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? – March 2021 update
If you are looking to apply for a new credit or charge card, here are our March 2021 recommendations based on the current sign-up bonus.
Until 9th April 2021, American Express is running the biggest sign-up bonuses ever seen on a UK payment card.
You will earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points on American Express Business Platinum (apply here) and 50,000 Membership Rewards points on American Express Business Gold (apply here) which is FREE for your first year. Points transfer 1:1 into Avios. Here are links to our reviews:
You can see our full directory of all UK cards which earn airline or hotel points here. Here are the other top current deals:
British Airways American Express
5,000 Avios for signing up, no annual fee and a companion voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review
British Airways American Express Premium Plus
25,000 Avios and the UK’s most valuable credit card perk – the 2-4-1 companion voucher Read our full review
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review
The Platinum Card from American Express
30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review
Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard
15,000 points bonus and the most generous non-Amex for day to day spending 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:
American Express Business Platinum
100,000 points sign-up bonus – SPECIAL OFFER TO 9th APRIL – and a long list of travel ….. Read our full review
British Airways Accelerating Business American Express
Earn both Avios and BA On Business points with your business spending Read our full review
Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa
The most generous Avios Visa or Mastercard for a limited company Read our full review
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.