My 2019 financial reshuffle 1/2: Virgin Atlantic credit card, Curve and Natwest

Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve very successfully collected a lot of airline miles, without changing my spending habits. In fact, In principle, anyone can do this, and I’m surprised that so many people I know don’t use a miles or cashback earning card.

However, the landscape has changed in the same period. Most people now have more choice but, big spenders, including small business owners such as myself that expense a lot, may have to accept that very generous rewards were great while they lasted.

Curve

The first victim of my reshuffle is Curve. Curve is a bit like Apple Pay or Google Pay, but with a physical card. You link your cards to it within the Curve app and select the one you want to use, then use the Curve card to pay. Alongside convenience, advantages included:

  • Cash withdrawals would be treated as purchases on credit cards, thus earning you airline miles,
  • Foreign currency spend would be converted by Curve at the Mastercard rate + 1%, saving you about 2% on most cashback or miles earning cards,
  • Curve is technically a debit card, so you could use it without incurring a fee at HMRC, car dealerships and so on, whilst earning miles on your cashback or miles earning credit card.

The first point has changed: without getting into the technicalities, you’re likely to be charged a cash advance fee if you withdraw cash on your Curve card.

The second point has also changed: instead of a flat 1% markup, there is a 0% markup up to a low limit, then 2% thereafter. My back of fag packet calculation suggests that most people will be worse off, with business users such as myself, hardest hit.

The final point hasn’t changed. However, Curve’s “enhanced” annual limits have stayed at £50,000 and they are making it harder to get the enhanced limit, so big spenders will be limited by how much they can use their card.

My maxed out Curve card
My maxed out Curve card!

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Card

Virgin Atlantic is my long-haul airline of choice and coincidentally, about 9 months ago, they released the most generous miles earning credit card on the market. In fact, it was hard to see how they could possibly make any money from it.

I signed up almost as soon as it was released and I’ve been using it alongside by Amex since then. On paper, it remains an incredible deal but I’ll be cancelling it in about a month because:

  • The customer service is crap. If you send them a message via online banking, you get an ill-considered copy-paste response. Their call centre seems to be located overseas and apart from the agents’ English, their customer service skills also seem to be lacking. I wholeheartedly believe the best way to respond to poor customer service is to walk away.
  • They gave me a relatively low limit and refused to increase it despite a perfect payment history. The limit it below the amount that I charge to it each month, so I have to keep making interim payments to earn the miles, which is a PITA.
  • Because I keep making interim payments, it can be hard to keep track of how much I spend in a statement period and how much I pay off in the same period. Because of this, I’ve been charged interest a couple of times. The amount I was charged was much, much higher than I had expected, and I eventually figured out that even if you only “carry” a balance of £0.01, you’re charged interest on the whole average balance in the statement period.
  • There is no mobile app, Apple Pay or Google Pay.

NatWest

I was waiting for Starling for released their business product for non-micro businesses, but eventually decided that since web-based banking isn’t on their agenda, I’d find an alternative. I chose NatWest, and also took advantage of the £125 bribe they were offering for switching a personal account to them. Generally, I find NatWest’s customer service to be better than Santander’s, and there is a working mobile app for business accounts (yay!). There are a few snags but I’ve decided to put up with them:

  • The card reader. You need to carry around one of these things to make most types of payment:
    NatWest card reader
    NatWest card reader

    It is more secure, but it’s also rather annoying.

  • NatWest limit the amount you can charge to one their debit cards, when paying financial institutions, to £2k. I’m used to paying my Amex off by debit card, with the benefit being that your balance is updated immediately. I now have to pay them by bank transfer.
  • NatWest limit the amount that you can pay by BACS/FPS in a given day to £20k for personal accounts. This is rarely a problem for me, as I’m sure it would be for most people, but I hit a snafu a couple of weeks ago where I had hit the limit and needed to make another payment that day. I called them and it turns out that the same limit applies to payments made by telephone banking and there’s nothing that they can do to increase the limit. Luckily, business accounts have a higher limit and I was able to make the payment I needed from there.
  • NatWest show you very limited information about payments received until the day after they arrive. Say you receive £100 on Monday. You’ll see £100 and you’ll see the reference, but you won’t see the sender’s name until Tuesday. WTF?!

 

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