and then load the funds to Bluebird.  You can still access those funds through Bluebird’s Bill Pay feature, or by transferring money to another bank account.  And, now, you have the additional option to write a paper check.  Nice!

Checks are free until August (for your first order).  Here are details from the press release:

Bluebird Members have access to one free checkbook until August 2013. Thereafter, Bluebird Members enrolled in direct deposit can receive their first checkbook of 50 checks at no charge, otherwise direct deposit and non-direct deposit users can order a book of 50 checks for $26 (including shipping).

To get your free checks, log into your Bluebird account then go to “My Account… order Bluebird Checks”.  You will be given the option to order 50 or 100 checks.  Since the first order is free, I’d recommend going with 100.

Also see:

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. That’s interesting. The press release clearly says that checks are free until August. I expect they’ll end up honoring that even if it was a mistake, but everyone might as well order now just in case.

  2. It says that to order or get the checks, you need balance on your bb account and it stays on hold just for the check ?

  3. Are there any retailers who will still let you buy vanilla reloads without having to find a store or employee who will knowingly or unknowingly violate company policy by doing so?

  4. Askia – CVS doesn’t always know when they are out of stock. Mine was out for about a month. When I asked the manager about reordering she said it was done automatically based on their inventory. When she “checked” their inventory with her scanner, it showed they had 34 which was obviously incorrect. She corrected the inventory and VR were in place by the next week. Talk to the manager if you are always out.

  5. No joy in finding vanilla reloads that I can buy with a credit card. I’m also starting to wonder if having a bluebird account could have long term negative effect on your fico score like having store credit cards or secondary lenders???

  6. Does anyone know if it is now possible to open a Bluebird account if you have a Serve account (and want to keep it)?

  7. You can’t have serve and Bluebird.

    I ordered the Amex campus edition. That’s a good product to have in your arsenal as well.

  8. I went to 6 different walgreens and CVS, including a couple that is 20 miles away, and all of them said I cannot pay for vanilla reload with credit card.

    What other options do I have now? I need to meet spending requirement on a couple of cards, and am now resorting to Paypal if I am not able to spend before the promotional period expires.

  9. Re: “Feature-wise, Bluebird now really does have all of the pieces needed to be a good alternative to a checking account.”

    Absolutely not. The online interface is horrible. Adding payees is user unfriendly and confusing. Want to see specifics on a bill you paid? Good luck. Pre authorizing all checks? Seriously? What nonsense. The only reason to use BB is the points/spend angle. Other than that it’s the last place I would do my online banking.

  10. What is the advantage to these checks for points collectors? I use Bluebird now to pay my mortgage as well as other bills and credit card bills (not amex cards though). I usually have not problem loading and spending 5k per month in my Bluebird account as well as 5k in my wife’s account. All of the payees that I have used are loaded in Bluebird payee list already. So is there any additional advantage to these checks?

  11. @Andy – yes, paying people that you need to physically hand a check to. Examples are daycare, lawn care, house cleaning, etc. I spend over $1400 monthly on childcare and cannot pay with a credit card (I have to drop a check in the box monthly).
    Also – I had big problems with Bluebird and my property taxes last year because of the checks being mailed without the remittance statement – it confuses school district, MUD district. Being able to physically mail it myself with the statement will fix these issues – that is if we can still find VR’s in December :).

  12. Unfortunately, Bluebird seems to be useless for most people because reloading with a credit card is difficult to impossible. Some people seem to be lucky though.

  13. I know that the limit for vanilla reload is still 5k/month. However, if i understand correctly, you can bring the balance up to 10k..am i correct?
    for example in march i load 5k, and only use up 2k, i can load 5k in april to make the balance 8k.
    Unlike before, I can load 2k first then need to use 3k before loading another 3k…
    or I have been wrong all along?

  14. I love the bluebird interface compared to all other banks I use (as a miles junkie pretty much all big banks). I’m thinking about making blue bird my primary checking account with all the new stuff they have added.

    Someone at blue bird knows about visual design but these banks with their billions couldn’t hire a single decent user itnerface designer.

  15. agree with both HikerT and Tana – re the new checks, yes will be improvement for property taxes. BUT- the biggest need for checks was for an easy way to pay taxes! And this system of the recipient having to call in just does not sound like it will work. The IRS is not going to call in to collect on a check. Others have suggested having the payee name printed on the check and then having it mailed to yourself. I tried this on a different payment for a test, but the problem is that the check arrives with the pay to box filled out as “Payee Name” c/o “your Name”- which is very confusing to most people. The IRS would just return that check to you.

  16. Chris H, I think you’ve been wrong. I don’t recall what the max balance in the account has been, but the cap on VR uploads per month has been $10k. I’ve consistently loaded 10k/months.

    The new relevant limits remain at $10k/month for VRs, but there is now a $100k/year max on loads from all sources (VRs plus any other funding sources), effectively meaning that those of us maxing out on VRs are going to find we’re shut out for the last 2 months of the year.

    Verbiage from new Bluebird T&C as follows:

    The aggregate amount of funds that may be added to a Bluebird Account and linked Sub-Accounts from all Add Funds Sources, exclusive of Direct Deposit and
    Check by Mail, may not exceed $10,000 per calendar month.
    The aggregate amount of funds that may be added to a Bluebird Account and linked Sub-Accounts from all Add Funds Sources, inclusive of Direct Deposit and
    Check by Mail, may not exceed $100,000 per calendar year.
    The Total Balance of your Bluebird Account and linked Sub-Accounts may not exceed $100,000 at any time.

  17. I couldn’t agree with HikerT more. I understand the lingering affinity for Bluebird in light of its [former?] utility as a miles generator, but I do not understand why some of my favorite bloggers are recommending (even tepidly) that people use it as a substitute for a checking account! As I’ve discussed in some detail, you’re much better off with Ally or Schwab, both of which (1) do not charge ATM fees and reimburse you when other banks do, (2) provide free checks, which I only mention because it seems to be a big selling point of Bluebird (?), (3) charge no monthly fees, (4) are much less restrictive, i.e. no deposit maximums or requirements that checks be pre-approved. And Ally even pays a respectable (in relative terms) interest rate!

  18. Bluebird’s new terms for adding funds…
    Debit Card(s) (in aggregate)
    Up to $100 per transaction
    $100 per day; and
    $1,000 per month

    Fee type: From a Debit Card ($100 Daily Limit)
    Amount: $2 per Add Funds transaction

    Wonder if these new terms apply to Vanilla Reloads?

  19. FM – there may be a new sheriff in town.

    He will boasts unique powers, but…

    He’s crippled by his creator’s perennial corruption, mismanagement, and financial desperation. His trip has been frantic and poorly planned.

    To our good fortune, he will inevitably arrive with chinks in his armor.

    Will this be the next VR?!?!

  20. @Charles, @Matt B Are you all really able to load 10k into your Bluebird account per month? The “Limits” clearly state that 1k/day and 5k/month is the max for “Cash(includes Swipe Reload and InComm Vanilla Reload Packs).

    If you all are able to add more than 5k via Vanilla Reloads than that I’d like to know about it.

    @Charles you say 10k is the “hard limit” for you as we’ll. What do you mean?

  21. I was confused by the title of the post. Shouldn’t it be, BlueBird is almost dead despite checks (at least from a points earning perspective which this blog is about). It has become harder to find stores that allow you to fund bb w/ a cc. CVS is one of the last remaining (there are others, but not with the market place presence of cvs), and w/ OD not selling $500 gift cards and Hilton Amex discontinuing their 5x points for drug stores, is there an effective way to earn points with bb? I would like to keep using bb, but can’t figure out how. Does anyone have suggestions.

    • Tim F: Look for the Citi ThankYou Preferred offer on my Best Credit Card Offers page. I’m happily getting 5X ThankYou points at CVS for the next year. By also holding a ThankYou Premier card, I can redeem those TY points for 1.33 cents per point in airfare. So, 5X is like 6.65% towards airfare.

  22. Sorry to all those confused by my post about $10k load/month. I have confused myself (which happens more and more with age) as I set up accounts for both my wife and myself to be able to process $10k/month.

    You are all right – it is really a $5k cap on VRs loads per calendar month per person.

  23. great suggestion about citi, I will have to look into what can be done with their points. I thought I read they didn’t transfer to other programs.

  24. I’ll +1 to the list of people who have been completely unable to find anywhere who will sell me reloads via credit card. Any Los Angeles secret locations anyone’s willing to share? 🙂

  25. So the option to load @ walmart for free(up to 1000 a day previously) is now limited to $100 and costs $2 in fees?

  26. Be advised….if you are loading up your bluebird to pay federal income tax with a check, you might be SOL…They wont authorize a check sent to a PO Box which is where you will send it if you own them anything…..

  27. MR H: No, you can still “swipe reload” $1000 per day for free at Walmart with a debit card. The $100 & $2 fee thing is only for online debit loads.

    Rick: Interesting. I did not know that.

  28. Thanks – just went to pick up more…you know this is a big trend when you see litter in parking lot of CVS and it is 2 used vanilla reload cards torn in half…

  29. “Rick says:
    April 1, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    Be advised….if you are loading up your bluebird to pay federal income tax with a check, you might be SOL…They wont authorize a check sent to a PO Box which is where you will send it if you own them anything…..”

    Is this true if you will be using a BB check that you write yourself? In other words, I have the new checks in hand. Does the pre-authorization ask for an address? and if so, that address cannot be a PO box? I mail my personal (non BB) checks to my landscaper c/o his PO box. So I couldn’t use the new BB checks for that either?

    It seems to me one of the advantages of the new BB checks woulb be if I can mail them anywhere….

    So – can we or can’t we write a new BB check to the IRS or state tax folks? Thanks.

  30. Cashing a BlueBird Check :
    Just a warning to all you BlueBird users. BlueBird checks can not (ironically) be cashed by somebody who does not have a bank account (unless they want to pay a fee at a check cashing shop). I wrote a Bluebird check to to a contractor who does not have a checking account and he visited 3 banks, including BOA, BB&T, and Wells Fargo (where the money ultimately lies) all of which who told him he could not cash the check unless he had an account with their bank. This is despite what 2 customer service representatives told me when I initially called them before he went to the banks. I was also told by one of them that he could take it to Walmart and cash it there. Walmart told him they would not take a hand written check, it had to be printed. That sounded like store policy, so your experience may vary at Walmart. In anycase, I called AMEX BlueBird CS for the 3rd time and spoke with a supervisor who confirmed, you can not cash a Bluebird check (for free) without having a bank account.

  31. The CVS on my way home from work still allows credit cards (for now) luckily! On the cash register, there is a sign that says prepaid debit cards can only be purchased with cash or debit card. All others can be purchased with credit cards.

    I have had no issues. They just always ask me from my license to verify the name on the credit card. I hope that they don’t stop! This is my first month with Bluebird and I excited to get cashback for paying bills that I already had to but never would have before (i.e. mortgage, HOA, etc).

  32. I seem to be 1 of the lucky ones, after a short half hearted search I came across 2 stores loaded with VR’s, (CVS & Walgreens) I purchased my 1st one today on a CC. and loaded Bluebird.
    My question is, if you consistently make VR purchases with your CC’s doesn’t that raise a red flag with the CC issuer?
    I’m looking to get through my spend on 3 cards and I’m cautious about putting a majority of the spend into VR’s

  33. Mike: it depends how much you do. Yes, it is possible to raise flags if you suddenly start charging a huge amount more than you have before — especially if you start charging up to (or close to) your credit limit.

  34. @Mike
    I think using VRs to supplement your spending is fine, but don’t overdo it. Lots of charges on consecutive days for 1007.90 or close to it will set off alarms with the card issuers and they will shut us down. I try not to go over 50% with my VRs to hit a minimum.

  35. Just got my Bluebird – late to the party, I know..
    Anyway, is there some obvious way I can transfer money from my bluebird to my checking?
    Or should I just send a check to myself?
    TIA

  36. Ron: Yes, after logging into Bluebird.com, there’s a button near the middle of the screen called “transfer money”. Use that to move money to your checking account.

  37. Rick says:
    April 1, 2013 at 1:12 pm
    Be advised….if you are loading up your bluebird to pay federal income tax with a check, you might be SOL…They wont authorize a check sent to a PO Box which is where you will send it if you own them anything…..

    Has anyone tried authorizing the check to a non po box address and sending the check to the actual PO box and getting it to work? With the paper checks, this looks like a way to get around the PO box issue.

  38. Paul: Yikes. Thanks for the warning. It sounds like you’re better off simply transferring the funds from Bluebird to your regular checking account and paying taxes from there.

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