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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.
Since its introduction last year, Bluebird by American Express – a debit card-checking account alternative – has been one of the most powerful tools in every points collector’s aresenal thanks to the ability to purchase Vanilla Reloads using credit cards and load the amount from the Vanilla Reload directly onto the Bluebird card then use those funds to pay bills and expenses that you can’t usually use credit cards for such as mortgage and car payments.
However, there are a few limits to the Bluebird’s usefulness including being able to spend just $10,000 a month using its Bill Pay feature and only $5,000 to unregistered payees. You can also only pay up to $2,500 per transaction and per month with its Send Money feature, and the fact that you’re limited to loading $5,000 per month onto the card using Vanilla Reloads means there are only so many points you can earn by using it regularly. Still there’s a lot to be said for it as a points-earning tool that can help credit cardholders maximize their points.
A couple months ago, Bluebird added a couple new features that increase its usefulness including the ability for account holders to get actual physical check books. These checks come in books of 50 ($19.94 + $5.94 shipping) or 100 ($26.94 + $6.94 shipping) usually. But for the first several months they were available, Bluebird allowed its account holders to order these checks for free (even shipping and taxes are waived), and while the discount was supposed to end in May, it was extended through August and now it has been extended again through January 1, 2014.
So if you have a Bluebird account, and you haven’t done so already, be sure to order your own free book of checks (and go for the book of 100 since it’s all free). You order these books by logging into your account, clicking on the “My Account” tab and then selecting “Order Checks.”
With Bluebird, you are limited to spending $100,000 per year including via these new checks and your total account balance is limited to $100,000 (when first launched it only used to be $10,000), although keep in mind that funds added by methods other than check by mail and direct deposit are still capped at $10,000 of your balance.
There is a little bit of a process to writing a check from Bluebird which includes pre-authorizing the amount online in your account and getting an authorization code which you need to write onto the check itself. When you spend $2,000 or more that authorization can take about 2 business days, so you need to plan ahead in some cases.
Still these checks are useful tools for most of us since instead of using the card’s Bill Pay function, you can now also just write the check yourself for whatever bill you are paying and there’s no waiting for funds to be deducted from your account or verifying that the recipient actually received your Bill Pay check since you have a physical copy as proof. It’s just another layer of usefulness to an already dynamic product…and one that’s free, so you might as well take advantage of it!