October 23, 2012
Last week, in the post “Bluebird takes flight and changes the game,” I described a new prepaid card from American Express that has some terrific features both for people looking for a no-cost checking alternative, and for points & mile collectors.
Just like the older American Express Prepaid cards that I wrote about in “One card to rule them all,” the Bluebird card can be reloaded with Vanilla Reload cards. This is important because some stores allow Vanilla Reload cards to be bought with credit cards. In other words, it is possible to get points and miles from loading Bluebird. Once loaded, Bluebird can be used like a credit card, or as an ATM card for cash withdrawals, or to pay bills, or to send money to friends.
I ordered my Bluebird card last week (Tuesday) and it arrived yesterday (Monday). With my Bluebird in-hand I was able to run experiments. Some of the experiments were doable from home, but for the others I rushed out to a couple of Walmart stores in the area….
Load via Vanilla: Some people questioned whether Bluebird could really be loaded with Vanilla Reload cards. In fact, some American Express reps even told customers that they could not be used that way. However, online documentation was clear that Vanilla Reload cards could be used. So, the first thing I did after activating my card was to load $500 from a Vanilla Reload card to my Bluebird. No problem. Result: SUCCESS
Load via credit card in-store: The online documentation makes it clear that in-store reloads (“swipe reloads”) require cash or debit card, but an American Express rep I talked with said that “some stores” allow credit cards. I tried at a register in one store, and at a reload ATM in another store. No luck. Result: FAIL
Load via gift card in-store: I didn’t think this had much chance of working, but I had a Walmart gift card sitting around, so it was worth a try. At a register in one store, and at a reload ATM in another store, I tried to reload Bluebird with a Walmart gift card. No luck. Result: FAIL
Load via bank gift card: I thought this one had a chance of working since online documentation said that debit cards could be used for swipe reloads. I brought along two Visa gift cards, both with the word “debit” in the bottom corner. I tried one at a register in the first store and the other at a reload ATM in the second store. No dice. The register told me to select “credit” and then rejected the whole idea. The ATM machine asked for my PIN. I tried 0000, but the machine ultimately told me (in a distressingly loud voice) “card not accepted.” Result: FAIL
Load via true debit card in-store: I fully expected a debit load to work, but since I was at the register anyway, I tried it just to be sure. Using a real debit card (my Mio, actually), I successfully loaded $200 to my Bluebird. The good news is that neither Walmart nor Amex charges a fee for this. So, for people with mile earning debit cards (e.g. Suntrust Delta card, BOA Alaska Airlines card, UFB Direct Airline Rewards checking) this might be a great alternative to buying Money Orders. Since I don’t yet have any of those cards, I’ll have to rely on readers to try this out and let me know if miles are earned when loading Bluebird. Result: SUCCESS
Manage card with Mint.com: One great thing about the older Amex Prepaid cards is that it is possible to monitor your account(s) via Mint.com. I tried to add my Bluebird to my Mint account, but it didn’t work. Hopefully Mint.com will fix this soon. Result: FAIL
Manage card with iPhone App: I installed the Bluebird by American Express app. It’s very easy to use; it allows you to pay bills; send and receive money from others; deposit money via check, bank account, or debit card; and view your transactions and balance. I was happy to find that the app existed and that it seemed to work, at least for the basic functions I tried. Result: SUCCESS
There are still many things yet to be discovered about Bluebird:
- Do points-earning debit cards earn points when loading Bluebird at the register?
- Where, besides Office Depot, can people buy Vanilla Reload cards using a credit card?
- What about Bluebird Feeder Packs – will we be able to buy those with a credit card? Where can we buy them?
- Can we make debit payments with Bluebird (to pay taxes, for example)?
- Do transfers from PayPal or Amazon Payments count as direct deposits for free ATM use?
Have you tried Bluebird yet? Have you learned anything worth sharing? Comment below.
Related Posts and Links
- Bluebird takes flight and changes the game
- One card to rule them all
- Bluebird membership agreement
- Bluebird FAQs
- VanillaReload web site