Bluebird vs. Serve once again

Note: On January 8, 2016 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

UPDATE 2: Updated information can be found at The complete guide to Bluebird, REDcard, Serve, and SoftServe.

UPDATE: Walmart is now going to be allowing Serve swipe reloads fee free just like Bluebird.

American Express offers a number of reloadable prepaid cards.  Two of the best are Bluebird and Serve.  Each person is allowed to have only one: one Bluebird or one Serve card.  You cannot have one of each.  Both have pros and cons.  Which is best?

bluebird vs serve

I’ve written about this dilemma several times before:

In my latest post on the subject I mentioned that I was thinking of switching to Serve because Serve cards qualify for Amex Sync promotions (Bluebird now qualifies as well), and because it was possible to reload Serve cards for free at CVS.  So, in March, I switched to Serve (after fully loading and unloading my Bluebird account).

That was all fine and good until CVS went cash-only.  Now its no longer possible to pay with a credit card at CVS for Vanilla Reload cards (to reload Serve or Bluebird from home) or swipe reloads at the register.  So, with one of the main benefits of Serve gone, which is now best?

Serve Advantages

Serve still has two significant advantages over Bluebird:

Online credit card loads: Serve allows you to load the card with a credit card online.  Limits are $200 per day and $1000 per month.  You can setup automated credit card deposits so that you do not need to log in every day to do this.  According to the Wiki on this FlyerTalk thread, the credit card you use must be primary (e.g. not an authorized user card) and must be in the same name as your Serve card.  The Wiki also says that credit cards from American Express do not earn points whereas cards from the following banks do: Citi, Chase, Capital One, Barclaycard, and FIA.

American Express offers:  Unlike all other prepaid American Express cards, Serve cards can be registered with American Express offers (such as $10 off $50 at Lowe’s that I wrote about recently).  If you take frequent advantage of these offers, the discounts can add up to quite a bit over time. (Note: Bluebird can now be registered with Amex Offers.)

ATM (very minor advantage): With Serve, ATM withdrawals are free at MoneyPass ATMs.  With Bluebird, MoneyPass ATMs are only free if you’ve direct deposited money to your Bluebird account in the past 30 days.  Both cards charge $2 for withdrawals at non MoneyPass ATMs.

Bluebird Advantages

Bluebird has several advantages over Serve:

Walmart swipe reloads: At Walmart, you can load Bluebird with a debit card for free.  Limits are: up to $1K per day, and up to $5K per month.  At most Walmart stores, it is possible to use Visa or MasterCard gift cards as debit cards for this purpose (just make sure to tell the cashier that your are paying with a debit card).

No foreign transaction fees: Serve charges 2.7% foreign transaction fees.  Bluebird has no fees.  If you don’t have a no-foreign-transaction-fee debit card for withdrawing money when traveling internationally, then your Bluebird card might be a great alternative.  I used mine once in London and once in Bangkok to withdraw money.  In both cases I was charged the $2 Bluebird ATM fee (as expected) but was not charged fees by the ATM owners (the latter was a surprise to me. I believe that I was just lucky).

Paper checks: Unlike Serve, Bluebird allows you to write your own paper checks to draw against your Bluebird account.  This could be handy when you need to pay someone in person rather than sending them a check via the online bill pay feature.  Personally, I’ve never used this feature, but I guess its good to have around just in case.

No monthly fee: Bluebird has no monthly fees.  Serve charges $1 per month unless you’ve loaded $500 or more to your account the previous month.  Granted, loading $500 or more to Serve is not hard (since Serve allows online credit card loads), but its also not a card that you can stick in a drawer and forget about without repercussions.

Similarities

For completeness, I’ll list a few areas where the cards are identical (as far as I know):

Online debit card loads: Both Serve and Bluebird can be loaded via debit card (but not via debit gift cards) up to $1000 per month, so neither card has an advantage here.

Limits: Both cards share almost all of the same limits

Bill pay: Both cards use the same online bill pay system.

Transfer to bank account: Both cards allow you to transfer money from your prepaid account to a regular linked bank account.  You must initiate this transfer from within your Bluebird or Serve account rather than from your external bank account.

Analysis

For those who manufacture spend in order to earn credit card or debit card miles, Bluebird now has a clear advantage if you live or work close enough to a Walmart store to visit often.  With Bluebird, it is possible to manufacture up to $5000 per month by reloading the card at Walmart with a mile-earning debit card or with Visa/MasterCard gift debit cards that were bought with credit cards.  Bluebird also has a slight edge for those who travel internationally and would like to use it for withdrawing money from local ATMs.

For those without easy access to Walmart or with no interest in spending much time in one, Serve has the advantage.  With Serve you can still earn credit card rewards when loading the card (limited to $1K per month in loads) and you can potentially save a lot of money through Amex Sync Offers.

Personally, I currently manage one Bluebird card (my wife’s) and three Serve cards (thanks to my sister, my niece, and myself).  My plan is to keep my own Serve card but to change the other two to Bluebird cards.  That way, each trip to Walmart can result in up to $3000 in loads across three cards, and I can maintain my monthly online Serve loads to my own card.  Down the road I’ll evaluate again whether keeping even one Serve card active is worth it.  How about you?  What is your plan with Bluebird vs. Serve?


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  1. […] The only two advantages of Bluebird are paper checks and no foreign transaction fee. I have no intentions of ever using my Serve card outside of the country and I have a stack of unused checks that I got for free on my old Bluebird account. I say that I have a stack, however I have no idea where the checks are. For a deeper comparison of the two cards, Frequent Miler has a great post. […]

Comments

  1. This is one hell of A CONFUSING BLOG SITE. This whole cancel this to get that, is this card to load that card, earn points/miles from this card while loading this card. Then the abbreviations, VR’S, GCM, AK, AOM, NO, CSP, AFM, BB, BLAH BLAH BLAH. I mean some of its understandable but most isn’t. Guys, you have to assume that the reader is an idiot. Myself included. Whenever you’re explaining something to someone, you have to be CLEAR. Not everyone will understand what you’re saying especially when you’re using abbreviation. Some are obvious, as others aren’t. You may know what you’re talking about but I may not, or the next person. The most confusing subject on this blog is the whole earning points, daily load limits also seem to be conflicting with other user statements, cash only loads, and cash advance on credit cards. Now, according to my credit card companies, they’ve advised me that they can not, I repeat, THEY CAN NOT, guarantee me that any transaction I make via the web or in store to purchase a Visa Mastercard Gift Card, or load any prepaid debit cards, would not result in an cash advance. They have stated, it all depends on how the receivers POS (POINT OF SALES) terminal is set up. If it’s set up in a way that would convert your load from a credit card into a cash advance, then yes, you will be responsible for the increased interest rate disclosed to you when you signed up for the credit card. This in turn becomes one major inconvenience due to the fact that once the transaction is made, you can not have it refunded. Furthermore, anytime you purchase a Money Pack or any other reloading options, and/or gift cards, they can not be refunded either. Learned A VERY VERY VALUABLE LESSON. I bought someone a Visa gift card and never gave it to the person because they wanted the cash instead. Therefore I decided to return it, which by the way happened to only be within minutes, they would not refund me back. I was advised to contact the company for a refund. Now I called then and was told I had two options. One keto the card and use it later, or 2, have them cancel the card and issue me a check that takes 10-15 BUSINESS DAYS. Then I later found out that, it was charged against my credit card as a cash advance. She told me it was because the gift cards, reload packs are treated like cash. And to be certain that the merchant receives 100% of the proceeds, the transaction is treated as cash, thus occurring a cash advance opposed to a general credit card purchases. Buyer beware. And all that nonsense about only able to one card out the other, isn’t 100% accurate. I have all of Amex cards. I have an old Travel Cheque Card, Bluebird, Serve, Campus Edition (Which by the way I like best because it doesn’t have the Amex Prepaid Debit Logo on it. And it’s all Black) and the Amex Blue. Hotels, car rental companies ect., won’t accept pre paid cards at time of check in or vehicle pick up. Only to finalize the charges you can use then. But the Campus Card looks just like the Amex Black Credit Card. Whenever I present that card, I don’t ever have an issue. Another to for you guys renting cars without credit cards. Here is a loop hole for you. Try to rent from Alamo, National or Hertz using the SELF SERVICE KIOSKS. Using the kiosk there’s no one there to physically verify the card type. Therefore allowing you to rent a car without seeing anyone. Oh one more thing. I don’t like the fact that after ever transaction, my balance is printed on my receipt. I hate it. Because it’s no one’s business how much is on your card or what’s left. Not only that but it makes you a target for theft. Here’s why, if you don’t take your receipt or you leave it somewhere when someone can see it, they can steal your card and use it quickly for whatever is left on the card. Yes they, they meaning Amex, will refund you back any unauthorized transactions. But it’s the inconvenience of having to report it right away, preferably before the card is used and then the time it takes to replace it. What if you’re on vacation driving home or flying and something happens. Then what do you do? They can overnight you a card to wherever you are but what if it’s Friday or Thursday night? You’ll have to wait until Monday. Not only that but, it’s not like a bank card. Where as if you lose it or is stolen you can walk into the branch and do a withdrawal from the teller. So now you’re stuck. Unless they’ll allow you to pick up one from the store and transfer the money over to that temp card. Until your card arrive. I know Green Dot won’t allow you to do that. And you can only load a green dot card once until you receive your permanent card. Nit will they transfer over any balances. Good luck.

    • Bluebird is only an option with credit cards if you use the credit card to buy an intermediate product. Examples:
      .
      Example 1:
      1. Buy Visa gift cards with credit card (at grocery store, for example)
      2. Use gift cards as debit cards at Walmart to reload Bluebird.
      .
      Example 2:
      1. Buy Vanilla Reload cards with credit card (hard to find places that allow this, but they do exist)
      2. Load reload card money onto bluebird at home.

  2. Everyone is failing to mention that when you buy gift cards using your credit card, there is a fee associated ($3.95 and up) for each gift card. And with gift card limits being $500 at a time, that fee can add up. Example – 10 $500 visa gift cards equals to $39.50 in fees before you even get the rewards. At 2% cash back on the $5000, you only net $60.50.

    I like Serve because you can load up to $2000 per month with a credit card, assuming the credit card company won’t categorize the load as a cash advance. So if you can manage 2-3 (or more) Serve cards, that would be an easier no fee way of getting free points.

      • What’s the point of these cards if you already have a credit or debit card? I don’t get the point of going through the trouble to “load” these cards when you can just use the credit or debit card to buy things with or pay bills being with?

        • The idea is to use a credit card that earns rewards in order to directly or indirectly load these cards. That way you can earn rewards for things that you can’t usually such as paying your rent or mortgage, withdrawing cash from ATMs, etc.

  3. How do you manage spouses/sibling BB or Serve cards with loading the cards? Do you have to use Debit/credit cards that match the name of the BB/Serve cards? Or can they be different names/addresses?

  4. I tried to load serve at my local WM using the kiosk with one of the $200 VGC I got from Staples using Chase Ink Plus card. Everything went find till the point I entered the VGC pin. The machine asked me to enter the pin again which appears to be 9 digits. So, I entered the last 9 digits and it didn’t take and prompt me with the same screen again. Any advise on how I can reload the 5 $200 VGC onto serve at WM?

  5. i closed my serve account and i want to blue bird account but its not accepting my registration
    how long it will take to accept my registration?
    is it accept?

  6. Effective January 6th, 2016 Serve is Blocking international ATM use. It’s an absolute disaster, a stupid move on the part of American Express. I live in a border town, and from my billing address I can SEE THE FENCE between the USA and Mexico. Because I have family, friends and clients in both countries I cross frequently. If I map my week properly, I only need to visit ATM’s within the Moneypass network on the US side but sometimes I do not plan well, or something comes up and I need extra pesos instead of waiting 4-5 hours to cross the border I’ll use an international ATM. Great feature, exchange rates were generous and fees reasonable. Because I have direct deposit my monthly $1 fee is waived. The ONLY revenue Serve gets from me are those international ATM fees. Until now. “Real” credit and debit cards allow you to call customer service and select a check box that says you will be travelling or using international ATM’s. Serve does not. Outsourced customer service gives the standard bogus “security” excuse but seriously, if a card cannot be used that’s not SECURE. It’s worthless. I’ve also had trouble using the card with online orders through certain merchants, but I don’t know whose fault is that. Serve says you can still use the card internationally but that’s not true if you’re connecting from a foreign IP address. Ugh.

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