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Bits: why MasterCard FX rates are better than Visa, Air India returns to London-New York route

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More news in brief:

Exploring the differences between Visa and MasterCard FX rates

It is easy to assume that Visa and MasterCard would use the same exchange rates when processing overseas credit card transactions.

In truth, that is not the case.  In most cases, MasterCard appears to come out cheaper.  Both Visa and MasterCard publish their rates online so this is easy to check.

I could have written a long analysis on this topic.  However, US blog Mile Value ran an excellent piece this week which went into it in great detail.  It is worth a read if you want to know more about the difference between MasterCard and Visa and why MasterCard comes out ahead.

Air India to begin serving London – New York again

Air India, a Star Alliance member, has announced that it will resume flights between London and New York using its fifth freedom flying rights.

The route will start on 15th August.  The plane will start in Ahmedabad and route via Heathrow to New York Newark.  The flight time outwards is very reasonable, with a 12.30pm departure getting you into Newark for 3pm.

The 2 x 2 x 2 business class seating is not state of the art but, with a 74 inch pitch, will do the job for a short flight.  There appear to be two economy and one business class seat opened up for redemption for the Heathrow to New York leg, which can be booked via any Star Alliance airline.

Comments (41)

  • Callum says:

    They seem to have made a rather shoddy analysis though – checking 4 currencies on a single day doesn’t draw any meaningful conclusions other than Mastercard was better on the 13th May!

    That being said, when I looked at variations across a couple of weeks before Mastercard was consistently better (I think I had something like 60 comparisons, Mastercard was better in about 57 of those).

    • Worzel says:

      Here’s another indicator:

      Again, only four currencies.

      Callum, any chance of fishing that envelope out of the bin for a broader comparison? 🙂 .

      • Callum says:

        Sorry I can’t find it, but it was very similar to the MSE analysis you quoted (minus the fancy graphs!). I also got almost exactly the same results – Mastercard was better in virtually all cases.

        • Worzel says:

          Callum, I’m sure your results further evidenced the fact that MasterCard rates are(in most cases) better than Visa, Worz.

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      Seconded. The data presented doesn’t come close to justifying the conclusion in the headline (and the hypothesis is a screenshot!). The MSE analysis linked below is much better.

    • Rob says:

      One Mile At A Time did a deeper dive with similar results.

  • Sam wardill says:

    So what is the best card for overseas spend then?

    • Genghis says:

      There are many factors at play – how much you spend abroad, points earning strategy etc. Here are some of my thoughts:

      Perhaps for low spenders, Halifax Clarity (free MC).

      Higher spenders Lloyds £24 card (Amex and MC).

      If churning CCs, Curve as the 1% loading generally ‘buys’ the points and spend counts towards spend targets.

  • Dave says:

    Certainly makes it helps mitigate the Curve premium over Supercard

  • Lambs says:

    Sorry to go off topic. On the virgin white card what is the spending requirement to get a companion seat?

    • Ian C says:

      £15k spend on the Amex card within a year. Spend on the Visa card does not count towards the companion voucher or the upgrade vouchers.

  • Boi says:

    I still think visa/super card excellent for overseas spend…..
    I am currently in Amsterdam. Took out €250 from ATM, it’s currently charged as £193.82. XE is saying £193.32. I think that is very close and I am happy with that.

    Ps this is spent as super card linked to curve linked to virgin black Amex.

    • Boi says:

      Typo, XE is £193.36…..small margin.
      I still think that would beat direct spending on curve with their 1% and ATM fee.

      • Genghis says:


      • John says:

        Yes, the Visa rate is good today. It isn’t so good on some other days.

        I used to monitor this closely and only withdrew when the rate beat the rate, and then traded it back using my Hong Kong bank accounts or Interactive Brokers. I maxed out my own Supercard £20000 a while back.

        Actually, checking the numbers, you must have made your withdrawal on Friday. The rate for Saturday (which will be the rate for Monday) is currently better than

    • Douglas says:

      Interesting. Have you managed to do a cash wtihdraw in the UK with your supercard linked to curve?
      The beta will be over soon, so I could try to get £1000 or so.
      I’m just a bit nervous with what HMRC may think about all those cash deposits.

      • Boi says:

        I did… Multiple times without issues. But I am not doing it excessively.I will be sad to see the pilot go as they might tighten the rules m.

    • Oliver says:

      oh nice, i didn’t think you could connect the supercard to the curve

      • Mr Dee says:

        Yes it can be done but Curve seem to charge pre authorisations to the amex which posts to the account and then about 5 days later you will get a refund, this is very annoying and should be pre authorised on the amex and not actually charged.

        So using supercard I get transactions charged twice on some occassions and then 1 refunded days later.

  • Lee-Anne says:

    I am really pleased we got the Halifax Clarity three years ago. We keep it purely for foreign (holiday) spending. We have saved quite a few hundred pounds since typically we tend to book direct and pay in local currency. Although we collect avios by using TSB Avios cards for everyday spending ultimately I would prefer to save money than accumulate more avios since TSB fx fees are so high I feel like I would simply be buying avios (and not cheaply).

    An example of how Mastercard rates fluctuate though is that on Thursday I paid for accommodation in South Africa using our Halifax Clarity card. Immediately my account showed a pending amount of £1322 which seemed broadly in line with the published MC rates. Today the transaction hasprocessed and showing as £1289. A difference of around 2.5% and enough to pay for an hours massage in the spa when we .

    Even taking out cash abroad on the Clarity card is very low cost. Last year in Thailand we took out a few hundred pounds from local ATM’s and it cost less than £10 in fees.

    • Genghis says:

      By fees do you mean interest? You can pay off Clarity balance as soon as make transaction and you won’t get charged interest.

      • Leo says:

        No the ATMs can charge you for using the machine. At least that’s my experience.

        • Callum says:

          Thailand is one of the only places I’d consider taking cash to convert (the exchange rates you get in Thailand for cash are very close to the interbank rate) given the large ATM fees.

          Though you can withdraw from a handful of Citibank ATMs for free in Bangkok.

          • Londonbus says:

            Take £50 notes. You”ll get a slightly better rate.

            The ATM fee for Thailand is now a cool 200 THB. Per transaction.

          • Callum says:

            Oh yeah, that’s good advice. I used USD (same rules apply – the bigger the note the better the rate) simply because I had a ridiculous amount left over and I had no plans to use it any time soon.

            If I was starting the trip in Bangkok I’d just stick to the Citibank ATM though.

          • john says:

            I have a nationwide card which gives commission free withdrawals, but some banks abroad will charge you for withdrawing whilst others don’t. Anyone know a way to find out which other than trial and error?

          • John says:

            Which countries? I’ve never been charged in all of Europe, Hong Kong, Australia or NZ.

          • Alan says:

            Bank of Melbourne certainly did when using my Number26 card in their ATM – they’re meant to warn as part of the withdrawal process but in my case didn’t (I got the fee back from the branch). Not sure there’s any easy way of knowing in advance which do/don’t charge fees though.

          • James67 says:

            At one time you got the best rates of all for sterling travellers cheques oddly, but I believe that is no longer the case. IME there is also something odd about citibank too, I get so many free withdrawals from their atm using whatever card (including my supercard last year) and then after a while citibank stops acceting the card anymore even though they continue to work at other bank ATMs. Tried to get to the bottom of this with citibank without success. After AEON started charging and atm fee reached 200baht I started carrying £50 notes again.

    • John says:

      This is not really to do with Mastercard. The pound sterling appreciated sharply this week.

      I managed to use this to my advantage with Amex Travel. My ex-Sweden flights previously costing £1320 last week have dropped to £1250 today.

  • takke says:

    Another thing to bear in mind that I haven’t seen mentioned on these reviews is that Visa (the US public company operating internationally) and Visa Europe (the European company owned by European banks and operating in Europe, including in the UK) are separate entities and have different foreign exchange rates. So if you’re checking the rate on a British card, don’t use the US website ( but use the European one ( The differences are relatively small: today on the GBP/USD rate, Visa USA are at 0.687, Visa Europe at 0.690 and MC at 0.686, but it’s worth bearing in mind. This may of course all change if and when a full merger between the organisations is completed, but using a US assessment to compare the two providers is not going to give you an accurate picture when you’re using a UK card.

    • Mud Island Mlungu says:

      Not for long. The buyout concludes this month.

  • Kipto says:

    I have the clarity card and want to clarify something. I read on this site that the Interest on the card starts from day one so eg if I spend £200 abroad on day one if I pay the card off on the day my statement arrives will the bill be £200 still or £200 plus the interest accrued from day one ? Never heard of a card that charges you interest even before you get a addition is it correct that you can’t load the card before you go on holiday so that if anticipating a £1000 spend you transfer £1000 on to the card. If that is correct,what would happen to the £1000 you transferred ? would they transfer it back to your account ?

    • Genghis says:

      If using ATM overseas, interest is charged from the day of cash withdrawal so I pay the balance off as I go. Not too sure about putting the account into credit prior to trip.

    • Will says:

      It’s highly unusual but there is a card that charges interest from the day of the transaction from TSB. Refunds must generate interesting statements…

    • TGLoyalty says:

      pretty sure its against the T&C’s to preload the card, but my experience is if you over pay its left on the card for future charges to be put against, never been automatically refunded.

      Thought nearly all credit cards charge interest from day 1 on cash advances (atm withdrawals)?

      I normally just transfer funds to my card soon after my withdrawal and get charged very little if no interest

    • John says:

      Don’t really understand your question.

      If you only spend on your card, and you always pay your bill in full, you won’t get any interest.

      If you use it for cash withdrawals, you should pay off the entire card (including all previous purchases) as soon as the transaction appears on online banking. I’ve never been charged interest.