Maximizing American Express Bluebird to Earn Miles and Points: FAQ

by on November 1, 2012 · 53 comments

in Amazing Deal Alerts, American Express, Amex Bluebird, Chase

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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.

Last week, I wrote about the new Bluebird card from American Express and Walmart. A lot of other bloggers have written about it and its a hot topic in the forums, so I apologize to anyone annoyed by the Bluebird  coverage.
In short, it’s a checking/debit alternative that you can load with reload cards (like the famous Vanilla cards) purchased with credit cards. So put simply, you earn points on the Vanilla card purchase- the max you can load per card is $500, so 500 points on most credit cards. The Vanilla cards cost $3.95, so you are “buying” miles for less than 8/10th of a cent each. It gets even better with the Ink Bold and Ink Plus at Office Depot, which earn 5 valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at office supply stores). So for the $3.95 cent Vanilla card you earn 2,500 Chase points. Once the funds are loaded into Bluebird at no cost, you can then pay any bill- including mortgages/ rent/etc at no fee. Normally paying rent with a credit card will cost 2%+, negating the value of the points earned. However, Bluebird allows you to earn 5 miles per dollar on everything, including mortgages and other expenses that are normally off limits to credit card spend. Truly game-changing.

I’ve gotten a ton of reader emails and comments about Bluebird, so here are the most common questions answered. Feel free to ask more and I’ll do my best to find answers- especially once I finally get my card and begin really leveraging the service.

Q: Am I missing something here? Why not buy the Vanilla Reloads on the ink card, load up the Bluebird card, and then close the loop using the Bluebird card to pay off the ink card?

A: You can do that. However, American Express will shut down your account if it suspects you are laundering money (which is what that would look like). So I recommend a healthy mix of spend with Bluebird so you don’t look like a drug dealer trying to turn “dirty” money into legitimate funds.

Q: Why pay bills? Just buy the cards reload them and then take out the cash at an ATM and keep doing it over and over again on the side on a monthly basis.

A: You could do that, but once again if American Express sees suspicious activity, they will likely close down your account.

Q: The Vanilla reloads have a restriction of $5,000 per month, is that not correct?

A: Yes- You can load up to $1,000 per 24-hour period and up to $5,000 per month using Vanilla Reloads.

Q: I got this message when trying to sign up: “Thank you for choosing Bluebird. Sorry, but we cannot approve you for a Bluebird Account at this time because you have an existing Serve Account. If you have any questions, please contact us by calling Customer Service at 1-877-486-5990.”

A: Yes, If you have an Amex Serve card you will have to cancel it in order to get a Bluebird. In my opinion, Bluebird is a much better product.

Q: The Bluebird card itself doesn’t offer a point structure on spend does it?

A: No. That would be too good to be true! Still, being able to earn 5 Chase points per dollar spent on everything is incredible.

Q: Do you know if the Direct Deposit must be set-up through an employer or can you set up an automatic deposit from a checking/savings account?

A: Per the Bluebird Member Agreement FAQ it states that the only direct deposits that can be sent to Bluebird are from employer payrolls. Other deposits like, government payments like Social Security (even wages), cannot be direct deposited to Bluebird. You can fund Bluebird with transfers from your checking or savings account, but it won’t qualify as “direct deposit”, which waives the $2 ATM fee.

Q: Will Chase treat the purchase of a Vanilla Reload card as a cash advance, or is it treated like any other Office Depot purchase?

A: It will be treated as a normal purchase, with no sales tax.

Q: I am new to this and not sure how the Vanilla Reloads works, but can I load $5000 (since it cost $3.95 per load) using Ink Bold or Ink Plus and load to Bluebird Card $1000 every 24 hours?

A:  The max you can load per Vanilla Reload card is $500 and there is a $3.95 fee per card. $5,000 worth of cards would cost $39.50, but not bad for 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which conservatively valued at 1.25 cents a piece are worth $312.50!

Q: Can you clarify- will the Bluebird be easier to use for rental cars, etc. than an actual prepaid debit card? For example, I used a prepaid debit card a couple of weeks ago. Up front, they pended around $170 and when I returned the car, they pulled the pend and only charged the actual $60 that the car was. Would there still be a large pend of money up front with the Bluebird card?

A: While the Bluebird is a checking/debit alternative it is similar to a prepaid card, so the similar situation would happen. Note, some car rental agencies will charge larger deposits for using a debit/prepaid card.

Q: Can you reload with Amex Gift Cards?

A: No.

Q: In doing deeper research, can you explore the possibility of using the Bluebird card to make student loan payments? That is by far my biggest expenditure each month and it would be great to earn miles on the payments without the exorbitant fees charged by ChargeSmart.

A: Student loans can be paid via the free bill pay feature. If the payee is not listed, you can create any customize payee… you can do bill pay to anyone.

Q: So if I’m reading this correctly, it would work like this: An example of $2K /mo spend on mortgage, you can use your ink bold or ink plus to purchase vanilla reloads and get 5x points or 10,000 points per month just by using the ink to load the bluebird and then paying your normal bills from the bluebird with a check.

Isn’t it quite possible that this may lead to getting kicked out of the points program if it appears your taking advantage? If not, I’d easily be able to rack up 10-15k points per month using this method, which would definitely be incentive to sign up for an ink card.

A: Correct. From my understanding, this strategy isn’t breaking any Chase, Office Depot, Walmart or American Express rules. This could change, but in the meantime many people are raking in tons of points using this sort of strategy. There’s a risk to everything, but getting in on this “deal” at a reasonable level doesn’t concern me.

Q: Would this be considered a chip and pin card when traveling internationally?

A: No. And there are no foreign transaction fees, but American Express decides the rate in which your purchase is converted into US dollars: “Where permitted, if you use your Card to make a purchase at an establishment or ATM withdrawal in a currency other than U.S. dollars, the transaction will be converted to U.S. dollars on the date it is processed by us or our agents. The exchange or currency conversion rate between the transaction currency and the billing currency will be either (i) a rate selected by us from the range of rates available in wholesale currency markets for the applicable central processing date or (ii) the government-mandated rate in effect for the applicable central processing date.”

Q: While there are numerous commenters on your blog that have inquired about whether the Bluebird card will affect your credit score, I believe that there is a much more important issue (i.e., whether becoming a bluebird customer will be viewed as “risky”credit behavior by AMEX). If AMEX considers you a credit risk because you are using Bluebird (regardless of what your credit score may be), you may be severely limited with respect to your ability to churn cards with AMEX in the future. I would imagine that using a product targeted to unbanked customers will reduce the likelihood of instant approvals and, gasp, may even lead to denied credit applications. Please let me know what you think.

A: I do not think American Express will use Bluebird as a factor in deciding someone’s creditworthiness. They are heavily promoting this card and while it is geared towards non-premium customers, simply getting it shouldn’t have an affect on your ability to get credit with American Express or other credit card issuers.

Q Part 1: I just saw on Twitter that you are buying the Bluebird cards from Walmart with your Vanilla card.

A: Incorrect- I bought my temporary Bluebird starter kit at Walmart using my Suntrust Delta Debit card. Vanilla cards themself can only be loaded onto prepaid cards- you cannot use them to make purchases themselves.

Q Part 2:
I have the Chase Freedom card but cancelled the Sapphire card over a year ago. Can you explain the process for me. Do I have to have the Sapphire card and if so can I reapply without the bonus?  Once you buy the Bluebird or Vanilla card can you go to an ATM and cash out or do you have to use it with purchases?

A: Think of the Bluebird as a car and the Vanilla card as the gasoline. You buy Vanilla cards at Office Depot using any credit card (as mentioned Ink Bold is the most lucrative option) and then load them onto your Bluebird card for free. Once the funds are on your Bluebird card you can use it to make everyday purchases or use the funds to pay bills, like your mortgage or to even send money to someone else. You can also use your Bluebird card to take out cash from ATMs, however there is a $2 fee (which is waived if you have a direct deposit linked to your Bluebird). I recommend reading the full Bluebird rules, but the ATM maximum is $500 a day and $2,000 per month.

As for getting the Sapphire card again, generally you can only get the sign-up bonus once per card, however there are two versions of the Sapphire Preferred- Visa Signature and World Mastercard. If you had the Visa Signature, you may be able to get the Mastercard version here and still get the sign-up bonus. Note: you may get automatically declined, but you can call the reconsideration line at 1-888-245-0625 and you can explain why you’d need the card again.

Q: I called Vanilla and they said that you cannot load Vanilla cards to Bluebird. Is that true?

A: I was once told that as well, but in practice many people have been able to load Vanilla reload packs into their Bluebird account. Remember, you need to wait until you have a permanent Bluebird card, so if you get a starter kit at Walmart and immediately try to load it with Vanilla reloads, you will get errors.

Leveraging Bluebird, Vanilla reloads and points earning credit cards is super lucrative way to rack up tons of credit card spend and points at very low fees. It’s a new product, so no one knows just how sensitive American Express and Chase may get to pushing this general strategy to the limits, but I’d recommend exercising sensibility- don’t just start buying thousands of Vanilla reloads and then trying to instantly withdraw the money from an ATM. Use Bluebird for everyday bills and spends and if you need to pull some money out within the limits, that’s fine too.

I highly recommend reading through the official Bluebird member agreement, which is actually pretty easy to read through. Fellow blogger Frequent Miler is also an excellent resource- he’s been experimenting with prepaid and reloadable cards for months, so check him out for more information on Vanilla and Bluebird.


Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Wesley Choate

    Thanks for this very good explanation. I think you have answered all my questions. Much appreciated.

  • Travis

    A quick comment. If you are getting the error about having Serve account here is the work around:
    1. Cancel your Serve account by log into your Serve account and cancel it online.
    2. Use the EXACT same Name, Address, SSN, Phone, E-MAIL to signup for BB account.
    3. Wait a few days for the card to arrive!

    If you don’t use the exact same information as Serve account you have to wait 30 days before you can signup for BB account.
    Hope it helps…

  • Ace

    Do not buy a temp BB card at Wallyworld, it is not necessary and costs $6 (5 and 1 to load). Go straight to BB online and fill out app, no load necessary, card in 5 days, floodgates open.

  • Ram Kashyap

    $5000 worth of Vanilla cards would cost $39.50 NOT $19.75

  • thepointsguy


  • Scott

    Why just Ink Bold? Do you not get the 5x with Ink Plus? If you do, this should be edited to read the “Chase Ink family of cards”, or something like that.

  • allen

    I think another good opportunity here is to also use this to meet your minimum spend requirements on citi, amex or chase cards. There is too much talk about the ink bold with office depot purchase, that this opportunity may be lost.

  • Jettyboy

    Hilarious how you managed to work in links for the Sapphire and Freedom cards in to a post about Bluebird.

  • Travis

    That’s exactly what’s I’m doing. Using BB to meet my SPG Amex $5000 spend requirement and use the money to pay off my other CC bills at the same time.
    Win-Win for me.

  • thepointsguy

    The point is that you don’t HAVE to have the Ink Bold to take advantage of Bluebird

  • Adam

    wow this article on your blog surprised me; it doesn’t really fit into your style thepointsguy.

  • Homerica7

    I have a question that I haven’t seen answered on all this Bluebird discuss on FT and other blogs. Since you are using a business credit card (INK family) to purchase pre-paid cards, and then using those cards to pay for personal things (mortgage, bills, etc), how are you not in BIG trouble if you get audited by the IRS? It will look like you have thousands of dollars of spend, and if you business is a small sole proprietor with on a few thousand in income each year, I don’t see how you can justify that spend to the IRS. This question if the biggest reason why I haven’t tried this strategy yet, and I’m hoping someone has a reasonable answer.

  • Curious

    Where does it say on the blue bird site that you will earn points from paying bills through them?

  • Pongo

    The rest of the story …. Vanilla Reload cards are rapidly disappearing from Office Depots around the country and many locations are not re-ordering.

  • Ericlipkind

    i guess you could pay taxes as well for a $3.49 fee as it is a prepaid card, correct? husband and wife can each get a bluebird card and double up, correct?

  • Matt C

    I think most people are using their SSN to register for the card. Therefore, there is no actual registered business — so the IRS is not a factor in that case. I’m not sure on the scenario where you actually applied a registered business, maybe someone else can comment. There could be a situation of having Amex/Chase/etc shutdown your acct if they feel you are not using spend on business expenses — which you can probably justify in some fashion.

  • lbotez

    There are no Vanilla Reload cards at Office Depot where I live. However, there are several at the Walgreens next door. These are hang tag cards that you take up to the cashier and can pay for with a credit card (though I’ve heard not all Walgreens take credit cards for these kind of cards). They even have an AMEX logo (along with NetSpend) on it. AX Hilton Surpass cards give you 6 hilton points per dollar. Wondering if you get 6 points by using this card for the $500 Vanilla Reload purchase? From what I’ve heard, you do. Anyone?

  • lbotez

    no taxes on reload cards

  • Travis

    I bought $25 TGI Friday Giftcard from my local CVS with Amex Hilton (not Surpass) before just to test out the points and I got the 6x Hilton on that purchase so I don’t see why the $500 Vanilla card would be any different.

  • Allan Klein

    Your Ink Bold link is broken. Says the offer is no longer available.

  • Chris S.

    Brian, I’m generally a fan of yours, but think that Frequent Miler deserves more than a hat tip for this…he deserves essentially ALL THE CREDIT.

    And it’s a bit disingenuous to write up his technique and throw in a bunch of your affiliate links. I know you get attacked regularly (and often without cause) for including these links, and I’m usually on your side because it pays the bills. But Frequent Miler’s trying to make a buck too, and he’s got his own links. If I were a blogger, I’d be pimping the hell out of his links.

  • Homerica7

    Even with applying using your SSN, if you have a business, then you are likely going to file a Schedule C on your taxes listing your income and expenses. If you were to get audited, the IRS could request to see all of your records, including your Ink statements, and I think they could have some legitimate issues with your spend. I am aware that you can place business spend on a consumer credit card and as long as you are keeping good records might not have a problem with co-mingling of funds (though co-mingling might make your business be seen as a hobby and not a legitimate business). I suppose the chances of an audit are low, and probably even lower that the IRS gets too deep in your records, but paying for personal items with a business credit card (if the IRS actually cares about such distinction between cards, which I don’t know) seems like it could easily go wrong for you if you do end up getting audited. Maybe someone who is an accountant has a better explanation?

  • Blake

    What is the best Vanilla card option? I bought a OneVanilla Prepaid Visa Debit care at Office Depot, loaded it with $500… Is it better to upgrade to a MyVanilla Visa? Or to buy one of the AMEX versions? Or, get more than one so I can fill up 2-3 of them at once. What are your thoughts on this? Thanks as always. Lovin’ this Bluebird stuff.

  • Wingtipwalker

    My local 7/11 has vanilla reload cards….I usually only pay at the pump, but if I made the card and gas purchase inside would I get the 2 points per dollar on my Amex PRG?

  • miffSC

    So, is there an issue with closing the Serve account? Do I just call and say I want to close it because I don’t need it…. or because I would rather have the Bluebird product?
    And, I wonder why you can’t have both. Any rationale on that?

  • JS

    I’m using my Ink card to purchase Vanilla reloads to load on Bluebird, but since my overall spend on Ink is relatively low, I thought it might be prudent to use other cards for buying Vanilla reloads for Bluebird, if the benefits makes sense. Do you think this is a real concern or should I not worry about using the Ink for about $2500 of Vanilla reloads/month (all used to pay bills I can’t otherwise charge)? Can you suggest which if any cards would be good to use to buy Vanilla Reloads for loading onto Bluebird other than Ink? I’ve got a bunch to choose from :), but from what I can tell, it looks like what I’d gain in points is about 50 cents more than the $3.95 cost/card.

  • C75K

    And who is stupid enough to use the other cards that offer 1 pt/$ to buy these? I believe that you are insulting your readers’ intelligence here…

  • TK

    Well since most people don’t actually have a business they won’t be filing that. For those who have a business and putting person spend on the card, why would you even list personal items as business expenses on the Schedule C Form??? If you are only listing legitimate spend, and not personal, why would that raise any flags?

  • Tim

    this is very risky game. One of my buddy’s got closed recently without any warning or red flag. He got a call a month earlier about the ( ABNORMAL LARGE PURCHASE AT OFFICE STORE) but he told them he was buying pcs and printers and passed the call. I guess they smelled something wrong, perk abuse?

    so be careful and I have stayed away from this now

  • Geoff

    Can I do all this online or do I have to go to an Office Depot every time I want to buy the Vanilla reloads? That would be quite inconvenient.

  • seth

    Is the $1000 per 24 hours limit on purchasing Vanilla reload cards or is it on loading the vanilla cards to your Bluebird. Could I purchase $5000 of vanilla reload cards at once and then just load them onto my bluebird cards over 5 days?

  • Ericlipkind

    why can’t you use it to pay taxes?

  • Eric

    Is there any way for folks in New York City to get in on the action? From what I hear, Vanilla reloads aren’t available at Office Depots in the city and of course we don’t have a Wal-Mart.

  • Jim

    I bought 2k of them the other day so definitely can buy the $5k at one time. So should be fine

  • R-info

    I live in NYC – not clear where, if anywhere, one can buy Vanilla Reload cards. Does anyone know if there is anywhere?

  • TK

    Those that have a min spend reqt to meet :)

  • slomichael

    I don’t have a 5% Ink Card, I do have the Freedom Card with this quarter 5% promo at Best Buy or Kohls. Does Best Buy or Kohls offer the same card that you can transfer to Bluebird?

  • Vroomanjon

    Can I pay a $9,000 tax bill at one time with the Bluebird payment? I don’t see any maximum pay stipulation, only that the card will only load $10,000 total?

  • Delta Question

    Does anyone know if the reload at Walmart with the Delta debit card earns miles, or is that just a non-miles earning cash equivalent purchase?

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  • Admanco

    i know i know… how many times do you have to explain this. but just trying to clarify. i got the card… uh… ’cause you told me to. now that i have it: 1) go on line or in store and buy vanilla card? who sells it? buy it with, say, am ex card, spg card of ink card? put that money BACK onto the blue card? then they give you checks to use to pay stuff? sorry, it just wasn’t totally clear… even though you explained like 100 times. sorry!!!!

  • Rowergirl

    I don’t have an Ink card, but I do have Am Ex Plat personal and business cards as well as a few others … I was wondering, has anyone done a comparative analysis of the “value” of using Vanilla Reloads/Bluebird by funding from cards other than Ink?

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  • Mike Howard –

    Hey guys, I was wondering your thoughts on simply buying $40,000 worth of vanilla cards, then adding them two per day to my account, then spending that money throughout the year on mortgages and other random things. do you think Chase would flip out? Is Chase the weak link in this amazing points opportunity, or do you think Office Depot will bail out first?

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  • No

    I made the mistake of going to Walmart an paid the $5 for the temp card and added $1 to the account and then found out the hard way the $500 Vanilla card would not load it since this is a temp card limited to $500 max. i wasted $5 :(

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  • tom

    C75K, I think you are a douche bag for being so easily insulted.

  • Reward Boost

    For those asking about where to get Vanilla Reload cards, here is their website. They have a list of partner retailers there (Reload Locations) and that should help you find someone to buy a Vanilla Reload card.

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  • John

    Everyone, I tried buying them at all of the listed and they have blocked purchases with credit cards. Wasted my $$ the hard way and found out. All of the retailer have caught on to this.

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