Curve is giving "free" money away, again.

About a year and a half ago, I reviewed the Curve debit card, and I went back talking about it when talking about foreign transaction fees. If you don’t want to go back and read the whole set of text, I’ll give a very brief description: Curve is a proxy-card, that allows you to connect a bunch of other debit and credit cards, and to decide when you pay (or, critically, shortly after) which card you want to charge your expense to. It includes a few features such as some amount of free (or cheaper) transaction fee spend, but the “proxy” nature of the card is the selling (or not-really-selling as I’ll explain later) point.

In my previous posts, I have made two main points about Curve: the first is that they give away for free most of the useful features of the service, and the other that they make no real sense in the UK, as one of the possibly biggest selling points (the foreign transaction free nullification) is vastly irrelevant: most high street banks have some offering with no foreign transaction fee, and I still venture that Santander is the best UK offering for globetrotters who need to use their card in many different currencies. Despite my fairy pessimistic view of Curve’s business plans, it seems like the management is taking a different view — even FT Alphaville wrote about their marketing campaign.

Speaking of pessimistic view — I am a bit skeptical about their marketing of “100 Cards in One”. While it would be a great feature a few years ago, in 2019 most of my spending goes through my phone, with Google Pay. While I have half a dozen separate cards, most of them are compatible with Google Pay, so I don’t carry them with me. The ironic exception being my company card. As it turns out, this is something that Curve can help with: it now supports Google Pay, and on a business trip I can proxy my expenses to the company card.

Now, one claim on their website that appears to mostly hold true is «Your gateway to money for nothing.» Because they do appear to run lots of promotions that give you free money. Indeed, in the past week I received two email from Curve: one to announce that they would give me £5 if I just used my card at all (which I did, just to see if they pay up), and another to tell me that they are giving a “Christmas gift” for all their users to select three new retailers to get their 1% cashback from. All of this for a “Curve Blue”, which is their totally free tier.

Speaking of the 1% cashback, when I signed up last year, Amazon was not one of the options, or I would have taken it. It was this time, so I did that, under the impression that one way or another I do end up buying stuff off them often enough, and in the next three months I may get some value out of it. Despite this, their paid offer is still pointless: they charge you £9.99 a month, and to cover that on cashback alone you would have to spend £1000 a month from those three retailers. And no, I don’t think the Travel/Gadget insurances that they peddle with the offer mean anything else — there’s a doubling of how much free cash you can get from ATMs, but they appear to have closed the loophole that allowed you to withdraw cash and get loyalty points, or cashback, from a credit card, without incurring in cash handling fees.

So yeah, it looks like they do give money for nothing. Well, for some profiling data I guess. The obvious question is where that money comes from, given that the free offering is just compelling enough, and their paid offering are… in one word, overpriced. As I said in the previous post on foreign transaction fees, Santander offers their All in One Credit Card for £3 a month, and is also 0% foreign transaction fees and comes with a 0.5% cashback on all purchases; recovering that monthly fee requires “only” £600/month spend across any vendor (and not just three), and if you spend more you can probably pay for the travel/gadget insurance separately. And since it’s issued as a World MasterCard (rather than a Debit MasterCard), it also allows you to use some of the available perks worldwide, including some airports’ priority lane at security (as it turns out, that includes Venice Airport, which is very handy since that’s where we fly in and out for to see my family.)

And if you want to compare with the Curve Metal offering at £14.99 a month, well, Santander offers a World Elite Mastercard at the same price point, which comes with the same 0.5% cashback (although capped to nullify the monthly fee.) Despite not coming with the insurances (which again I don’t find particularly compelling, it does have a discount for Santander’s own offering. And it provides LoungeKey access just as well, except that you don’t have to pay the £20 per person entry fee. Being a World Elite card, it also comes with a bunch of other perks, including a Boingo subscription (not particularly compelling to me either, but worth noting.)

Anyway, if you are yet to make your Christmas purchases, and are interested in getting some more extra cashback with Curve, you can download the app from their website and if you want you can sign up with the code BG2G3 to get another £5 out of the magic free money card (and give me the same.)

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