UPDATE 3/18/2015: As of April 16 2015, American Express will no longer allow online loads with any credit cards other than American Express credit cards. While Amex’ own cards do not earn rewards when loading Serve online, you may be able to earn rewards by using an Amex card issued by another bank (e.g. Fidelity Investment Rewards Amex)
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
I often write about complicated techniques for earning points and miles. This one is easy. With Amex Serve you can earn miles easily and automatically. I’m on track to earn 72,000 miles per year this way. Here’s how…
Unlike the very similar product named Bluebird, Serve allows cardholders to reload their card with a credit card online, for free. Each cardholder is limited to $200 in credit card loads per day up to a maximum of $1000 per month. Those with SoftCard (previously named Isis) can do even better and load up to $1500 per month. For the sake of this post, though, let’s assume you have the regular Serve product without SoftCard.
At a high level, the approach is dead simple:
- Setup Serve to be auto-loaded each month with a rewards-earning credit card.
- Use the Serve balance, as needed, to pay bills (including credit card bills), to withdraw cash for free at MoneyPass ATMs, or to transfer directly to a bank account.
If you don’t already have a Serve card, you can order one for free here, unless you have a Bluebird card. You can only have one: Bluebird or Serve. If you want to switch from Bluebird to Serve you’ll have to empty the funds from Bluebird, call to cancel your account, and then wait about a month to order Serve. Alternatively, you can speed things along as follows: 1) Cancel your Bluebird card; 2) Get a temporary Serve card (at CVS, for example), 3) Try to register for a permanent card (it will fail), and 4) Call support. If you go this route, be prepared to be on the phone for a long time.
Choose a credit card
To load Serve online, you can use any credit card registered to the same name and address as your Serve card.
Even though the Serve website warns of the possibility of being charged a cash advance fee, that has never happened to me. I believe that even Citibank cards (which often charge cash advance fees for other financial-like expenditures) are fine to use. The only cards you shouldn’t use are those from American Express as they will not earn rewards.
Starting in mid-October 2014, Serve changed the coding of credit card loads such that many credit cards now do charge cash advance fees. You should avoid these at all costs. For an up to date list of which cards are safe and which are not, please see:
Setting up auto-loads
Thanks to the $200 daily limit, reloading Serve is not as simple as logging in once a month to add the money manually. You could log in 5 times a month and load $200 each time instead, but there are better, automatic, solutions.
One extremely simple solution (suggested to me by a friend) is to setup your Serve account to load $200 per week from your credit card. This way, in some months you’ll load $800 and in other months you’ll load $1000. Done!
The only problem with the once-per-week approach is that you will miss the opportunity to load the maximum allowed $1000 on some months. If you don’t mind doing a bit more setup work, you can load the full $1000 automatically. The trick is to setup five separate automatic loads (Serve calls them “Scheduled Adds”). Setup the first one to load $200 monthly on the first of each month. Setup the second one to load $200 monthly on the second of each month. And, so on.
One caution: Rapid Travel Chai tells me that some banks block these automated charges because they appear to be fraudulent (since they happen repeatedly in the middle of the night). This has happened to him more than once with US Bank credit cards. I’ve had no such problem with my Barclaycard Arrival Plus card, but it is something to watch out for.
Earning more miles
With the approach described here, you can use a credit card that earns 2X everywhere (such as the Arrival Plus card) and earn 24,000 miles per year free and easy. If you have friends or family members willing to let you manage Serve cards in their names, you can do even better. For each Serve card you manage that is not in your name, order an Arrival Plus authorized user card with the same name and address that is tied to the Serve card. Then, use that authorized user Arrival Plus card to automatically reload the matching Serve card. I currently have three Serve cards setup this way (my card, plus two others), for a total of 72,000 miles per year. And, of course, with more Serve cards, one can do even better.
Warning: some people have had their accounts frozen when trying to use authorized user credit cards with Serve. I have not had this problem with the Arrival Plus card, but it may be an issue with other cards or other accounts.
You can do even better by doing online debit card loads in addition to online credit card loads. The trick is to have debit cards that earn rewards, or debit cards that are reloadable with credit cards. That’s a story for another time.
How to setup automatic loads
Here’s a quick tutorial. After logging into Serve, do the following:
1) Select “Add Money”
2) Scroll past the “Add Money” section, to the “Other Ways to Add Money” and click on “Setup Scheduled Add”
3) Configure the Scheduled Add with the appropriate credit card, start date, and frequency