There was a tremendous frenzy last year when you could buy reloadable money cards at office supply stores, earn huge bonuses, load the money onto the Bluebird by American Express. It was an almost free way to generate large numbers of points.
That opportunity didn’t last forever, they never do. But Bluebird remains a very useful, valuable tool in the arsenal. There are plenty of times you’ll say, “gosh, I’m reading about all these things I can do with Bluebird and I don’t have one.” Since it gets sent in the mail it can take time to get, so it’s better to have it now and use it later than not to have it when you want to use it. And it’s free to get.
That’s why I genuinely don’t understand folks who don’t get one.
Buying Money With a Credit Card and Putting the Money Back in the Bank, to Pay off the Credit Card
Many CVS stores still sell Vanilla Reload cards. You can buy them in varying amounts, but you want to put $500 on each card (since that card costs $3.95, no matter how much money you put on it).
My local CVS used to sell me as many as I wanted, though individual transactions were limited to $1000 plus fees. So if I wanted to buy $3000 in Vanilla Reload cards, we had to do three transactions.
Once you purchase the cards, you go to the Vanilla Reload website, enter the PIN code from the card and your Bluebird card number, and the funds instantly credit to your Bluebird account.
You can load up to $1000 per calendar day, and $5000 per calendar month, onto Bluebird this way.
If your local CVS or other store does not carry Vanilla Reload cards, some gift cards with PIN codes can be used as debit cards at a Walmart Moneycenter to load Bluebird. Mileage-earning debit cards can be used as well, and the same limits apply.
Even if your CVS doesn’t carry Vanilla Reloads, you may run into some along the way in your travels. So it can’t hurt to be prepared.
How Bluebird Was Intended to be Used
I closed a checking account this past weekend because it was a secondary account and the bank increased the amount of direct deposit they required in order to avoid monthly fees.
In a post-Dodd Frank world, checking account-only customers at banks have become increasingly costly to service, they’ve become less profitable (and even a cost center), and so banks have responded by increasing fees and shedding customers who don’t provide other business.
So it’s actually rather remarkable that American Express has stepped into this breach with a product that has virtually no fees.
They’ve created a checking and debit alternative with no monthly fees, no overdraft fees, and no minimum balance requirement. There’s a mobile app, it accepts payroll direct deposit, and electronically transfers funds with outside checking accounts.
I think American Express is positioning Bluebird for those unhappy with their banking arrangements, folks getting hit with fees. They’ve partnered with Walmart in this, and that tells me something about the demographic they expect to benefit from the product.
Bluebird is Actually Good for the World
At least, Bluebird is better public policy than most financial reforms ever could be. It isn’t just a product for consumers unhappy with bank fees, it’s a tremendous product for the unbanked. And in that way I think it’s genuinely good for the world.
It’s a no or low cost banking solution that puts accounts in the hands of people who can’t otherwise access banks. It replaces check cashing stores. It has the potential to bring an entire section of the country into the banking system that’s been otherwise shut out (or if they’ve had access to financial products, it’s been costly ones, only marginally better than check cashing stores). I actually see this as a poverty-fighting tool from a public policy perspective.
I guess the point here is that Bluebird isn’t just for mileage-junkies (who knew?). But it is for mileage junkies — as a tool in mileage-earning, and even as a financial tool with the ability to make payments, move money, and hold funds all at a cost that in most cases is zero.
(Note that products in this post offer credit to me if you’re approved using my links. So if you’re aware of better deals than I’ve featured please do let me know! The opinions, analyses, and evaluations here are mine. The content is not provided or commissioned by American Express, or any other company. They have not reviewed, approved or endorsed what I have to say.)