$18k Free Spending With Serve & How To Switch Over From Bluebird

Bluebird by American Express

Converting American Express Bluebird to American Express Serve

Last month my wife and I successfully gave up our Bluebird cards and switched them to Serve cards that we signed up for through the ISIS Mobile Wallet app. It was a very easy process, but did involve a few steps. In this post I will go over the benefits of Serve ($18k free spending per year) and explain the steps involved in converting a Bluebird card to a Serve card.

Bluebird Vs. Serve

American Express Bluebird & Serve are essentially different skins for the same product. While there are a few minor differences, the backend system is the same and thus American Express only allows people to have one card or the other.

While I could spew out a bunch of data points comparing the two cards, the two advantages that Serve has over Bluebird are Amex Offers (formerly Amex Sync) and online credit card loads. The regular Serve card allows you to load up to $1,000 per month from a credit card, while if you sign up for Serve through the ISIS Mobile Wallet app you can load $1,500 per month.

The only two advantages of Bluebird are paper checks and no foreign transaction fee. I have no intentions of ever using my Serve card outside of the country and I have a stack of unused checks that I got for free on my old Bluebird account. I say that I have a stack, however I have no idea where the checks are. For a deeper comparison of the two cards, Frequent Miler has a great post.

Switching Over

Reloadable Prepaid Card   American Express Serve® Account

As I mentioned before, the main reason to switch from Bluebird to Serve is the online credit card loads. I say you should always jump on any and every opportunity to manufacture spend with no fee, especially when it isn’t time consuming.

Before switching over, you should max out your $5,000 monthly load limit before closing your Bluebird card. This essentially allows you to double dip in the month that you switch over. You will get $5,000 in loads on the Bluebird and $5,000 in loads on the Serve if you time it correctly. In my case I maxed out my Bluebird in the first couple of days of the month to ensure my Serve card would arrive before the end of the month so I could max it out. (The $5,000 load limit resets at the beginning of the calendar month.)

Once you have loaded up your monthly limit on the Bluebird card, make sure to pay off bills and/or transfer money to bring your balance down to $0. Once that is done, simply call 1-877-486-5990 which is the same number listed on the back of your card.

After you navigate the prompts and get to a human, tell them to cancel your card. They will then inform you that the card will be closed, however you can reopen it any time in the next 30 days. Hooray you are on your way towards getting a Serve.

Signing Up For Serve

To get a new Serve account you can go one of two ways. There is the easy way and the hard way. To go the easy route, simply wait 24 hours after cancelling your Bluebird and go to Serve.com to sign up. The only thing to note is that you must use a different email address than the one linked to your old Bluebird account or you will get an error.

The second way is more difficult, but also comes with more reward. If you have an ISIS compatible phone, simply download the ISIS app and sign up for Serve through the app. Once you open the app it will walk you through the process. If you don’t have an ISIS compatible phone there is some hope.

Buy Your Way To Serve With ISIS

Currently T-Mobile is offering a $50 credit for new Serve accounts when signed up through the ISIS app on a T-Mobile compatible phone. (Set to expire on 8/31 but they have extended it several times. Check this Slickdeals thread for the latest info.) You can use this to your advantage!

Right now Newegg is selling the Optimus F6 for $99.99 or if you don’t like Newegg or they charge tax in your state then some sellers on Amazon have it for $110. (I personally bought it through Newegg.)

$149-$50 coupon = $99 for a really good ISIS compatible Android phone!

$149-$50 coupon = $99 for a really good ISIS compatible Android phone!

The Optimus F6 is by far the cheapest ISIS compatible phone around and is less than half the price of the next cheapest option that I have seen. Additionally it is a well reviewed phone and a good deal. Once you receive the phone, you must activate it with T-Mobile prepaid to get ISIS to work.

Luckily T-Mobile offers a $3 per day prepaid service which will do the trick. Unfortunately there is no way to only load only $3 on to the account, so you must load a minimum of $10. One other thing to note is the phone does come with a sim card, but it may not be ISIS compatible. If your sim doesn’t say ISIS compatible on it, then call T-Mobile and they will send you out an ISIS sim for free or you can also go into one of their stores and they will swap it out for free as well.

Prepaid Cell Phone Plans  No Credit Check   Monthly 4G   T Mobile

Now that you have signed up for the prepaid service and activated the phone, download the ISIS app from the Google Play store. The app will first ask you to setup an ISIS account before taking you to the Serve card registration. Don’t forget to use a different email address from the one linked to your Bluebird. If all goes well you will have a new Serve account within a minute or two.

Once the Serve registration is done through the ISIS app, you never have to use it again if you don’t want to. ISIS offers a lot of great deals, so you may want to consider keeping it, especially if your current phone is ISIS compatible. If not, you can now log in to your Serve account on Serve.com. When you login for the first time you will notice the $50 credit is already sitting there.

A Trick To Get A Second ISIS Account With The Same Phone

Since my wife and I both wanted to switch our accounts, I thought simply getting a second sim card would work. Unfortunately a phone’s ISIS account is linked to the sim & phone number which means if you try to sign up for a second account it will give you an error message.

Thankfully there is a small workaround. After you complete the registration for the first Serve account, go to T-Mobile and get a new ISIS sim card. As mentioned before, they will give it to you for free and update your account to the new sim card.

Once you have that done, uninstall the ISIS app and call ISIS support at 1-800-937-8997 and explain that you accidentally signed up for ISIS in your name to test it out, but this is your wife’s phone and she needs it in her name. (Or something along those lines.) They should out of courtesy de-link the ISIS account from the phone. When this is done you can then register re-download the app and sign up for another account.

You should receive an email like this when the ISIS account is de-linked from your phone.

You should receive an email like this when the ISIS account is de-linked from your phone.

The trick above worked for me, but I don’t see it working for more than a second account. If you wanted to do more accounts, then you would probably need to cancel the T-Mobile phone number and wait to sign up for a new prepaid account a few days later.

While this process seems a bit lengthy, in the end you will have spent $110 and will have $100 in your two Serve accounts along with the phone. (Verify the $50 promotion is still running when you sign up.) In my case I needed a new phone for my son so I gave it to him. If you didn’t want the phone, you could sell it for about $75 which would yield you an overall profit of around $65.

The real reason to go down this path is that Serve with ISIS allows $1,500 in online credit card loads per month while the normal Serve card only allows $1,000. Assuming the limits don’t change, that is an extra $6,000 per year per card. To me that makes the process worth it.

How Much Time Is Involved

I personally spent less than an hour total doing this. There is a -Mobile store right next to my house, so it wasn’t time consuming to switch out the sim card. After ordering the phone, I was able to activate and sign up for the prepaid service online.

Downloading and installing the app took a few minutes as did signing up for the first Serve card. It took about 15 minutes for ISIS customer service to de-link the first account and another five minutes to setup the second one. I never cancelled the T-Mobile account since my money ran out and it wasn’t on auto renew.

Conclusion

Whether you decide to go the route of ISIS or not, getting online credit card loads is a big feature. In our case, we now have $36,000 per year in no fee spending that we didn’t have with our Bluebird cards. A regular Serve card yields $24,000 in no fee spending for two people.

I know this post is lengthy, but hopefully it will help you realize that you are leaving money on the table by keeping Bluebird. If you have any questions about what I covered here, feel free to ask below!


About the Author

Shawn Coomer

Shawn Coomer has spent nearly a decade traveling around the world with his wife and son. Today he uses that first-hand knowledge and experience to teach others how to achieve their travel dreams for the least amount of money possible.

37 Comments


  1.  
    marshdom

    Thanks for the great post (as always), Shawn.

    I haven’t read the Frequent Miler’s post that you linked to yet, but a few quick questions:

    1) Does Serve mostly work the same way as Bluebird (other than the lack of checks and foreign fees)? Most importantly, I’m assuming the loading with gift/debit cards at Walmart (whether self-serve or via cashier) is the same?

    2) Sounds like you don’t miss having Bluebird checks. But is there any way to cut a check via Serve? I’m thinking of situations where strangely paying with cash or check is still the only (or only convenient) option.

    3) Are there any credit cards (banks) you need to worry about using for loading Serve? For example, does Citi code it as a cash advance?

    4) Finally, I’m assuming there wouldn’t be any category bonuses for loading Serve. So I suspect your first choice for loading Serve (online via credit card) would be meeting minimum spend on new cards. But, beyond that, what card(s) do you prefer to use? Beyond minimum spending on new cards (and without any category bonuses), is there anything better to use than just he 2%’ish back cards (Barclays Arrival, Capital One Venture, etc.)? I guess arguably a 1 pt/$ Ultimate Rewards card is worth arguably/roughly the same as 2%. But am I missing a better option??

    Thanks again!




    •  

      Thanks and I am happy to answer the questions.

      1. It works the same at Walmart and can be loaded the same as Bluebird.

      2. If you pay someone through their online Billpay then a check will be sent. This works the same with Bluebird. The only thing you don’t have are physical checks in your possession that you can write yourself. This was never really a useful feature anyway because you had to get a pre-authorization and it was a big pain. It is much easier just to use the billpay to automatically cut a check.

      3. As far as I know every bank is safe, however if you use an Amex card then you won’t earn points. I have personally used a Citi card and it codes as a purchase.

      4. Serve won’t earn you a category bonus so it is best used to meet minimum spends. Outside of that my current favorite card is the Arrival Plus, but any of the 2% cards would be your best option I think.




      •  
        marshdom

        Thanks for the quick replies. Glad I am thinking about it the right way. Seems like a great move to make, to accomplish $1500 of the $5000 per month of loading much more easily.




        •  
          Autolycus

          @marshdom, the $1500 is in addition to the $5k. Actually, you can do $1500 by CC, $1500 by debit card (useful for those with the SunTrust Skymiles debit card), and $5k by vanilla reload of WM swipe reload per month, for a total of $8k/month.




          •  
            marshdom

            Thanks for the reply, Autolycus. Not to pick nits, but isn’t it $1000/month for Debit? And do you (or anyone) know of any reward debit cards still available (that are worth the time/effort)? And are Vanilla Reloads still available? If so, where is the best place(s) to buy them (I don’t have CVS in my area – but thought that deal went away anyway) and in what denomination? I’ve been relying on Metabank and USBank Visa gift cards. Thanks again (and in-advance to you or anyone else who replies).




            •  
              Autolycus

              The Flyertalk Wiki on Serve says the limit is $1500 for debit loads.

              I do not think there are any useful reward debit cards, per se, available for new customers, but it could be a way to unload from some of reloadable debit cards. I don’t know about that though, so read up on Flyertalk and/or slickdeals to see if anything like PayPal, GreenDot, etc. can be used.

              Vanilla Reloads are still available some places with a CC. Not many, but some. Mostly gas stations.

              Best current way to get money into BlueBird and Serve in large quantities is what you’re already doing: visa gift cards loaded at WM.

              So with the Serve w/ ISIS, you should be able to do at least $6500 in CC spend each month. Possibly more. I’d be able to do $8k, but I still have reasons to stick with BlueBird for now, so I’m limited to just $6k ($5k swipe plus $1k debit).




  2.  
    Geoff

    So Serve has a $5000 monthly load limit of which $1500 can be directly from a credit card?




    •  

      Serve has a $5,000 per month cash load limit. (These are the type of loads you do at Walmart for example.) The $1,500 online credit card limit is seperate from that and is done online. You can even setup automated loads. Here is a link to Serve’s site with a list of all of the limits. https://www.serve.com/help/

      Effectively with Serve (ISIS version) you get $6,500 per month of which $5,000 is in-store loads and $1,500 is online credit card loads. Additionally you can load another $1,500 online with a debit card. (This only makes sense if your debit card earns rewards.)




  3.  
    Chi Lee

    IF we currently have regular Serve accounts, can we still sign up via T-Mobile ISIS and get the credit?




    •  

      Yes. According to that thread on Slickdeals, people have had success closing down their regular Serve account and signing back up through ISIS. The process is the same as with Bluebird. Call to cancel, wait 24 hours and then sign up through the app. Check the thread for the latest details on that.




  4.  
    Scott

    Do you know if an Amex gift card can be used to load serve through the online method?




    •  

      I have never tried that, but most prepaid cards do not work. The credit card used has to be a primary card and in the same name as the Serve card. For example I have to load my Serve card with my own credit cards and my wife the same. Like I said, I haven’t heard specifically of Amex prepaid cards being blocked, but my guess is that they won’t work given the fact that almost all other prepaid cards are blocked.




  5.  
    Claire

    Great info, thank you. Couple of questions: (1) Any data points on whether B of A credit cards earn points when loading online? (2) I don’t have an ISIS [what an unfortunate name, BTW] compatible phone and the acquisition process you describe sounds cumbersome. If I borrow a friend’s phone for the one-time setup, is there any downside (for either the friend or myself) aside from not having ongoing access to offers via app? My friends are totally not into MS so I don’t think I’ll be using up anyone’s SIM “quota.”

    BTW, the Bluebird paper checks are a PITA for reasons beyond what you describe. I use them to pay rent and the landlord (a large, public company) cannot “deposit” them electronically like normal checks. Occasionally there is a new employee at the management company who doesn’t know that and tries to electronically deposit it. The transaction rejects several days later (not immediately). By then, they’ve shredded the physical check and have to ask me for a replacement check. I then have to call BB to stop payment the original check and then write a new once, which means repeating the same pre-auth process. Rather annoying.




    •  

      People have reported that loads made with BofA cards reports as purchases. http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/manufactured-spending/1199432-serve-another-paypal-amazon-payments-77.html

      There shouldn’t be any issue using a friend’s phone for signing up for ISIS. In fact, that is a great avenue to go down if it is available to you. The ISIS account can be in anyone’s name and doesn’t have to match the name on the cell phone bill.

      As far as Bluebird checks, I have heard other horror stories similar to yours. I just use the online bill pay and thus haven’t ever had to write one of those checks. I think it is better to either bill pay online or transfer the money to a regular checking account and write the check from there.

      Thanks Claire!




  6.  
    Katherine

    Hi Shawn,
    I’ve just finished my first months $1000 spend to Serve with my spiffy new Chase Sapphire Card. I have a Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card with an authorized user (this card gives the authorized user the same account number as mine and his purchases rack up points to my United Frequent Flyer account). I’m thinking he should get a Serve card and load $1000 from the United Plus card. I’ve heard of Amex shutting down accounts that seem “hinky”. Do you think this will be red flag for our accounts either to Amex or Chase?

    Tip: I use the Serve card to send a paper check to my landlord so I get points just for paying my rent. Yay!




  7.  
    Frank

    Being that I have an Iphone 5S, I would have to buy an ISIS compatible case to get ISIS. Would this cause any issues (especially since there is an ISIS app involved)? I’ve never heard of ISIS til today. Thanks




    •  

      Nope as far as I have read there wouldn’t be any issues. You could install the app and use the case and then remove it later if you didn’t want to use ISIS anymore.




  8.  
    Patrick

    Did you install the ISIS compatible SIM card before signing up the prepaid service plan?




  9.  
    jediwho

    Shawn,

    Do you get a serve card in the mail if you set up the account via ISIS? How many days did it take?




    •  

      Yes you do get a physical Serve card in the mail. It took about a week for mine to arrive!




      •  
        marshdom

        Unfortunately looks like the $50 offer is over and hasn’t been renewed. At least as far as I can tell from the Slickdeals thread you linked. Probably still a good deal to get the extra $500/month credit card load.

        I zero’d out my Bluebird in anticipation of jumping on this, but bummed I missed the $50 offer. I assume that I should wait to cancel my BB until I see that any final bills I paid have been processed on the other side (on the websites of the vendors I paid).




  10.  
    Mike

    A couple questions. If using a friends ISIS comparable phone to sign up, do they have to keep the app installed on their phone or can they delete it once I’m all signed up? You mentioned that when canceling BB to wait 24 hours and then use a different email address, does that apply when going through the ISIS app as well? Is there a way to use the same email address (ie wait a little longer)? Thanks. Excited to pair this with amazon payments for $2500 in free manufactured spend per month.




    •  

      1. They do not need to keep the app. As soon as you sign up, a physical card will be sent. The Serve account will exist whether or not they have the app installed.

      2. Yes the waiting period applies. It is based on anecdotal evidence that it takes a bit for their system to release your social security number so that you can get a new account.

      3. As far as I know there is no way to use the same email address no matter how long you wait. The back-end system is the same for both cards, so the old email is linked to your closed Bluebird account.




      •  
        Mike

        I just called and canceled My Bluebird account. I did mention that I was canceling because I was switching to a serve account. The representative told me that I could sign up for a serve card after a couple minutes. I used the Isis app from my sister-in-law’s phone and was able to register for the serve card using my same email. The whole process took about 5 to 10 minutes.




  11.  
    marshdom

    Too bad the $50 deal appears to have expired. Or at least nobody at Slickdeals has confirmed if it has been extended. Probably worth the time/expense without the $50 credit anyway. But if anyone knows about the $50 deal being extended (or not), please let us know!




  12.  
    GMan

    Shawn, the Slickdeals thread you linked to suggests that if T-Mobile service is cancelled, Serve reverts to non-ISIS Serve. Presumably this would have happened to you (and would happen in the friend deleting ISIS situation as well). Is this untrue? Presumably your limits reset 9/1 so it has either worked or not? Any insight?




    •  

      I have been traveling and haven’t done my loads for this month. I will be back on the 13th and will start the loads on that day. If anything changes I will update everyone. Thanks for the heads up.




  13.  
    jbeth

    wouldntyou need to go to tmobile to get the isis sim card bc dont they have to manually link it to your phone number? or is this something you can do yourself ?

    also, please give me a break down of daily and monthly limits on isis serve.
    is monthly as follows:
    5,000 in combo of cash and/ or debit ( in store) + 1500.00 in credit cards ( online only) + 1500 in debit (online) so a total of 8,000 a month?




    •  

      The T-Mobile store will link it right away which is the easiest way. If you get an ISIS sim in the mail, then you have to call and link it over the phone. As for the limits, you have them absolutely right!




  14.  
    Yongfang

    Thanks for sharing this.

    I do have one question: can OneVanilla or Vanilla visa card be successfully load to Serve at Walmart? Both of them can NOT be loaded to BB at Walmart now.

    Thanks




    •  

      Some people have had success loading OV cards to Serve/Bluebird at the Walmart kiosk. It worked for me about a month ago, but I have been traveling and haven’t tried it more recently.





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