Complete guide to Bluebird and Serve

Updated: 6/25//2016

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

Note: As of 10/13/15 the Target REDcard (REDbird) can only be loaded with cash in-store at Target. Gift cards and/or debit cards no longer work to load REDcard so it is no longer useful for increasing spend and thus has been removed from this guide.

Note 5/10/2016: Rite Aid no longer allows debit cards to be used for reloading prepaid cards.

Bluebird and Serve…  These are prepaid reloadable American Express cards intended to be viable fee-free checking account alternatives.  Even better, they are both good choices for those who primarily want to earn miles and points.  The problem is… each person can have only one.  So, which is best?

UPDATE 6/25/2016: At some point recently Amex started allowing people to sign up for multiple cards. It is now possible for one person to signup for Bluebird, Serve, and REDbird (the Target Prepaid REDcard).

The answer to “which card is best?” depends upon your personal situation.  No single card is better than all others for everyone.  However, depending upon your situation, there is almost certainly a best card for you.  In this guide, I’ll give you the information you need to decide which card is best for you.


amex bluebird serve guide

 

Overview

Both Bluebird and Serve run on the same technology platform and they therefore have a lot in common.  They are both prepaid reloadable American Express cards.  This means that, unlike credit cards, you need to load money to these cards before you can use them (although, another option is to setup linked backup funding sources).  Once money is loaded, these cards can be used like American Express credit cards to make purchases, or can be used at ATMs for cash withdrawals, or can be used like a bank account to pay bills.

Bluebird

Bluebird was formed from a collaboration between American Express and Walmart. Even though Serve predated Bluebird, Bluebird was the first prepaid card to be a realistic fee-free checking account alternative.  And, at the time of this writing, Bluebird continues to be the only Amex prepaid product that offers a checkbook for writing checks yourself.  One of my earliest posts about Bluebird can be found here: Bluebird takes flight and changes the game.

Serve

Serve has been around quite a while and it has changed a lot over time, mostly for the better. At one point American Express discontinued the singular version of Serve and launched four new versions. While each version shares common features, they are all unique and different in their own ways. In this guide I will talk about Serve as a singular product (highlighting features that are common across all versions), however you can see all of the differences between each type in the Complete guide to the many flavors of Serve. Which is best?

One of the features that makes all versions of Serve stand out above Bluebird and REDbird is that they can be loaded online via credit card, up to $1000 per month. (The discontinued Softcard version of Serve allows $1,500 per month.) Unfortunately, as of April 16th 2015, they only accept Amex credit cards for those loads.  Amex cards issued by American Express do not earn rewards when used this way, but Amex cards issued by other banks do earn rewards. To find the best Amex cards to use for this purpose, please see: Best options for Serve online loads.

Which is best for you?

Please read through the comparison tables below to identify the differences between cards that matter the most to you.  For simplicity, though, here are my quick recommendations.

  • If you want to maximize credit card spend and savings opportunities, regardless of the complexities involved, then get Serve.
  • If you find yourself often in or near Walmart, Rite Aid, Dollar General, or Family Dollar, regardless of whether you actually shop at those locations, get Serve.
  • If you want to use Vanilla brand Visa gift cards to reload your prepaid card in-store, get Serve.
  • If you frequently shop at Walmart, and you’re interested in occasional Walmart discounts, get Bluebird.
  • If you need the ability to write your own checks, get Bluebird.

Comparison Tables

The following tables show both cards side by side.  Notable advantages are marked with green backgrounds.  Notable negatives are marked with red backgrounds.

How to get the card

Bluebird

Serve

Order online

Y

Y

Buy temp card in-store

Y

Wal-mart

Y

Various Stores

Temp card fee

$5

$0 to $5

Monthly fee

$0

Varies per flavor.

How to reload

Bluebird

Serve

Direct deposit

Y

Y

Deposit check (with smart phone app)

Y

Y

Online debit (not gift cards)

Y
Up to $1K / month

Y
Up to $1K / month

Online credit

N

Y
Up to $1K / month

Amex cards only.

In-store kiosk

Y
Wal-mart

Y
Wal-mart

In-store debit (including gift cards with PINs)

Y
Wal-mart

Y
Walmart, Family Dollar, Rite-Aid, Dollar General

In-store debit w/ Vanilla Visa gift card

N

Y

Family Dollar, Rite-Aid, and Dollar General

In-store credit

N

N

Via reload cards

Y
Vanilla Reload

Y
Vanilla Reload, Money-Pak, ReloadIt

In-store + reload card limits

$5000 per month

$5000 per month

If you’re reading this page, you probably want to find the card that is best for earning credit card rewards.  There are several ways this can happen:

  • Online debit loads: Use a rewards earning debit card or a debit card that is reloadable with a credit card.  Increasingly, both options are difficult or impossible to find, so this option is of very limited use to most people.  You cannot use gift cards as debit cards for online loads.
  • Online credit loads (Serve only): This is a great way to earn rewards easily and automatically, but Serve is now limited to Amex credit card loads only.  Please see: Best options for Serve online loads.
  • In-store debit: Unless you are lucky enough to have a debit card that earns rewards, the trick here is to use your rewards credit card to buy Visa or MasterCard gift cards with PINs, and use those as debit cards to reload your prepaid card.  See: Best options for buying Visa and MasterCard gift cards and Beginner’s guide to buying & liquidating Visa & Mastercard gift cards
  • Reload cards: Vanilla Reload cards and Greendot MoneyPaks are cards that can be bought at various stores, and then money from those cards can be transferred to prepaid reloadable cards online or, increasingly common, at the register.  It is becoming increasingly difficult, but not impossible, to find stores that allow reload cards to be purchased with a credit card.
Scheduled Loads

American Express used to make it very easy to schedule loads from various funding sources, however they have now seemingly removed that option from their website. Fortunately there is still a way to do this. To schedule a load, simply log-in to your Bluebird or Serve account and click the appropriate link below.

Note: This will only work if you already have a funding source linked to the account. Make sure to link one before trying or you will simply be redirected to the settings page.

How to save money with each card

Bluebird

Serve

Wal-mart promos

Y

N

Small biz Saturday

Y

Y

Amex Offers

Y

Y

As you can see above, both of these cards provide opportunity for saving money. Wal-mart promos have been few and far between lately, so the greatest value comes from Amex Offers on these cards. Note that both cards are also eligible for Small Business Saturday, but in 2015 that promotion didn’t offer any credits like in past years.

How to use card funds

Bluebird

Serve

Foreign exchange fee?

N

Y
2.7%

Fee free ATM

Y
Money Pass

Y
Money Pass

Other ATMs

$2.50

$2.50

Free online bill pay

Y

Y

Write your own checks

Y

N

Withdraw to linked bank account

Y

Y

Send money to others

Y

Y

Both Bluebird & Serve offer easy access to your money once its loaded.  In fact, with both cards, you can simply transfer the money to your bank account or even use the online bill pay function to send a check to yourself, for free.  A couple of notable differences though are as follows:

  • All versions of Serve charge foreign exchange fees so they’re poor choices for using outside of the United States.
  • Bluebird offers checkbooks with which you can write your own checks.

For additional information about fees and limits please see: Bluebird & Serve. A Comparison Chart of Amex Prepaid Debit Alternatives.

Comments

  1. Hello, I am super new to the whole MC game. Bought 2 $1000 amex cards on my 2% cash back credit card, with no fees (ie potential $40 dollar profit, less fees to convert to cash). That said, and given all the options and recent changes, what is the best way for me to convert these two cards into cash? Serve or bluebird? How do I load them (at walmart?), and in what amounts? Appreciate the help in advance.

  2. Hi, I just found that the gas station in my area are selling the prepaid card, mostly vanilla. I am wondering if I can buy those cards with my credit card and load them to my serve card? Will the prepaid card have the 4 digits pin? What is the difference between the VGC and prepaid card? Thank you!

  3. I loaded them at FD and it’s free load and no fees in TX I loaded $200 then loaded $100 then loaded another $100 not sure if you can load 3 visa cards to serve on one transaction.

  4. Three cards opened in Oct 2015 got shut down but two in Nov 2015 are still alive. All cards are max out monthly with $500 and $200 loading in WM as well as the regular utility, loan, and bill payments. I was told there will be the 2nd closure coming in couple weeks. Be well-prepared, everyone!

  5. It will be curious to be how many credit card accounts AMEX will lose as blowback for the shutdowns……….folks who see less worthy AMEX offers combined with no MS opportunities will be more discerning about how many fees they will tolerate from AMEX……certainly the right reaction is not to throw the baby out with the bath water but there will be some trimming going on……….AMEX is going to be getting a new CEO when all the dust settles from the negative Wall Street sentiment so there is the possibility that much more will change with them………

  6. Thanks for all the great info here. This seems to be the most upto-date post anywhere in the Internet on this topic. I am quite new to this whole game and I only recently got my Chase Ink Plus card approved (which is what led me to this site).
    Have a bunch of questions:
    (1) If I get a new Serve account now, will I be allowed to load the Serve account using Staples gift cards or has that facility been discontinued after Jan 8th?
    (2) If I just use my Serve account to load staples visa gift cards and then spend it only on purchases (No ATM withdrawals or Bill Pay), would that still be considered manufactured spending (I just want to use my Ink to get 5X rewards on all purchases)
    (3) If even with the current scenario, buying a Serve card makes sense, which Serve card will be better suited to my purpose.

    Thanks for helping out!

  7. I been using family dollar and reloading my serve with vanilla visa gift cards all the time till last week. I tried doing it at the one I usually go to and it said suspected fraud and then on the cashiers screen it went on to show that I was trying to use vanilla gift card. I went on to other FD trying to do it and had the same result.
    Any input on what to do?

  8. I have been able to load at FD but tonight they denied me unless I used cash. She said manager said no to loads unless I’m using cash. My question==is there a general manager over all the area FD or would it be safe to try another one that’s about 6 miles from this one? I’ve done all the loads at one FD and $500 a day –Mon-Tues, Weds and $900 last week. My Serve card should be fine as it’s a new one. I have $700 more to load from Visa Rebate cards.

  9. “The problem is… each person can have only one.”

    The Bluebird sign up page has this…
    “Have a Serve or Prepaid REDcard Account? Users with more than one Account are unable to send and request money from other users and deposit money by check through our app while we make improvements to our site.”

    Sounds like you can have multiple accounts.

    I have a Serve account that was hit with the loading limitations, but it still open. I tried signing up for Bluebird before closing the Serve and it let me register. Makes me wonder if something else has changed

  10. I just loaded my BB today @ Walmart with 2 $500 VISA GC & it worked just fine. My local Walmart does have a load limit of $1100 a day and I haven’t tried a cashier to see if I can work my way around that… Too scared I guess 🙁 I did run into a problem last time I bought a VISA GC @ Dillon’s. My CC flagged the purchase because, as I found out later, it was over my set purchase limit and the customer service guy said I had to buy GC with a debit card but when I snuck through the line later I bought them just fine with my Chase CC…go figure

  11. Only one BB got the email to close accounts but 2 of 3 remain still can’t load at Walmart with cashiers or machine. Call AMEX they said it should be fine but still not work. The strange was it went through until the receipt came out with an error

    • Same type of thing here. Have several Serve accounts, only one got shut down. But haven’t been able to load any others at Rite Aid or any Walmarts in the area (and I used to load all the cards at all the Walmarts in the area successfully). And like Hoang, loads appeared to go through and then the receipt came out with an error. Should I assume that I can no longer load these cards because the loading capabilities have been shut down, even though they didn’t receive the shutdown email?

  12. Has anyone successfully loaded Bluebird or Serve at Walmart recently with a giftcards.com gift card? Some readers have been reporting that those particular cards are no longer working. I’m looking for evidence either way.

  13. One BB still work as 2/5 and the other 2 not working and I loaded at the same machine at Walmart same day, using cashiers had same issue. Call them up, she said the card should be OK and I tried again still not working. Buying MO at Walmart is still OK. My friend bought MO at Post Office is OK too.

  14. @frequentmiler
    how much can you safely load to serve via familydollar or dollargeneral per day?
    is there a maximum FD & DG will allow per transaction (split tender) or per day?
    thanks!

      • No you are allowed .give the cashier 500.00 at a time , it’s 500.00 per transaction , so if u are loading 1500.00 give her 500.00 in 3 different transaction. By the way that is for any loading station , or store .
        Good luck.

  15. There seems to be a $3.74 fee for loading via debit card/GCs at Kate or at Customer Service or cashiers for the Serve and One VIP Serve. Do you know if this is the case for Bluebird as well? I’m wondering if I should switch to Bluebird to avoid the $3.74 fee…or is this a case-by-case thing?? I live in NYC.

  16. I am new to the game, and have never had a BB or Serve. I’m wanting to meet a min spending quickly and am thinking about doing $2k in MS via serve. I was hoping to buy a temporary Serve at WM and load several VGC. Is it possible to use a temporary card to load either at register or money center express?

  17. Why do I have to go all the way to walmart to reload this card there isn’t any other place where I can reload closer suggestions please I’m in Las Vegas

  18. So based on the note from jan 8, theres no way to load those visa gift cards from staples into bluebird??? if thats true its very bad…

  19. Anyone have issues with loading staples visa gift card at walmart or rite aid? I tried today and had issues with the load. I have One VIP Serve.

  20. I have a simple test to find out your BB or Server no longer working at Walmart. I had 2 BB and never got email notice from AMEX but I could not load to BB at Walmart. I even called AMEX and they told me my BB is OK. What I did was load $1 by cash at Kate and both cards did not work so I cancel both of them. By the way, if you get cancel you will not get approve again.

      • I believe AMEX cancel my accounts. I am 100% sure there were no glitches since at that time my son BB still worked. The last check for sure I loaded $1 for each card and none worked. The error message is the same as other reported

  21. How are people doing multiple transactions for so much money at one time. At multiple Walmart locations, I’m being told I can only load $200 per day max with a visa gift card. Sure enough the FAQ section of Bluebird, supports this. Am I missing something?

    The aggregate amount of funds you may add to the Account from your Debit Card may not exceed $200 per transaction, $200 per day, and $1,000 per month, subject to additional limits in circumstances in which we have not verified all of the identity and other personal information you have provided, and further subject to the Spend Money limits set forth in Section 18.b.

    • The limits you wrote about apply only to online loads. In-store loads are considered “cash reloads” even if you pay with a debit card. For cash reloads you can do up to $2500 per day

      • Then how have 5 different Walmarts all said the same thing? All cashiers at Walmart have said only $200 per day. The FAQ I posted doesn’t say online load does it?

  22. I’ve stopped MS after Redbird went away. I do have an old SERVE card. Can someone please share a link or explain the new process? Seems to be a lot of outdated info. Thank you in advance.

    • 1. Use credit card to buy visa gift cards
      2. Use visa gift cards as debit cards to reload Serve at Walmart, Rite Aid, Dollar General, or Family Dollar
      3. Log into Serve to pay bills. Pay your credit card bill

  23. I had a Bluebird for many years that was shutdown in January. I closed it in February and I just applied for a Serve and was denied. I have never had a Serve account before. Just a data point for everyone.

    • Sue,

      I believe most of us who has BB closed would not get Server. I had 2 of them which never received email about closing but I could not load at Kate even with cash. I closed it and applied for Server but both got denied even with different email address.

  24. I have BB and Serve accounts but am unable to send money to other BB users at present any idea how long before this is corrected?

  25. I am confused. Is it still viable right now to sign up for a new serve card, buy a prepaid gift card, and load that gift card (at rite aid or other store) to the serve card?

  26. Just tried to load serve at rite aid with us Bank giftcard. Rejected by the system. Cashier said they changed the restrictions recently and you can’t load with debit cards. Cash only. It wasn’t just the cashier saying it. I read the message on the POS terminal. Not much she could do. Hoping FD/711/DG can process pin gift cards!! Or my MS days may be over.

    • @Bryan, the Rite Aid loads died a while ago, and Serve/Bluebird are pretty much dead as well, there are other ways to MS besides Rite Aid and Serve, keep checking the blogs 🙂

  27. I only had one transaction on the AMEX Serve card. Made a purchase on a credit card, and somehow (by accident and I have no idea how the computer system/s would even allow this), the return was placed on the AMEX Serve Card by mistake (not the credit card).

    Result: Card was closed. Account locked. (I am locked)

    AMEX SERVE Call Center:
    All calls are handled in the Philippines. All calls to the Philippine call centers result in negative value. No one allowed to discuss. Request to speak to management, all stonewalled or put on hold for over an hour. Promises of management call backs were empty, never happened.

    AMEX Support Forum:
    Posted on the forum a few times. One response to call the call center. *UGG*

    AMEX Customer Service Center:
    Call center stated to write a physical letter to the UT address. Over a moth since the letter was mailed. No update. No one at AMEX (including Serve) can locate the letter.

    No one will speak about the situation. Local US based AMEX must direct to the Philippine call center.
    Calls result in forwards, delays, disconnects, … nothing but huge wastes of time.

  28. anyone know how to fix this

    “This Feature is Currently Unavailable
    Looks like you also have another American Express Prepaid Account. Customers with more than one Account are unable to send money while we make improvements to our site. ”

    i have a serve for years now but a month ago i got a bluebird because bluebird wasnt on this list of cards i can’t have

    “Can I have more than one American Express Serve Account?

    No, you can only have one American Express Serve Account from the family of American Express Serve Prepaid Debit Cards, including:

    American Express Serve
    American Express Serve FREE Reloads
    American Express Serve Cash Back
    OneVIP™ from American Express Serve
    Jackson Hewitt Serve Card
    Intuit Serve Card”

    unless i misunderstood that anyways if having both serve and bluebird isn’t allow then why let people sign up for them?

  29. I’ve had Netspend VISA debit card for 9 years. No deposit or ATM fees. Monthly fee of less than $10. Overdraft fee is $12.
    I’ve used this card everywhere and not had any problems.

  30. Just to post another data point here, it appears that Family Dollar has discontinued all Serve loads (at least in the Boston area). I successfully loaded $500 from Vanilla gift card to my Serve on Monday, but upon visiting the same store on Wednesday I was told that the company had discontinued Serve loads. Another store I visited gave the same story, and had removed all the Serve loading cards from the rack.

  31. What’s the best way to use credit cards to pay mortgages ? Or what service can I use to pay with credit cards to earn points

    Thanks

  32. The article states “The problem is… each person can have only one.”.

    I just signed up online for a OneVip & Bluebird in a 1-4 day time frame between both requests and received both cards by mail.

  33. This is a super informative blog-thank you. I’m deciding which is best for me Bluebird or Serve. I am a personal shopper for a global shopping network so I easily spend $3-4K per month (not manufactured, just real spend, but it’s other people’s money) I’ve been learning about MS so I can best understand how to capture cash-back and rewards points from my personal shopping spending. Unfortunately I don’t really travel but do like to convert all the points I accrue into department store gift cards wherever possible, for myself or just churn back into cash when I use them to shop for other people-. I’ve learned quite a bit here-I plan to subscribe to the blog.

  34. is it still possible to load gift card at walmart cashier, at my local, cashier tried it but cas was not approved.

  35. You are not able yo get cash back off card… Which sucks. On Long island it seems like finding a money pass atm is like finding Waldo!! PS Walmart arms charge you!! Otherwise great card!!

  36. Hi im new to all this. I want to manufacture spend about 2K in Visa cards for the new chase sapphire reserve?. Does serve / bluebird still work ? I know some current accounts are frozen, but if I sign up a new account can I load vanilla visas? And any idea of vanilla visas will code as a CA on chase sapphire reserve?

    • Yes, for new users and those somehow unaffected by the freezes, it still works, but with some caveats:
      1) Many Walmarts do not allow loading with gift cards
      2) Most Walmart kiosks no longer work to load Bluebird/Serve
      3) Vanilla brand gift cards do not work at Walmart unless you keep the loads under $50 at a time

      When you buy gift cards at a store, no credit card would count it as a cash advance. It counts as a store purchase.

      • So Greg, is there or is there not a way to upload gift cards into BlueBird (or Serve). I am totally lost now. I tried calling several Walmarts in MA and they all said they neither have the kiosks nor accept gift cards to fund BlueBirds. I am stuck here. Is there an exit you are aware of?

        Thank you so much.
        Russell

        • It does still work, but calling won’t help you.
          Kiosks are a thing of the past. You’ll have to go to the store’s money center and ask to reload your Bluebird card with a debit card. Do not mention gift cards, that will only confuse people. Even then, I can’t promise it will work, but it does still work for many.

  37. I just activated my bluebird and serve card but both feature do not allow to load with mobile check deposit,will it take few days for me to use the mobile deposit features or could the problem be that I have both cards ?

  38. is this still happening

    “This Feature is Currently Unavailable
    Looks like you also have another American Express Prepaid Account. Customers with more than one Account are unable to send money while we make improvements to our site. ”

    i wanna know before i sign up for bluebird again, cause last time i had both neither would allow me to send money thanks

  39. I’m unsure about the loading limits on Bluebird (Copied below). Can I only load 200 per day and 1000 per month? I seem to read on the forums about people loading much more.

    Debit Card(s) (in aggregate)
    Up to $200 per transaction
    $200 per day; and
    $1,000 per month*

  40. Hi Greg:
    Thanks for the great info-site-use it a lot!
    I just got a Hilton Amex for the 100K bonus-but having a hard time doing minimum spend so i ordered a Serve and thought I’d load 1K per month-but Amex told me this will count as a cash advance at 20+% interest! Also I’ve heard elsewhere that even if it’s considered a purchase the Amex card won’t consider it as part of minimum spend. All true?? Thanks
    Gary

  41. I have my BB but shut down for loading long back. Sometime I transfer fund from my wife’s account to keep it alive. Can I get Serve card while keeping BB alive?

    I have access to buy reloadit with CC, can you think of any way to recycle it?

    Thanks in advance for any tip.

  42. Hi, is it really as easy as depositing money online to your Serve account (limited a 1000 a month i see) with an AMEX credit card hit your sign up bonus? Delta is offering an AMEX card with a 50,000 miles sign up bonus after spending $1000, so if i get this right i could just spend a thousand on my serve account and get the bonus? Do you know if there are any fees involved? Thanks for all the great info!

  43. Hi Greg,
    Very Nice blog. I am very new to all this and i am sorry if this has been asked several times before. I did read most of the comments, but it appears things are changing very rapidly.
    I just got a couple cards and i have to spend 5K in the next 3 months. I already over paid some of my utilities / ezpass etc. but managed around 2K spend so far. have anoter 3K to go. I also applied for and received a new Bluebird card. What are your recommendations for making an additional 3K spend? Appreciate your response.

  44. I have been a Serve customer for nearly five years and although I found this card to be very helpful, at times it can be a bit of a headache as their customer service team is hardly serviceable when attempting to fix any current problem you may have with your account. To be honest in those 5 years i have called countless times and NOT ONCE have they EVER fixed the problem right then and there. I have ALWAYs had to wait it out.

    THat being said I use my original or Old Blue American Express Serve card for my hotel stays which if anyone has tried this you’ll know that serve holds an additional 15% of whatever addition amount (or “incidentals”) the hotel has authorize your card not to mention as part of a new program they have decided to hold these funds EVEN AFTER THE HOTEL HAS PROCESSED PAY MENTION for 30 days from the original 7-10 business days from the original original 3-5 business days. Yes you heard that correct, serve now holds any authorizations from hotels, rent a car or restaurants for 30 days before releasing any funds not charged by those businesses. This surely can add up, as I at times stay in hotels weeks at a time for treatment at near hospitals. When hotels hold $50/day for incidentals which turns in to $57.50/day because of the additional %15 Serve holds on top multiplied by, let’s say 7 days having to now wait 30 DAYS for those funds to be released is downright robbery. Imagine the interest Serve is collecting on all of those unnecessary weeks of holds.

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