October 25th, 2012

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Update: You can no longer purchase Vanilla Reload cards using a credit card and Vanilla Reloads are no longer available in Office Depot.

American Express launched a new checking/debit alternative called Bluebird and it presents some super exciting opportunities to rack up points, as I learned while sitting in on Frequent Miler‘s keynote speech at the Chicago Seminars. First take a look at the video below where I explain just what’s so exciting about this card and why it can help you rack up multiple points with every dollar you spend – even on purchases and expenditures that you can’t ordinarily use a credit card for (think mortgage, homeowners fees, rent, insurance, etc)- and then find the rest of the details explained below.

Here is the link to register for a Bluebird card online.

You can also get a temporary Bluebird card by heading to a Walmart location that carries a starter kit for $5 that you can fund with up to $500 using a debit card and that you then register online at Bluebird.com to get a permanent card within 10 business days. Might as well take the short cut and just register online in the first place.

Getting a card doesn’t affect your credit. One thing to note: If you have an Amex Serve card you will have to cancel it in order to get a Bluebird.

Among the things that set Bluebird apart and mean it might just be one of the best options out there for earning points:

1. It doesn’t carry any of the usual fees that prepaid cards have. There are no transaction fees, load fees, ATM fees are waived when you set up a direct deposit and use a MoneyPass ATM, no foreign transaction fees and most importantly no bill-pay fees.

2. It works like an ATM card. This means you can do things with it that you can’t do with a credit card – or at least do them while incurring lower fees than you would with a credit card. It also means you can put money on the card then withdraw it as cash without an ATM fee (assuming the conditions above) and then use that to pay for whatever you want. You can withdraw up to $500 and $2,000 per month this way.

3. You can load up to $10,000 on it. Many other cards similar to Bluebird only let you have limits that are much lower, like around the $2,500 mark, but being able to put $10,000 on this one all at once means you can take care of all your expenses with it or use it for some big charges.

3. You can use Vanilla Reloads just like with Amex prepaid cards. You can load up to $1,000 per 24-hour period and up to $5,000 per month using Vanilla Reloads.

4. You can load it up at a Walmart by using a miles earning debit card.

5. Use it to pay bills…to anyone! One of the pitfalls of points-earning cards is that you can’t always use them to pay certain kinds of bills like mortgage, car or utilities, or if you can, you can incur large fees. Bluebird has a bill pay service, though, where you can either choose from a list of pre-established merchants/payees, OR you can add a payee of your own and order a check to be cut from your account and mailed directly to them. That means you could just send a check to a friend if you needed to without paying a fee. That means you can take care of all your monthly bills from here, and you can even do it from the mobile app. Check payments are limited to $5,000 per month.

6. You can use it as a debit card. Though it’s designed to be used as a checking/debit alternative, you can use the Bluebird card as a debit card with transactions that accept the one but not the other, like certain mortgage or rental companies, or to pay taxes so you get hit with lower fees (like $3-4 rather than 2-3% of the transaction) than you would using a credit card.

7. Transfer money to other cardholders. Bluebird cardholders can transfer up to $2,500 per month (and per transaction) to other cardholders for free.

8. You can link it to a checking or savings account (not to a debit card), so if you receive money or you want to use value on your Bluebird to pay off a credit card, you can withdraw the funds to your checking account then pay your statement from there – though I would be careful with this since it’s the kind of activity that raises a red flag.

Just a couple things to note. If you want to use a debit card to reload your Bluebird, you are limited to $100 per day and $1,000 per month, and you are charged $2 per load if you do it online. The ability to reload – even small amounts – by credit card online as you can with the Serve card is not available, so fingers crossed that Vanilla Reloads remain a viable option here.

Maximizing Points
A prepaid card isn’t the intuitive choice for racking up points, but there are a few ways to do so with Bluebird.

Even if a Walmart won’t do a credit card swipe refill, they can do it with a debit card, so if you still have a points-earning or cash back debit card like the SunTrust Delta one, the Perkstreet Financial 2% Cash Back card or the Bank of America Alaska Airlines debit card, you could rack up miles that way, just beware the funding limits noted above and the $2 per transaction fee. Update: PerkStreet Financial will be closing permanently and ceasing all business operations on September 26, 2013.

As I mention in the video, I’m still waiting on my permanent card to arrive so I can use my Vanilla Reloads on it, but when I do, I’ll really start digging into the card and all the ways you can maximize your earning by using it.

I don’t have my permanent card yet, but I’ll be blogging about maximizing the Bluebird card once I do!

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