Mileage-earning debit cards make no economic sense for banks.

The Durbin Amendment to the Dodd Frank financial reform law signed in 2010 limits the cost to merchants of debit cards. Banks don’t earn very much any more off of debit card transactions, so it doesn’t make sense to ‘pay’ consumers to make those transactions. In fact, buying miles costs the banks more than the fees they earn. So mileage-earning debit cards are almost a thing of the past.

They still exist in a couple of places, such as with Bank of American’s Alaska Airlines debit card (earns 1 point per 2 dollars in spending).

And from Suntrust Bank, which issues the Delta Skymiles World Check Card and offers 1 Delta mile per dollar spent.

All I can fathom here is that Suntrust — one of the few banks that failed federal government stress tests in 2012 — is doing its darndest to incentivize deposit accounts, even at a loss.

I personally have no qualms about holding a Suntrust bank account, but I probably wouldn’t want to exceed FDIC coverage limits in that account.

Delta Mileage-Earning Debit Card Now Open to Everyone

The offer used to be available only to residents of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carlona, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, and Washington DC only. Suntrust is strong in the South and Mid-Atlantic.

And while the debit card’s page says it is available in those states, Free Frequent Flyer Miles reported that the account can now be opened online, with the option to list any state of residence.

Apparently the SunTrust – Delta Airlines miles offer for the bank’s debit card (5,000 miles and 1 miles/$1) is now available to everyone in the U.S. and can be obtained online. Today I was able to access an account application online whose pulldown menue for states included all of them.

There’s a 5000 mile signup bonus and a $75 per year annual fee.

Earning Miles for Tax Payments — Cheap

It doesn’t make sense to pay taxes on a credit card just to earn the miles, since the fees for doing so are generally higher than the value of the miles earned.

It can make sense to use tax payments to help you hit minimum spending requirements for credit card bonuses. And it might make sense to use tax payments to help meet spending requirements for certain credit card benefits (if I wanted to stay a Delta elite in 2014 I might put tax payments on a Delta co-branded credit card so I didn’t have a minimum spending requirement in ticket purchases for that status).

But not for the miles.

Debit cards are a different story. PayUSATax.com will charge a flat $3.49 fee no matter how big a tax payment you make. So paying your taxes for the miles does make sense with a mileage-earning debit card.

Bank of America debit cards expressly do not earn miles for tax payments. But the Suntrust Delta debit card does.

Buying Money With Your Debit Card for the Miles

If you don’t have access to Vanilla Reload cards, you can still earn miles with Bluebird.

Many folks like to ‘buy money’ at CVS, load it onto their free Bluebird card, and then use Bluebird’s online billpay to pay mortgage or rent or just have a check mailed to their spouse. Or withdraw the cash from an ATM.

But Vanilla Reloads aren’t at all CVS stores, and those that have them may not be willing to put the purchases on a credit card.

If you can’t find Vanilla Reloads purchasable by credit card, you can still load Bluebird with a mileage-earning debit card at Walmart for free (you can do it online too, but there’s a $2 fee and $100 limit so the economics of that don’t work out).

Loading with a debit card is limited to $1000 per calendar day and $5000 per calendar month, and is a shared limit with Vanilla Reload card funding (so you cannot do a combined $10,000 a month — it’s $5000 total for loads via Vanilla and via debit cards).

Using your Delta debit card from Suntrust means you can earn up to 5000 miles per month with this technique — and it doesn’t even come with the fees that would accompany the purchases of Vanilla Reload cards.

I have a feeling lots of folks beyond the Mid Atlantic will be signing up for Delta debit cards from Suntrust.

  1. Ari said,

    @Gary

    What about a very easy or two

    Cash back walmart(on legit purchases)

    Example: You need to buy milk, eggs, water, etc.

    Milk 2 dollars+ 100 dollar cash back limit

    Eggs 3 dollars+ 100 dollar limit

    etc etc etc

    Second way:

    Post office checks for small fee

  2. thrashsoundly said,

    Do we know for sure that loading onto Bluebird will actually generate DL miles with SunTrust?

  3. Tony said,

    No where on their web site does it talk about a 5K sign up bouns, also where is a link to sign up for thie account?

  4. thrashsoundly said,

    I guess if you don’t have enough cash sitting around you’ll have to factor in whether or not the monthly maintenance fees make it worthwhile.

  5. Andrew said,

    The 5,000 mile bonus is mentioned in the small print Disclaimers section. Though that it isn’t in bold print makes me wonder. I’m going to give it a go and see what happens.

  6. Jane S. said,

    i’ve had my Delta debit card since last spring when they gave you 35,000 mies for opening it up. I have also loaded my Bluebird at WM and received points for it as well.

  7. Bacc said,

    What’s the advantage of loading up bluebird with the debit card instead of just making payments using the debit card directly? Don’t you earn the 1% either way?

  8. mike said,

    wher’s the drop down menu to select all states? I don’t see any menus.

  9. sil said,

    would you receive points for paying property tax on debit card whether it be suntrust delta or Bank Of America Alaska airlines debit card?

  10. Ryan E said,

    People in other states have been opening ST accounts for some time, I’m one of them…BUT it was always hit or miss. Where I had no trouble, some out-of-state people were denied, or had an account opened and shortly thereafter closed by ST with no warning. So it’ll be nice if folks don’t have to play the roulette wheel on this now.

    SunTrust’s customer service isn’t the best and their online banking website is clunky. But if you leverage the opportunities for spend generation, it can definitely be worth it.

    From time to time ST has offered a larger signup bonus, but hard to predict if/when it will come again.

  11. Gary said,

    @Bacc – you can use Bluebird’s billpay to pay bills that don’t take debit cards (like mortgage, rent) and to pay credit card bills.

  12. Jeff said,

    Doesn’t this involve another checking account and its associated fees/minimums?

  13. Scott said,

    Only problem? You earn delta miles.

  14. bf said,

    Just be aware of the $12/mo maintenance fee unless you keep a balance of $3000 in a 0% checking account (not sure if it’s average daily balance or minimum balance). So there’s an opportunity cost here. And what you earn is DL Skymiles.

  15. Gary said,

    @Jeff since the deal is for opening a checking account then yes this involves another checking account, and like most checking accounts in the post-Dodd Frank world there are meaningful minimums and potential fees.

  16. jfhscott said,

    @Gary- what are the implications of taking 10, 15, 20 or more exemptions for withholding purposes but then using the cash not withheld from paychecks to make estimated payments at payusatax.com?

  17. The G said,

    I must be blind because I can’t find any online links to apply for the Suntrust Delta card…..

  18. scott said,

    I have been uploading to bluebird for a months at walmart from my suntrust delta debit card..to answer a few questions…it is $5,000 per month. In December I tried doing more than $5,000 that month and was rejected by the walmart system. The miles will post in your Delta account. This has been working fine for me for 3 months now.

  19. Andrew said,

    To apply you have to go into the Balanced, Solid Choice or Signature Advantage on the left side of the page that comes up with the link in this blog depending on what account you wish to open. Once applying you can choose the standard debit card or Delta Card.

  20. Charles said,

    I have been loading Bluebird with Delta Card with no problem and lots of miles too.

    Any thoughts on using Bluebird to pay taxes like real estate tax or income tax? I was thinking of mailing a check made out to the IRS to me and then including that check as my payment. That would then avoid all fees.
    So it didn’t get lost in the mail I would mail it as:

    IRS
    c/o MY NAME
    MY ADDRESS

    Thoughts?

  21. Kurt said,

    I think I’l wait and see if Delta further devalues its redemption program before bothering with this.

  22. Tom // Sit in first said,

    Be careful with this. I am out of SunTrust’s target area and opened an account. I made a $2,000 eft transfer from my main checking account to open the account. Suntrust closed my account two days after I opened the account. They said my account was out of their target area for the debit card. It took a month and a half to get all my money back. I got my money back, but it was a pain and my cash was locked up for a long time. BEWARE.

  23. Gary said,

    @Tom I assume this was before Suntrust allowed anyone to open the account online?

  24. Sam said,

    Opened one last year for the 35000 miles promo. I was out of their area then but they still gave me the account. Have been earning miles loading the BB for several months without issues. Not sure 5000 miles are worth the $75 to sign the wife up though…

  25. Greg Z said,

    Does opening a Suntrust checking result in a hard pull?

  26. Jim said,

    The SunTrust site timed out on me as I was in the process of inputting funding information, and said to start over. I did, and now I find I have two new accounts…

  27. Tom / SitInFirst.com said,

    No – it was very recent. My state was in the drop down.

  28. Jack said,

    I don’t live in the originally listed states and I got one back when it had the 35K mile bonus. Since the bonus is only 5K now, from what Suntrust has offered in the past I’d wait for another offer larger than 5K. A way that folks have successfully used this card in the past is to purchase MO at Walmart. Suntrust has shut some accounts down for that but you should be okay as long as you don’t go crazy with it.

  29. PatMike said,

    I think I’ll just stick with the B of A Alaska one that gives 1/2 mile per $1 with a $30 fee. Plus I can walk into a branch and load it anytime instantly.

    How would you value 1/2 Alaska mile vs. 1 Delta mile ???

  30. Gary said,

    @PatMike if you don’t have taxes to pay with the card then it’s a reasonable choice

  31. Lee said,

    Hi guys, do they pull credit report for opening new accounts?

  32. PointsObsession said,

    1. BofA will not award miles for tax payments made using their Alaska Airlines Debit Card.
    2. I applied and opened a Suntrust account online in Sept 2012. Days later they closed my account. I subsequently went into the College Park branch which is a $5 cab ride from ATL and flew home to Missouri. I have recieved thousands of miles buying MO’s, loading Bluebird and paying taxes.
    3. Online tax payment processors limit you to two transactions per calendar year each. Apparently though, you can do additional transactions via phone.
    4. Suntrust limits you to $30,000 per debit transaction per day or $50,000 per transaction/day if you have a brokerage account with them.

  33. Carl said,

    To earn miles, one must use the debit feature at the point of sale, not the credit feature, correct?

  34. Gary said,

    @Carl, “Only PIN Point of Sale and signature-based purchases (including small dollar purchases that do not require a signature), Internet purchases, phone or mail order purchases or automatic bill payments qualify for mileage earnings.”

  35. Miles said,

    Any suggestion that SunTrust will send out a 1099 for the miles earned. I believe that Citi did that for AA miles earned from a checking account.

  36. Mark said,

    I read about this scheme on the Frugal Travel Guy website, so I opened an account and tried to do that money order trick but unfortunately my Suntrust acct was shut down very soon thereafter and it took me over a month to get my funds back. I will not do business with Suntrust ever again, nor would I recommend them to anybody else. It seemed easy when I read about it on the Frugal Guy website, but in reality it was way more hassle than it was worth. Thank you but I’ll stick to opening new credit cards for lots of signup miles as that has worked well for me since I got into the miles game 2 years ago.

  37. Mark said,

    I forgot to mention I was able to order three $250 money orders before my account got shut down. I thought I was going to be rolling in Delta miles after my third purchase, but I guess the miles gods were not smiling down on me.

  38. User Name said,

    Got shut down too. Lots of hassle to open the account and then only lasted three weeks. Definately not worth the effort.

  39. MileageUpdate said,

    I will say its a great way to earn Delta miles however there is a min acct bal that triggers the monthly fee $12-17 and if you go under by a penny at any time in the month they hit you with the fee. Minimums are 3k-5k depending on which acct you get. I’ve hit it once and couldnt get them to waive the monthly fee.

  40. Jason said,

    I didn’t know about the B of A Alaska card – thanks for the tip on that. Like PatMike, I too am curious about the value. And does anyone know if that $30 fee is per person? My wife and I have a joint account.

  41. PatMike said,

    @Jason – I think it’s $30 per card. I’ve been paying my taxes with Visa Debit cards from Office Depot (INK), and calling Official Payments to process multiple $500 transactions with one call.
    I have only used the Alaska Debit card once to fund Bluebird, but will use it more often once Vanilla Reloads become scarce, as they do from time to time.

  42. Ariana said,

    I live in CA and was able to open an account online a year ago. I closed it and tried to re-open recently, but my deposit was returned and my account closed again. No explanation.

  43. The sky is falling! Or, is it? - The Frequent Miler said,

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  44. Erasmus said,

    Add me to the list of folks whose account was closed–silently. Looks like they really don’t want accounts outside mid-Atlantic. Sadly, they initiated the ACH from my bank before closing the account, so now I’ll need to go chasing after my (non-trivial) opening deposit. Hopefully I’ll recover it quicker than some of the previous posters…

  45. Andrew said,

    @Erasmus- when did you open the account and how long did it take for them to close it afterward? I opened an account last week (live in MN) to see what happens. My deposit just became available and I did a mobile deposit of $50 to see what happens with that.

  46. Jim said,

    I am no longer able to access the account I opened and funded online 5 days ago. All record of the account is now gone, along with my deposit. As others have pointed out, with no warning whatsoever. Apparently Suntrust is still not open to those living outside their target area, dropdown list notwithstanding.

  47. Erasmus said,

    @Andrew- opened on Saturday, funds withdrawn from my transfer institution Monday, account gone Tuesday, still no sign of the money or word from SunTrust.

  48. Andrew said,

    @Erasmus- thank you for the reply. I opened on Sat, funds withdrawn on Monday and still open right now. I did a mobile deposit yesterday and that showed up.

    I did have trouble logging in to the account for a couple days, just gave some error. Then I tried another computer and logged in ok. Had to delete the cookies for Suntrust then I got logged in ok on the 1st computer. This was using Chrome.

    If it is closed I hope you get your money back soon!

  49. Jim said,

    Update: Suntrust has just refunded my deposit to the originating bank account. Still zero communication, but at least my money is back.

  50. nathan said,

    Has anyone used their Delta Suntrust debit card to pay their Suntrust mortgage at Wal Mart using Bill Pay? I get a “contact card issuer” error the 2 times I’ve tried.

    Secondly, I am no longer able to load money on to my Bluebird card at WMT using my Delta Suntrust Debit….anyone else have this problem? I contacted Suntrust, but they say everything is fine.

    Finally, I’ve experimented with paying my Amex at WMT using Bill Pay. So far, anything over $2000 seems to generate an extra level of security, and ultimately the transaction fails. Have others been able to pay larger bills at WMT? I’m thinking perhaps I just have a clunky store?

  51. Andrew said,

    My Suntrust card came today along with my new Bluebird card. So far my Suntrust account remains open. Still need the PIN to be able to use as a debit card. Once I get that I’ll try a Bluebird reload at Walmart.

  52. Jim said,

    Further update in the saga: And now I get my first communication from Suntrust. It’s an email asking me to fund my account…

  53. Gotpoints said,

    @nathan- I had issues with Walmart, not allowing me to load funds from Suntrust Debit card on 3/12/13. I am going to try again tomorrow, but I think they may have put a stop on this. This could really suck!

  54. Andrew said,

    I haven’t had any load issues as of two weeks ago. I’m going tonight for a load so will report what happens.

  55. Andrew said,

    I loaded $980 tonight without any problem using my Suntrust debit card.

  56. Andrew said,

    I did another $990 today.

  57. Nathan said,

    Wow…you did $980 in one load at WMT? I’ve never been able to load more than $100 at a time, making it worth my time only if I happen to be there. But, I figured out why it was not loading at all…I had hit my $5000 limit for the month, which apparently includes a combined VR and cash.

  58. Andrew said,

    I’ve done up to $1000 in a single load without a problem. I just mix up the amounts so it’s not an even 1000 every time possibly triggering some check into what I’m doing.. lol

  59. Nathan said,

    I get back to the US tomorrow…I’ll give it a try!

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  61. bean said,

    Suntrust is a total waste of time. Tried to apply online only to get error messages. Called and was told may be system maintenance issues, try later. Tried a couple of days later. Lengthy application process but it goes thru. I get email saying account is open and I should wait for email on funding. Nothing comes so I call in to be told account is closed per “rules and regulations.” What rules and regulations? They can’t tell me – call back tomorrow before 4:30 e.d.t. when that department is open. In the meantime, I get an mail asking me to fund my (apparently closed) account but, when I click the link, it can’t find an application associated with my name. I call again, before 4:30, only to again be told account closed per unspecified “rules and regulations.” I’ll get a letter but rep doesn’t know if letter will be any more specific.

  62. Neil said,

    OK. This a new theory regarding Square the credit card swiper for ipads and phones, but I haven’t tried yet. Keep in mind that almost anyone can get a Square account from Babysitters to anyone who wants to accept credit cards for any reason. I have a small business and signed up for Square on Smartphones to take credit cards. Square has a program in which you can pay $275 a month flat rate (cancel at any time) instead of having to pay 2.75% on every swipe. According to their site you can use the flat rate program up to $250,000 a year. After that it reverts to normal swipe fees.

    So lets say you sign up for the monthly program and essentially “charge or swipe yourself” $5000-$10,000 a day, then just refunding yourself between a couple of bank accounts and/or credit card and bank accounts. Square usually funds money to an account the next business day after a swipe or purchase. That means in a 20 business day month you can earn 50000-200,000 miles for only $275 Square fee and then cancel? Does that make sense? Also, I am wondering if you are constantly charging yourself or (spouse, friend etc) and you are getting the funds and putting it back and charging again is it legal?

  63. Erik said,

    Two notes for folks applying online.

    1. I filled out the application online and received an error message telling me to call SunTrust. Despite the error, I later got an email saying my account had been created.

    2. I called and confirmed that the account was active the next morning. I chose to fund my account with $100 from my Chase Sapphire Preferred MC, but noticed a Cash Advance fee of $10 a couple days later, so I had to pay off the balance right away to avoid interest charges at 19.99%. The funding max by CC is $100, but it looks like, at least with Chase you won’t be earning miles or making progress towards a minimum spend.

    Has anyone had success funding this account with a CC that processes as a purchase?

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