Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Review: Is there still a place for the Avios Multi-Currency Cash Passport?

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

This is our review of the Avios Multi-Currency Cash Passport.

With fintech start-ups such as Curve, Revolut, Starling Bank and Monzo targetting the travelling public with cards offering 0% foreign exchange fees and multi-currency wallets, is there any future for increasingly ‘old school’ products such as the Avios Multi-Currency Cash Passport?  I thought it was worth taking another look.

(Our recent review of Starling Bank is here if you want to compare their 0% FX fees product.)

The Avios Multi-Currency Cash Passport card is a more complex version of a standard pre-loaded currency card.  It can carry simultaneous balances in ten different currencies – £, €, $, Australian Dollars, New Zealand Dollars, Canadian Dollars, South African Rand, Turkish Lira, Swiss Franc and Emirati Dirham.

You can use it to withdraw money from cash machines as well as buying goods anywhere that accepts Mastercard.

The fees on this card are bordering on reasonable but I still fail to see the attraction over using even a standard credit card with a 3% FX fee.  In particular, I strongly fail to see the attraction over a ‘no FX fees’ payment card such as the Curve cards or a credit card like the Virgin Money Travel Card or Tandem – especially when the latter also earns 0.5% cashback on global purchases.

Here is the fee schedule for the Avios Multi-Currency Cash Passport card.

Loading the card is FREE, as long as you load in a currency other than £ and you earn 1 Avios point per £1 equivalent loaded (minimum £50 load).

The fee schedule does not make clear is how generous (or not) their exchange rate is.  You cannot tell, without applying for a card and setting it up, how bad the exchange rates are.  This seems unfair.

As you now need an active card to look up the exchange rates, I couldn’t do a test.  Looking at the comments below, the exchange rate is the same as it always was – around 3.5% away from the spot rate.

In itself, a 3.5% fee does not make the card substantially worse – although it clearly is worse – than a standard credit card with its 2.99% foreign exchange fee.  Why bother though?  Why not just use a rewards credit card, pay 2.99%, earn some points and get up to 56 days interest free credit to settle the bill?  And, of course, why not use a 0% FX card in the first place?

Extra fees start to kick in later:

Load your card in £ – 2% loading fee

Come back from holiday with a balance in one currency and want to convert to another?  3.5% (presumably) built into the margin.

Forget to convert your balance into a different currency before you travel again?  There is a 5.75% FX fee per transaction.

Don’t use your card for a year?  £2 per month will be deducted from the balance.

There are other fees, such as cash machine fees, but these do seem to be ‘industry standard’.

The real problem with the card is that it is fiddly.  Let’s imagine that you are heading to Dubai and you load £500 in Dirham onto your card, paying the 3.5% fee.

You only spend £350.  This leaves £150 in Dirham.  If your next trip is to France, you need to go online and move the Dirham into Euro – incurring another FX fee.  If you don’t spend the entire £150 of Euro in France and then head to the US, you will be paying another fee to convert the remaining funds in $.

You need to know the balance of the card 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.

It is both time consuming and expensive.  And, to my mind, pointless.

Is the Avios Multi-Currency Cash Passport worth it?

I’m not sure that there was ever a market for cards like this.  A lot of companies wished there was, because of the fat margins, but it never materialised.

The cheapest way to spend abroad is a 0% FX fee credit card – Curve (free), Halifax Clarity (free), Tandem (free, with 0.5% cashback).

With the Multi-Currency Cash Passport, whilst you earn 1 Avios per £1, this is entirely offset by the poorer foreign exchange rate you will be getting compared to using a standard 3% FX fee credit card.  It doesn’t even begin to compete with 0% fee credit or debit cards.

To be honest, I thought that this card and its ilk would have been withdrawn by now due to lack of interest.  In some ways, it is a little worrying that they still exist.  There is no sensible reason for any HFP reader to take one out as far as I can tell.

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

Comments (63)

  • Tony says:

    I have a similar product (a Caxton FX card) that I use abroad mainly to get foreign currency out fee-free at cash machines.

    What other products would let me go this, as I assume the no fee credit cards would charge a fee as they do in the uk if you use them for cash withdrawals?

    I’ve also used it in a similar way to Nathan – funding my son on a gap year round the world. Here the multi currency facility for most major currencies has been very useful.

    • Mr. AC says:

      Starling allows 300 GBP worth of withdrawal per day (rate seems to be somehow better than the Mastercard rate? Maybe I got lucky with a currency movement).
      Curve (fee-free) allows 200 GBP worth of withdrawal per month from an ATM overseas (also fee-free, using the Curve rate which is very similar to Revolut).
      Same with Revolut – 200 GBP per month (but be warned that some currencies, e.g. THB or UAH they count as “illiquid” so add a fee).
      There are others.

      • Tony says:

        £200 per month is too restrictive but £300 daily on Starling sounds fine.

        Is this a Debit or a Credit card product.
        Because if the latter – doesn’t interest get charged from the moment that the cash withdrawal occurs?

        • Waddle says:

          Starling is Debit linked to a true bank account with FSCS. But you can request an overdraft in the app if you are approved.

    • John says:

      Tandem (non-GBP only), Halifax Clarity, Santander Zero do not charge fees for cash withdrawals. Then there is Metro Bank, Curve, Revolut, Monzo, Starling, just need to be aware of the quirks of each one.

    • ADS says:

      i use my Halifax MC solely for foreign cash withdrawals. then i check it the day after a withdrawal, and pay off the balance (so i’m not paying interest).

      i put foreign purchases on a different (zero percent) card. usually end up with a few pence interest / final fx difference, but tiny compared to other options. and reasonably straightforward / hassle free.

      • Jemma says:

        I used to overpay before going away then run down any surplus once I got back. No interest atall and no remembering to pay the balance whilst away.
        Effectively used it like a pre-paid card really.

        Reminds me, need to get another one. Have been using Nationwide as their bundled account gives free withdrawal on the debit card but now they’ve dropped interest on the account I’ll be paying too much for that account to make the ‘freebies’ worth it.

  • Russ says:

    For those that don’t want to take a mobile phone abroad or take four or five readers then these cards may have a place. Can you top them up with amex or Bilhop?

    • Chrisasaurus says:

      No and no

      For me life is short enough, just use the same damn card you use day to day in the UK!

      • Russ says:

        If you’re happy to take a mobile around with you when abroad fine. It’s your choice. When SCA kicks in I’m not going to be relying on any cards which could bounce bills in the middle east.

    • Andy says:

      Are there really people that don’t take their phone when they go abroad?

      • John says:

        If going to an authoritarian country you shouldn’t take your “real” phone.

        • The Original David says:

          “Shouldn’t” according to security consultants who make a living out of telling everyone what a big and scary place the world is. I routinely travel around China with my “real” phone, and merrily connect to random wifi networks, nobody has died.

          I keep the nuclear codes hand-written on a post-it in my back pocket, though.

      • the_real_a says:

        My previous employer banned us from taking company phones and laptops (and any personal devices that had company data) to the USA a few years ago after someone was held at immigration and had all the data downloaded.

  • Mr. AC says:

    “Loading the card is FREE, as long as you load in a currency other than £ and you earn 1 Avios point per £1 equivalent loaded (minimum £50 load).”

    Sorry, this is kinda confusing. Can you actually load this thing with anything other than GBP directly? Can I “load” it with a SEPA transfer? Can I load it with a USD/EUR debit card?

    I have a debit card with USD, would topping up this card with it and then spending in the US net 1 Avios per pound effectively, or would it not work this way?

    • Rob says:

      You are charged in £ when you load it. Travelex then converts it to whatever currency you requested using its own weak exchange rate.

      • Mr. AC says:

        Right, that’s what I thought. Thanks for clarifying Rob.

        • The Original David says:

          So if you load it up with USD, keep it stored as USD and spend it in USD, you don’t get hit with any fees? Obviously would be easier just to use your USD card in the first place though…

  • Lady London says:

    Have looked at this card on and off over the years. Somehow it always “just misses”. that’s if you get over the “fees over fees” which are truly horrendous!

    I can only see a use for it if someone is “unbanked”, or “unsmartphoned” these days. Oh, and I supposed for ML. Depending on the extent of your needs for that I suppose if you picked up a really good opportunity that yielded a chunk more than the fees, it would give you extra capacity.

    IIRC reading somewhere, though, that max is about 50K. So even that use … well not impossible, just gets fussy to do.

    It’s kind of a last resort card, isn’t it?

  • Dawn says:

    I must be the only person who is actually happy using this card!
    Each year I travel to different countries including Turkey, Australia, Euro-zone, S Africa and USA and it suits me to have all those different currencies loaded as I use them all. I just top up when I need to using my mobile and find it quick and convenient.
    What I didn’t know is that if you don’t use the card for a year you get hit with fees but I’m guessing that means the card in general, not per currency as I’ve never been hit with fees.
    I also have a second card which my business partner in S Africa uses when she is on trips (like she came to Turkey for a month).
    I struggle to get my head around a lot of the options out there (due to an illness I have) so have gone with simplicity for me til now as I use so many currencies. I’m happy to be guided to something better 🙂

    • Lady London says:

      Wondering how would you compare this to Revolut for your uses, @Dawn

      • Dawn says:

        I’ve read the HfP posts about Revolut in the past but perhaps need to sit down and study it further. Some friends in Turkey have it, I’ll take another look. Thank you

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      Dawn, something like Revolut is far simpler than what you’re doing now! The key is that the exchange rates are close-as-dammit zero, so you can just convert any left over currency balance into
      the next useful currency, or back to GBP- basically only need to carry one balance and switch it round as needed rather than lots of different ones. It’s no harder to use than what you have now and will save you a lot of money given the rubbish 3.5% exchange rate margin on the BA card.

  • The Urbanite says:

    There most definitely is – I finally found a way to get the Avios from it without being out of pocket!

    • Lady London says:

      Any hints?

      • The Urbanite says:

        Yes – disregard that comment :(. I trialled something late last week but a few days later it turns out it wasn’t worthwhile after all. Back to the drawing board (which I won’t actually be drawing on again I don’t think!)

  • Anna says:

    OT but people have mentioned Revolut – it has suddenly started refusing top ups from my IHG MC, is anyone else having the same problem?

    • guesswho2000 says:

      Still working for me on 4x different cards as of today. Remember the daily and weekly limits.

  • Jill. (kinkell) says:

    I had this card , loaded with ZAR, USD and EUR. It was really useful… before I saw the light! Card had an expiry date , so I asked for a new one( April this year) to be told this type of card was being taken out of service and not being issued anymore. As a result, the remnants were cashed out at a good rate and no charge. I thought this type of card was no longer available