A few readers got in touch this week after seeing press coverage of Mastercard’s plan to boost the fees paid by EU retailers when processing sales for UK residents. They thought it may improve their credit card rewards – but it won’t.
When the UK was in the EU, interchange fees on credit card transactions – effectively the part of the fee which goes to the card issuer – were capped at 0.3%.
With the UK now out of the EU, these rules no longer apply to purchases made outside the UK. This is ironic, because the UK Government was the driving force behind introducing interchange fee caps in the first place.
Mastercard has announced that, from 15th October 2021, it will increase the interchange fee on credit card transactions made by UK residents when they buy something ONLINE in the EU.
The rate will go from 0.3% to a whopping 1.5%. Fees on debit cards will jump from 0.2% to 1.15%.
This won’t lead to improved card rewards
The cap on interchange fees was the death knell for decent credit card rewards on Visa and Mastercard products in the UK.
Reward credit cards are generally carried by people who are financially stable. Interest rates are high – often 23% – and these cards are avoided by anyone who is not intending to repay their balance each month.
With little income from interest charges, interchange fees were the major source of income. When they were cut by 80%, there was little money left to fund rewards.
With few reward cardholders paying interest, there was very little money in the pot except the 3% fee on foreign currency payments. This has also been whittled down in recent years as customers have become more aware of both the charge and the fee-free alternatives.
The increase in interchange fees only applies to ONLINE transactions in the EU. How much credit card expenditure by UK residents goes to ONLINE transactions with companies in the EU? Probably very little.
The obvious targets – like airlines – will move quickly to ensure that payments made by UK residents are processed by a subsidiary based in the UK. This will save them 1.2% of your fare in commission, a substantial sum given the small profit margins in the aviation industry.
There is no chance that Mastercard can impose the same fees on IN-PERSON transactions in the EU. Visa and Mastercard have already given anti-trust undertakings to the EU that they will cap their fees on all purchases made in the EU, irrespective of where in the world the cardholder is based.
I am fairly sure that the very modest sums generated for card companies from online transactions with EU businesses will not move the needle in terms of rewards.
For clarity, credit card interchange fees are a bad thing. They increase costs for retailers which feeds into the prices they can charge. To quote a recent New York Times article:
“According to a 2010 policy paper by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the average cash-using household paid $149 over the course of a year to card-using households, while each card-using household received $1,133 from cash users, partially in the form of rewards. It remains a regressive transfer to this day.”
You can find out more on ft.com here (paywall).
Want to earn more points from credit cards? – December 2023 update
If you are looking to apply for a new credit card, here are our top recommendations based on the current sign-up bonuses.
In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.
You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:
You can see our full directory of all UK cards which earn airline or hotel points here. Here are the best of the other deals currently available.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive 30,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 30,000 Avios) with American Express Preferred Rewards Gold. You receive 25,000 points if you spend £3,000 in three months and a further 5,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive a huge 100,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 100,000 Avios) with The Platinum Card. You receive 75,000 points if you spend £10,000 in six months and a further 25,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.
British Airways American Express Premium Plus
25,000 Avios and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
Your best beginner’s card – 30,000 points (TO 9th JANUARY), FREE for a year & four airport ….. Read our full review
The Platinum Card from American Express
Crazy 100,000 points (TO 9th JANUARY) and a huge range of valuable benefits – for a fee Read our full review
Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard
15,000 bonus points and 1.5 points for every £1 you spend Read our full review
Earning miles and points from small business cards
If you are a sole trader or run a small company, you may also want to check out these offers:
British Airways Accelerating Business American Express
30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios Read our full review
American Express Business Platinum
40,000 points bonus and an annual £200 Amex Travel credit Read our full review
American Express Business Gold
20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review
Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa
Get a 10,000 points bonus plus an extra 500 points for our readers Read our full review
For a non-American Express option, we also recommend the Barclaycard Select Cashback card for sole traders and small businesses. It is FREE and you receive 1% cashback on your spending.