Serve takes the lead over Bluebird

ServeWinner

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:

Serve Advantages

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 Advantages

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. 

Similarities

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.


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Comments

  1. Back in the day before BlueBird I had Serve and was loading via CC and withdrawing to my bank account. After a few months I got a nastygram from Serve telling me they would close my account if this continued. I closed my account pre-emptively, but to the extent Serve is still monitoring things as closely I would say advantage BlueBird.

    Snipped from the nastygram:

    During a recent review of your Serve account we noticed activity that is considered a violation of Section 11 in the Serve User Agreement (http://www.serve.com/legal.html#eligibility).

    Serve values you as a customer and the purpose of this email is to notify you of our findings.

    Please be advised that ANY future activity of the below described will be considered a breach of Section 11.a.(8) and may result in the suspension or termination of privileges with respect to your account.

    11. Restricted Activities and Required Licenses.

    a. Restricted Activities.

    (8) Provide yourself or Authorized Users a cash advance from your credit card;

    • It does seem, anecdotally, that Serve is more strict than Bluebird. On the other hand, we’ve seen evidence that Bluebird has been cracking down as well (they used to be much more lenient about which debit cards you could use online, for example). I would find it surprising if they didn’t use the same security group for both products.

  2. As I use a Paypal Business Debit card (a real debit card according to you) for $1,000 online loads to Bluebird each month, you would call this a real debit card.

    However the FT wiki says about Serve:
    Online DC Loads
    For this method, use of debit card(s) issued by your bank are only allowed. The use of pre-paid debit cards (Netspend, Paypower, Univision, Paypal, etc.) and VGCs are NOT allowed for the online debit card load. Your account will be flagged upon first/second attempt.

    So, is this a disadvantage for Serve vs. Bluebird?

    • Paypal has a few different debit cards. I believe the one that the FT wiki is talking about is truly a prepaid product (as opposed to the one that you are using for BB right now that is actually backed by your bank account through Paypal).

      Now that being said – when you have to talk to AMEX to verify your debit card is really yours (after the first 1-2 loads) I imagine that each phone representative my have different feelings about if a Paypal card would be consider a prepaid or real debit card – so YMMV.

  3. I’d have to disagree. The existence of paper checks for BB means it still has a definitive advantage, at least for MSers that are not heavy hitters and only do this to pay normal bills like rent. If Serve comes out with checks, BB will go the way of the dingo.

      • The only reason I’m keeping BB is the check feature. It’s useful to pay things like contractors and taxes which is difficult even with the online bill pay feature. Having said that, I do wish Serve would offer paper check.

    • @Nad: The answer might be that AMEX paired with two different companies (Walmart/CVS) covering somewhat different parts of the country and different customers, and for branding purposes needed a different product for each pairing, and this is acceptable to AMEX in order to keep any competitor from having a similar pairing with that other company… Another way of putting it, AMEX is “mating” with any company it deems a good partner in order to keep rivals without any good partners at all.

  4. Did I understand it correctly, that Serve can be swipe reloaded at Walmart up to $5000/month (from debit/gift cards) + online loaded up to $1000/month (from credit cards)?

  5. Hi FM, do you know if Serve sub-account holders can load money at WM or online? I currently have a BB and my husband has a Serve account – and I created a Serve sub-account in my name. Just wanted to make sure I’d be able to make loads using my sub-acct Serve card, just in case I get an antsy WM cashier.

    Thanks!

    • I don’t think that sub-account holders can load money. Better bet is just to take your husband’s Serve card to Walmart. I don’t think they often look at the name on that card and even if they do, you could always say that you’re loading it for your husband (not sure it would work, but at least it would be true!)

  6. I would have to say Bluebird is better than Serve, cuz of the checks. Its convenient to be able to give checks to those who don’t take credit cards AND still get points for doing it.

    • You don’t earn points for writing checks. Points were already earned when the reload cards were purchased. You can’t double count, otherwise you’re just fooling yourself.

  7. Not sure why people keep saying checks are an advantage to BB. Just transfer your balance to your checking account and use your checking account’s checks to pay your utilities, rent, etc. It’s the exact same thing as writing the check from Bluebird.

    I think I’m going to switch back to Serve. Like what HikerT said, it’s prob best to pay bills (e.g. other cc’s) rather than withdrawing to your checking account. That looks less dubious and why I’ve tried to avoid that path with BB.

  8. To me BB still holds a big advantage, 0% FTF. This makes it the best debit card to withdrawl money from international ATM.

    • @Trumpet – You can get checking accounts with no FTF, no non-native ATM fees, and also they will refund any fees the non-native ATM charges. And it works in the US and overseas like this as well. The Charles Schwab account is like this, but there are others.

  9. Is the $1000 load limit via credit card per month or per running 30 or 31 days? So, can I load says $200 per day from April 26 to April 30, then load $200 per day again from May 1 to May 5?

  10. I am curious about swipe reload at CVS/7-11 for serve. Wiki post on Flyertalk says it is CASH only now. So walmart is the only left for free swipe load for both serve and bluebird?

    • Well, swipe reloads are still free at CVS, but you can’t use a debit card or credit card. Walmart allows you to use a debit card to do swipe reloads of both Bluebird and Serve.

  11. Walmart refused to let me load my BB with a OneVanilla Visa Prepaid card (which I’d bought at CVS) – the VGC basically. They said that they no longer allow debit cards which aren’t embossed with an actual name. Basically I’m now stuck with a stash of VGC’s and no way to cash them out.

    Curious whether others are having similar issues.

    • yes, that happens sometimes. Just go to a different Walmart, or go to the same Walmart when there is a different cashier.

  12. Can you elaborate more on how GreenDot bans people? If it’s anything like Vanilla, they don’t know how the reload is being used. What sorts of behaviors get banned?

  13. Does it raise any red flags if you pay off the same cc with billpay that you use to do the monthy 1k load?

  14. Seems like AmEx isn’t charging ATM fees for Bluebird cards at Moneypass ATMs anymore, whether or not you’ve direct deposited money. They seem to have taken that entirely out of their fee schedule *and* their Member Agreement doc (which says it was last modified 9/15/2014). Can anyone verify either way as to whether those fees are still being charged?

    • You are correct. Amex emailed Bluebird cardholders recently to let them know that Moneypass ATMs are now completely free (same as Serve). They also increased the daily limit on ATM withdrawals.

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