Travel money card comparisons

Avoiding fees is the first order of business when it comes to pre-paid travel money cards.
 
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01 .Dodging fees

Travel_Money_Lead

Being stung by high ATM and other transaction fees is one of the modern-day perils of overseas travel. In recent years financial institutions have attempted to dull the pain with travel money cards.

Unfortunately, these snappy little products have some sneaky fees of their own.

In this article we look at:

For more information about travel money, see our Banking section.

Developing market

The travel card market has expanded since our 2009 review, and there are better products now than there were then. But the fees can still sting.

There’s also a point of confusion that has cropped up since our earlier story: the difference between prepaid travel money cards and debit cards set up for overseas travel that are connected to a bank account.

The prepaid category is where the fees come in. Debit cards fleece you less, but you need to have an account at that bank.

Then there’s a third category that may turn out to be the way of the future – credit cards specifically designed for overseas travel. The potential trendsetter at the moment is the GE Money 28 Degrees MasterCard, our CHOICE Award winner for Best Travel Money Card. 

If you pay off the balance in time (within 55 days) you stand to enjoy fee-free access to credit around the world and can make fee-free withdrawals of cash loaded on your card. As far as we’re concerned, this is what a travel money card should do; however, not everyone wants, or can qualify for, a new credit card.

Update October 2013: From 1 January 2014, a cash advance fee of 3% of the cash advance amount or $4 (whichever is greater) will be charged by GE Money whenever a customer makes a cash transaction (such as an ATM withdrawal) or obtains a cash advance. The fee will apply to cash already loaded on the card. The 28 Degrees Card might not have won a CHOICE award had this fee structure been in place when this article was originally published. CHOICE will be re-investigating the travel money card market in an upcoming report.

Travel_Money_Prepaid_Vs_Credit

Do you need one? 

Prepaid travel money cards may not do you much good if you spend less than about $3000 overseas. That’s because the fees you’ll pay for having and using the card will likely outweigh any overseas ATM or transaction costs you’d incur if you used your regular bank-issued debit or credit card.

Another thing to get straight is that no two cards are alike, but some are certainly better than others.

Of the current market offerings, we like the Commonwealth Bank Travel Money Card because it has no initial load fee or monthly inactivity fee, and has the lowest currency conversion fee (two per cent) for currencies not already loaded on your card.

If, for instance, you decide to dash up to Montreal from Boston and haven’t loaded Canadian dollars, CBA will charge you two per cent per transaction for converting your preloaded US dollars to Canadian currency.

The ample opportunities to limit fees are the main reasons we named the CBA card the CHOICE Award runner-up. The strongest points in favour of prepaid cards are that you can lock in the exchange rate and be sitting pretty should the Aussie dollar nosedive, and you don’t need to open a bank account or fill out a credit card application.

The drawback is you’ll have to keep your fee-avoidance radar on at all times because, depending on the card, you could be hit up when you buy the card, use an ATM, reload, close the account, use a currency not loaded on the card or don’t use the card at all.

Doing the maths 

One seemingly impressive newcomer to the prepaid category is the MasterCard Multi-Currency Cash Passport.

It’s the first of its kind available to Australians that offers free ATM use overseas, and can hold up to $100,000 in a single load. 

But the downside underscores the problem with prepaid cards in general: the 1.1% initial loading fee will cost you $275 if you load $25,000, and you’ll get hit with a 5.95% charge if you use currencies not loaded.

Take a look at our comparison table, to see what kind of costs you'll face from each travel money card.

CHOICE verdict

The ideal set-up for your next overseas trip is to have a prepaid and a travel-worthy debit or credit card and use either depending on the transaction.

But if you’re keen to avoid fees and can pay off your balance on time, the GE Money 28 Degrees MasterCard is the best single way we’ve found to prevent sneaky fees from nibbling away at your travel budget.

 
 

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Our compare and review tables drill down to the details of what makes these cards tick - or not.

We've compared:

PRE-PAID TRAVEL CARDS
ISSUER/
CARD>>
ANZ Travel Card MasterCard multi-currency cash passport (issued by Heritage Building Society) Commonwealth Bank Travel Money Card - CHOICE AWARD RUNNER-UP Travelex Prepaid Mastercard (also called "Travelex Cash Passport") AMEX Global Travel Card
Currencies available Australian Dollars (AUD), US Dollars (USD), Euro (EUR), Great British Pounds (GBP), New Zealand Dollars (NZD), Hong Kong Dollars (HKD), Canadian Dollars (CAD), Singapore Dollars (SGD), Thai Baht (THB), Japanese Yen (JPY) AUD, USD, GBP, EUR, NZD, SGD, CAD, JPY, THB, HKD; can be used wherever MasterCard is accepted. AUD, USD, GBP, EUR, NZD, CAD, JPY, SGD, HKD; can be used wherever MasterCard is accepted. USD, AUD, NZD, EUR, GBP USD, EUR, GBP (Each currency requires a separate card)
Card purchase fee/Initial load fee AUD 11/ load fee is free 1.1% of initial load value or AUD 15, whichever is greater AUD 15 / load fee is free 1.1% of initial load value or AUD 15, whichever is greater AUD 15, minimum load of USD 200, GBP 100, or EUR 150
ATM fee per withdrawal AUD 3.50, USD 2.50, GBP 2.00, EUR 2.20, NZD 4.50, CAD 3.00, HKD 20.00, SGD 4.00, THB 95.00, JPY 260.00 No ATM fees charged by MasterCard (though local operator may apply fee); claim is 1.9 million ATMs wordwide with MasterCard logo AUD 3.50, USD 2.50, GBP 2.00, EUR 2.20, NZD 4.50, CAD 3.00, JPY 2.20, SGD 3.50, HKD 17 GBP 1.50, USD 2.25, EUR 2.20, AUD 3.75, NZD 4.00 USD 2.00, GBP 1.25, EUR 2.20
Maximum load AUD 80,000 or equivalent AUD 100,000 or equivalent AUD 25,000 or equivalent GBP 10,000, USD 20,000, EUR 15,000, AUD 25,000, NZD 30,000 USD 15,000 or equivalent
Reload fee 1.1% of reload amount BPAY fee 1% of reload amount 1.1% of reload amount BPAY fee 1%, SMS fee 1.1% Lesser of 1% of your reload or AUD 10.00
Currency conversion fee 3% (for currencies not loaded on card) plus exchange rate difference. 5.95% (for currencies not loaded on card) plus exchange rate difference. 2% (for currencies not loaded on card) plus exchange rate difference. 8.45% (for currencies not loaded on card) plus exchange rate difference. 3% (for currencies not loaded on card) plus exchange rate difference.
Monthly inactivity Fee Yes, AUD 3.00 per month after 12 months with no transactions; applies to each separate currencyloaded on the card. Yes, AUD 4.00 per month after 12 months with no transactions No Yes, GBP 1.50, EUR 2.00, USD 2.00, AUD 4.00, NZD 4.80 per month after 12 months with no transactions No
Closure fee Free Yes, AUD 10 Free Yes, AUD 10 Free
Fee for replacement card? Yes, AUD 35.00 or equivalent outside Australia (no fee within Australia) No Yes, AUD 60.00, USD 40.00, GPB 30.00, EUR 35.00, NZD 75.00, CAD 50.00, JPY 3800, SGD 60.00, HKD 300 No No
Positives Lowest purchase fee (AUD 11.00) of prepaid travel cards; multiple currencies available and can load 10 at a time. No ATM fees; Chip and PIN protected; cash emergency assistance; free back-up card; free replacement of lost or stolen cards. Can load up to six currencies; automatically uses currency of country you are visiting; can transfer funds between currencies while travelling; free backup card. High load limits; chip and PIN security; emergency money transfers. Low ATM fees; free backup card; balance does not expire; no inactivity fees; Amex Global Assist Service includes traveller assistance, lost luggage, and lost passport services.
Negatives High ATM fees; AUD 35.00 for replacement card; AUD 3.00 per month inactivity fee. 1.1% load fee can add up; ATM fee of 2.95% of amount withdrawn if used in Australia; negative balance fee of AUD 20.00. High ATM fees; high replacement card fee. Single currency card (only one currency at a time); 1.1% load fee can add up, most cards have flat fees; pricey 8.45% fee per transaction for currencies not loaded on card; AUD 10 closure fee; monthly inactivity fee. Only available in USD, GBP, and EUR; some international merchants may attempt to apply an AMEX surcharge, which is disallowed in the US; need a separate card per currency.
 


DEBIT CARDS/CREDIT CARDS
ISSUER/
CARD
Citibank Plus Transaction Account/ Visa debit card

NAB Gold Visa debit card

NAB has discontinued its Gold Banking account since publication.

GE Money 28 Degrees Mastercard

Update: Starting 1 January 2014 a cash advance fee of 3% of the cash advance amount or $4 (whichever is greater) will be charged whenever a customer makes a cash transaction (such as an ATM withdrawal) or obtains a cash advance. The fee will apply to cash already loaded on the card. 

Currencies available Wherever Visa is accepted Wherever Visa is accepted Wherever MasterCard is accepted
Card purchase fee/Initial load fee NA (debit card) NA (debit card) NA (credit card)
ATM fee per withdrawal None for overseas or in Australia within Citibank Network

None for overseas ATMs with PLUS sign

NOTE: From 10 August 2012, overseas ATM fee will be $4.

None charged by 28 Degrees MasterCard for overseas ATM withdrawals, though local ATM fees may apply. Westpac machines are free.
Maximum load na na na
Reload fee na na na
Currency conversion fee No foreign currency conversion or transaction fees

No foreign currency conversion or transaction fees

NOTE: From 10 August 2012, foreign currency transactions for existing customers will cost 2% of the total; overseas ATM fee will be $4.

No foreign currency conversion or transaction fees
Monthly inactivity Fee na na na
Closure fee na na na
Fee for replacement card? No AUD 20 per card issued in Australia; AUD 100 per card issued overseas. No
Positives No monthly account fee; no minimum ongoing balance requirement; free international money transfer to any overseas account. Travel insurance with minimum of AUD 500 pre-paid overseas transport costs; VISA payWave for purchases under AUD 100 No international transaction, currency conversion or annual fees; fee-free withdrawals of cash loaded on your card; 55-day interest free period; Mastercard Paypass for purchases under AUD 100.
Negatives Must have a Citibank Plus account, which does not pay interest. Must have an NAB Gold account; AUD 10 monthly account keeping fee unless you deposit at least AUD 5000 per month ;AUD 100 for overseas card replacement; purchases, 19.74% pa.;cash advances, 21.74% pa; no interest paid for NAB account. 20.99% pa interest rate for purchases is on the high side if you don't pay off the balance in time (55 days) and applies immediately to cash advances; no travel insurance included; have to prove identification, credit-worthiness and go through credit card application process, which can take time.
 
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