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Acronyms were invented by people who seek to annoy the public, so continuing that trend, there’s one that’s more important than most: A.B.E. – Always Be Earning. Unlike the classic Wall Street movie scenes you are undoubtedly envisioning, in this scenario, it’s earning points or cash back from all your purchases that matters. That’s absolutely right – you should never spend money without earning something back from it.

In this pursuit: rewards credit cards are the greatest asset. In the UK, there’s just one problem with it all – they’re hardly any good if you ever plan to use them abroad, thanks to pesky foreign transaction fees. Ugh! As new cards continue to launch, you’d think one smart card issuer would remove foreign transaction fees to lure customers, and you’d be wrong. Why can’t UK rewards credit cards just give the people what they want?

Travellers shouldn’t have to decide between earning points and paying foreign transaction fees or not earning, but avoiding them. You should enjoy both.

Paying With Credit Card On LaptopTo understand this phenomenon, you need to look at the highly lucrative US credit card market. If you rewind to about 10 years ago, virtually every rewards card hit customers with foreign transaction fees. These are the 1-4% fees you pay on every transaction you make outside of your home country. If you think of points as a 1-2% rebate, paying 3% to acquire them makes no sense. Because of this, people would simply take out cash and spend abroad without using their credit card from back home.

But out of nowhere, one bank in the US decided to drop foreign transaction fees, because someone in the number crunching department realised that they actually make more money from the transaction charges merchants pay if someone uses their card abroad, than the “no money” they receive if the card stays at home in a sock drawer because customers were getting charged too. Once one did it, they all did.

Thanks to inventive financial technology or “fintech” firms like Curve and Revolut, travellers do have workarounds for avoiding foreign transaction fees, but that’s just not the point, is it? If a competitive points earning UK credit card were to drop foreign transaction fees, it would instantly become the go to card for people who travel.

In that regard, American Express left UK travellers scratching their heads today, as Head For Points reported that the newest iteration of the coveted Platinum Card will feature an increased annual fee, will be made of metal but will also still charge exorbitant foreign transaction fees. To say this seems like a missed opportunity would be an understatement. Especially because this isn’t the only item on the wish list.

US cards enjoy things like 5x on airfare or hotel spend, 3x on dining and other perks, on top of handsome welcome bonuses, some of which topple 100,000 points.

contactless credit cardPeople who travel tend to have money and buy things. It kind of goes hand in hand. It’s better to have people spending with the card abroad and making money off merchants than have people leaving their cards at home. Currently, people either take out cash, load money onto Revolut or Monzo, or use their card cloaked through Curve to avoid the fees.

Here’s everything you need to know to avoid foreign transaction fees, by the way.

Amex and Curve have a tumultuous relationship and launching a new card without these pesky user fees would’ve negated any need to have one, while creating a real incentive for people who currently opt for cards with more approachable fees to push for their flagship.

For now, UK credit cards just refuse to give people the one thing they really want, or whether they realise it or not – the one thing they really need.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. The poor rewards on UK credit cards are simply a consequence of the EU interchange regulations that limit interchange on EU consumer credit cards to 0.30% of the transaction value. There simply isn’t enough income for the issuers – on top of all of the costs they incur plus the credit and fraud risk – to fund anything. It’s for this reason why any rewards there are tend to be linked to overseas usage or cards with a big annual fee, where the issuers is generating incremental income; in addition, commercial cards and directly issued AMEX issued plastic is out of the scope of the regulations.

    Whilst UK consumers may be missing out on rewards, the reality is that they need to be paid for by someone – merchants, acquirers, card schemes, or the card issuer. And there are still some great products out there – as someone working in the financial services market, I think the Tandem card with no overseas usage fees and 0.5% on ALL spend gives a great deal to consumers, but in money back rather than the form of loyalty points. Whether these product terms prove sustainable in the longer-term remains a question.

  2. I’m not going to renew my amex (or maybe cancel it at the correct moment once hotel statuses have extended) next year. But I think that’s exactly what they want. Shrink business and become profitable.

  3. Not a mainstream lender, but Aqua Rewards offer 0.5% cashback and fee-free spending abroad, backed with a UK Call Center and improving customer service team. But, unlikely to be promoted by any blog given they don’t tend to work with Affiliates or Points Blog and offer commission. Low Credit Limits, but easy to pay off using Faster Payments.

  4. I have merchant accounts and Amex has roughly halved their fees in the last two years to get down to something close to the fees from Mastercard and Visa. So we now allow clients to use Amex.

    However, there is no margin for these USA type rewards and if Amex was issuing them, we, as retailers, would not pay those fees and we would simply, refuse to accept Amex.

    This circle has no end.

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