What is the best credit card for foreign spend when someone else is paying?

We write a lot on Head for Points about ways to minimise the 2.99% foreign exchange fee added to most credit and debit card transactions outside the UK.

You can either get a dedicated credit card to use abroad with 0% FX fees – of which the Lloyds Avios Rewards card is the only one with any sort of reward – or use a specialist card such as Curve (and they are still paying you £5 to try it) or Revolut, which we reviewed here.

When you are travelling for work, however, your credit card bills will be reimbursed by your employer.  There is no incentive for you to get a separate 0% foreign exchange fee card.  Your goal should arguably be on maximising rewards for yourself.

I won’t focus on credit card spend bonuses here because those don’t change whether you are spending in the UK or abroad.  I just want to look at cards which increase your earning rate for FX transactions.

Remember that most rewards cards are not suitable products if you do not clear your balance in full every month.  You should focus on a credit card with a low interest rate such as click for details – the AA Low Rate Credit Card which has an APR of 6.5%.

(EDIT: this article was updated on 1st January 2018 and all of the information is correct as of that date.)

IHG Rewards Club credit card free

Here are your options:

American Express Gold – double points abroad, so 2 per £1.  That translates into 2 Avios or other airline miles, 4 Hilton points, 1 Starwood point or 6 Club Carlson points amongst other things.  The card is free for the first year.

IHG Rewards Club MasterCard – double points abroad, so 2 IHG Rewards Club points per £1 which I value at 0.8p – 1p.  The card is free.  Representative APR 18.9% variable.

IHG Rewards Club Premium MasterCard – double points abroad, so 4 IHG Rewards Club points per £1 which I value at 1.6p – 2p.  £99 annual fee.  Representative APR 41.5% variable including fee based on a notional £1200 credit limit.

HSBC Premier MasterCarddouble points abroad, so 1 Avios or other airline mile.  The card is free but you must have a HSBC Premier current account which has strict eligibility criteria.  Representative APR 18.9% variable.  The World Elite version of this card, with a £195 fee, also earns double points abroad and is worth 2 Avios per £1.

As you can see there are some good options here that can get you a return of around 2% on your spending.  That is less than the 2.99% foreign fee you are incurring, of course, which is why these are not attractive deals for personal use, just for business expenditure.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history.  By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker.  Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.

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  1. Does the Amex Platinum also give double points abroad?

  2. “When you are travelling for work, however, your credit card bills will be reimbursed by your employer. There is no incentive for you to get a separate 0% foreign exchange fee card. Your goal should arguably be on maximising rewards for yourself.”

    Am I alone in finding this article distasteful? Shouldn’t our goal be “do the right thing by our employer” and not look for ways to essentially bill them by the back door to increase our personal avios balance? I would not want staff with this sort of “screw your employer” when you get the chance mentality in my firm.

    • I wouldn’t worry too much. Some of us don’t get the FX fee reimbursed anyway!

    • the real harry1 says:

      yep I think you’re alone in thinking that 🙂 – nobody is advocating ‘screwing your employer’, so since the employer would equally reimburse a colleague using the same card as you (who was not interested in maximising points), you’re not doing that employer a disservice by choosing your card to suit you

      • Michael Jennings says:

        I think the rule is “Don’t take the piss”. If my employer is paying, I am not going to have the cheapest item on the menu. I am not going to have the most expensive item on the menu, either. (If I am paying myself, there will likely be more variation. I might have the cheapest item if I am particularly skint, and the most expensive if I have something to celebrate). If I chose a credit card that somehow charged an extra ten percent to my employer and that was kicked back to me, then that would be dubious. Using one with the same 2.99% foreign exchange charge as most cards on the market, not so much.

    • Genghis says:

      Cue the old arguments of not getting paid for travelling on a weekend / late at night / missed birthdays and bar mitzvahs etc.

      • You’ll love this Genghis….what exactly is a “bar mitzvah” ?

        PS I even watch the fantastic Curb (as in Curb your Enthusiasm) and still don’t know lol

    • Mr(s) Entitled says:

      You are not alone Gary.

      • the real harry1 says:

        with respect, old mate – complete blocks 🙂

        so the difference between (say) the best option Halifax Clarity & Amex on £1000 spend abroad is £30

        against other cards – no particular difference

        I don’t think the employer gives a monkey’s

    • No I also think there is something completely wrong about making your employer pay more than they need to do so that you can maximise your points.

      • So …. are you saying that you would apply for a 0% credit card – if you didn’t have one – with the hits on your credit report etc, just to keep your employer happy? (Who, in reality, won’t care.)

        • But the reality is that anyone who is even a moderately frequent flyer and frequenter of forums like this probably has one (or would be better off with one) to minimise their personal transaction costs when travelling or making non-GBP bookings.

          Talk of a hit on your credit report for a single card is laughable given the extensive discussions and recommendations of frequent card churning.

          Maybe I think a bit differently as a partner of my firm, but “Act in the firm’s best interests at all times” is certainly pervasive amongst both the partners and staff.

        • If this is such a concern then you can obviously arrange your own method for employee to pay, i.e. via a company card (which would probably have a worse rate incidentally)

    • Boring virtue signalling.

    • I’m self employed so I have no axe to grind either way but surely if you are employed and are just using your own credit card whilst you are abroad on business (and it is reimbursed) why should you be expected to go the bother of potentially getting a separate card to use with a better FX rate in order to be morally pure? If you use your IHG card say as your main card why is it morally inappropriate to continue to use it when away? That might be morally different from purposely maximising personal points gathering I suppose. I know this is HfP heresy but some people don’t like multiple credit cards….

    • In my first job I had a company credit card. The company had all liabilities and paid the bill automatically each month; I simply needed to fill in an expense sheet and hand in the receipts.

      After a takeover, the company cards were cancelled and were expected to use our own. Every job I’ve had since has been the same.

      I administer it, so I have more work to do, and the liabilities are mine too. If the accounts team are late paying my expenses, I must cover the bill from my own pocket, often for many thousands, to avoid a large interest charge or a fine.

      I’m not one to take the mickey with expenses, not at all, but I’m quite comfortable with my choice to use a credit card that suits me.

    • If you want an employee to use a low rate FX card to travel abroad for your benefit get the card for them. If you do not then it is your fault. It is a business decision for you, not your employee. If you delegate that decision then so be it.
      As a director I feel if I have an employee who is prepared to do the travel, and business travel can be a pain in my line, and they make a few pounds/points out of it then so be it.
      Then again I am not a director of Mega-Corp with thousands of travelling employees. Those companies tend to have those things sorted.

    • I don’t find it distasteful as if I were able to get reimbursement on expenses on a personal card, I’d pick whatever card suited my needs best and screw the FX charge, even if I have to pay that then it’s worth it on £3k spend with double points earning.

      However some of us don’t have a choice in the card we use for company spend, domestic and overseas, I have the choice of company AMEX or no reimbursement but at least I can pick between Green, Gold and Platinum and transfer the MR to my personal accounts!

    • As an employer with a fair few staff (hundreds, not thousands) I would take a very dim view if I found someone deliberately seeking to enrich themselves which incurring extra fees and costs for the business.

      Part of me would recognise their ingenuity but overwhelmingly I would consider it “bad form” and whether there would be a direct penalty or not I could not say but for absolute certain, either their time with me would be limited or their advancement stunted.

      Conversely, were someone to bring this issue to my door and propose a mitigating solution, I would consider them favourably and they may benefit from more incentives than the lost points were worth !

      • the real harry1 says:

        OK Talay that cements my respect for you & I already saw it

        but deliberately enriching themselves is a long long way from choosing 1 credit card over another with a 3% difference

        if you care about the costs that much, you could quite easily guide the team which cards are acceptable

      • So you would tell your employees that they had to apply for a 0% credit card, hitting their own credit profile, to benefit you?

      • Almost all UK credit cards come with approximately the same FX fee of around 2.5-3%. Rather than deliberately seeking to enrich themselves, any employee using a credit card from his or her bank, the green AmEx, or a supermarket credit card would be charged the same FX fees as the cards listed in this article.

        You need to read blogs like this to be in the know and save those fees by getting a Clarity card.

    • I tell my team – be fair to yourself, be fair to the company. and as someone above says, you don’t have to take the cheapest option on the dinner menu.

      It takes time and trouble to get the right combination of credit cards for personal use, and it take time and trouble to assemble all your bits of paper for an expenses claim. For this reason I would never criticise someone for choosing one credit card over another.

  3. I’m a newbie off to Florida next week. Have the Lloyds avios so know that it is the best card to use. However I also have the Amex preferred rewards gold -I probably applied for this too early but am conscious that Amex is not accepted as widely here and although I have two big spends coming up neither retailer accepts this card . I need to spend my £2k in 3 months and will easily hit half of this here without trying – but am trying to work out if it’s worth the double avios to put some of my spend abroad on this card given the fx few? Any help appreciated!

    • the real harry1 says:

      if you wouldn’t otherwise hit the £2K, then yes

      say you need that missing £1000

      spend abroad is effectively costing you 0.99% (2.99% minus the MR points, @ 2 points = 2p)

      £1000 x 0.99% = £9.99

      under a tenner to get 20,000 MR bonus points you wouldn’t otherwise achieve = no brainer

      • I agree with the sentiment here (if you’ll otherwise not hit the bonus threshold then it’s a no-brainer) but the arithmetic is slightly off as it ignores the availability of 1.25Avios/£1 on the Lloyds Avios card which OP also has. That makes the cost of the £1,000 spend ~£24. Still a no brainer… I guess I’m in a pedantic mood this morning!

    • Genghis says:

      If you would otherwise miss out on the sign up bonus then yes. If you were referred for Amex Gold the sign up bonus is 11% return on spend (220/2000, valuing MR at 1p), so getting 11% + 2% – 3% = 10% overall return isn’t bad.

  4. My view is that the best value will be to do the spend on the gold card and get the 22,000 MR points. Could you possibly buy gift cards for the shops which do not accept Amex?
    In Florida you should be able to do almost everything on Amex and the double points (2% ?) almost cancels the 2.99% FX charge.

    • I didn’t know this was an option! Thank you, I will bear this in mind . Though one of them is the dentist (my son doesn’t qualify for a free brace ) so that probably won’t work lol

  5. Mikeact says:

    If you are after your Gold card introductory bonus, (20k?), then I’d be concentrating on that and accept the fx fees as part and parcel. Otherwise,it’s over to Lloyds for me.

    • Will Lloyds let you put your card into credit if you want to spend more than your limit?
      Or is it worth a call to them?
      It’s a five figure amount and was going to do a bank transfer as I didn’t think Lloyds let you 🙁

      • You can do it and you can spend beyond your regular limit but there is the possibility they may block the card for security reasons, so avoid if possible.

  6. Thanks all – you confirmed my thinking that I have to take a small hit to get the bonus . I hadn’t thought about gift cards so will Ibear this in mind too. Though one of them is the dentist (my son doesn’t qualify for a free brace ) so that probably won’t work there lol !

    • the real harry1 says:

      Keely are you into manufactured spend or other canny ways to put spend onto your Amex card?

      PayPal and council tax/ many other utilities via PayPoint being 2 obvious routes

      lots more

    • It varies – my dentist takes Amex, so it’s definitely possible! 🙂

    • Keely, have you double checked you’re in the right council tax band? We bought a new build some years ago and were told it was band E. For 5 years it bugged me, it just seemed too much, so I eventually appealed it, got it moved to band D plus a rebate for the 5 years we’d overpaid!

      • Genghis says:

        MSE has a good guide. I was successful in lowering our CT band when we moved into our current property. Didn’t tell the previous 10 year owner (who could have claimed thousands) as she was a right cow in the moving process. What goes around comes around.

      • I’ve checked others in the street , we are all the same . I definitely think we should be in d not e though :(( . The problem I have is there is now an extension to the original house (by the previous owners ) and I think this might push the band up. It’s a flipping lot of money though for quite a standard house ! I’ll take another look (as if I haven’t got enough to do lol…)!

  7. Barry cutters says:

    Genghis-not sure if you remember I mentioned I cancelled my bapp card, I need to re apply soon to get another 241 voucher . But at the time you said I may also get the sign up bonus if I’m lucky. Do you think I should wait a bit longer than 2 months to increase the chances of this ? Or should I go ahead and apply now .

    • Genghis says:

      No idea tbh. I’ve never done it but others have reported success. If I was in your shoes I’d just apply.

  8. In these scenarios where does Curve fit? I recently got the IHG Black card and am using Curve as I figured might as well double the benefits. Would using Curve be better or worse?

    Also, is it worth putting one’s Curve currency into EUR when in the Eurozone?

    • Depends how your value IHG points.

      Via Curve the tx will be charged in GBP, therefore 2 IHG per GBP with 1% forex fee
      Directly the tx will be charged in EUR, therefore 4 IHG per GBP but 2.99% forex fee

      Personally I’d value IHG points at max 0.4p therefore you’re paying an extra 1.99% for 0.8% of value.

      Obviously if someone else paying the bills and you’re not bothered then stick to using IHG card directly for the higher points earning.

      No point in changing underlying card on Curve to EUR unless it’s a fee-free forex one like the Lloyds Avios and you’re wanting to take out cash abroad.

      • Thanks Alan, that’s how I’m seeing it – Curve for holiday as 2 IHG points is near enough 1% return, and use the IHG card on work travel.

        • Yep, if you don’t want the hassle of applying for separate forex-free card then Curve + IHG Black is a pretty reasonable combo.

        • Cool. I have Halifax Clarity too, which will do for cash withdrawal on holiday. Looks like i’m covered, thanks!

        • Yep, so you can either use it directly (and credit relevant amount to card quickly after withdrawal to minimise interest charge), or link it to Curve with EUR currency selected for it – ATM withdrawals in EUR will then be directly charged as purchases (with no forex conversion).

    • Genghis says:

      I pay for non-Amex work expenses using the IHG Black direct (for 4 IHGs) and not on the Curve (only 2 IHGs).

  9. Strong Travels says:

    Any reason why Virgin Black shouldn’t be considered is equal to Amex Gold (£1 spend = 2 points/miles) if Virgin is your preferred earning partner?

    I can’t see any reason why not, just checking that I am not missing something.

    • For plain earning they’re the same, I suppose the difference is the £140 annual fee from the get-go with Virgin vs the 1st year free (then £140/y) with the PRG. Obviously plenty of other differences between the cards too such as sign-up bonuses & vouchers.

  10. Genghis says:

    OT. For those with FT subs, interesting article on the Centurion card

    • & for those without if you Google for “Rich People’s Problems: Do I really need a titanium credit card?” you should managed to get access (searching for URL finds the article but doesn’t allow click-through…) 😉

      • Genghis says:

        Thanks Alan

        • Haha no prob – think I’m possibly not the right crowd for Cent given I was keener on getting free access to the article rather than paying for it 😛 Plat I can justify given the benefits I make use of, but even if invited (which isn’t going to be happening anytime soon) I don’t think I could bring myself to pay the Cent fee. I think he describes the target audience well though.

    • Interesting article – although I see Centurion cardholders get the same appalling MR earning rate as Plat! (and the author is getting even worse value for them by just exchanging for products :O) The free dinner at a top restaurant as compensation for poor service though? – that I like the sound of!

    • Max used to live at the top of our road, used to cut a very solitary figure walking around with his dog, badly dressed (never with a partner).

    • Perhaps all investment bankers were given a centurion card when they first came out ?

      Ours were plastic, not titanium, so I presume we got ours first before they upped the stakes ? But I had centurion until around 2003/4 and the fee was originally £650 which I guess was about double Platinum ?

      Aside from MR, the stuff it came with was largely superfluous, at least back in those days. Some crapola first night somewhere, a table at some poncy restaurant you could book yourself in any case, some waste of points catalogue etc.

      Even then the flights were the thing.

  11. Tony Burns says:

    Some of the comments on here show how far the PC brigade has gone.
    Most people travelling for work end up, at least part of the time doing so in own time and therefore unpaid.
    Many employers these days don’t even give time off to compensate for travel time either early mornings, late nights or even weekends.
    Therefore in my view it is more than acceptable to use a card that provides rewards of some sort.

    • the real harry1 says:

      +1 as they say 🙂

      once they ask you to travel on your time off, the company pays

      • As a government employee that is entirely funded by the taxpayer its been quite interesting reading the comments. It seems evenly split between those who feel its ok to use a CC of your choice even if its not the cheapest cost to your employer, against others who feel you should do what is best for the company.

        For those who sit in the former category i’d be interested to hear your views when the company I work for is 100% government funded. If I’m running several thousands of expenses each much but opted to use a CC that cost an extra 2.99% is this morally acceptable, or does the fact that its the taxpayer having to fork our change your view somewhat? If so, what makes it different?

        I have no beef in this btw as I do whats cheapest and if if gives rewards then so be it, but not if it costs more than it needs to. Just genuinely interested!

        • the real harry1 says:

          most people wouldn’t even know there are a few 0% fee cards

        • Indeed – I think it would be a bit different if the rewards cards charged a higher percentage, but given they charge the same as almost all other cards on the market (save for the few 0% forex fee ones) it’s a less dubious position.

        • Also a government employee now. I have to pay my expenses on my own credit card and claim them back. But I am limited to the amounts that are allowed for expenses. Our dinner rate is £10.73! I went on a 2 day course in Manchester before Christmas. I had dinner in a Pizza Hut and used my Cineworld Unlimited card to get a discount on my meal, but it still came to more than £10.73. I could only claim the meal allowance, not the full (discounted cost of my dinner).

        • Counter argument is that you would normally have to feed yourself anyway, though…

        • Although depending on where you’re staying I’d you probably don’t have the option of cooking for yourself and eating out costs are likely to be significantly higher than a home cooked meal. I agree with not having overly generous policies but the general principle of not being out of pocket seems reasonable enough.

        • Roger I* says:

          Come now, ‘government employee that is entirely funded by the taxpayer’, just to complete the picture:
          – do you receive a per diem allowance when travelling abroad, something that is denied to most other employees who must account for every penny spent?
          – do you donate any Avios or other points to your employer?

        • I thought HMRC had killed off per diem allowances and benefits-in-kind and it was all on receipted expenses? I’ve certainly not heard of them being offered for about 15 years, although if not a strict HMRC rule then may vary by sector I guess.

        • Roger I* says:

          Forgot to add: for such expenditure shouldn’t you be using the government credit card?

        • Put it like this. There is undoubtedly a set of choices you can make that cuts your expense bill to the absolute minimum. Potentially this involves researching FX credit cards, negotiating like crazy with hoteliers, air BnB operators etc.

          How far should you go, practically, legally or morally?

          My own view, (and this is from the viewpoint of claiming expenses, and signing off a lot of foreign travel) is that you should be able to explain yourself if challenged.

          If you ordered a 250 quid bottle of port on expenses, with no clients present, you won’t be able to explain it. If as a manager you try to tell someone that a certain credit card is 2.99 per cent cheaper, and also that the company wants some recompense for personal air miles earned, you should expect to be told that the company should provide such a card.

      • +2

    • Some might argue that the “compensation” for your travel time is the annual salary / bonus in the contract you signed. If you don’t regard that amount as acceptable for the time required to do your job, then perhaps it’s time to look for a role with greater remuneration.

      • the real harry1 says:

        you’re still trying to say it’s somehow cheating to use a 2.99% card vs a 0% card


        • the real harry1 says:

          anyway I’ll answer it for you

          any FTSE 100-250 company won’t be remotely worried about the 2.99% = cheating on expenses because you chose Amex not Clarity

          they are more concerned about results, so if the company is struggling, they might crack down on expenses – but almost certainly NOT on which credit card you use

      • So do you advocate that it is an individual’s responsibility to make sure that they have a 0% FX credit card to use whilst working for someone else abroad? I’m sorry I’m not with you on that. If you send me to work abroad and you expect me to use my own credit card to make that scenario work, then as an employer you need to let me use my normal card. If that has a FX charge and if I get points too so be it. I used to have a supercard and I’d have used that happily in this situation, if it had worked. That’s no longer available and no I would not take out a separate credit card or go through the faff of getting curve solely to benefit my employer. I wouldn’t feel morally culpable in the slightest about that. The solution as had been said before in this thread is to provide work credit cards.

      • If a company wants to avoid exchange rate fees, it’s up to them to provide a suitable card. It is not the employee’s responsibility to take out a separate card with no FX fees to benefit the company.

        As others have said, where it is a personal card, they bear all the responsibility of paying the bill on time and claiming back allowable expenses. I really can’t see how you can find any moral issue with an employee using their own card and charging their employer the cost of using it.

        I was issued a corporate Amex when I travelled 20 years ago. Very few places would accept it, so I used my own card. For company issued cards, the company paid the bill. I had to claim my expenses, pay the cheque into my account and pay the bill on time. My expense cheques came through pretty quickly, so I paid them into a savings account that earned 5% to keep them separate from my every day account and paid the bill from there. I suppose you think I shouldn’t have done that, either?

        • No, I would not expect employees to pay an annual fee for, and carry a card they would not otherwise choose to carry. Simply that when buying something on the company dime and there’s a choice of means to pay, the “right thing” by your employer is to use the card which minimises cost to the company, not the one which maximises personal reward at the expense of the company. It’s just simple ethical behaviour, not that complicated.

        • Although if there’s a choice of multiple cards that all charge the same fees and some provide benefits whilst others don’t then the cost to the employer isn’t any different…

  12. Jeremy I says:

    Hello all. I haven’t posted for a while. Planning ex North Africa to joburg on Lufthansa first (50k united miles ) soon if i can find availability at t minus 14 days. Probably madness but you only live once , eh?

    Anyway completely ot but did Mr save east coast rewards posted a discount link recently? Can’t find it … Thanks jez

    • Jeremy I says:

      …Discount link to east coast trains , in case that wasn’t obvious ! Jez

      • It was for the old website which is now deprecated.

        However …. if you download the Virgin Red app you should be offered a 20% East Coast discount as one of your offers.

  13. If your employer doesn’t provide a company card for you to use or provide an alternative method of payment then I can’t see a problem with using whichever card you choose.

    It is ridiculous to expect employees to make personal financial decisions for credit cards based on the lack of availability of a company card for the business.

    • As Anika will tell you, if you come to work for me and turn up with a TSB ‘no rewards’ credit card in your wallet / purse then you will be on the receiving end of a little chat 🙂

  14. Of course the exception is that if you have referred the employee and of course the best points hunting employees already have these cards 🙂

  15. Optimus Prime says:

    Do the IHG card earning options stack up? – i.e. If you use the IHG Black card abroad at a IHG property, would you get 8 points per £1?