Travel money card showdown: Xinja vs Up Bank vs Bankwest international credit card

4 min read

Travel money card review - Xinja - Up Bank

It’s one thing to be a shiny, young neobank in Australia. But what happens when we take our upstarts out of their comfort zone?

We’re talking about international travel.

What happens when our brave warriors are faced with the prospect of currency exchange rates?!

How will they react in the face of settlement times – or worst of them all… ATM fees?!

Without further ado, welcome to the first ever Travel money card showdown.

The rules

The goal of this showdown is to find the most convenient card to spend money with when traveling abroad. Competitors will be judged on:

  1. Exchange rate: I will be using Google as the benchmark to beat.
  2. Settlement time: How long does it take for the transaction to go from ‘Pending / Authorisation’ to ‘Settled’
  3. App usability: How convenient was it to use the app alongside the transaction. This could include ‘Instant alerts’ as well as the way it records the transaction information.
  4. ATM fees: How cheap is it to use an ATM when travelling abroad?

Just to be clear: No, I did not buy 3 of everything in order to score the cards. I randomly selected a card to use at the store/restaurant/venue making sure that every card had been used equal number of times. I also ensured that every card was used at a department store and every card was used at a restaurant/bar.

The only exception was with the ATM use and I’ll come to the reason why.

The contenders

Xinja

They’ve entered the arena as a prepaid travel money card. They aren’t a bank yet and haven’t launched any banking products. Travel money is, literally, what they were born to do.

Up Bank

Australia’s first neobank have made a great first impression. Their app that can definitely hold its own at home. But can they extend their dominance globally?

Bankwest international credit card

The workhorse. I’ve had it for years now and it hasn’t failed me yet. It’s a no-frills card i.e. no annual fees, no points. It’s only feature – No international currency exchange fees. This… is the one to takedown.

Travel money card showdown: Exchange rate

Personally, it really should all comes down to this.

As a travel money card, you need to deliver on the basics – the bells and whistles should come later. The shiny app is not your core value proposition, giving me more bang for my back is – literally.

As mentioned earlier, I compared the rates against what Google had, not just for the day, but immediately after the transaction was made.

And whenever I had the option to “pay in Australian dollars,” I declined it. This has no bearing on the showdown because the exchange rate is always crappier when you have this option.

And the result:

Winner: Up Bank

It really came down to a difference of cents between Up Bank and Google and Bankwest and Google. While I didn’t calculate the percentage difference, Up Bank was within single digit cents of Google, and Bankwest was always within 50 cents. It definitely came down to the wire.

Travel money card showdown: Settlement time

This is how long it takes for a transaction to move from “Pending” or “Authorisation” status to completed status. While this doesn’t hamper the travel experience, it is a direct reflection of the speed with which your bank can get things done.

And the result:

Winner: Up Bank

What particularly stood out for me was that weekends and the Australian public holidays didn’t seem to slow things down. Bankwest had things in “Pending” for days after I got back from the holiday.

#Fail mention: Xinja

While this did not happen with me, I have it on good authority (thanks Norm) that Xinja stops you from using your card if there are too many “Pending” charges.

Remember, Xinja is a prepaid card not linked to a bank account. The maximum you can put on the card is $1000. Turns out that the pending transactions get added to the $1000 limit, even though the money doesn’t actually exist. So you aren’t allowed to top up your own card with your own money because they are slow.

Travel money card showdown: App experience

In terms of getting the basics right, this was a three-way tie. All three cards sent through instant push notifications informing me of the spend. The details included the store, the Australian dollar amount and the time of the transaction.

Xinja has a system where they charge you for the currency conversion fee and then refund that amount later on. I’m sure there’s sound logic to that but it isn’t clear to the user what that logic is. It doesn’t take away from the overall app experience, but it definitely sticks out very clearly as odd.

Travel money card showdown - Neobanks - Xinja

I was surprised that Xinja decided not to solve for the capital letters design of the merchant/store names. It’s the kind of detail that you would have imagined they would have paid extra attention too. Especially since the competition had put so much effort into enhancing this feature.

Winner: Up Bank

This was an easy one to be honest. And Up wins this round entirely on their feature of Merchant labelling. It’s a simple feature but one that really stands out and blows the competition away.

Travel money card showdown: ATM fees

This is an interesting one. For the simple reason that you never use a credit card at an ATM. The reason is that they consider the withdrawal to be a cash advance and start charging the interest from day dot. When traveling internationally with a credit card, the understanding was always that you solved for your cash needs separately.

But weren’t neobanks supposed to change all that?

I used my Up Bank card for an ATM withdrawal and got slammed by the fees. I withdrew the equivalent of $63.51 and the fees totalled up to$18.76! That’s right – I was charged ATM withdrawal fees of 30%.

And yes, I know the argument: We are not responsible for the individual ATM charges. But the counter could be made: Don’t recommend cash. If you can’t promise a service, don’t offer the service. Because otherwise, you’re just like everyone else.

Winner: Bankwest credit card

By default because at least it doesn’t make any half-baked promises. They have a big label with bold lettering that says: Don’t use us for ATM withdrawals. We’re no good at it.

Apologies to Xinja on this one. After what happened with Up Bank, I was not going to try that again.

And there we have it. Four rounds done… The dust (along with all the transaction) has settled…

And the winner is… Up Bank

Our first ever winner of the Travel Money Card Showdown is Up Bank. They hit the main features out of the park and only narrowly missed out on a clean sweep. They’ve certainly set a high bar.

Attention other neobanks: These are the guys to beat…

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