As everyone knows by now, last Friday the proverbial “second coming” occurred when Amex shut down another large swath of Bluebird and Serve accounts for “unusual usage patterns” (which translates to “we’re losing an unusually large amount of money because of the way you folks are usage-ing your card”).
Soon after the first round of shutdowns at the beginning of January, I wrote a post proposing the way forward for those who had still loadable cards (see “The Best Way To Load Your Amex Bluebird and Serve Survivors“). Now, let it be known that I don’t always agree with what I write. The whole point of playing the Devil’s Advocate is to be able to argue positions that I don’t necessarily believe, if only to see whether the logic holds up. In fact, it’s not unusual to find that the Conventional Wisdom is correct and my argument fails.
However, in this case I believed 100% in what I wrote and I practiced what I preached by continuing to use my surviving Serve card in exactly the manner I had been using it before the first wave of closures. This included a healthy amount of gift card loads at Walmart, which is likely part of the “unusual usage pattern” that makes Amex not so happy.
Yes, at times this made me a bit nervous as it might have been “safer” to lie low for a while. But I believed in my logic and stood firm with my plan.
Regardless of whether I’m right or wrong on any particular position, I believe it’s only fair to revisit the argument when the answer is clearer. I’ve congratulated myself in the past for being right about the Amex airline fee credit staying alive and well, and I’ve called myself out about being dead wrong on the value of the Hyatt 20% rebate promo from last summer.
So, it’s time for total truth between us…
Did my Serve survive the second wave?
In a word… yes.
I did not get a shutdown e-mail from Amex on Friday. Two days ago I did a cash load at CVS (I’m not currently near a Walmart) to test whether my card was still active. It went through with no problem.
During the first shutdown wave it was noted that accounts opened within the previous few months were being spared, but a lot of the cards closed in last week’s second round appeared to be relatively new, including cards opened as recently as December. However, this particular Serve account was opened over 2 years ago and has been relatively active the entire time.
Whatever I’ve been doing with my Serve card, for some reason Amex is okay with it. For now.
Why, you ask? To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. Maybe I have just the right balance of activity. Maybe I’m in a section of accounts that they haven’t gotten to yet. Maybe I unconsciously never load on Arbor Day and Amex hates trees (which makes sense considering how many pages their credit card statements often end up being).
The point is that after I survived the first shutdown, I continued doing exactly what I had been doing before. I didn’t cut down my activity and I didn’t increase it. I tried to maintain roughly the same levels of money running through the account, which wasn’t difficult since that’s what I had been doing all along anyway. Basically, I just did what I do and didn’t change anything.
OK, you want specifics.
I suspect what everyone actually wants to know is whether I’m doing anything out of the ordinary to keep my Serve alive.
As I noted earlier, I’ve generally loaded gift cards (or the occasional Buxx debit card) at Walmart, almost always via the MoneyCenter Express kiosk but occasionally at the MoneyCenter with a clerk. I have never done any online loads. I use the loaded funds to pay my credit card bills, though often not the same bills that I used to buy the gift cards. I tend to float a decent amount of funds ($3k-$5k) and I never withdraw the money via my bank account. I have never used the card for any regular spend at all.
So no, I’m not really doing anything different. Other folks with a similar load/unload pattern have been shut down.
If there’s anything that is a bit unusual, it’s that roughly once or twice a month I’ll do a cash load. It’s never a lot, maybe $200-$300. I’m not doing it for any particular reason other than sometimes I have cash that I want to deposit and I’ve become wary of handling cash at an actual bank (ever since actual banks became wary of handling cash). So I deposit it onto my Serve and use it to pay bills from there. Which is, of course, what the product is intended to do.
Is this what’s keeping my card alive? Who knows? But I guarantee you I’ll keep doing it.
Keep in mind that my experience is just a solitary data point and relatively meaningless without a lot of other reports. For all I know, the way my particular Serve card number rolls off Amex’s tongue might be all that’s keeping my account alive and at some point they’ll get distracted by a more linguistically attractive card number and shut me down.
The Devil’s Advocate can dodge bullets!
All joking aside, the point of this post isn’t to say “look at me!” or “I told you so!” though I realize it may come across that way. The point is to revisit a strategy to see if it worked, and if so, to speculate whether it might continue working in the future.
There’s also no guarantee that continuing to load exactly as before will keep my account going. I’m sure some people did that and still got their accounts closed. Without knowing what Amex’s shutdown algorithm looks like, there’s just no way to know for certain.
But at this point, if you’ve managed to avoid two shutdowns, I’d suggest you’re doing something right and the best way forward is to continue doing exactly that same thing. Going dormant with your activity isn’t going to help your chances, since several people who did that still got the axe. Conversely, suddenly ramping up to levels you haven’t done before probably isn’t the best choice either (unless you’ve been doing nothing, in which case you might as well get cracking since otherwise there’s no reason to have a Serve or Bluebird in the first place).
Of course, the real lesson here is that you should never rely on only one method of MS, as the landscape is always changing. As I’ve recently noted, I believe the Serve/Bluebird program is not long for this world in any case as Amex seems to be not making enough money on it.
So even if you survived last week’s onslaught, make sure you keep exploring your other options. The clock is ticking for all of us…Devil’s Advocate is a bi-weekly series that deliberately argues a contrarian view on travel and loyalty programs. Sometimes the Devil’s Advocate truly believes in the counterargument. Other times he takes the opposing position just to see if the original argument holds water. But his main objective is to engage in friendly debate with the miles and points community to determine if today’s conventional wisdom is valid. You can suggest future topics by following him on Twitter @dvlsadvcate or sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recent Posts by the Devil’s Advocate:
- Why I’m Giving Up My Hyatt Diamond Status
- Are The Feds Trying To Shut Down Manufactured Spend?
- Are Ultimate Rewards Best Used for Buying Airfare Now?
Find the entire collection of Devil’s Advocate posts here.