Your Serve or Bluebird is still alive. Now what?

Late last week, Amex delivered bad news to huge numbers of Bluebird and Serve account holders.  They shut down accounts due to “unusual usage patterns.”  I reported the news here:  Amex kills Bluebird and Serve for manufactured spend.

Bluebird is still aliveIn the post “Bluebird Serve Birdpocalypse: How to liquidate remaining gift cards,” I answered a question asked by many: What do I do with all of those gift cards I bought with the intention of loading to Bluebird or Serve?

Another popular “what do I do?” question came from those who’s accounts were not shut down.  If that’s you, you probably have similar questions.  Should you try to get in as much manufactured spend as possible before getting shut down?  Should you lie low for a while until it all blows over?  Should you continue to use the card, but try to do so in a way that avoids shutdown?

To answer these questions, it would help  to know the following:

  • Was last Friday’s bloodbath a one time event?  Or, will Amex continue to shutdown accounts?
  • Is there a pattern of use that is safe from shutdown?

My best guess: Friday’s account closures were not a one time event

Somebody at Amex took the time to add a clause to the Bluebird and Serve member agreements stating that Amex has the right to suspend or terminate your account if you manufacture spend.  Specifically, the new text states (bolding is mine):  “We reserve the right to suspend or close your Account… if, among other reasons,… you structure purchases or conduct transactions … to manufacture spend.” This leads me to believe that Amex is serious about stopping this practice.

My bet is that Friday’s account closures were not a one time event.  I expect that accounts will be shutdown monthly, if not more often.

My best guess: Only unloading through spend is safe

If you read the comments in my post about the account closures, you’ll see that its pretty hard to detect a pattern.  Some people who manufactured only tiny amounts of spend were shutdown, while some who maxed out the full $5,000 per month were spared.  It seems to me that people who used their Bluebird or Serve cards like credit cards (to buy things in-stores or online) were a bit less likely to be shutdown.

My bet is that Amex isn’t concerned with how people are loading their accounts, but rather with how they are unloading them.  If you unload primarily through bank withdrawals, bill pays, or ATM withdrawals then Amex is almost certainly losing money with you as a customer.  If you unload by using your card like a credit card to pay for things, then Amex earns a transaction fee with each purchase.  That is how they want you to use their card.

The problem for us is that there isn’t much upside to using the card that way.  Any time you use your Bluebird or Serve card in place of a regular credit card, you lose out on earning rewards from your credit card.  The one pattern of use that might still make sense is if you have a way to earn outsized rewards when buying gift cards.  For example, if you have a card that earns 5% cash back at stores that sell gift cards with low fees (say 1%) then you’ll clear about 4% when buying those gift cards.  Then, you can load those gift cards to Bluebird or Serve to use for daily spend.  Of course, you could achieve the same thing by using those gift cards directly for daily spend, but you may find that using a single card is more convenient.  Plus, if you use your card for daily spend, then you can surely get away with some amount of bank withdrawals, bill pays, and ATM withdrawals without getting shut down.

My recommendation

My recommendation depends upon your situation:

  • If you can afford to wait and see, then I recommend stopping use for a while.  In time we may learn more about what is safe and what’s not.
  • If you’re desperate to manufacture spend right now, then go for it.  We don’t have any proof that Bluebird or Serve will continue to be viable avenues for manufactured spend in the future so there’s little risk to getting the most out of the card while you can.
  • If you have two cards still open, consider splitting the difference.  Continue to manufacture spend with one card, but lie low with the other.
  • If you would like to use your card as a “5X everywhere card” then consider trying out my suggested use pattern above.  Earn 5X buying gift cards (that’s the hard part), load them to your Bluebird or Serve card, then use your Bluebird or Serve card for everyday spend.  Do small bill payments or ATM withdrawals now and then, but don’t make that your primary way of getting money off of the card.  Caution: this suggestion is based purely on speculation. If I’m wrong about what Amex is looking for, then you may get your card shutdown with this approach as well.

Do you have a card still open?  If so, what do you plan to do?

Last updated on March 31st, 2019

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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Dave
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Dave

If you figure out a way to manufacture spend without getting shut down, make sure to tell us so that we know what to do.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

I personally think that they will continue to run whatever algorithm they came up with to shut accounts down on a regular basis. I still have a few that are open, and on one of the cards I plan to do $5000 load on the last calendar day of the month, and another $5000 load on the first of the month, and then bill pay it all out then wait and see. Worst case, I unload $10k in VGC and get shut down soon after. Best case, they don’t shut it down for a few months and they only do occasional shutdowns. However, if they block all the people that were shut down from opening another prepaid account, maybe they think a one time shutdown was good enough to stop their bleeding?

SDO
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SDO

Except for the fact that the daily load limit is $2500 + $200/$500

Ryan
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Ryan

Good point, I wrote my comment in bed as I am still waking up and didn’t factor that in. Still, 2 last days of the month and 2 first days of the month. Not a big difference, but thanks for catching that.

iahphx
Guest
iahphx

I think this is the winning strategy — if you are disciplined enough to execute it. Laying low looks like a loser’s bet: they could shut you down for anything that looks like MS, or the whole program could shut down. If you wait until the end of the month and then do your 5K immediately for the next month, you get 10K in MS. Honestly, I’d probably do another 5K the first 2 days of the NEXT month, and thereafter, until I got shut down.

Max
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Max

I plan to close all family prepaid accounts, even those which have not yet received The Email. Without the easy MS, BB and Serve are of little interest to me. Plus I’m relieved I no longer have the dreaded chore of loading them in WM’s. Yeay! ☺

Juno
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Juno

I didn’t get the email but I am closing my account as well. MSing with Redbird and Bluebird has gotten too hard so it’s not worth it for me to keep them.

Tom
Guest
Tom

Just MS until they shut you down. Little to no value to the cards after that other than AMEX offers, which you should already have plenty of AMEX cards in your portfolio.

Holly@ClubThrifty
Guest

My Bluebird is still alive and kicking. But the only thing I ever did with it was pay mortgages – our primary residence and the mortgages on our rental properties. I loaded it with gift cards and paid mortgages – that was it. I hope I’m able to continue doing that.

Steve
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Steve

Were you using the BB paper checks? Just curious.

Jennifer
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Jennifer

Exactly what I was doing — and did get shut down. So who knows?

Carl
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Carl

If mine were NOT shut down, I would do the same as an earlier commenter. Max out right at end of month and right at first of month. Then see what happens and do that every other month until shut down. Why cancel a card you can still MS on? That is crazy after going to the trouble of getting multiple Serve cards to start with!

Dustin
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Dustin

Follow

Karen
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Karen

I’m going to go to Walmart’s self checkout line and do buy multiple items in separate transactions, like I do with the Amex EDPreferred. I think they would like the swipes most of all.

Steve
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Steve

I was thinking of using it to load exactly what I’d need to use the amex offers I sign up for. thats it.

Jim S
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Jim S

So what actually changed. I got the death letter, but my account is still open. I was able to unload it. And, this morning I got the “Thank you for using Serve. Your monthly fee is waived” letter. However, I have NOT tried to load more funds.

Eric
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Eric

The letter said that you would be able to unload the card as normal. Loading is the thing that is now banned.

Tony
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Tony

I’ll answer Greg’s question, In Nov, I went from BB to VIP Serve, didn’t do any manufacture spend Nov and Dec, just started this month, my plan is to MS on them, but not to pay off the CC the following day I load, but to hold on to the money in the account, I also plan on paying off multi accounts through out the month, hopefully this will not flag the account, if it does, oh well.

craig
Guest
craig

just an fyi even though i didn’t get the letter that so many seemed to have gotten i did try a small load from a debit card and it was denied so i think my account prolly falls into that but for some reason i didn’t get the email that so many others got. so maybe double check before buy a full 5000 more in gift cards for t he month to load

Matt
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Matt

Did you check your spam/junk folder? If you’re being denied from loading, you probably have received the email but didn’t see it because it wasn’t in your inbox. A number of people commented online that this happened to them.

P
Guest
P

At least the funds are still available for use. I would hate for someone to have bounced check after using Bluebird to write one.

Sam
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Sam

Thought: I think they’ll continue to read your blog to figure out how to proceed.

Lin
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Lin

I have three Bluebird accounts and did not receive the email on any of them, but when I tried to load I got the message “Debit Not Available.” I tried all three accounts at four Walmarts between Port St. Lucie and Boynton Beach, FL – two money centers and 3 ATM’s. Got the same message each time. Are they not accepting any debit loads to any Bluebird account in South Florida???

enane74
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enane74

Same message here in VA when tried to load at WM….not sure if my accounts were flagged or if they hard coded Kate to not accept these anymore. Time will tell…..

CHEN
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CHEN

When did you try to load your BB? I loaded 1k into my vip serve and it worked fine.

Lin
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Lin

I tried two Walmarts on Friday and two on Saturday.

JohnnieD
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JohnnieD

@Sam- exactly

Jags4186
Guest
Jags4186

I would love to lay low for a while but I have$7500 of VGC from the recent staples deal and do not have that luxury. My GF has a serve card I only used for infrequent spillover that didn’t get shut down. I just loaded $2400 on it today at WM and will Los another $2400 tomorrow.

Sarhaan
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Sarhaan

Has anyone tried sending funds via another serve account to a closed account? Wondering if I had a second serve account i can send funds to the closed serve account so i don’t have to replicate over 2 dozen bill pay accounts.

BYOB74
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BYOB74

I have and it works.

Tracey
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Tracey

@ Lin

Betting you got pinched. I too got the same message and tried a small cash load that was also rejected. You could always try that to confirm

@ Tony

FWIW, I did similar to what you suggested and got a shutdown. I only BP’d a fairly small % of my monthly load to credit cards (if at all). The large majority was legitimate non-cc bills. I also always let money sit, rarely if ever did any kind of quick turnaround. If I had to guess what triggered for me it was 1) VGC loads in store 2) max or close to loads each month 3) little to no “everyday” purchases or some combination of the three. Good luck

MikeO
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MikeO

Had 6 BB accounts closed. One Serve account still open. I opened it in early Dec and loaded $5k with VGC. Haven’t yet moved the $$ out so maybe this indicates that paying CCs etc was a reason? Or could just be the newness of the account?

Mac
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Mac

I haven’t got an email or letter yet. Kind of odd really as I’ve MS’ed the full 5k every month for a considerable time now. I’ve made a few small purchases at WM after on 2-3 occasions in the last 2 months and generally don’t transfer the FULL amount out of Serve to another account, but nearly the full amount. So perhaps they are looking for those accts that load X and transfer X. No in store or other spend with the card with flashes MS in big bold capital letters. I’m kind of shocked I haven’t received a shutdown though. Will have to wait till Feb to see if I can actually load on WM’s Kate.

JustSaying
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JustSaying

Do no unloading in Jan. Start loading again in Feb followed by surgical withdrawals from one account

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

And has anyone been able to load at Rite Aid?

Lantean
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Lantean

yes, on Friday and Saturday, $200 Visa GC and $100 MS GC… no problems at all.

Sandy
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Sandy

I have $200 Visa cards that need loading to Serve. I am assuming I can only load $500 a day at FD. My question is do they have to be done individually or is there a way of saying I want to load $500 and then swipe 3 cards to get the $500 on there? If there is a way I need to tell them how to do it because they don’t know how. If I try to load more then $500 will it be rejected? I have loaded $400 and then another day loaded $500 but Cashiers really don’t know how to do it. They have figured it out but surely don’t know how to do the load in 1 transaction.

mbh
Guest
mbh

The only variable I have not seen analyzed is what card you (any of us) used to BUY the g.c.s
It just so happens that in MY case, all the gift cards were bought with amex ED or gold card. I was wondering if any of those not shut down were using no amex cards on the purchasing end. Long shot, I know, but there just HAS to be SOME logic, doesn’t there?

Lantean
Guest
Lantean

it’s Amex after all… not sure there HAS TO be logic involved… 😉

AB
Guest
AB

What I’ve figured out by haing 1 closed and 1 stay opened and from reading about 20 blogs’ comments.

1. If you billpay credit cards more often than you make purchases, you will be shut down.

2. If you withdraw via atm or transfers more often than you make purchases, you will be shut down.

3. If 1&2’s amounts combine to exceed purchase amounts, you will be shut down.

4. Loading levels are irrelevant to 1-3 above.

That’s about all there is to know about the algorithm used to spot and shutdown ms accounts.

Tazznum
Guest
Tazznum

I have a 7 month old BB, still open and have been doing #1 and #2 and maxing out the $5000 load per month. I don’t think there’s a rhyme or reason, while some accounts remain open, we can’t tell if it’s on queue at the chopping block. I will continue to MS with it until they tell me to quit.

For me, no use trying to find out a pattern because there is none.

Will
Guest
Will

As a counterpoint – I was not shut down, and I’ve never made a single purchase on the card. Loaded about $5000 over the last 3 months, only unloaded via bill-pay.

Never used ATM or withdrawn to bank account.

Jan W
Guest
Jan W

Neither my BB or Serve were closed, but I did minimal MS (maybe $15,000/year for BB); primarily used it to pay college tuition via BB checks. But if it’s going to be this difficult, not sure I’ll continue. I have never gotten a good AMEX offer and I’ve had $1000 of VISA GCs from Kroger that I haven’t been able to load for months. My Walmarts have never liked cards from Kroger, but I have yet to win the struggle with these two. I think I may even be glad to get off the roller coaster!

stvr
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stvr

Data point here. I used the card for plenty of purchases — both brick and morter and online retail — and got shut down.

Lantean
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Lantean

good data point.
what about your other activity? bill pay, withdrawals, etc?

Emmanuel Ruiz
Guest
Emmanuel Ruiz

My wife’s BB is dead. Mine is still alive…so I thought…but barely. I went to WM today to load a $500.00 GC at the Kiosk (ours always work – too bad- great while it lasted). It didn’t go through. It said that it was not approved and to call the Issuer which is AMEX. Thanks but no thanks…am not an idiot. Tried it twice but no go. Got home, linked my Bank Card and that was ok. Explain why this scenario? weird. I guess WM just programmed KATE to automatically decline GC’s. I didn’t try going to the Money Center and be embarrassed.

Charlie
Guest
Charlie

Same thing here…I was shut down but the wife wasn’t. No go loading with Kate this evening with her account. The line was too long at the Money Center but I will give it a try tomorrow.

Rob
Guest
Rob

There is a lot of speculation that the shutdowns are related to manufactured spending, but the shutdowns could also be related to the way MS transactions are layered it can appear to be money laundering.

WalmartLady
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WalmartLady

Desperate newbie hoard looking for advice. Speculating what happened? That is a result of money blogging.

Lantean
Guest
Lantean

go back to your cats.

trackback

[…] was the scope — I haven’t used my Bluebird card in over a year and still got an email. (Frequent Miler has some tips if you were spared the […]

An Drey
Guest
An Drey

Got shutdown, but received no email notice. MS ~$1,500 in a typical month. Used bill pay only to pay off Chase Ink. No retail purchases.

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

How are folks that haven’t received an email figuring out they have been shut down?

Thomas
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Thomas

I assume trial and error when they attempt to load it. So far, I’ve been okay using mine, primarily by reloading via debit from my rewards checking. But I just learned that I can pay my citi card via debit, so that cuts out the middle bird for all but unloading VGCs and paying other CCs.

ken
Guest
ken

pray tell how you pay your citi card with debit?

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

Call me and them “I want to make a payment with my debit card.” And they say, “is it with a card we have on file?” And you snicker “no it’s with a new one”

Sandy
Guest
Sandy

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.

MilesCollector
Guest
MilesCollector

I have 2 serve that were not shutdown. I went to WM yesterday and tried to load $1K using my banks debit card. The transaction was approved, but when authorizing to serve it printed a slip saying debit not allowed. The cashier didn’t know what to say. She knew I have done this before and not sure why it wasn’t working. All she said was try calling AmEx to find out why it is not working. On my bank account transactions page, I did see 2 back to back transactions, 1 debit and 1 credit. This means while the money from the bank was approved, somehow AmEX is not allowing the transaction to go through. Does anyone know if they are able to load their serve at WM using any debit card or VGC?

yzt
Guest
yzt

Same thing happened to me at riteaid and WM. I think it means we were shutdown but did not get email.

Audrey
Guest
Audrey

I was also not able to load with either vgc or bank debit card at rite aid, but I have successfully loaded with debit card online. I have seen other commenters who couldn’t load vgc but were able to load cash – so, apparently we seem to be partially shut down. The part that hurts, except for Amex Offers.

Eric
Guest
Eric

Did you receive the letter from Serve? If not, try to load online with a credit card. If you don’t get an error message I doubt you were shut down.

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

Yes but if only 1k is available via online Non AMEX issued cards then the card will have lost 83% of its value (6k to 1k) and having AMEX offers is not going to get me to store cash there waiting with baited breath………..no GC loads then I’m bailing and cutting back on fee cards all in one fell swoop………

Emmanuel Ruiz
Guest
Emmanuel Ruiz

Its been a couple of weeks now since the death of BB and man! its very tedious liquidating GC’s. In hindsight, am soooo thankful that my wife and I got in this game years ago and have amassed such a super healthy miles/points balance even if we use them sporadically. I couldn’t care any less if they are devalued slowly down the line. I got them for almost free anyway. I feel sorry for the people who got in so late and unable to MS if that’s what it will take for them to earn the miles and stuff. And I am glad that I didn’t listen to those people who would only apply for a credit card if there’s a need at that particular moment. Hoarding miles/points ain’t so bad. Had I listened to them, I probably would only have a quarter of the amount that I now have or maybe even less. Really glad I did it. So, Thank You AMEX BB and RB. I harbor no hard feelings or ill will towards you AMEX. I’d still be a loyal customer to the end. I know people out there will not agree with the above comments. Frankly, who cares. Don’t even bother…hahaha…….

trackback

[…] to continue to be shutdown if they violated whatever algorithm Amex came up with.  He suggested only unloading via spend is safe.  Julian the Devil’s Advocate posted over on Travel Codex that the best way to go forward is […]

SDO
Guest
SDO

@emannuel ruiz

You sound so… small.

Emmanuel Ruiz
Guest
Emmanuel Ruiz

and you’re so big. I love people like you.

Susan
Guest
Susan

My account wasn’t shut down. I only use it to pay mortgages. However, when I tried to load a $200 Visa gift card at Wal-Mart (issued by Metabank), I receive a message that says “debit not approved, call authorizer.” This has happened several times and I know that the money is on the card. I called bluebird but they think it’s cash only as of November. I don’t believe that’s right since I’ve seen recent reports of people loading gift cards and I loaded one last month. Has anyone else had this issue?

SDO
Guest
SDO

Put it together… You’ve been shut down.

Tazznum
Guest
Tazznum

If you have not received the email and have not maxed out the $1K online load using your bank DC, try to load and see if it goes through. If you get the message that loading funds to your account has been disabled, that’s means you’re account is shutdown. If you are able to load, you can try again at a different store and see if you can load.

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

Haven’t heard a single case where Serve has been tried at Rite Aid?

Audrey
Guest
Audrey

Tried at Rite-aid with bank dc and vgc, both flashed “approved”, then said “balance not available”. I did not receive the email and have been able to do five online dc loads since my unsuccessful Rite-aid attempts.

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

I’ve gone they the same scenario at Rite aid and the funds successfully loaded. Did the cashier do something to cancel that out? And what flavor online DC did you use ? Me BBVA AMEX worked after everyone got their emails.

Audrey
Guest
Audrey

I used a paypal business debit card (online, successfully). I would love to think I can still load at rite-aid – perhaps I should give it another try. I thought since neither loaded I had somehow been disabled for debit card loads…thought I’ve read of many others who can load cash but not debit.

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

I’ll try on the 1st and report back

Audrey
Guest
Audrey

Sounds good. Thanks.

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

Last 2 days loaded 500 each Serve at Rite Aid……….first time felt like I was sleep walking in an altered state………..we must be grateful for the little things in life………..

Audrey
Guest
Audrey

Ha! Was just wondering if you’d had any luck.
Just realized my bank dc WAS debited $400 though no funds loaded to Serve. So maybe cashier didn’t know what she was doing, idk. Doesn’t inspire me to try again though…maybe back to Walmart. Speaking of grateful for little things, just really happy it wasn’t the vgc that was debited. That’d be much more daunting to sort out/correct.

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

I just added 3 claims to the Cepeda vs PayPal Settlement. Some good soul took these fascists to court and there will be a settlement for those who had their accounts frozen. I may even take a day off from work and go to the court date in Oakland US District Court for the Northern District of California Case No. 10-CV-02500 SBA. I am curious to get a close up look at a modern day fascist. Kindred spirits should come and we’ll have drinks downtown Oakland after the gavel comes down.

trackback

[…] Your Serve or Bluebird is still alive. Now what? […]

Adam
Guest
Adam

I would just like to congratulate each and every one of you incredibly clever individuals out there who strive (so successfully) on such a regular basis to “game the system” – stick it to big financial companies like American Express, and then enjoy your newly fashioned plunder. Well done! Thanks for striking a blow for travel-deprived Americans everywhere.
Just another thought, though — why you may lament the loss of your personal SERVE cards and the giddy fun they provide with all the loading / unloading games as you watch the points pile up on your credit cards — hopefully you will more sincerely regret the loss of SERVE specifically, or any / all AMEX branded prepaid card programs in general, for this reason: There are, in addition to YOU ALL, some poor, kind folk who just use the card(s) as they were conceived and designed; to survive. Hard to imagine, right? LOL Poverty in the United States MUST surely be a myth…. I myself am a disabled individual on a microscopic fixed income. I rely on a SERVE card for what you may take for granted. I have no ATM card. I have no traditional credit card. My extremely low income and poor credit due to lateness on mounting medical bills has made it impossible to obtain an ATM or CC card for me anymore.
ENJOY YOUR fun and games. Keep your SERVE card if you can. I hope the product is not eliminated though. That will certainly hurt me more than you.
Just something for you to consider as you jet over my home in a big 747 sitting in a seat you obtained with credit card points that were “manufactured” as I have seen you put it. I will be sitting here and the only points I will be concerned with is trying to figure out why some think “plastic” is a card game to play — when many transactions REQUIRE a card and those of us with no other option need this product for basics — not fun, games, and luxury travel. So, enjoy your rental car when you land. Don’t forget your wallet in the car when you return the vehicle — you would not want anyone to answer the question “What’s in your wallet?” (Probably a couple maxed out SERVE cards and the questionably derived gains you have derived therefrom.) DO remember that while you take from AMEX you perhaps unintentionally but nevertheless definitely hurt the rest of us. How much will the fees I pay increase or multiply due to AMEX needing to recoup money lost to YOU and your campaign?
Let me know sometime. I will be here on the city bus wondering how many transfers it would take to get me to Acapulco too….

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

Optimistically Everyone would keep their card but if not I vote that Adam’s card be the last one taken.

JV
Guest
JV

Any recent news on BB? I’ve got two that have been hibernating since the first purge