Better than Sliced Bread

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Damn this is fun.

Travel hacking in general, and manufactured spending specifically really hit a bunch of high points with me.

There’s the illicit pleasure of doing something that you’re not supposed to do. It reminds me of raiding my parents’ liquor cabinet as a 13-year-old with my friends.

images (1)

Ahhh…. Manufactured spending plus geri curl = adolescent good times

Then there’s the fun of piecing together random bits of knowledge, both from your own observations and from that which you’ve read.

There’s also the joy of trying something new, not quite knowing if it will work, and finding out, to your surprise, that it does work.

And finally there’s the basic human satisfaction of profiting from your own efforts.

Which I mention, because I’ve recently launched a couple of new experiments here at the Miles Dividend MD laboratory with excellent results.

These are not revolutionary approaches, to be sure. But there are a few wrinkles that are new or that buck conventional wisdom.

So let’s proceed, shall we?

I’ve been considering switching my bluebird account over to an Isis serve account for a while now.

The main advantages as I saw them were the following:

  • Being able to reload the Serve card with moneypak cards, purchased by credit card. (Although they are one dollar more expensive than Vanilla Reloads, and are rumored to be less dependable, moneypak cards are more readily available, and can be purchased at many outlets with a credit card.) The obvious payoff here was not having to go to Walmart.
  • Being able to load the Serve online with a debit card.(But not a gift card.)
  • Being able to load the Serve card online with a credit card.

The main disadvantages as I saw them were the following:

  • According to this wiki, in order to switch over from the Bluebird to the Isis Serve card you had to have closed down your Bluebird account for 31 days. This meant a long stretch of not being able to load visa gift cards onto a pseudo-checking account. To a self-described manufactured spender this prospect was akin to throwing my cherished Blankey into my wife’s new Vitamix blender.
  • There was also the prospect of having to pay one dollar a month if I forgot to load $500 onto my Serve card (un – bloody – likely)

So what is the Serve card? It’s another American Express product that is very similar to the bluebird card with a few key differences (Highlighted above.)

Unfortunately you’re not allowed to hold a Bluebird card and a Serve card simultaneously. You simply must choose your poison.

And what is the Isis Serve card? It’s a specialized version of the Serve card that includes both the ability to pay with a plastic credit card, as well as with your smart phone.

Importantly unlike the Serve card which only allows you to load $1000 per month and $200 per day onto your account via online debit and credit card reloads, The Isis Serve allows you to load up to $1500 a month, $500/day each.

So altogether, a single Isis Serve account can be loaded with $8000 a month of manufactured spending. And once loaded it is essentially indistinguishable from a bluebird account in terms of it’s functionality.

So here are the steps to take to switch over from Bluebird to Isis Serve:

1. Cancel Bluebird account. Before doing this I made sure that my bluebird account had been liquidated and had no money in it.
(It would’ve been a good idea to change my listed phone number in my profile prior to closing the account too.)

2. Order a specialized smart phone case in order to make electronic payments with Isis Serve. I ordered this one for my iphone 5.

(Although this case did cost $69, this cost was easily offset by the $25 credit automatically added to the Serve account by Isis as well as the $25 credit granted by AT&T, as well as the $50 credit for direct deposits (see below.))

3. Once case arrives download Isis app onto iPhone.

4. One day after closing Bluebird account use Isis app to open up Serve account.

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Stop the presses…

You read that right: contrary to the wisdom of the above wiki I was able to open up my Isis serve account one day after closing my bluebird account. I did have to call up American Express and have them change the phone number on my closed Bluebird account in order to enter my actual smartphone number into my Isis account application, but after I did this my application went through right away.

4. Load some money onto the Isis card via credit card load online.

5. When your physical Isis Serve card comes in the mail you can then activate it and load moneypaks on to your Serve account and set up automatic credit card loads of $1500 a month, each month, and automatic debit loads for the same amount. (I ended up using my PayPal debit card. But that’s another story for another day…)

6. Sign up for two direct deposits from your work onto your Isis Serve account for at least $250 each. This will earn you another $50 credit on to your Serve account.

7. Pay for cheap stuff at stores with your phone/Isis. Each time you do this up to 50 times a month for the next couple of months you’ll get a one dollar credit onto your Serve Account. This means you can buy a candy bar for about zero cents! (That’s even cheaper than when I was a kid.) It’s also kind of fun to pay for things with your phone, though I would never waste the opportunity to spend on a credit card if I weren’t being paid for it.

And that’s pretty much it.

So the take-home points are:

  • You can load up to $8000 a month of credit card spending onto an Isis serve card without ever visiting Walmart.
  • The cost to purchase an Isis enabled iPhone case is offset by easily achieved bonuses.
  • You do not have to wait 30 days after closing your Bluebird account to open your Isis Serve account.

I hope that was helpful.

Please leave any questions below.

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38 Responses to “Better than Sliced Bread”

  1. glo June 7, 2014 at 6:33 am #

    I admire your relentless pursuit for happiness.

    let me check this out. Thanks for the post

    • Miles Dividend M.D. June 7, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

      Glo,
      I take that as a huge compliment. Thank you.
      Pursuing happiness is a full-time job, but the benefits are fantastic!
      The serve angle is definitely worth pursuing.

      Alexi

  2. Robert June 7, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    I guess I missed the leap…how did you go from $1500/mo max to $8000?

    • Miles Dividend M.D. June 7, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

      Robert,

      You missed nothing. My explanation was insufficient.

      Each month with an Isis serve card you can load the following:

      1. $5000 in debit loads at Walmart, or moneypak online reloads.

      2. $1500 a month in debit card online reloads.

      And

      3. $1500 a month in online credit card reloads.

      For a grand total of $8000 a month per card.

      Alexi

      • Robert June 7, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

        OK. But then why do you load debit cards? Is there a signup bonus on those or mileage earned? (Showing my ignorance, no doubt). I thought bonus miles and other awards were only for credit cards. So why would you need manufactured spend on debit cards?

        • Miles Dividend M.D. June 7, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

          Robert,
          We’ ll get there I promise.

          But for the time being.

          1. Yes there is 1 % Cashback on the paypal debit.

          And

          2. The debit card is loaded by credit card.

          Stay tuned.

          AZ

          • Robert June 7, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

            Will stay tuned. I’m not up on that one. When you write about it, perhaps you could also discuss whether you can transfer debit card balances (from Paypal, for example) to one’s bank account. i.e., to complete the circle. I’d be interested to see a “full cycle accounting” of your spending. i.e., all fees and rewards for a “credit card to debit card to spend-or-deposit-to-bank” cycle. For example, if you get 1% cashback on debit cards and 1% cashback on the credit card used, how does that compare to any fees? And do you get cashback on debit card spending only, or on money transferred to a debit card associated bank account, or what? And do debit cards only offer cash-back, or do they offer mileage too? Don’t answer now–just consider this for a future more detailed post.
            BTW, I belong to a credit union that lets seniors (55+) buy up to $100/day in gift debit cards for 5% off. i.e., a $100 gift card costs $95. Unfortunately, you have to go to the lobby and wait for a teller, and the transaction takes some time. Not worth $5 to me to do all that unless I have to be there anyway. But it might get more interesting if I knew what to do with the gift cards I accumulate. I have no real use for them.

          • Miles Dividend M.D. June 7, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

            A full accounting of a manufactured spend cycle is a good idea for a post. Thanks.

            In terms of what to do with hundred dollar gift cards, one option is to use them to fund evolvemoney payments to any of your creditors.

            The problem with your situation, I suspect, is that you don’t have many creditors!

            But you can always load them on to a bluebird or serve account at Walmart and withdraw the money to your own personal bank account.

            AZ

  3. Jason W June 7, 2014 at 7:42 pm #

    I’ve been looking into doing this as well. For some of the same reasons. I have an android so do I need the special case? So the process is to switch my phone # on bluebird, drain, and close. Is the DD bonus still available for Serve? That’s great that you found a way to get around the 30 day wait and an extra 5K of spending for the month you do this as well. Do you for see any problems with Paypal and doing the same amount over and over again?

  4. glo June 7, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    Hi Alexi,

    You are most welcome. I have been visiting millionmilesecret for years but it was your interview that gave me the direction and the final nudge that I needed.

    Being past 40 with kids and with the experience of being out of job for 6 months in the great recession (I had a cushy layoff package and was employed before it ran out so no complaints but you know all about FEAR)… I always thought I will never have enough to retire early as I had already missed the boat…

    But then your blog came along… keep it going! Appreciate it very much!!

    • Miles Dividend M.D. June 18, 2014 at 8:59 pm #

      Thanks Glo,

      Your comment means an awful lot to me. I write for selfish reasons. Mainly because I love to organize my own thoughts.

      But this is not a diary. I publish the blog. And the reason is that I hope that it will give other people value.

      Comments like yours Are incredibly valuable to me.

      I hope the blog Gives you some actionable information as well!

      AZ

  5. John June 9, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

    Will Isis allow an account
    without using the smartphone option?
    Thanks, John

    • Miles Dividend M.D. June 9, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

      John,

      I don’t think so.

      But if you want a cheap smartphone/plan, check out MMM’s entries on the subject….

      http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/?s=phone

      Smartphones are not essential, but they are almost essential…

      AZ

  6. Tyler June 10, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    If you have already signed up for the regular Serve card how do you switch to the Serve with Isis? I would like to take advantage of the higher load limits. Thanks.

    • Miles Dividend M.D. June 10, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

      Tyler,

      I’m not sure. I would give ISIS a call and find out if it is possible.

      Start here for the phone number for your provider.
      https://www.paywithisis.com/contact.html

      Hope that helps,

      Alexi

  7. cyclops June 12, 2014 at 7:34 pm #

    The ISIS case for iPhone 5S on the verizon website has been out of stock for weeks now. Can I buy one from AT&T and use it on my Verizon iPhone?

    • Miles Dividend M.D. June 12, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

      I suspect not, but I would call verizon and find out your options. Well worth it.

      AZ

  8. Peter June 15, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

    Do you mind sharing where it says the limits for Serve w/ ISIS are $1,500 for credit and debit loads and $500 a day? When I got to the Serve site I was directed to once I signed up, it stated they were $1,000 for credit and $1,000 for debit up to $200 a day. Thanks.

    • Miles Dividend M.D. June 15, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

      Peter,

      I don’t have a reference to give you, but I can confirm from personal experience that I have loaded 1500 dollars from both a debit and a credit card onto my Isis Serve account this month.

      If you want official word I would just call up serve and ask them the monthly load limits for online loads on the Isis serve card.

      Alexi

    • Peter June 16, 2014 at 8:45 am #

      Thanks Alexi. That’s confirmation enough for me. Two more questions when you get a chance – 1)do I need to wait till my physical Serve card comes to start the $500 loads on debit and credit or can I do that starting now? 2)can I do them through the Serve website or do I need to do them via the Isis app? Appreciate the help.

      • Miles Dividend M.D. June 16, 2014 at 9:56 am #

        Peter,

        My recollection is that you can only load $400 each from the debit and credit cards via the Isis app until your serve card arrives.

        Once the card arrives then you can do the moneypak loads and load the card to the limit.

        Alexi

        • Jack June 25, 2014 at 7:40 am #

          Hi Alexi, where can you buy GreenDot Moneypaks using credit cards? Also, you mentioned loading your PayPal debit using credit cards and you get 1% cash back correct? When adding your PayPal debit onto Serve ISIS as a debit card, have you had any issues repetitiously loading funds? Reason I ask is because I’ve attached a TD Go card as a debit to my Bluebird and was flagged on the 2nd transaction, where they need to confirm it’s a true debit card for a checking/savings account. I’m a bit hesitant to do the same thing on my Serve account. Thanks in advance for the feedback!

          • Miles Dividend M.D. June 25, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

            Jack,

            I buy my money packs at rite aid.

            I load my PayPal debit card by loading my PayPal account with My Cash cards purchased with credit cards.

            Then I get 1% cashback when I load my Isis serve account with my PayPal debit card.

            I have had no issue loading $1500 onto my Isys serve account with either my debit card, or my credit card.

            Alexi

  9. heather June 30, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    Just to clarify – you are suggesting that you change the phone number on your existing bluebird to your current mobile phone number?

    • Miles Dividend M.D. June 30, 2014 at 10:52 am #

      That’s right, Heather.

      When I closed down my Bluebird account and tried to open up my ISIS serve account the next day I was unable to because American Express recognized my phone number.

      When I phoned up and the customer service agent changed the cell phone number on my closed Bluebird account to my home phone number, the problem resolved and I was able to sign up for the account.

      I hope that helps,

      Alexi

  10. bob August 13, 2014 at 2:22 pm #

    don’t quite understand the need for the special iphone case for isis. Presently, I have no case for my phone

    • Miles Dividend M.D. August 13, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

      Bob,

      It depends on your phone. iPhones cannot interface with the Isis payment stations without a special case.

      Some phones can.

      You should check with your cel provider for your specific phone.

      AZ

  11. Sean August 25, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

    When you refer to “drug stores” are you still having luck buying these at rite aid with credit?

    • Miles Dividend M.D. August 25, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

      Yes Sean. Most of my purchases have been at rite aid with credit cards.

      Alexi.

  12. DavidNJ September 3, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

    I just discovered your site and thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve read and learned on this thread. I did not know you could buy moneypaks w/ a CC and load them online to Serve. I read mucho MS sites and never knew about moneypaks & Serve. Having three Serve cards in the household really amps up the spend. Will be doing loads of reading on your site to find other ideas. Thank You!!!

    • Miles Dividend M.D. September 3, 2014 at 11:46 pm #

      David I’m glad you found the site. Thanks for your kind words.

      The moneypak window appears to have closed unfortunately, but I’m working on some workarounds so stay tuned!

      AZ

  13. Sebastian October 9, 2014 at 6:51 pm #

    Hi Alexi, I have just gotten the AT&T ISIS case for my AT&T iPhone 5. It comes with the chip inside. I currently have a normal SERVE account. Can I close that one and activate a new Softcard account through the iPhone app?
    The app name is still ISIS Wallet right?

    • Miles Dividend M.D. October 9, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

      Sebastian,

      I don’t know because I didn’t have a serve account when I opened my ISIS account.

      My guess is that you should call up serve and talk to them about transitioning your serve account to an Isis serve account, because you want to be able to pay with your phone.

      Alexi

      • Sebastian October 11, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

        Thank you Alexi. I experimented on my own and I wanted to let you know the good results.
        I transferred all money out of my current “normal” SERVE account. Once it was at zero and all transactions were completed, I went to the personal settings and click on CLOSE the account. Immediately after that, I opened the ISIS Wallet app on my iPhone 5 with the Incipio Cashwrap and tap on create a new ISIS account. I followed the process actually using the same email address but my cell phone rather than the home phone number in my normal SERVE account. Everything went well. Then I tap on create a new SERVE account with no problem at all. At then end the new SERVE account was added as a CARD in the ISIS Wallet app. I am now waiting for the actual card to arrive to activate it and that should increase the credit card limit from $1000 to $1500.
        Did you follow? Just let me know if you have any questions.
        This post helped me a lot: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/manufactured-spending/1199432-serve-another-paypal-amazon-payments.html

        • Miles Dividend M.D. October 12, 2014 at 10:22 pm #

          Sebastian,

          This is a very useful bit of info that you are sharing. Thank you. Your experience sounds very similar to my own switching over from bluebird to Isis (now Softcard) Serve.

          The key points are to use a different phone number when opening the new account, as this is how amex tracks the 30 day period where new accounts can not be opened.

          Enjoy the $3K of labor-less manufactured spending a month!

          AZ

          AZ

  14. Sam October 22, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    I closed by BB this morning. Want to switch to Softcard. So should I go ahead and create Serve wallet using the app now? Or should I be first changing the phone number on the closed Serve account and then register for Softcard?

    • Miles Dividend M.D. October 23, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

      Sam,

      Yes I would either use a different phone number for the serve card or switch my number to a different one on the serve application.

      You might also consider the new Target REDbird card, if a Target is near convenient for you. This card has the unique feature of being able to be loaded directly with credit cards at target. (this means no gift card fees!) Frequent Miler has written extensively about this over the last few weeks.

      • Sam October 23, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

        Thank you –

        I already applied for Serve wallet with same info as BB. Like you did, I called BB to request change of mobile number, but the CSR retorted asking “what is your intention?!”. She said there’s no need to do anything after it’s closed.
        So I just created softcard acct and opened a Serve acct from my cell phone.

        I am aware of Redbird and there is a Target nearby. But I am traveling overseas soon for a 40-day trip. I am not sure if I can load Redbird remotely. So I plan to switch to RB once I return.

        Or would you suggest I go for Redbird right away? Thanks.

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