I’m back from the Frequent Traveler University, and I’ve got a few things to share. One of the sessions I attended was by Frequent Miler, who presented some of his strategies for earning many points per dollar (2x, 3x, 5x…). It was interesting to hear how he approaches points-earning, and it got me to thinking about how to juice up my own strategies. There are a lot of things I can either start doing, or do differently. I actually started to make a list on the plane ride home, but I stopped because as a nosy man across the aisle couldn’t stop craning his neck for a better look at what I was writing.
There was a lot to write.
It’s true that this hobby can feel overwhelming at times. There are a lot of moving parts, and the rules change frequently. The learning curve can feel steep. I always tell people who are new to the hobby that they don’t have to do everything all at once – there is time to take it slow and learn as you go. That being said, I think there are a few key moves that are worth an up-front time investment, because they pay dividends immediately and can boost your points balance significantly.
One of these moves is to learn about the Amex Bluebird card. The Bluebird is a prepaid credit card, which means that you can load it up with cash using a few different methods. You can then use the (free!) online bill-pay feature of the card to pay any bill. Yes – including your mortgage, car payment, or student loan! This means that you can effectively pay your bills using a credit card and earn points for doing so.
If you are willing to spend a little more time and effort, you can actually make a small cash profit in addition to earning thousands of extra points every time you load your Bluebird card. If this sounds complicated, it’s not. It just has several steps. Kind of like making a sandwich or booking a flight.
However, I’ve rewritten this post three times now, because although Bluebird is easy to use, the most lucrative way to use it keeps changing. So, I’m going to outline a few ways that I have personally used Bluebird in the past couple of weeks. Hopefully you will be able to use my experience as inspiration for your own Bluebird earnings.
How To Get Started With Bluebird
- Get a Bluebird card. This takes five minutes, will not result in a hard credit pull, and it’s free.
- Carve out half an hour or so to familiarize yourself with the way Bluebird works. It will seem a lot easier if you are not feeling pressured or rushed. Spend some time on the Bluebird site; it’s very user-friendly.
- Once your Bluebird card arrives, there are a lot of different ways to load it and earn points. Currently, the most widely available way is to buy Visa gift cards (which now come with a PIN, so you can use them to load your Bluebird at Walmart stores. You can read this post by Frequent Miler for details).
- The idea is that you buy the gift cards using a Points and Miles earning card. This way, you can make minimum spend, earn extra miles, or earn a top-tier reward for extra spend. You can find Visa gift cards at grocery and drug stores, office supply stores, and some gas stations, or you can buy them online. Frequent Miler has a great post detailing exactly how to do this; I suggest reading it if you are interested.
How I Use Bluebird
In the past couple of weeks, there have been a few great deals with the combo of Bluebird and Visa gift cards. Normally, Visa gift cards all charge a fee. Usually it’s $3.95 per card, which is not a big deal if you are buying a very high-value card ($500 and over), but if you can only find lower-value cards (under $500) the fees can add up quickly, gobbling up any points profit you might make.
Occasionally, a cash-back site such as TopCashBack will offer an increased rebate amount on gift cards. This happened last week. I was able to purchase one $3000 Amex Gift Card at 2.5% cash back, for a cash back total of $75. The gift card had a fee of $3.95, plus there were some (huge) shipping fees, so my total profit rang in at a little over $60. Plus I got the 3,000 points. Not bad.
Since you cannot use Amex gift cards with Bluebird, my intention was to use the Amex gift cards to buy Visa gift cards, then load my Bluebird with those. This would have worked great, except for that I had a minor brain malfunction and skipped a key step in the process (details in a future post!)
If you want to buy gift cards, the trick is to keep an eye out for gift card deals. What you are looking for is no-fee gift cards, or a rebate on your purchase…or both! Currently, Chase is offering no-fee gift cards. If you need to make minimum spend on a credit card, or simply want a few thousand more points, this is a nice little opportunity.
A Few Cautionary Words
As always, exercise restraint and go slowly if you decide to use the gift card/Bluebird combo. Paying your mortgage using this method is one thing, going hog-wild and buying dozens of high-value gift cards each month is another, because Amex might shut you down, and that would be very bad. Also, it’s probably a good idea to use your Bluebird card for regular purchases (grocery shopping, dry cleaning, swimsuits), in addition to any bills you decide to pay. In other words, don’t just use Bluebird as a bill pay service.
If You Still Just Don’t “Get It”…
That’s okay, too! If you just need to make spend and need a way to do that, one option is to buy Visa gift cards and simply use them in place of your regular cards.
If you really want to get a Bluebird, but this all sounds too complicated, or like it will take too much time, my advice is to try it and see. If you apply for the card, spend time on the Bluebird site, and you decide it doesn’t work for you, you can always shelve the card with no consequences. But you will never know unless you try.
Personally, I use my Bluebird card regularly each month, because I love earning points for everything. It’s very satisfying to see my points balances increase, because the tantalizing aroma of possibility always hangs thick in the air…how will I use the points? Where will I go? How will I maximize the redemption?
You know I will keep you posted!