Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Preparing for Summer Part 3 – are Avios or BAEC ‘cash passports’ worth a look?

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This is the third is my series of articles this week looking at maximising your points when booking your Summer holiday.  I have already looked at airport car parking and using credit cards abroad.

Today, I want to look at the Avios Cash Passport and the brand new British Airways Executive Club Multi-Currency Cash Passport, which has just been launched.

Both cards are issued by niche private bank R Raphael & Sons in association with Travelex.

The Avios card is a pre-loaded Mastercard which can be loaded in £, US$ or Euros – but only one currency per card.  The British Airways card only comes in one version but can carry simultaneous balances in seven different currencies –  £, €, $, Australian Dollars, New Zealand Dollars, Canadian Dollars and South African Rand.

Both cards can be used to withdraw money from cash machines as well as buying goods anywhere that accepts MasterCard.  These cards tend to be aimed at two markets – young people or those with poor credit who cannot obtain a credit card and want something more secure than a debit card.  The BA card is actually pitched at the globe trotting executive, but the fees (as you will see below) should frighten off anyone with an ounce of executive common sense.

The only hypothetical attraction to the general public with good credit is that there is no currency loading fee if you spend in the same currency as the card is denominated in.  So, load in Euros and spend in Euros and you don’t pay the 2.99% loading fee that is added to almost all credit and debit card foreign currency purchases.  This, however, is outweighed by the poor FX rate used when loading the card.

So, let’s look at exactly what you get.

Cash Passport

You earn 1 Avios point per £1 for loading the cards.  Now, remember that every time you use this card, you are missing out on Avios or other miles from using a ‘proper’ credit card!  OK, 1 Avios per £1 is good for a MasterCard, but a lot of MasterCard establishments would also take an Amex which would earn you 1+ miles per £1 depending on card and programme.

Here are the fees on the Avios cardThe fees on the British Airways card are identical.

The key numbers are:

  • You pay a 2% fee for loading the cards with £ from your debit card
  • You will pay a 5.75% foreign currency fee when you make a purchase in a currency other than the currency in which you loaded the card

Let’s imagine you put £2,000 in £ onto the Sterling version of the card via your debit card (you can use a credit card but it will be treated as a cash advance and thus you pay fees and earn no miles).  You earn 2,000 Avios, but pay a £40 fee so only £1,960 goes onto the card.  As long as you spend in £ in UK shops, there will be no other fees to pay.

This is clearly not a great deal as you have effectively paid 2p per Avios via the fee (not a great deal) and you get nothing extra back when you spend on the card.  Any purchases in foreign currency have the laughable 5.75% loading fee attached, which means you should avoid foreign spend like the plague.  My conclusion – do not bother getting the £ Avios card or operating the British Airways card as a £ card.

Now, let’s look instead at loading £2,000 on a Euro or $ Avios Cash Passport card, or operating the BA card in a foreign currency.  When you load Sterling onto the Euro or $ denominated cards, the exchange rate you are offered is roughly 3.5% away from the ‘spot’ rate.  This is worse than the 3% that almost all credit cards will charge you for using your card abroad.

There are no foreign spending fees as long as you spend in same currency that is pre-loaded onto your card.  However, you have already paid a 3.5% foreign exchange fee because of the poor exchange rate used when you loaded the card.

Whilst 1 Avios per £1 is a better earning rate than most non-Amex credit cards, this is entirely offset by the poorer foreign exchange rate you will be getting compared to using a credit card. 

There are also a lot of practical limitations to a Cash Passport – you need to keep reloading it, and you need to know the balance at all times to avoid rejection.  You also cannot use it at a hotel or car hire company where an authorisation is taken at check-in, although you can use it to settle a final balance.

All in all, when I weigh up these factors, I really cannot recommend the cards.

(It is also worth noting that the BA Cash Passport also comes as an unbranded version – and that has a better exchange rate, which is 2.75% from the spot rate.  Those Avios don’t come free you know ….)

Comments (10)

  • Roger says:

    Beware – it’s not treated as a debit card everywhere!

    HMRC and my local council wrongly treat it as a debit card and want extra for accepting it for payment of tax/Council Tax. Aldi don’t accept it at all. In each case, I was able to use the old Air Miles Visa currency card, to which the Avios card is the successor.

    I said ‘wrongly’ because there are three MC card systems – credit, debit and cash – and many merchants have the software only for the first two. Our council promised to check what would be invilved to update their software. That was last year and nothing has changed.

    • Roger says:

      Just re-reading my post and spotted a howler – too late to correct any wrong impressions, I guess.

      2nd para should start: ‘HMRC and my local council wrongly treat it as a CREDIT card …’ I hope it makes sense now.


  • sandgrounder says:

    The Travelex Cash Passport globe is probably the best of these cards, not as good as it used to be, but 2.49% load with no ATM fees is better than the average current account to access cash.abroad.

    • erico1875 says:

      Apparently if you have the travelex globe card from before they upped the the load then you still convert at the old 1.49%

      • sandgrounder says:

        I didnt’t know that! I’ve got an old one, I’d cut back on using it, but I’ll check my figures on tonight.

  • Lady London says:

    The same card also comes in an unbranded version at 2.75% FX loading fee. But the Avios version comes with a 3.5% loading fee?

    Would it be too obvious to guess that these maths mean that someone? Avios? is pocketing an extra 0.75% of the amount each time you load your card? If so, nice work if you can get it… !

    • Sinizter says:

      Someone needs to pay for the Avios and Travelex ain’t gonna foot the bill.

  • 21h21j says:

    Is this the same bank that gives ‘free avios’ from another product…

    “3V Visa numbers are issued by Raphaels Bank”

  • Roger says:

    Have a look at this.

    No loading and withdrawal fees from ATM.

    • Roger says:

      Comment from the other Roger :):

      That looks interesting! Who’s going to be the first to try?

      I had the FairFX Euro card for a while and found that I hardly used it – too many 0% credit cards – but I can’t help feeling that easyJet may have broken the mould.