Can’t be bothered reading the article? Here’s an advanced summary (skip this if you prefer the narrative approach):
- Curve is a free to get MasterCard
- It comes pre-loaded with £5 credit if you use visit https://curve.page.link/t1AU and use code RC19U (and I get £5 too!)
- It works at home and abroad, with no fees and the very best currency conversion rate
- You can even use it to get cash out when you land in another country, for free
- When you use it, you can collect loyalty points on your normal card(s)
I know I know… there are probably 1,000 seemingly better things than a payment card that come to mind when you think of the “ultimate travel companion”. Maybe for you, it’s the pillow you use on the plane, or the earplugs that help drown out your better (?) half’s snoring, or maybe it’s your other half themselves! But here I am to tell you that actually, the number one thing you can get to make your next travel experience better is actually… drum roll please… a payment card. No really… bear with me here.
Curve is one of the many FinTech (Financial Technology) companies to come out of London in the last decade, but one of the few to have really set itself apart from the rest. Founded in 2016, Curve quickly secured $2 million in funding – something plenty of FinTechs never quite manage – and soon established itself as a major player in the alternative banking world.
At its core, Curve is just a payment card. It looks just like a conventional MasterCard, and works exactly like any normal MasterCard would, including being accepted in all the normal places (except where pre-payment is required, but I’ll come to that). But what’s different about curve is that it actually functions as a “proxy” card, effectively passing on the purchases made with it to another card of your choosing. This means that although you’ll have another card in your wallet, you’re not actually gaining an additional card to manage, and can in theory actually reduce the number of cards you’re carrying around with you. Those of you who like cashback might already be seeing a big benefit here, but whether that’s you or not, I encourage you to read on, because there’s a whole lot more to it than that.
Like most challenger banks, challenger cards and all other uses of the world challenger in the financial world, the whole thing revolves around an app. The app is clean, reasonably simple and for the most part, pretty straight forward (aside from some odd navigation you have to do to find certain settings), and most importantly, it’s free. You sign up for an account, get your Curve card shipped out to you, add the card(s) you wish to use for your purchases to the app, and away you go. A few minutes after getting the card, you have access to all of the incredible benefits outlined below, free.
What it’s supposed to be good for
Curve markets itself as a tool for simplifying your financial life. The theory is that can add all of your debit and credit cards into the Curve app, then swap all of those little pieces of plastic for a single Curve card, taking up way less space in your pocket. In addition, they bundle in all of the usual challenger benefits such as great security features, fancy graphs and charts, instant payment receipts and much more.
What it’s actually good for
Although all of these benefits are good, they don’t really orient Curve in the way I’ve found it to be most useful; the perfect travel companion, and a card to catch your missed cashback.
Proxying transactions to companies who don’t / won’t accept credit cards (keeping cashback)
I’ll address the slightly less exciting “cashback catching” feature first. Ever gotten to the checkout of some antiquated website only to find they don’t accept credit cards? Or maybe you’ve been filling out some online government payment form for a hefty chunk of tax you owe, only to find they that you’ll miss out on every penny you might claw back if they let you put it on your 0.5% cashback card? Well guess what, Curve isn’t a credit card, it’s a MasterCard Debit card, which means it’s accepted… almost everywhere.
Just set your Curve card to charge to your highest cashback paying credit card (or have it set to default to that like I do), and then use your Curve card wherever credit cards aren’t accepted, and suddenly you’ll be catching that last bit of cashback you might otherwise have missed, perfect!
Now we come to the biggest benefit of Curve, and that’s the role it plays when you travel. This is what originally drew me to Curve, and now that I’ve used it on several trips, it’s actually replaced both my Halifax Clarity and my Revolut (the two most popular travel cards that tend to get recommended) as my first choice for foreign use. Here’s why:
The conversion rate
Unlike other popular travel favourites, Curve don’t use the MasterCard rate. Instead, they use the interbank (or “market”) rate – the actual rate that banks use to trade to each other. This is typically better than the MasterCard rate, and here’s a practical example (calculated at the time of writing) for the purchase of an item worth €1,000:
- With a no-fee MasterCard, you would have been charged £864.90
- With an interbank rate based card, you would have been charged around £860 (the interbank rate fluctuates far more then the MasterCard one so it’s tricky to get an exact number)
Now some of you might look at this and think “well, it’s £4, who cares?”. But here’s the thing, that’s £4 you didn’t need to spend, £4 you could have spent on something else and £4 you have access to by just using a different card (which might also have gained you £4 in cashback), and believe me, it adds up to a lot more than £4 over time!
Get cash out on landing, for free*
Need foreign cash for your trip, or just want a buffer for visiting places that don’t accept card? It’s a pretty standard backup, but not an easy one to achieve. Most of the time, you’ll need to either purchase cash in your destination’s currency ahead of time and transport it there with you, or in some cases you can order it to pick up when you land, but in either case, you’ll likely pay a fee for the privilege.
With Curve, you can simply walk up to a cash machine at your destination, and withdraw cash as if it was a debit card. No matter what currency, you’ll be charged the interbank rate (see above) in GBP, saving money over purchasing in advance, and removing the need to worry ahead of time. Just land, walk up to a cash machine, and get some money out, fee-free* (just remember to use the right card – see below for more on that).
* Although neither Curve nor your card issuer will charge you a fee, you may still be charged by the ATM provider.
Instant receipts in GBP
Like so many Fintech apps, you’ll get an instant notification (so long as you have a data connection) when your card is used, and better yet, it’ll contain both the amount you paid in the foreign currency, and the converted amount you paid in GBP. This is great for keeping track of spending in a currency you’re not familiar with, but also somewhat of a security feature, as you can see each and every time that your card is used (and remotely disable it if there’s a problem!).
Keep earning cashback when you travel
More often than not, travel is an expensive thing to do, and you’ll typically spend hundreds, if not thousands, only to receive no cashback for doing so (as this’ll typically be done using cash, or specialist foreign spending cards that rarely offer cashback). With Curve though, your transaction is still hitting your normal (credit) cards, so you’ll keep earning cashback while you’re away.
Changing which card gets charged (even after the purchase!)
If you’re anything like me, then chances are you’ve got a few different cards for a few different purposes, and no doubt you’ve used the wrong one for the wrong thing at some point or another. That’s why I love this feature of Curve, which allows you to go back to an already made transaction of under £1,000 (pending or completed) within 14 days and actually change which card it’s charged to. As an example, I recently took cash out using my Curve card while it was set to my UK credit card (which is bad for reasons I’ll discuss below). Once I realised my mistake a couple days later, I simply went onto the app and re-routed the charge to my UK debit card, and voila, it was as if nothing had ever happened.
Get £5 just to try it
In a world where new FinTechs pop up almost daily, and almost all of them seem to come out of London, it’s no surprise Curve are looking for ways to reel people in. That’s why they’re willing to pay you to use this amazing card, despite all the benefits listed in this blog post. Better yet, if you click through my link, they’ll pay me £5 too!
All you need to do is to visit https://curve.page.link/t1AU and use the code RC19U. £5 and an amazing travel card for you, £5 for me, seems fair, right?
Despite my enthusiasm, this blog post is not sponsored, and I’ll prove that now by mentioning some of the downsides:
Holding charges sometimes just… charge
Ever filled up at a fuel station and noticed your card gets a £1 “pending” charge? It’s pretty standard behaviour for validating and verifying a card, and can sometimes be several hundred pounds in situations like deposits on a hotel reservation. This isn’t normally a problem with credit cards, which handle the “holding” part of a holding charge perfectly, but with Curve, I’ve noticed it sometimes just outright charges your card, refunding it once the holding charge has been dropped, potentially days weeks later). Not a major issue, as the money is always returned, but not ideal either.
Not great for car rentals
I’ve struggled so far to use my Curve as a car rental card. Partly I believe this is because of the holding charge issue above, but also because the Curve card is considered a MasterCard Debit, and so many rental companies won’t accept them (as they know they can place high holding charges on credit cards).
AMEX (or lack thereof)
Curve seem to have a strange relationship with AMEX. At one point, you could charge to the famously high-cashback-paying cards, then all of a sudden you couldn’t. Next you could top your Curve card up with them, then you couldn’t. Curve insist there’ll be progress on this soon, but for now, it’s VISA and MasterCard only, unfortunately.
Although I’ve yet to hit them (though I tend to only use my Curve card for travelling and debit-card-only purchases so this isn’t a great surprise), Curve does have some usage limits. The standard numbers seem to change somewhat regularly, so rather than list them here, I’d encourage you to search “Curve usage limits” and see for yourself.
I’ve heard that these can be extended and upped, but they’re worth bearing in mind. If for example you have a low daily ATM limit and wanted to have a cash-heavy holiday, you might need to visit an ATM a couple days in a row.
Credit card protection
Unlike traditional credit cards, the Curve card does not qualify for protection under section 75 of the consumer credit act (see my post on credit cards for more details on that). It does have other protections both from Curve and MasterCard, but neither have been convincing enough to make me move all of my purchases to Curve, and I’d be hesitant to recommend you to either (not least because of the usage limits above).
To be fee-free, or not to be fee-free (for cash withdrawals)
Until recently, Curve only passed the amount you spent and a description of the charge to the underlying card issuer (E.G. Your NatWest MasterCard would only be told “Hey, this is Curve, you owe me £25.00 for shopping at Tesco”). This meant every charge was treated as a purchase, and thus every charge was fee-free. Unfortunately, Curve recently altered this to also pass over the transaction type (E.G. Online, retail, utilities, cash, etc.). This means that if they want to, credit-card issuers can now charge cash-withdrawal fees, and so although cases of this happening have been rare, it’s my recommendation that when using Curve for cash withdrawals, you point it to a debit card, not a credit card.
That got a little lengthy, but in closing:
- Curve is free to get (in fact, it gets you £5)
- It allows you to get cash out when you travel for free
- You can charge your normal, cashback earning credit card(s) for foreign purchases, for free
- You get a bunch of other cool features, for free
Did I mention it was free? Curve is truly one of those rare things to come along which is both free and incredibly useful, so long as you use it correctly. If you want one, just head to https://curve.page.link/t1AU and use code RC19U, so we both get a nice little £5 bonus.