April 23, 2014
Travel With Grant broke the news (to me, anyway) that American Express Serve will now be reloadable at Walmart fee free just like Bluebird. In my mind, this gives Serve a decided edge over Bluebird once again. Bluebird and Serve are nearly identical products. Both are (mostly) fee-free prepaid reloadable American Express cards. Each person is allowed to have only one: one Bluebird or one Serve card. Here is an updated list of the advantages of each:
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 (or, up to $1500 if you signup for Serve through Isis). 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, Barclays, and FIA.
MoneyPak reloads: GreenDot MoneyPaks are similar to Vanilla Reload cards, but usually cost a dollar more. Still, if you can find a store that sells MoneyPaks and allows you to use a credit card for the purchase, then this is theoretically nearly as good as using Vanilla Reload cards. Note, though, that some readers have cautioned that GreenDot is quick to ban people so you may end up stuck with MoneyPaks that can’t be loaded to Serve. Instead, you may have to demand a refund, so be sure to keep receipts!
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.
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 still has a few small advantages over Serve:
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.
For completeness, I’ll list a few areas where the cards are identical (as far as I know):
Walmart swipe reloads: At Walmart, you can load Bluebird or Serve 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), or use a Kiosk if you can find one that works.
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 (well, actually, if you sign up for Serve through Isis, the limit is $1500, so there is a slight advantage there). NOTE: with both cards you have to use a “real” debit card, not a gift card. Amex will call your bank to certify that you are the true account holder before allowing debit loads.
Vanilla Reload card loads: Not many places will let you use a credit card to buy Vanilla Reload cards anymore, but if you can find one then either card will happily consume them.
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.
Serve in the lead
Now that Serve is Walmart reloadable, I think it has retaken its edge over Bluebird. If you already have a Bluebird card, though, its tough to say whether it is really worth the effort to convert to Serve. If you decide to go for it, please read through the FlyerTalk wiki here for details of how to do so.
Keep in mind, though, that these products seem to be changing regularly. Just because Serve has the edge now doesn’t mean that will be true two months from now. Also, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Amex were to merge the two into a single product at some point. If that happens, the effort of switching over will have been for naught.