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

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With fintech start-ups such as Curve, Revolut 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.

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.

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Comments

  1. guesswho2000 says:

    How is Tandem still offering 0.5% cb on a free card? Loss leader? Or am I missing something?

    • They’ve maybe got a large percentage of customers who don’t pay the balance each month

      • They don’t give out large limits. I only got 1,200 pounds. Customer service said that was fairly typical. You can’t apply for a credit increase either. It’s manageable, of course, but inconvenient especially when renting a car…

        • My problem too. Got £1500 which is not really enough. Not sure what their attitude to paying mid month is, whether that frees up more limit or not. I already had to pay one statement immediately rather than on DD date to buy a € airline ticket. I really miss the old Lloyds Avios card. Switching between Tandem and Curve is a pain, and had led me to using Amex Gold on foreign spend which I know doesn’t make real sense.

          • I got a £11.5k limit which seems very generous then. My last SPG Amex limit was £4.5k so not as good as previously.

      • Tandem is morphing into a Revolut / Monzo now. The card was just a loss leader. It is not even on the Tandem home page any longer.

        • Lady London says:

          Anyone know what profile Tandem is looking for? Can any one earn too much (or too little) for them? I keep looking at the 0.5% and thinking do I need it.

        • Interesting. So the claims of their service team that the ability to request a credit increase is in the pipeline probably aren’t true then. I like the card, and the app, though I’ve been mostly using Virgin since the demise of Lloyds Avios…

  2. I’ve had the Cash Passport for a few years but am running down the balance since they stopped accepting top ups via Mastercard debit! Just looking at the app, the exchange rate is currently $1.197 and €1.0875. Going forward I will be using Curve and Revolut for foreign spending though also considering the Amex dollar card for a big trip next year.

  3. I’m sure there are plenty of people in the general populous that have been ripped off by cards such as these at least once.

    The theory is good, it’s spoiled by the obscure fees and the usage is made unnecessarily complex solely for the purposes of providing an opportunity to layer fees on top of fees.

  4. No mention of Revolut which I think effectively allows 0% conversions for spend abroad.

  5. The card did have its use. RIP.

  6. I really like the Transferwise account. You can hold balances in all these currencies and transfer money either through them or any FX provider whatever works best. Friends and family have paid me in EUR and USD without any fees.

  7. There’s a niche use still perhaps; I have one for a child that lives abroad and load small amounts of pocket money onto it periodically, the rate differentials aren’t marked vs. tourist rates and the stop loss potential vs. Curve, which I use, is an upside (note the assumption that I’m more responsible looking after my cards than a teenage boy 🤔)

    • memesweeper says:

      I have a similar product for similar reasons: gave it to my daughter to take away in case of emergencies. However, she managed to loose it during the emergency it was supposed to be a safety net for!

  8. Shoestring says:

    Always useful to have a prepaid card you can leave inside a pair of shoes on the beach whilst you go swimming, knowing that if it gets stolen your downside is limited

    • Your downside is 0 if you use a card that can be locked /unlocked in the app – revolut, curve, starling… If only there was an option to block contactless feature.

      • Chrisasaurus says:

        Well no because then you need to have your phone with you too, defeating the point of the loss limiting approach with your card.

        • Then the solution is to have a swimming suit with a pocket with a zip and go swim with the card! Why not?

    • the_real_a says:

      I have 2 revolut cards on the same account for this purpose. One is deactivated in the app, should i ever need to re-activate it i just need to hit a button. This sits in the hotel safe or hidden in the lining of my luggage.

      Should the worst happen and my phone AND wallet is lost – then a call to revolut will all it to be activated after the security checks.

  9. 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.

    • 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.

      • £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?

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

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  10. 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!

      • 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.

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

      • 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.

  11. “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?

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

      • 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…

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