Prepaid foreign currency cards have largely put an end to bill shock for those of us who used to grimace at the cash advance interest rates charged by credit card companies or cringe harder with each foreign exchange transaction fee your bank debit card runs up.
For an eftpos-loving country such as New Zealand it is strange for us to have to limit the amount of swiping and be strategic with our ATM withdrawals in order to avoid hundreds of dollars in added fees, penalties and poor exchange rates.
No wonder we signed up in droves for these new payment toys.
It’s simple to gradually load up a pot of spending money, lock in better rates and spend in a foreign land with no fees for paying by card and sometimes for withdrawing cash. What’s more you can track your spending through apps and websites and (try to) stick to budget.
These cards – Loaded for Travel, Cash Passport, Air New Zealand’s OneSmart and Qantas’ QantasCash – are not without charges and fees, and make money off the exchange rate offered when you top up.
So what one is best for you?
Loaded for Travel
This card from Kiwibank and backed by Visa, is widely accepted everywhere the latter is.
Pros: The card lets you pre-load up to 11 different currencies, the most of any travel card in the New Zealand market. A recent Canstar comparison of offered forex rates found Loaded for Travel gave the best for travellers heading to Australia or the Eurozone. Potentially the best long-term option due to currencies on offer and low fees once set up.
Cons: An upfront $20 fee may be more than you can get away with in debit card fees for a short trip (and the highest of all cards on offer), so better to see this as a multi-trip investment. The $6 ATM withdrawal fee at Aussie terminals is steep, particularly when it is free elsewhere.
The Cash Passport from Mastercard is a veteran of the pre-loaded travel card game and is frequently hawked by travel agents, but after assessing its (many) fees, I can’t think why.
Pros: The only card provider on offer that did not charge for ATM withdrawals in any country (although the ATM machine’s owner may sting you each time).
Cons: The $10 fee just to close the card is a bit excessive. It also costs $10 or 1 per cent of your initial cash deposit to open the card account. Further to that, if it lays dormant at the bottom of your bag after 12 months, it’ll charge you $4 per month. So you’re charged to open it, reload it, not use it and close it. Save for the US dollar, the cash passport was found to offer the worst rates for the other major currencies, despite being the only card to charge you for each reload ($1).
This is Air New Zealand’s free foreign currency card for Airpoints account holders.
Pros: This card recent was awarded a five-star rating from Canstar, which lauded it for giving some of the better exchange rates in the market. You will also rack up Air New Zealand Airports, if that’s your thing, when you spend through the card. The OneSmart app can help you track your spend while you’re away from home.
Cons: Three free ATM withdrawals a month, but if you exceed this when you’re away if has the highest ATM withdrawal fees of the four options. The ongoing monthly fee of $1 could slowly chip away at your leftover balance once you return from a trip. Canstar’s currency comparison found OneSmart to offer the worst rate for Australian dollars (AUD), a common currency for the Kiwi traveller.
This bit of plastic is available to all on the Qantas Frequent Flyers programme.
Pros: Canstar also spoke highly of this offer from across the ditch and in their study, Qantas Cash had virtually no fees in terms of obtaining, loading, reloading and purchasing. ATM withdrawal fees were consistently less than using Air New Zealand’s OneSmart card. If you’re a Qantas Frequent Flyer you’ll earn loyalty points as you spend.
Cons: Canstar found Qantas Cash to offer the second-best rate in the market for AUD, but for other currencies it was at or near the bottom of the table.
Verdict: It’s fair to say all of these products do ‘clip the ticket’, it’s just a matter of when – when setting it up (Loaded for Travel, Cash Passport), when loading it (Cash Passport), at the ATM (OneSmart and Qantas Cash) or through sub-par exchange rates (Cash Passport).
The airline cards come out better on balance if you’re not withdrawing too much cold, hard cash, so go with your airline loyalty programme of choice.
If you’re thinking long-term Loaded for Travel looks to pay off its high set-up costs quickly and offers more currencies, while letting you get cash withdrawals affordably.