The Best Value Travel Money Cards

If you're about to set off overseas, you've likely spent hours researching destinations, activities and shopping hotspots, and slightly less time researching the best options for accessing and spending your money abroad.

Travel money picture from Shutterstock

Well, Mozo.com.au has done the hard work for you, looking at the pros and cons of over 280 cards to come up with a list of the best value options across debit, credit and pre-paid cards.

Debit cards

The beauty of travelling with a debit card is you're less tempted to spend excessively like you might with a credit card. If it's your main bank account you'll be more diligent before booking that scenic helicopter ride. But taking the debit card associated with your main bank account does make you more vulnerable in the event of any fraud or card cancellations, which could impact you when you're back home.

In saying that, our researchers found debit cards are the lowest cost option for accessing your money abroad, down to the fact that most don't charge for in-store purchases and have competitive exchange rates and transaction fees - if at all. For frequent travellers in particular, it could be well worth switching to one of these travel-friendly debit cards.

Mozo's picks of the best debit cards to travel with are:

  1. Citibank Plus – no foreign currency transaction fee and no fee to use ATMs overseas
  2. RAMS Action – no foreign currency transaction fee

These are the two cards which offer the best value when taking a representative basket of two currencies overseas, making four ATM withdrawals and 10 purchases. We also took withdrawal, purchase and transaction fees into account to find the best.

Credit cards

Credit cards may have lost some ground to debit and prepaid cards in recent years but they still provide good benefits for travellers, like rewards points, extra protection when overseas, complimentary travel insurance and speedy card replacement services. But these services can come at a cost, by way of high interest rates, not-so-competitive foreign exchange rates and pricey cash advance fees.

The real appeal of a credit card can be for that last minute flight change or emergency where you need to put expensive items on credit. That same benefit can turn into a nasty surprise if your card is stolen but this is where those card protections come in to their own.

Mozo's picks of the best credit cards to travel with are:

  1. Bankwest Zero Platinum – no annual or foreign transaction fees plus free travel insurance with unlimited medical, unlimited cancellations and $10k of luggage cover.
  2. 28 Degrees Platinum MasterCard - This card also doesn't have an annual fee and doesn't charge for overseas purchases.

Prepaid travel cards

The best thing about pre-paid travel cards is your ability to lock-in an exchange rate before you go, which can be particularly handy if your destination's currency fluctuates. Most cards also allow you to load several currencies on the one card, which means you're not paying multiple exchange fees if you're on a multi-city word tour. The other benefit is, like a debit card, it's a great way to stick to your travel budget.

For all their benefits pre-paid cards can be the most expensive travel money option once you've taken load fees and card closure fees in to account and travellers need to watch out for the uncompetitive foreign exchange rates of some of these cards.

Mozo's experts looked at taking two currencies overseas on a pre-paid card, making two ATM withdrawals in each currency and making purchases to exhaust the balance and pay any closure fee.

Mozo's Top Pre-paid Travel cards are:

  1. OzForex Travel Card - for its competitive foreign exchange rates
  2. NAB Traveller Card - there's no purchase fee and no fee for ATM withdrawals

Once you've packed the best value plastic for your travel money needs, follow these tips to keep it safe and avoid any hitches.

  • Avoid ATMs in busy areas where wandering eyes or hands are harder to spot,
  • If you think your retailer's card machine looks a little odd or pre-historic… like it may be fitted with a skimming device, consider using cash instead.
  • Always take a few options for payment beyond your main card – fraud, losing your card or it not being accepted could leave you stranded if you don't have a back-up.
  • Keep your various travel money options in different places – luggage, wallet or with your travelling companion.

Kirsty Lamont is a director of Mozo.com.au which helps Australians compare and save on credit cards, home loans, insurance and other financial products. Kirsty was one of the launch team for Virgin Money when it started in Australia in 2003, and also held a senior role at BankWest before joining Mozo in 2007.


Comments

    No mention of Qantas QCash card or the Virgin equivalent?

      Hi there, Caroline from Mozo here. The Velocity Frequent Flyer Global Wallet came in third behind the OzForex and NAB cards in our pre-paid category.

    This is a good review of cards but would have been even better if they had also compared it to using solely cash as well.

    Perfect timing as i was looking into this...

    NAB travel card has 1% reload fee, $0 international and $3.75 domestic ATM fee.
    Qantas Cash has 0 reload, $0 international and (not stated) for domestic ATM fee.

    Because while they may claim no fees... the exchange rate you get is rubbish... around 3% worse than the daily visa/mastercard rate

      @gazmodo when you say the exchange rate you get is rubbish what do you base it on?

      According to our research (as well as personal experience with these products), both the Citibank account and 28 Degrees Mastercard actually give you the daily Visa/Mastercard rate without loading.

      With Citibank, this also applies to cash withdrawals. As 28 Degrees started charging a %-based fee on cash advances, they are no longer recommended for withdrawing cash overseas (only for making purchases).

        I was taking about about the NAB Travel Card and Qantas Cash cards being rubbish.

        Citibank/28 Degrees are my recommendation.

    I'm a big fan of the Citibank Plus / Bankwest zero combination, I've been using this for a couple of years now without any issues.

      These two (together with ING Direct's Orange Everyday account for domestic use) is the BEST financial 'combo' currently in existence in Australia. Full stop!

      Well done :)

    When I did my research a few months ago the Ozforex card consistently had the best exchange rate compared to all of the other cards, although Citibank wasn't as far behind as the others. Ozforex was typically about 1.6%-2.5% better than the other cards. So while fees are a consideration in any comparison of course, so is the exchange rate and can more than offset any fees.

      @sebg Interesting. Did the Ozforex card offer better exchange rates than using the Citibank debit card?

      If so, that is pretty impressive indeed as Citibank converts at the daily Visa rates which means OzForex is able to convert foreign currency at better rates than Visa!

      Last edited 03/12/14 11:18 am

        Ozforex did indeed have better rates, even than Citibank.

        Just checked on today's websites and Ozforex quotes $us839 for $au1,000. Citibank quotes $us833 (still very close, just as I found in my earlier research). Qantas, Travelex and a number of other travel cards quote around $us810.

          @sebg US$839 for $1000 aussie? WOW!
          I just checked on xe.com (which gives the pure wholesale spot rate without any loading) and $1000 aussie gives you US$840.46.

          This makes the Citibank rate excellent at around 0.83% loading over spot but the Ozforex rate is amazing at only around 0.12% loading over spot!

          I guess that's why Ozforex need to charge fees on their travel card. They are making bugger all on the exchange rate and something needs to pay the bills, right? ;)

    Unless i'm missing something, and please correct me if i'm wrong, but the other big disadvantage with prepaid travel cards is that it just can't be used in most countries - the ozforex card for example can only be used in Australia, US, UK, Canada, NZ, HK, Singapore, Japan, and Europe.

    There's well over 100 other countries one might like to travel to. #idontgetit

    *edit* O I C now, you can use them in say Indonesia, but you'd pay 3% of the money withdrawn in AUD - eg to take AUD $100 out of the ATM would take AUD $103 off the card, plus the ATM withdrawl fee, plus the low currency conversion rate, plus whatever fee the ATM operator and the government of that country may charge on top of all of that.

    Pass. I'll take travellers cheques and cash any day of the week. So much cheaper especially in places like Thailand where the govt charges a large ATM withdrawl fee on everyone.

    Last edited 02/12/14 3:15 pm

    Travel cards are a big money spinning product that the banks try to promote for the inexperienced traveller.
    You pay an application fee and the exchange rate on deposit and withdrawal of the balance when returned from trip is very unfavorable.
    By far the most efficient cost effective way to travel is to carry some initial cash along with your personal credit card.

      The point of the article is that Credit Cards can be very expensive. There are fixed fee + percentage of the transaction on purchases and/or ATM withdrawals. There are some cards that are exceptions, they are actually rarer than you realise. Your personal credit card is probably not one of them, unless its one of the aforementioned.

    Something to note is that rental car companies do not generally take travel cards/ pre-loaded debit cards as payment for rentals, they want to have a credit card on file for you in case you left the petrol tank empty etc. I imagine it would be similar with hotels. So it is never a good idea to travel only with a travel card /pre-loaded debit card. Have backups!

    ING Debit card
    International ATM $2.50, no % fee apparently.

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