Increasing credit card spend with Serve

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

From Serve to REDbird and back to Serve

Manufacturing spend with ServeThere was a time when Serve prepaid cards could be reloaded at CVS, with a credit card, for free.  Back then, it was possible to buy large denomination Amex gift cards through a portal to earn cash back or extra miles.  The whole deal was ridiculously profitable.  We would earn credit card rewards plus portal rewards by buying Amex gift cards, then we would liquidate each Amex gift card at CVS by loading its value to our Serve cards.  Finally, we would use Serve’s bill pay feature to pay our credit card bills.  It was a perfect perpetual point machine (PPM)… except for the “perpetual” part.  That PPM died in April 2014 when CVS decided to accept cash-only for most reloadable products.

The great PPM resurfaced last year when Target soft-launched their Prepaid REDcard (AKA REDbird).  For seven months, Target accepted credit cards for reloading REDbird.  And, we were again able to earn credit card rewards plus portal rewards when buying Amex gift cards.  Instead of CVS and Serve, we would go to Target to load our Amex gift cards onto REDbird.  Then we would use REDbird’s bill pay feature to pay our credit card bills.

The REDbird PPM died in stages.  The first wound was inflicted when Target changed to debit only for in-store loads.  That hurt, but the PPM lived on with a new step thrown in: use Amex gift cards to buy Visa gift cards, then use those gift  cards (which are also debit cards) to load REDbird.  The process was more tedious and slightly less profitable, but it still worked.  Then, Amex stopped allowing portal rewards for gift cards with values above $200.  And the final nail in the PPM coffin came when Target moved to cash-only for REDbird reloads.

Thanks to family and friends, I had managed seven REDbird accounts.  When Target moved to cash-only reloads, we closed all of those accounts and applied for One VIP Serve instead (see: Complete guide to the many flavors of Serve. Which is Best?).  Six of the conversions to Serve went smoothly.  In only one case, Amex asked for proof of identity.  We haven’t yet even bothered with that.  For now, at least, six Serve cards are enough for me.

The current PPM

The best current (and repeatable) options for earning outsized rewards when buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards are:

  1. Credit card signup bonuses: Most credit card bonuses have minimum spend requirements.  Buying Visa or MasterCard gift cards can be a great way to meet that spend for minimal cost.
  2. Credit card category bonuses: Some cards offer bonuses for spend at grocery stores, drugstores, office supply stores, etc.  By buying gift cards at such places, it is possible to earn rewards that far exceed gift card fees.
  3. Credit card big spend bonuses: Some cards offer bonuses for high spend.  Often, those bonuses are credits towards elite status.  If you highly value elite status perks, buying gift cards can be a great option for running up spend on these cards in order to get status.

I regularly take advantage of all three of the options listed above.  See also: Best options for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards.

Serve reload process

There are two Walmart stores within a 20 minute drive from my house.  One store is almost completely useless: the Kiosk never works, and staff are trained to not allow gift cards for reloading prepaid cards.  In fact, they seem to have been trained to assume that everyone with a prepaid card is a criminal who is there only to launder money.  My recent staff interactions at this store were not fun.

Manufacturing spend with Serve at the Walmart Money Center

The other local store is much better.  The kiosk usually works.  Regular cashier lanes work to load up to $500 at a time.  And, money center employees will happily let me load one prepaid card up to its allowed limit ($2,500 per day for Serve and Bluebird).  They even understand that the loads must be done in increments of no more than $1,000 at a time.  And they’re happy to split those $1,000 loads into two $500 transactions (which is necessary when I pay with $500 gift cards).

Despite the friendly employees, I would prefer to do all of my reloads at the kiosk.  The problem is that Walmart kiosks have reload velocity limits (see:  Complete guide to loading Bluebird or Serve at a Walmart MoneyCenter Express Kiosk).  If you try to load $2,000 or more within 10 minutes, the machine will lock up and require a manager override to continue.  That’s not a problem for those loading $200 gift cards (since it takes longer than 10 minutes to load $2,000 worth), but loading $500 at a time is a problem.

Manufacturing spend with Serve at the Walmart Kiosk

After switching from REDbird to Serve, it took me a while to come up with an optimal Walmart process, but I think I have it down pat now.  Here’s what I do:

  1. Before visiting Walmart, I setup an ms wallet (a wallet I use for manufacturing spend) with separate sections dedicated to each Serve card.  Behind each Serve card, I place $2,500 worth of Visa gift cards, usually in denominations of $500 each.
  2. I visit Walmart when I know it won’t be crowded. I avoid lunch hour, rush hour, and early evening times.
  3. My first stop is the kiosk.  I load my first Serve card to $1,999.99.  In other words, I usually load $500 three times, then I load $499.99.
  4. With each load (at the kiosk or not), I pay with a gift card found in my ms wallet directly behind the Serve card that I’m loading.  This way, I always know how much I’ve done so far and how much I can still do.  Used gift cards and load receipts are discarded into a back pocket to be filed away later.
  5. After my first trip to the kiosk, I do some shopping.  I almost always need a few staples.  If the cashier lines aren’t too crowded, I’ll skip the self-checkout lanes.  This way, in addition to paying for my shopping items, I can finish loading my first Serve card for the day with another $500.
  6. Next, I go to the Walmart Money Center and fully load a second Serve card to $2,500 total.  At this Walmart, they’ll only let me do one per day.
  7. By now, the kiosk should be ready to go again (as long as no one else has hopped on in the meantime!).  I check my email for the timing of the last successful reload.  If it’s been at least 10 minutes, then I go ahead and use the kiosk to load my third Serve card up to $1,999.99.
  8. I could then return to a cashier lane to finish off the 3rd Serve card for the day, but I don’t think it’s worth worrying about this final $500.  I’d rather get going.

The last time I visited Walmart, the above process took a total of about 25 minutes from start to end.  While I’m not a fan of Walmart, in general, 25 minutes is tolerable.

What about Rite Aid, Dollar General, and Family Dollar?

Recently, American Express announced that they had expanded the Serve free reload network to include Rite Aid and Dollar General.  This was great news for those who need to liquidate Vanilla brand gift cards (which don’t work as debit cards at Walmart in increments of $50 or more) and for those without a nearby reload-friendly Walmart.  Whether or not each store accepts debit gift cards depends on the individual store and/or cashier.  Reports from Dollar General have been mixed whereas Rite Aid seems to be accommodating more often than not.

Family Dollar has been an option for quite a while, but they seem to have a built in limit of $500 per day, and not all stores allow debit gift card payments.

For me, Dollar General and Family Dollar are inconveniently located.  If I’m going to make the drive to one of them, I might as well go the extra mile to Walmart.

Rite Aid is much better located and I’ve confirmed that they allow gift card debit loads.  Still, Rite Aid doesn’t factor into my usual reload plans.  If I have a need to liquidate one or two Vanilla gift cards, then great.  However, at Walmart (as I outlined above), I can load up three Serve cards to almost $2,500 each in a single visit.  There is no way I would inflict this on a local Rite Aid store.  I believe that would only contribute to a quicker end to this great new option.

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.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Pingbacks

  1. […] There are many ways to increase credit card spend while getting all or most of your money back.  In this post I described my 2015 manufactured spend goals and how I expected to achieve them.  Things have changed a lot since I wrote that post (e.g. both REDbird and Amex gift cards are no longer useful for manufactured spend), but my general approach remains intact.  You can read an up-to-date version of a big part of my manufactured spend approach in this post: Manufacturing spend with Serve. […]

Comments

  1. Greg, thank you for another great post. I had bluebird and canceled and changed to redbird. Now i want to cancel redbird to serve. Is there anything I need to know? I saw there are serve card sold in drug store. Can i buy $500 loaded by credit card? What kind of serve card they sold there? Thanks!

    Happy Holiday!

  2. From my prior expirience you can open a new type of amex prepaid and then close an existing one. A few years ago I swtched from Serve to Bluebird that way. Now I planning to do opposite. I do not want to close Bluebird untill a new Serve will arrive. Anything may fail here now?

  3. Doesn’t the death of Red Bird tell you enough how publicity could really accelerate the death of an easy method? It’s okay FM, you probably have nothing else to post about. Let’s just kill every single method out there and cut down the herd. Btw, if you don’t have much to write about then how about a real job eh?

    • There are ways to state your opinion without having to be condescending and insulting, you know. RiteAid made a national announcement that you can load Serve at their stores, this isn’t some hidden liquidation method.

    • I’m not a fan of ms explicit posts like this either, but it seems to me that FM is trying to help by luring the hogs away from RA. Wal-mart is already overexposed so its the lesser of two evils to promote that path. Plus maybe fewer people will lock up Kate!

      • I agree with JS and Matt. Making insulting comments about a pro blogger or anyone for that matter is out of line, results in nothing positive and just shows frustration mixed with bitterness. Pro bloggers have a role to play and we’ll see more and more being treated with as high regard as traditional media. I’m in the media and at the very least find most pro bloggers tell the truth, unlike many traditional reporters who manipulate the truth. We’re finding more people leaving media and paying more attention to bloggers and new “amateur” brand spokespeople.

        I’m glad he noted his cautiousness of using RA and not wanting to over do it with them. He recognizes they are just small local stores and we must be careful to use restraint in loading there.

        On a lighter note:
        5. “After my first trip to the kiosk, I do some shopping. I almost always need a few staples.”
        It’s amazing how much we all need staples. I just love stapling papers together and I’m always running out of staples. Isn’t the English language funny. 😉

    • I know this is a pointless road to go down, but these “get a real job” comments always crack me up. How many jobs are there out there that I think are completely pointless and perhaps detrimental to the human race? A lot. Why is it that blogging isn’t a “real job”. Perhaps FM should quit this and become an asbestos salesman or get a job feeding antibiotics to livestock or selling soda to children. I’m thinking of going up to the ice cream man next summer and telling him that he should go get a “real job”.

      • I laugh at those comments too. Those comments really just comes from envy. People that haven’t created and managed a pro-blog have no idea how much work, research and time is involved. It IS modern journalism, online marketing and web/graphic design. It’s a full time job for those doing it for a living.

        • I think the idea is that the only way he can get make money is to churn out content every day, whether it is good or not. This results in posts like these, which, whether you like it or not, doesn’t really belong in a blog. So if you can’t come up with decent content you should find a job doing something else. There is only so much you can write about this stuff.

    • So how did you learn about MS? Secret word of mouth society???
      You sound completely sinister and selfish.
      These companies can and should adapt to realities. The world is not static.

  4. I just started my RiteAid/Serve routine. One worker plied me for the reason behind my routine, saying all of a sudden people are poring in with the same transaction request. He’s a nice guy and I wish I could enlighten him but I don’t know how loose his mouth is. He needs to learn to Google. All the other workers have never heard of Serve and say I am the first to ask for a reload.

    I agree that with RiteAid, it feels better reloading no more than $1000 at a time. My strategy includes purchasing something at the same time (OJ usually). It feels better being a true customer, since I believe that RiteAid joined the partnership to lure in new customers.

    My RiteAid is 1 mile from home and on the way to work, so here’s hoping this routine lasts a long time.

    • Just tell them you do it for rewards like free travel. Some debit accounts as well as Serve reward people the more you make transactions with them.
      Honesty is better than contributing to suspicion with silence. They think you’re hiding something. Until I told one store (not RA) why I buy so many GCs there each month, they felt uneasy because they didn’t know what I was doing. Once they found out that I get free travel by points and that I can use the cards to purchase online items (safer than using a cc), then turn around and sell the item to get the money to pay the bill, they loved the idea of helping my wife and I go on free vacations. Most people won’t go to the trouble of the resale game, so it’s not like you’ll have GC competition. All my comments to them are true, I never lie.

  5. I really appreciate you mentioning to go easy on RiteAid. It’s the only option us Manhattan MSers have without traveling 45-60 min each way to FD in BK. Having RiteAid is like a dream.

    It’s nice to see that others have been saying the same thing online (Reddit churning, FT, etc) about going easy at RiteAid. I think RB dying hit people pretty hard, and it’s making people take steps to better protect loading at RiteAid. I hope so, anyway!

  6. What’s the process for a $1000 load with two $500 gift cards? The last time I tried this at WM the cashier could not figure it out and I couldn’t really help her.

    • Some cashiers aren’t familiar with split transactions. If I see they get confused I tell them never mind and just load each one at a time. That’s better than them calling over a supervisor, you holding up the line and making the whole thing take longer.

      • If someone need this much hand holding to get into “the game”, there’s a good chance it won’t end well. This is also a good how-to for fraudsters that want to turn stolen credit cards into cash.

        • And how did you learn about MS? The same way everyone else does. The only difference between you and them is that you found out about it first by reading a blog. That’s it.

  7. Totally agree, I was rarely questioned in Walmart, the cashiers don’t really care. My only complaint is that, during lunch hours, the lines can get ridiculously long, other than that, I can easily load few thousands in just one trip. Never tried RA, but I can imagine, unless you know the cashiers, they’ll start get nervous after $500.

  8. On my reconnaissance mission last weekend, I visited 9 Rite Aids in my area and was exercising restraint by loading Serve with just a single $200 visa gift cards from Staples at each Rite Aid store. All successful except for 2 stores that asked to see that names on my ID matched that of my debit card. Not sure if those are individual store policies or over-anxious employees. Most cashiers still needed a manager to show them how to do the load. My local Walmart has no kiosk and has cashiers well trained to always match names on ID and debit card, so RA may be a good alternative. Hope it lasts for awhile so I won’t do high volume loads during each visit. Still miss the good days of Redbird!

  9. Great post. I dip my toe in the MS waters from time to time, but the 20 minutes, possible kiosk lock-up, and possibly aggravated employees would keep me away from WalMart. Fascinating that the “velocity limit” is tied to the kiosk, and not the user. Anyone doing this stuff should calculate the opportunity cost of spending time at WalMart.

  10. Four days ago, there seems to be a big change in my local WM. I start to have troubles loading BB more than once at walmart. The store seems to have a built-in alarm whenever somebody attempted a second load and then the manager would come to tell you that everyone is now limited to only one load. I was told that those who do multiple loads in excess of $2k would be blocked in the system. Doe anyone have similar experience recently?

  11. We only have one WM with a kiosk. Thankfully, that store is happy to load Serve cards w/ Visa GCs. A manager is usually nearby to unlock the kiosk. Last week, the manager said to come to the CS desk and she loaded cards no problem ($1000 in $

  12. A friend and my adult daughter just started to MS as Redbird shutdown. It is nice to have partners testing other options.So far…

    We only have one WM with a kiosk. Thankfully, that store is happy to load Serve cards w/ Visa GCs. A manager is usually nearby to unlock the kiosk. Last week when the machine locked up, the manager said to come to the CS desk and she loaded all of our cards no problem ($1000 in $500 splits). The Family Dollar across the street will do $1000/day in two $500 transactions – great for unloading Vanilla Visa GCs.

    The closest Rite Aid had no idea what we were talking about.

  13. Not killed enough good things this week, eh?

    The day will come when you have destroyed every possible option, and then you creeps will have to go out and find a real job. I can’t wait until your karma catches up with you…

      • Seriously, what’s with the haters? They’re like snarling, barking dogs that growl over a bone they claimed to have chewed on first. What’s next, they going to urinate on Kate machines? Speaking of getting a real job, they wouldn’t be so upset about these blogs unless it threatened their livelihood. What hypocrites.

  14. Thanks for the great overview on WM and RA.
    I had a bit of a surprise two days ago at RA when I went to load my One VIP Serve. The person was fine but after they entered the $200 the display said it would cost $202.03. The person said there was a service fee for loading a Serve Card. From what I have read it sounds like this is a isolated case but it was hard coded in the register. I have not stopped an another RA to see if others have this service fee.

    • This happened to me the first time. I subsequently learned that you have to select the option, SERVE FREE RELOAD. With that option, there is no additional fee.

  15. Thanks for all the updated info. We were at the FTU in Newport Beavh this last weekend. Loved it!
    Does anyone know of a Walmart in Seattle area with a working Kiosk? Haven’t found one yet. Thanks

  16. I just applied for serve VIP. I was familiar with redbird. Just curious are we able to transfer funds to a banking account like redbird or can it only be sent VIA check?

  17. I tried to use the kiosk it WM for Serve reload, and no matter if I picket Credit Card or Debit card, I got a message “transaction declined”. I was using regular Visa gift cards. Then I went to customer service desk and they did it with no problem. Was I doing something wrong? I would much rather do the reload without having to have any human interaction.

    • You shouldn’t be selecting Credit or Debit, it should be “Bluebird” then it will give you the option to load via cash or debit

  18. Hey thanks for the great post. I have been doing MS this way for quite a bit now, but recently ran into a small problem. I always MS with prepaid Visas but last week Office Max was running a special on Mastercards. Suffice it to say I now have $600 in Mastercards (US Bank issued, debit capable) that will not load to Serve. For some reason, when I swipe them they are coming up as “credit.” Any thoughts on what I can do to liquidate these? Thanks!

    • I read somewhere that if you’re doing those at a cashier, you need to immediately hit cancel after swiping to allow you the option to pick debit. Hope that helps.

      • Even some of the VGCs are now having problems. Best to do a test run with one before buying a bunch more from OM or even WM. WM’s sunnies have been having loading problems according to reports. And, some online companies are now selling PIN-less VGCs which are an abomination.

    • Bluebird is fine at Walmart. Serve has some additional features that make it slightly better, but if you’re happy with Bluebird and your local Walmart works for you, I don’t think the differences are big enough to suggest switching.

  19. Walmart kiosk is the last man standing. When it goes down, the hobby goes down. And a good deal of blogs will shut down too. Maybe this one as well. Because the peanuts that are left will be too difficult to collect. Let’s all share with the world and rush for Walmart. When this door closes, will another one ever open?

  20. I’m in an area with tons of FD’s. They are all cash only loads except for one which happens to be very close to me thankfully. Other areas I have traveled to were mostly okay with DC loads, but occasionally the cashier denies it. I think the problem is they haven’t hard coded credit cards from loading and some a-holes keep trying to slide it past them so they just shut down all non-cash loads to prevent the slip up.

    • People have said that for years. Could it happen? Sure. But, it has been years and this is not new, nor secret. However, on a individual basis I’ve seen ms’rs banned from stores for not using restraint, going from one cashier to another cashier in the same visit and generally trying to use too many cards to load too many accounts. That gets ms’rs shutdown and banned from stores.

  21. Would love to see someone post a copy of the Rite Aid corporate policy showing they take Serve reloads and they take debit cards…………this is a slow slow education process requiring great patience and restraint………..

  22. I’m new to the game, but I’ve been using the Serve and FD combo for a few months and it has worked flawless. A couple notes on the FD system:

    -You can actually load up to $750/day at FD, but managers are told only $500. I’ve done mine so many times the managers at both stores near my home let me do a second $250 load and it’s still continued to work up until last week when I did my most recent load

    -The OneVIP is great for no load fees and service fees when used at FD

    Granted I’m only doing about $2k a month in MS to pay for rent and student loans, and I’m surrounded by family dollars and pass them on the way home from work. The process takes about 2 minutes tops each visit so I’m done after 3 stops and it’s not out of my way. Just a suggestion for those of you who may be similar to me with small loads per month. Obviously if you’re doing thousands of dollars in GC/VGC a month Walmart is your best option

    • Also note the best method for VGC’s in most areas since they’ve done away with the $1k GC’s is a Simon mall if you have them. Fee’s for GC’s are less than $5/card which is a $1-$3 savings per card depending on your method of puchasing. I’ve never had a problem purchasing $2k of VGC’s at one visit, as opposed to CVS where I used to do it and have the system typically flag my purchase as fraud and wait for the confirmation text to approve purchase, or I had a cashier that was too difficult to work with. The daily limit here is much higher than $2k but I don’t want to say how much since I’ve never checked. Just another tip for purchasing GC’s if you want to get the lowest fees.

  23. I am trying to load my serve card at RiteAid. I tried to load $200 using Metabank Visa GC
    On the cash register equipment I chose Free Serve Loads and it said authorizing and then finally rejected. The GC has $500 balance. Tried 2 different Rite Aids and 2 different GC. Both failed. I called Amex Serve and they told they did not even see the transaction on their end. IS there some step I am missing?
    Thanks
    raghu

  24. I have met All my Spend Bonuses. Now I just want to MS for miles. Problem is, my Airline Cards pretty much give 1 mile per Dollar. So Paying $10 for $1000 VGC, doesnt yield Much Profit. How to maximize Profits?

      • Well, I have Ink, so 5% Cashback at OD. In OD, I buy $200 VGC for $7. SO I earn, 1000 Ultimate Points, Or $10. So I get $3 Profit. Something, but not “Big Bucks”. Any ideas?

  25. So today just 2-1/2 short months after getting my AmEx Serve VIP card I got the following e-mail from AmEx:

    “We are writing to let you know that we have observed unusual usage patterns on your American Express Serve Account. Because of this, effective immediately, you will no longer be able to add money to your Account.1 We have made this change in accordance with Section 15.d of our Consumer User Agreement, which you can view here. ”

    I’m directed to get the remaining money off my account and close it. I’ve been loading Visa debit cards in increments of $200, $300 and occasionally $500 increments and I have taken advantage of several Serve offers so I sometimes leave money on the card to buy things. I usually transfer the money to pay my credit card bill within a day or two.

    Anyone have any advice? AmEx gave me an address at Customer Service where I can write to them to dispute it, but I assume it would be futile.

  26. As of today’s date:

    1) Does the Walmart/Serve PPM listed in the article still work?

    2) Which giftcards work for MS and where can they be purchased?

    Thanks!

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