I don’t spend a lot of time churning cards for points, certainly not as much as some folks do. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on the subject, though I have dabbled a bit with American Express Bluebird.
You used to be able to buy Vanilla Reload cards at office supply stores and get 5X miles per dollar by purchasing them using a Chase Ink Bold or Chase Ink Plus cards(not referral links, just handy in case you want to review the cards). That went away some months ago, which was certainly unfortunate for folks who were churning them. Diehard mile and point junkies are always looking for the next deal, and a friend asked me recently what I thought of Serve from American Express. I hadn’t heard of it, but figured I would do a bit of research, especially when he told me that there was a 20% rebate on Serve purchases in the Isis Mobile Wallet. HT: Justin. Thanks!
So, first some details about Serve from American Express. It’s important to note that you can’t hold a Bluebird card and a Serve card at the same time. Quoting from the T&C of Serve:
Registered users of the Bluebird® by American Express® service are not currently eligible to register for an Account or open an Account. In addition, after you register for the Serve Service, you will not be eligible to register for Bluebird for as long as you maintain a Serve Account.
Now, based on the definition of a registered user, if you’ve had a Bluebird card in the past and no longer have the account open, you likely would qualify for a Serve card. HT: JoshUK for pointing this out.
The website lists the product as something similar to Bluebird, a product for those without access to conventional bank accounts. It includes features like direct deposit and bill pay. It also includes a $1 monthly fee which is waived if you use direct deposit or deposit at least $500 a month. So, it’s easy for this product to be free.
The temporary cards themselves cost $2.95 in the store and can be loaded with up to $500 in funds. I went to my local Office Depot and found a large display of Serve cards. I asked if I could use a credit card to load the initial balance and was told yes. Obviously, with some of the inconsistencies surrounding gift card purchases at places like office supply stores and CVS, your mileage may vary.
It’s unclear from what I’ve read so far if an individual can have multiple serve cards. At $2.95 a pop, that’s certainly cheaper than what office supply stores charge to buy regular gift cards right now. And, if the $500 is allowed to be funded with a credit card, then that’s a good value for the miles. I suspect that as things unfold we’ll hear about complications with having multiple Serve cards. Here’s a snapshot of the inside of the card pack and the back with some more details.
As a permanent replacement to Bluebird, I don’t see it. You’ll likely be limited to 1 card and that may not be worth the effort. But, the Isis mobile wallet 20% cash back deal looks legit. Here’s how you would go about piecing it together easily:
1. Go buy a Serve card at Office Depot. Use a Chase Ink Bold or Ink Plus to get 5X if you can.
2. Load it with $500, preferably at Office Depot or somewhere else you can get bonus points.
3. Link the card up with your Isis mobile wallet. More info here. Don’t worry, iPhone users. You can play, too. There’s a case coming out for the iphone here, detailed here. But, you can also buy a Flojack to turn your iPhone into an NFC device. NOTE: T&C state plastic card transactions don’t count. You need to link to Isis.
4. Go to CVS and buy $500 worth of gift cards using your Isis mobile wallet. Wait for $100 statement credit to post.
5. Lather, rinse, repeat to earn a total of $200.
ETA: If you’re not using a card that gives you bonus points for purchase such as an Ink card at an office supply store, then you could in theory load the whole $1,000 on at once and redeem for $1,000 in gift cards. But, make sure you don’t have a way to earn bonus points for loading the card first.
I can confirm having spoken with folks who have done this successfully, though I haven’t myself. Good luck, and please report back on your successes or failures.