Revolut: Not necessarily cheaper than an(y) other Mastercard *

* depending on your use pattern and the specific Mastercard you are using.


Two weeks ago, I took my Revolut card and my wife to the Czech republic. This is the second attempt to write about that after my account got locked for no apparent reason. Me and my wife paid on multiple occasions with my Revolut and with her Number26 Mastercard.

 

The Fees

As of the time of this writing (2016-02-07), Revolut charges no fees at all. Top-Up, paying in stores and money withdrawal are free in all currencies. For a coequal comparison, we also took our Number26 Mastercard with us, which also features free everything. Both cards claim, they also come without hidden fees.

 

The Exchange Rates

Let’s now look at the hard facts. We used the Revolut card five times and the Number26 card three times. As all five Revolut payments featured exactly the same exchange rate, I am limiting it to three examples within that set.

Revolut



Revolut payments between January 23rd and January 24th 2016 (click to enlarge)

As you can see from the screenshots, the conversion rates are as follows:

  • Withdrawal: 26.7379, no fee
  • POS payment: 26.7379, no fee
  • POS payment: 26.7379, no fee

 

Number26



Number26 payments between January 23rd and January 24th 2016 (click to enlarge)

The Number26 card shows more variety in conversion rate:

  • Withdrawal: 27.12967, no fee
  • POS payment: 27.11585, no fee
  • Restaurant payment: 26.90824, no fee

 

Comparison

The Revolut card has an average of (who would have guessed) 26.7379 CZK/EUR, the Number26 averages at 27.05125 CZK/EUR and therefore has a conversion rate that is slightly more to our advantage. Doing the math, it is about 1.2 percent better than Revolut. In this battle, Number26 is the winner. 1.2 percent does not sound a lot, but if you are paying two weeks worth of hotel and a couple of dinners, this might easily add up.

 

Fixed weekend exchange rate

For Revolut, the exchange rate between CZK and EUR was not changed a single time during the trip. My best guess is, that there is no foreign exchange trading on weekends, so Revolut is fixing the exchange rate. They seem to factor in a risk premium of about 1 percent. This fact only becomes apparent, because Revolut is one of the very few cards (if not the only) that use the authorization date instead of the settlement date for the currency conversion.

Number26 resulted in having different conversion rates, because they were fixed some day in the following week.

Update 2016-09-26: It seems like they now have more precise information in the faq as a comment states.

 

It’s a gamble

Having a discrepancy in currency conversion dates, deciding which card to use basically comes down to a gamble. Will the currency get stronger or weaker over the next couple days? In case the foreign currency gets stronger, you want to pay with Revolut so you pay for your foreign currency, before the price increases. However, should the currency get weaker, favor the Number26. On average two to three days pass between purchasing in a store and settlement of the transaction. Did the exchange rate drop, you profit from a cheaper price for the currency.

 

Revolut more transparent

Let’s put the gambling aspect aside. After all, on average those fluctuations should even out over time. Whether or not Revolut has the better conversion rates in the long run is nothing that can be tested by spending a weekend in another country. However one big advantage of Revolut stays and makes this card and app excel. It will tell you, how much your purchase in a foreign currency will cost you right now. There will be no surprises days later when the exchange rate changed to your disadvantage. This gives you more control over your spendings and makes it easier to plan, should you be on a tight budget.

 

Paying in local currency is not always better

Revolut suggests[citation needed] to pay in local currency whenever the choice is given, because many business owners and ATMs participate in a practice called DCC, Dynamic Currency Conversion. With this (anti-)service, the payable amount is being converted to the card’s currency. This usually comes at a premium of 4-5 percent. Advocates of DCC argue, that this is an extra service, so the cardholder would know the final price in their familiar currency. Using your Revolut card, this service comes free with their app.

But not all of them are bad apples. The Iron Gate Hotel, which I paid extras at with my Revolut card offered to bill me in EUR. I declined and asked to pay in CZK with my Revolut card, at an exchange rate of 26.7379 CZK/EUR. The front desk clerk printed out the invoice which featured a EUR and a CZK amount. Their conversion rate: 27CZK/EUR. That’s fair (and would have been better than with my Revolut).

31 thoughts on “Revolut: Not necessarily cheaper than an(y) other Mastercard *

  1. I’ve actually just tweeted Revolut (before I read your post) to ask about their weekend rates, because they don’t seem to mention it anywhere, and there is a clear spread at weekends due to the markets being shut. Try pretending you’re going to convert 1000 Euros into Pounds or Dollars, and then pretend you’re doing the reverse, with the conversion amount they give, and you get something like this: €1000 = £771.10; £771.10 = €989.78 (Sat 12th March 8.37pm). So with the round trip I would have lost €10.22 or just over 1%. Real-life difference (since transactions will usually be one way) seems to be 0.5%.

    1. Indeed. it is about 1% for a round trip and usually about 0.5% disadvantage if you purchase something in a foreign currency. I have a couple of non-FX-fee cards, so I am using these on the weekend. Also keep in mind, that some countries, like Arabic countries have different days for their weekend—their weekend starts on Friday.

    2. I don’t think one should expect a roundtrip to give you back 100%. This isn’t Revolut’s fault – its the nature of forex and exchanges. Number26 and others will likely have the same issue.

      For example, two quotes from this article: http://www.investopedia.com/articles/forex/090914/understanding-spread-retail-currency-exchange-rates.asp

      “So a currency dealer in Canada might quote a rate of EUR 1 = CAD 1.4000 / 1.4800, which means that you would pay 1.48 Canadian dollars to buy one euro, and would receive 1.40 Canadian dollars if you were to sell one euro.” (So if I buy a euro, it costs me 1.48 CAD, I then sell that euro and have 1.40 CAD, ie a loss of 0.08 CAD)

      and

      “Here’s the basic rule when it comes to exchanging a currency. When faced with a standard bid-ask quote for a currency, the higher price is what you would pay to buy the currency, and the lower price is what you would receive if you were to sell the currency.”

      I don’t know enough about forex to explain why this is, but beyond whatever dealers wanting profit (I’m not sure how this works with interbank exchanges), I would guess its because the price is based on supply and demand (the bid/ask spread) and its unlikely that this is identical in both directions. But I’m just making this up, so draw your own conclusions.

      1. That is completely correct but not applicable to Revolut. Revolut advertises (or advertised at the time of the article) that they are using mid-market rate. A “mid-rate” will be exactly in the middle of bid and ask, therefore a round trip gives you 100% (or very close to that due to exchange rate fluctuations). This works during the week but not at the weekends. Revolut even admitted to using the mid market rate from Friday’s closing and adding a little markup on their twitter.

        1. Did you choose to have your card billed in EUR/GBP/USD? Then you have fallen victim to DCC (dynamic currency conversion). The markup is made by the payment processor and the shop got a nice kick-back. What currency does your transaction show in Revolut App?

    3. Just found out the same (I don’t recall see that either elsewhere). Today I made my first “big” payment with Revolut, buying a camera in Hong Kong in order to save some money. Turns out Revolut literally ate 47 euro from my saving with that mark up. Should have used my bank card, period. When they say you “have now surprises” with their live rates, that is simply a lie at weekends.

      One more thing: in China many ATMs that do accept MasterCard will outright reject the Revolut card, rendering it useless for most of the time.

  2. As of writing this Revolut states quite clearly in their FAQ:

    At the weekend (Friday 00:00 – Sunday 23:59) we apply a small mark up on the spot rate as the Forex markets are closed. We take the rate from Friday 00:00 and apply a 0.5% mark up on major currencies and 1.0% on other currencies to protect the company from potential losses due to a large fluctuation in the rate. For illiquid currencies like Russian Ruble and Thai Baht, there is 1.5% mark up on weekend.

  3. So you used a revolut card over the weekend and knowingly the rates are fixed you still use that crap to create a comparision. Now make some proprer transactions whitin the whole rest of the week and then tell us if revolut isn’t “necessarily” better….

    1. Nope, you got that wrong. By the time of writing this post, Revolut had not added this to their faq.

      In addition, all transactions happened during the weekend, also the ones I compared Revolut to. And that’s when many people take short vacations, isn’t it?

      Revolut might give you better rates than most banks, but they can’t give you the best at all times.

    1. As I wrote in the post, they are applying a small markup on the weekend to protect them from fluctuations, because they can’t trade foreign currencies at that time (markets closed)

      1. The EUR/CZK rate is very stable, 1.2% isn’t a small markup to me. And as markets are closed, markets don’t move!! No reason for a markup.

          1. Not ironical. There might be reasons over the weekend why you suddenly are only willing to pay 20% less for that other currency. So the market changed while no trading was happening, and for sure, asks and bids will be adjusted for when trading opens.

        1. Haha stable, nowadays yes, but wait when Czech National Bank will lift the cap and stop interventions. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the rate change by 10% overnight and will fluctuate in several percent moves in coming weeks. And btw even GBP currently fluctuates easily by 1% (and more!) per day to EUR or USD.

          1. Even when that happens, this blogpost was still written, when it didn’t happen yet. It can only capture a situation at a certain moment in time. It is natural for companies and countries to change.

  4. now 200£ atm limit and 2% thereafter.

    plus extra charge of 1.5% on ˋilliquid` currency like thai bhat (not really illiquid lol, you get a better rate changing cash) during the week and 4.5% on weekends !!!

    revolut is becoming overly expensive…

    1. Totally agree, was good when they launched but now I know there are hidden fees and a mark up on the rate, still obvious that exchanging cash for cash in countries like China, South East Asia and the US is much better than using any card payments, these anyway are used as backup payments like for Hotels and so on. In countries like China and all South East Asia major day to day transactions are made in cash.

    1. It is the decision of the bank how to handle foreign currencies. A bank can use the Visa/MasterCard rated, but they don’t have to.

  5. Hi all
    I could understand the market rate hike at weekends, but in the interest of openness I would describe it as a fee, a weekend spread fee, similar to the arm fee when over 200

  6. I will be going to Barbados and want to know if the Revolut card would be the best option? Also could somebody further explain the DCC. Thanks

    1. DCC is the way how to cheat you by pretending that you are provided an extra service. When you pay at many places the POS terminal or ATM recognise that your card is for example in GBP and you are going to pay in EUR. (Normally you would be charged EUR and your bank – or Revolut – will exchange it to GBP with their exchange rate – means you pay 0-5% extra depending on the bank). But DCC recognise the payment and offer you to pay in GBP instead and will show you how much GBP it will be also assuring you that your bank won’t charge anything as it will be handled as GBP payment. Looks like great service, unless you know that the spread is almost always fixed to 4-5%. Do not confuse it with offers from some supermarkets or especially hotels, who offer you to pay for example in EUR, when the bill is in CZK. They many times have quite fair rate as for them it is a way to do business with you and really provide you extra service. Sometimes even better than the current exchange rate (as they do not update it frequently). But this is not DCC, they have it in their billing system and they put fixed rate there.

    2. Hi AJ

      It is already a month after your post so maybe this reply comes to late. But just in case…

      I am actually currently travelling in barbados and using my Revolut card. I would say on balance I can only give a lukewarm endorsement.

      My recommendation actually is that cash (USD in particular ) is still your best option. If you are coming from the US then that is a no-brained. You can spend USD in Barbados pretty much everywhere. The exchange rate is USD 1 = BBD 2.

      Most local vendors will allow you to make purchases at that rate. At worst in restaurants, banks and larger establishments you will have it converted at USD 1 = BBD 1.98. As I wrote in a post on Revolut community forum (https://community.revolut.com/t/revolut-and-currencies-with-fixed-exchange-rates/4154) you won’t get it that good that on your Revolut card.

      If you are coming from another country besides the USA I would still recommend converting cash to USD before you travel. And some outlets give really good exchange rates (e.g. In London ICE Click and Collect gives really good rates)

      Still take the Revolut card and use it for its convenience sparingly, particularly if you don’t like to carry tons of cash and you want some backup. Your Revolut card will still almost certainly beat your debit/credit card from your bank (except maybe at weekends where Revolut works out at least as bad if not worst than my bank card).

      But no question for me, for a holiday in Barbados (and maybe anywhere with a fixed exchange rate for that matter) cash is still your best option.

  7. I’ll be going to Japan in 3 weeks. Shouls a Revolut card be the best option going from EUR to Yen? Also, can i top it up as i go with internet banking, or does it come with a clause that once i put i.e €1000 on it, i cant put any more on it?

    Thanks

    1. You can top up, but check the “limits” within your app. You might hit a limit that requires you to verify your account. If said limit is close, better top up now and verify.

      If you have another 0% markup card, use revolut only on weekdays (please note the time difference) and the other card on weekends.

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