The many flavors of Amex Prepaid cards

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about Amex prepaid cards: Bluebird, Serve, Amex for Target, etc.  If you’re wondering how to use these cards for earning points and miles, here are the basics of what you need to know…

American Express Prepaid card

These generic cards with no name were great back in the day (see “One card to rule them all”), but they were soon trumped by Bluebird and Serve.

AmexPrepaidCard

The only advantage of these cards over others is that one person can sign up for 3 cards.  Once you have the cards, though, the only way to get credit card rewards for loading them is to find a store that will sell reload cards to you with a credit card. And then, the only good way to unload cash from these cards is through ATM withdrawals.  My recommendation: forget about them.

Bluebird

Bluebird is special because it makes it possible to earn credit card rewards when loading the card, and it makes it easy to get at your money once it has been loaded.

AmexBluebirdCard

Earn points through loads:

  • Buy Vanilla Reload cards and pay with credit cards.  CVS stores no longer allow this, but some regional chains still do.  You can find a list of Vanilla Reload retail locations here.
  • Reload at Walmart with debit cards (max $2500 per day; $5,000 per month).  Since most Visa and MasterCard gift cards can be used as debit cards, it is possible to buy gift cards with reward earning credit cards (see this post), then go to Walmart to use those cards to load Bluebird.  Caution: Some gift cards don’t work or are very finicky when used this way. Also, some Walmart stores do not allow the use of gift cards to reload Bluebird.
  • Reload online with a debit card (max $200 per day; $1000 per month).  Do not try to use gift cards for online debit loads — this may work a few times, but you’ll soon get a nasty letter from Amex.  Instead, use a rewards earning debit card if you have one (these are very hard to find these days!).

Easy access to money:

  • Use Bluebird’s bill pay feature to pay bills that you can’t usually pay by credit card (including paying your credit card bill itself).  If the biller isn’t in their electronic system, they’ll send a paper check.
  • Use Bluebird paper checks to pay anyone in person.
  • Withdraw money to your bank account
  • Withdraw money from an ATM

Serve

Serve is almost identical to Bluebird, but it has some features that make it even better.  Note, though, that you can only have one or the other: Bluebird or Serve.

AmexServeCard

Earn points through loads:

  • Buy Vanilla Reload cards or Greendot MoneyPaks and pay with credit cards.  Unfortunately, Greendot is phasing out MoneyPaks.
  • Reload at Walmart with debit cards (max $2500 per day; $5,000 per month).  For details, see the same bullet above, under “Bluebird”.
  • Reload at Family Dollar with debit cards.  Unfortunately, load limits seem to be per-store, per day so you can run into trouble if other Serve loaders have visited the store the same day.
  • Reload online with a debit card (max $200 per day; $1000 per month).  Do not try to use gift cards for online debit loads (see details above, under Bluebird).  If you have a compatible phone, you can get Isis Softcard and increase your debit reload limit to $500 per day and $1500 per month (details here).
  • Reload online with a credit card (max $200 per day; $1000 per month).  Do not try to use gift cards for online credit loads.  You need to use a credit card that is in the same name as the Serve cardholder.  To my knowledge, all credit cards treat this as a purchase (not a cash advance), but Amex credit cards do not earn points.  If you have a compatible phone, you can get Isis Softcard and increase your credit reload limit to $500 per day and $1500 per month (details here).

Easy access to money:

  • Use Serve’s bill pay feature to pay bills that you can’t usually pay by credit card (including paying your credit card bill itself).  If the biller isn’t in their electronic system, they’ll send a paper check.
  • Withdraw money to your bank account
  • Withdraw money from an ATM

My recommendation: Thanks to the addition of online credit card reloads, Serve edges out Bluebird as a better option.

American Express for Target (discontinued)

This is very similar to the old generic Amex Prepaid card product except that it can be reloaded at Target with a credit card for $3 per load (up to $1000).  This can be a great way too, to consolidate Amex, Visa, and MasterCard gift cards onto a single card registered to your name.  The trick is simply to use those gift cards as credit cards to reload the Target Amex card.  Note though that some readers have recently reported problems getting this to work with Amex gift cards (although it has continued to work for others).

AmexTargetCard

Getting money off the card is the hard part.  The only practical option (other than using the card as a credit card) is to withdraw cash at ATMs.  More details can be found in this post: Using the Target Amex card to run up spend.

American Express Campus Edition (discontinued)

Until recently, I had mostly forgotten about this card.  It is similar to the Amex for Target card, except that it is reloaded at Barnes & Noble Campus Bookstores rather than at Target.  Unfortunately, you cannot reload these at regular Barnes & Noble stores – just at campus bookstores.  Also unfortunately, this card has much stricter limits (such as max $1000 per month swipe reloads).

AmexCampusEditionBanner

On the plus side, B&N campus bookstore reloads code as bookstore purchases.  Since I have the old Citi Forward card that offers 5X ThankYou points at bookstores, and since ThankYou points have recently become more valuable, I’m liking this Campus Edition card again. So, if you have a card that earns lots of bonus points at a bookstore and you happen to have easy access to a B&N campus bookstore, you can do well reloading this card monthly.  Like the Target Amex card, the only way to unload it is to use it as a credit card or withdraw cash at ATMs.  For more, see these relevant posts:

Last updated on January 12th, 2016

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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.

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Newbie
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Newbie

Thanks for the great summary post. Re: “Some gift cards don’t work or are very finicky when used this way”, do you have any insight into the best way to get One Vanilla debit cards to load onto Bluebird at Walmart ?

incendia
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incendia

Does fidelity amex earn points for loading Serve online?

Chimmy
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Chimmy

Yes, which I know from personal experience.

Tovi
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Tovi

One other important often overlooked factor, Bluebird does not charge foreign transaction fees while serve does

SgFm
Guest
SgFm

Serve can be loaded at Family Dollar. I load $900 at FD and have even loaded $1800/day by going to two different Family Dollar stores.

bushe
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bushe

There is also a prepaid AMEX built-in to some AAA cards.

Adriano
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Adriano

For Serve, is the debit card limit separate from the credit card load limit? That is, can you load $1,000 by debit card + $1,000 by credit card for a total of $2,000 per month?

Grant
Guest

For the Target AMEX, *some* Target stores are coded as grocery stores by Visa (not AMEX) so you can earn bonus points if you have a Visa credit card that earns bonus points at grocery stores (US Bank FlexPerks Credit Card).

josefismael
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josefismael

Does anyone have any tips for getting an AMEX Campus application approved? I know others have had difficulties with the application site, but from what I hear most have had success with persistence 🙂 I have continued to get \unknown error\ – anyone out there in the same boat?

josefismael
Guest
josefismael

Also another question: Has anyone tried loading their Serve account using Amazon Payments? Not a super-lucrative points-earner, but if GC’s are a hassle (or you’ve maxed out your categories), this would be a free method to help run up spend to meet min spend requirements.

Will S
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Will S

Glad you re-opened and updated this subject. Nice overview.

Anybody reading here have any luck loading to Serve the newer Vanilla Reload Cards (the ones with more green on the cover, and without the scratch off pin on the back)… Saw another web site claiming that these VRC’s indeed can be loaded directly to the Serve…. yet would appreciate more confirmation & details.

I can buy the VRC’s at my local BP food market chain with a cc, and they tell me there they’re happy to load them directly onto the card at the store…. (just not sure which one they’re talking about as yet)

If this is a go, the spouse is thinking to get the Serve…. while I keep the BlueBird. (Another BB feature which I value is being able to write checks, including at tax times.)

Wicked Gringo
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Wicked Gringo

You say to buy Vanilla Reload with a credit card. I can not find anyplace that allows that. Would like to try the Serve Card and load that with Credit Card but expect that it is treated as a cash advance. Anyone have experience?

Abi
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Abi

Are you familiar with PASS by Amex? Came across this one recently but haven’t found any data points on it. On their website it says can be loaded with amex. I wonder if one can use AGCs or Amex cc and earn points.

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[…] way to use Marriott Rewards points is travel packages. Miles Professor offers a good introduction. Pluses and minuses of each of the American Express prepaid products The 20 Most Annoying Things About Airplane Travel (HT: Alan […]

ricka
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ricka

If I have an active bluebird account, what is the process for getting it switched to serve? I still have money in the account as well.

Shawn
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Shawn

I have some leftover on my TD Buxx card which is now basically worthless. Any luck loading that card to serve to drain it? It is a valid debit card in my name.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Ok, so I got Bluebird right when it came out but things got busy with my life and I never touched it since. That’s how I stumbled on this article now trying to search through your posts on how I can use this card to my advantage.

I just checked Vanilla’s site on where to find the cards, so besides CVS, it looks like all the other places (7/11, Walgreens, Office Depot..) will allow you to reload using a credit card?

Second, I don’t have any rewards debit card, so reloading BB at Walmart is really pointless correct?

Finally, is there a optimal monthly spending a person needs to manufacture spend in order for this to make it worth the effort? For example, if I am a 25yo single male with monthly expense of $800, is this even worth my time or should I just stick to cashback CC’s?

Thanks in Advance!