Cash in on a clever travel card

The pound has plummeted — but using a new generation of plastic will make sure you get the best deal possible

Jill Starley-Grainger
The Sunday Times, 2016

With the pound suffering terrible exchange rates, it’s more important than ever to use the best payment methods abroad. Luckily, several new traveller-friendly credit cards and two innovative new app-cards – Revolut (revolut.com) and Travelex Supercard (travelex.co.uk) - have recently hit the market to help you get the best deal.

New kids on the block

The app-cards sound high-tech but are actually fairly easy to set up and use. Download the relevant app to an iPhone or Android, connect it to your existing current account or credit card in just a few clicks, and then you’re sent a MasterCard Debit to use for purchases abroad.

Behind the scenes, the way these app-cards work is complicated, but essentially, they pull money from your account in sterling – which means your bank doesn’t charge you any fees because it’s seen as an ordinary transfer to another UK bank. And then they use that to pay for your foreign transaction, only with much lower fees (or with Revolut, no fees in most cases) and better exchange rates than you’d get from your bank. Another plus point is that you can track your real-time spending on the app.

Which is best?

We looked at six types of transactions in euros and US dollars – from withdrawing cash from an ATM to buying a small item in a shop – using 16 payment methods, including an ordinary debit card, UK bureau de change, credit cards aimed at travellers and the new app-cards. Rates were compared on 26 October.

Best overall: Revolut Mastercard debit

Whether putting $10 on the card in a café in New York or withdrawing €300 from an ATM in Paris, the Revolut app-card consistently gave excellent exchange rates, lowest fees (in most cases, none) and no interest charges – as long as you link it to a debit card. If you link it to a credit card, it charges a 1% fee. And note that, like all debit cards, you can’t typically use it to pay for ‘hold’ deposits at car-hire desks and hotel check-in, but you can use it to pay for the reservation and the final bill.

Good for paying with plastic: Creation Everyday Mastercard credit

If you prefer to pay your way with a credit card instead of debit, this is the best option. The Creation Everyday (creation.co.uk) gave the same great rates and fee-free spending and withdrawals as Revolut, but while almost anyone with a bank account will quality for Revolut, you’ll need a decent credit rating to get the Creation Everyday. Its interest rates are good at 12.9%APR, and you get a 50-day interest-free period on purchases - but interest starts being applied immediately to cash withdrawals.

 

Good for paying with cash: Barclaycard Platinum Travel Visa credit

This new credit card has very good exchange rates, no fees on spending and withdrawals abroad - and is the only credit card we’ve seen that gives the same 56-day interest-free period for ATM withdrawals as for purchases. So if you like to pay for everything with cash abroad, go for the Barclaycard Platinum Travel Visa (barclaycard.co.uk). However, as with the Creation Everyday, you’ll need a decent credit rating to get it.

Worst every time: cash at the airport

All of the ordinary debit cards and UK bureau de change we checked fared badly, giving poor exchange rates and/or high fees. But if you really want to flush your cash down the loo, exchange it at a UK airport without pre-booking. In our test, you’d have paid 15% more than if you’d used any of the cards above.