I’ve come across pre-paid cards before – every time I try to exchange currency in the Post Office, they try to convince me to get one (one reason I don’t exchange currency there any more…) and my parents have one for dollars and one for Euros.
But I’ve never quite been convinced. I’ve got a credit card with no overseas charges, which gives a pretty good exchange rate plus I usually have some cash, more if I’m travelling somewhere where ATMs and credit cards aren’t commonly found.
So Kalixa Pay had some work to do when they asked me to review it. The key advantages? No foreign exchange fees for the rest of 2013 and you can top up in one currency and spend in any other – so your money isn’t tied up in Euros when your next trip is to the US or vice versa.
The company also promises the most competitive rates to go along with no commission/transaction fees. Instead there’s a one-off charge of £6.95 to pay to set it up.
And as it’s a MasterCard pre-pay card, it’s accepted at a string of locations but unlike a debit or credit card, if it’s lost or cloned, you know that there’s a limit to how much money can be taken (and is protected in the same kind of way as other bank cards).
So far, so promising. Kalixa Pay had sent me £150 to set up the card – and that’s where I hit the first few snags. For some reason, the website was unwilling to recognise the details I put in so I had to re-enter them a few times before it finally registered. There was also a slight delay before the card turned up, so don’t try to do it at the last minute.
Which meant that when I first used it, after we arrived at our villa in Portugal, I was mildly apprehensive about whether it would work. But it couldn’t have been smoother.
First up, we needed to stock our villa with the essentials at the local supermarket – frozen cocktails, local vinho verde wine, nappies, chocolate, coffee, bananas and the makings for guacamole (among other things).
At just over 75 Euros, I was charged just under £63 – almost the exact exchange rate as xe.com, and not what I’d expect if I’d changed the cash.
Another nice touch is that Kalixa Pay sends an email or text message every time you use your card, as long as the purchase was over £5, with the details of what you’ve spent and your account balance, so you can always keep track.
Except… I didn’t receive an email or text. Fortunately I could log in to my account to check, but it’s a shame as that’s a great selling point for me. [EDIT: After doublechecking my settings, it wasn't set up to alert me although I thought I had done - you need to opt in].
After both my husband and Minnie were struck down with bugs from the plane and teething (just Minnie…), we had to abandon a few plans to explore and give the card another workout the following day, but as both started to recover, it got another outing at a pool bar.
And what’s a holiday without a few frivolous fritters? (Assuming you don’t count wine and chocolate as frivolous, obviously).
As I’d packed in a hurry and forgotten any kind of sunhat, I needed to go shopping. Urgently.
At less than 5 Euros, this was a steal. In fact, I threw in a bottle of water and a banana for Minnie to get over the shop’s minimum spend. I’d never have used a credit card for such a small transaction, but it’s nice to save my cash for those moments where plastic – pre-pay or otherwise – won’t work.
Surprisingly, I’ve still got money to blow in my account too. And when my cash runs out, it’s good to know I can pop the Kalixa Pay card into the nearest ATM and grab 20 Euros without spending almost the same amount in charges.
Converted? I wouldn’t ditch my credit card and cold hard cash.
But the fantastic exchange rate, and knowledge that I can use any leftover money at home (or on the next trip), means it’s staying firmly in my wallet.
Disclosure: Kalixa Pay loaded my card with £150 for the purposes of the review. All opinions (and hats) are my own.
Image: Max Garcia – art photographer/Flickr; copyright Cathy Winston