Along with exchange rates and security, how you access your money is major consideration for overseas travel.
While credit cards and debit cards can both be used overseas, many prepaid cards claim to be the best way to pay with a foreign currency.
The biggest drawback to our standard debit or credit cards is that most of them have international transaction charges of up to 3% on top of any exchange rate differences.
That makes it harder to figure out how much your have spent and how much is left in your account, particularly if you want to avoid online banking on an unsecured network or internet café (which are often the norm for travel).
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Although there are some cards that waive these fees, like the Citibank Plus debit card, GE Money’s popular 28 Degrees MasterCard and the Bankwest Zero Platinum, they are definitely the exception to the rule.
As a result, the pre-paid card market has opened up for travel options. Companies like Travelex and Cash Passport have long offered this service, and many banks now have their own options that they recommend for customers who are going abroad.
Last year Australia Post joined these options when it introduced the Load&Go Travel Card, which can hold up to five currencies at a time and waives many of the fees common with pre-paid cards.
But Qantas is the latest company to get involved in the travel card business, announcing a new generation of chip-enabled cards for its Frequent Flyer members that will be available later in 2013.
Among the features of this member card is Qantas CashTM; a service that lets you transfer money onto the card and use it wherever MasterCard is accepted.
Like any other MasterCard it can be used for in-store transactions when travelling overseas, to withdraw foreign currency from ATMs internationally or to purchase online.
But once you have one of these new Frequent Flyer cards you will also be able to load up to nine different currencies on it and lock in exchange rates, making it one of the most flexible travel cards around.
Qantas Loyalty CEO Lesley Grant said the Qantas CashTM feature would make the new generation card indispensable for many people.
“There are more than nine million Qantas Frequent Flyer members and we are investing in making their membership card even more valuable. The Qantas Cash feature will tap into the rapidly expanding area of electronic payments as people shift from cash to cards, and let members earn points from these transactions,” she said.
“This new generation card will open the door to a lot of other uses through smart chip technology and the ability to integrate it with mobiles, meaning the sky really is the limit.”
While many of the more established travel cards charge you fees when you register and/or load money onto the card, the new Australia Post and Qantas CashTM options claim all the convenience of travel cards without as many extra costs.
Is Cash or Card Better For Travel?
The debate between cash and cards has practically been won for everyday transactions, with research across the board showing Aussies use plastic for the majority of purchases.
But it all boils down to personal preference and travellers in particular tend to use a combination of both cash and cards.
This could change with the introduction of Qantas’s new card, though, with MasterCard Australasia Division President, Eddie Grobler, calling it a “game changer”.
“We are witnessing a growing trend in Australia, with consumers actively moving away from using cash in favour of electronic payments and card products,” he said.
“The new generation Frequent Flyer card featuring Qantas Cash directly appeals to those who prefer the convenience and security of a payment card over handling cash.”
More specifically, cards offer security by keeping your money in one place and providing proof if it is stolen.
A travel card is also easier to carry around and conceal than a wad of cash, which adds to the appeal that they offer.
But as well as these practical security options, Qantas and MasterCard have listed several other layers of security for this new card, including chip, PIN and signature to authorise transactions and ongoing fraud protection provided by MasterCard’s Zero Liability policy.
While everyone has their own take on the cash versus card debate, the new Qantas option could hold a lot of appeal for Frequent Flyer members because of its multi-purpose features.
Unlike any other travel card currently available, this one can be used to show your loyalty membership and for airline check-in and boarding. Qantas has also said you will be able to earn Frequent Flyer points for making eligible purchases on the card, much like the many credit cards linked to this airline rewards program.
While pre-paid cards are not new, this membership card from Qantas is set to be one of the most innovative and convenient options for Australian travellers, no matter where in the world you go.