Best exchange rates for every card transaction?
“I don’t need another credit card.”
The staff at the Caring Pharmacy at R&F Mall JB had just told me about a Singapore card which gives the best exchange rates. Their customers from Singapore had raved about it. I had just bought a few hundred ringgit worth of pharmaceuticals. While taking out my Malaysian credit card, I casually commented that I didn’t want to use any of my Singapore credit cards as the exchange rates used by the card companies are usually pretty lousy for the customer. That’s when she recommended me this new card. Apparently, it gives very good exchange rates on foreign currency transactions.
It’s called YouTrip, a card issued by EZ-link*, the people behind the fare cards for the Singapore public transport system. I was a bit curious, but really felt I didn’t need another card, and left it at that. (*Update: on 17Oct2019, YouTrip got its own principal licence from Mastercard, and took over the role of issuer from EZ-link.)
The following week, I was attending a training course when the trainer started talking about the YouTrip card during a lull in the class. It was totally unrelated to the class, but he said he was just sharing as he thought it was a good deal. To have two people raving about a card in as many weeks piqued my curiosity, and I Googled to find out more.
Wholesale exchange rates
It is a Mastercard debit card/e-wallet, not a credit card. You can leave a minimal (or even zero) balance in the debit card. Top it up when you need to pay for a purchase. This limits your losses if the card were to go missing. The card offers wholesale exchange rates, better than what one could get at the money changers’. As it’s an EZ-Link card, it can also be used for taking public transport in Singapore. But fare transactions will not be reflected immediately in your YouTrip account. I read a couple of articles online which seemed to confirm that the exchange rates used are better than the retail exchange rate. That’s important to me, as I spend a lot of time in Johor, and being assured of good exchange rates for my purchases there is a big plus.
Easy online application
Very quickly, I obtained a referral code from one my friends, downloaded the app, and applied online,. I received the card by post after 8 days. As it’s a debit card, the approval process was very straightforward. There was no need to submit proof of income and such.
It’s true! They offer better rates.
I promptly tried it out in JB. On that day (26May2019), the money changer rate at the city centre was MYR3.03, valid for minimum exchange of SGD100. I bought some items from Padini at Komtar JBCC for RM96, and S$31.57 was deducted from my YouTrip balance. Which meant an exchange rate of 3.04 for a smaller amount which would not have qualified for the 3.03 rate at the money changer! Subsequent purchases in JB consistently showed the YouTrip rate to be one to two Malaysian sens better than the money changer rate.
But the big test was yet to come
Besides using in JB, another reason I got the card was for a long trip in Europe that I was planning. All in, the trip would last 50 days end-to-end, take me to six countries (and transit in another three). I did not want to carry large sums of cash on such a long trip, but neither did I want to withdraw cash with my credit cards because of the financial charges involved.
The first foreign-currency purchase I made for the trip was for Flixbus. While checking their routes, I saw they had a promo for 5 direct trips (no transfers allowed), anywhere within their network, for €99. That’s only about €20 per trip! When I was about to purchase the pass, I was given the option to pay at Paypal’s rate of S$157.83, or €99. Hmmm… what should I choose? I decided to go with the Euro amount. Minutes later, I saw in the YouTrip app on my phone that S$150.81 had been deducted from my debit card. Wow! That was a saving of S$7 on one transaction.
In terms of YouTrip, the first ten days of my holiday, covering Geneva, Zurich and Hamburg, went smoothly. I had loaded my card with S$500 when I left Singapore. When it was running low, I tried to top up another S$500 using my OCBC credit card. By then, I had been my using OCBC card to top up my YouTrip card for several months, both in Singapore and in JB, with no issues.
"Something went wrong….."
This time, thousands of miles away from home, with not much cash in hand, and with another five weeks of travelling throughout Europe on the horizon, the error message put me in a mild state of panic. I started thinking of the possible scenarios if I can’t use YouTrip for the rest of my journey. I considered the different ways I can access my funds in cash, fearing I would have to use my Singapore credit cards and pay dearly in the form of lousy exchange rates.
Responsive Support Team
I sent an email to YouTrip’s support team. Due to the time difference, I knew I would not receive a response within the same day. First thing the following morning, I saw an email response from YouTrip. As there had been an update to the app, they thought that could have been the cause. I was advised to delete and re-install the app. I did as I was told, tried again to top up the card, and got the same error message.
Out went another email to YouTrip. The next morning, came the response that the top up was rejected due to issues with my credit card company. The YouTrip staff had no further details, and said I would have to call OCBC to find out more. I didn’t want to sort this out via costly overseas phone calls, so decided to try linking my YouTrip account to my HSBC credit card instead. Tried again to top up – it worked! Hurray! Huge sigh of relief.
Despite the hiccup (on the part of my bank) I was impressed with the responsiveness of the YouTrip team. It was reassuring to receive their prompt replies via email.
No transaction fees
My holiday would include a week in Scandinavia in a campervan with two friends, from Germany and from England. As we were going during the peak summer season, we had to book the campervan months in advance. Our German friend made the payment, and I was to pay her my share when I got there. Then we heard that cash payments were not welcomed in Sweden. One was expected to pay even for small items by card. However, for credit cards issued in Germany or England, a fee is levied for every transaction made outside the card-issuing country. As I would not incur any transaction fees on my cards, we agreed that I would use my card to pay for purchases in Sweden on their behalf. This would go to offset the Euro amount that I had to reimburse my friend for the campervan costs.
It worked well almost everywhere in Sweden – I used the YouTrip card at supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, camping sites, admission to the Glass Museum at Växjö, a tour of the Absolut Vodka facilities in Ahus, and even to buy ice-cream, a postcard and postage stamp at Stenshuvud National Park. My English friend was mightily miffed that they did not accept cash at the national park. Imagine if she had had to pay €5 in transaction fees to buy a postage stamp using her credit card!
Elsewhere in Europe, I used the YouTrip card to purchase train tickets in Switzerland, admission fees to museums (and the Royal Palace in Madrid), purchases on board the ferry from Trelleborg to Travemunde, supermarket purchases (including 1 CHF for 2 small bottles of drinks in Zurich, and all my grocery shopping in Opatija), tram tickets in Cologne, accommodation via booking.com, and flights on Air Europa, Eurowings and Ryan Air.
Apart from some Swiss francs I had left from a previous trip, I did not change any on this trip, and used the YouTrip card pretty much everywhere I went. At a supermarket in Zurich, I asked if I might pay for my 1 CHF purchase by card, and the cashier immediately nodded her head. There was no issue about minimum purchase at all.
But not at petrol stations?
The only time the YouTrip card didn’t work in Sweden was when I tried to pay for refuelling the campervan at a petrol station. Another non-Swedish customer at the petrol station was also unsuccessful in using her card to pay at the self-service pumps. It was a Sunday, and there were no staff at the station we could approach for help. So my German friend ended up using her EC card for the petrol. That was my only attempt at using the card at a petrol station in Sweden, so I cannot tell if it was a one-off issue at that particular petrol station, or if they just did not accept non-European cards.
What’s also very cool is being able to use the card at vending machines. In transit in Dubai on the way to Europe, I balked at the high cost of food at the airport. After a seven-hour flight, I just wanted something light, as I would be getting a meal on the next flight to Geneva. A plastic cup of Birchermuessli at an airport café cost about S$13.50! Good grief… There not being much choice, I ended up getting a coffee and croissant for S$14.50. I missed the food court prices at Changi Airport....
I first thought of using vending machines when I saw one at Madrid airport which was well-stocked with sandwiches, drinks and snacks. Several attempts at swiping the black stripe at the back of the card on the machine produced error messages on the machine. Just as I was about to give up, I decided to try inserting the end of the card with the chip into the machine. And it worked! Since then. I try all means – swipe the stripe, insert the chip, or just wave the card if there’s something that looks like a scanner anywhere on the machine.
On the flight back to Singapore, I noticed that Dubai airport also had a number of vending machines. Again, I just wanted some light refreshments before catching the connecting flight. The McDonald’s at the airport had a long queue of people waiting for their drinks to be prepared, after having placed their orders and made payment at self-service terminals at the outlet. I found a vending machine dispensing Dallmayr coffee, a well-known German brand. I got me a hot cup of coffee from the machine for 4 AED (UAE Dirhams), and it tasted that much better when I saw that a cup of coffee at McDonald’s was 15 AED.
Never leave home without it
Now, back on home ground, I still put the YouTrip card to good use during my frequent trips to JB. I have also been using it when making online purchases in foreign currencies.
This one’s a keeper!