STA Prepaid Mastercard Cashcard review: what you need to know

TransferWise content team
31.12.18
8 minute read

Travel cards are a real growth industry right now, and it's pretty easy to see why. For one thing, they're both more convenient and more secure than carrying bundles of banknotes around. They're quick and easy to use and top up, and their headline fees are usually low enough to catch the eye.

STA travel card comes from a fairly well-established brand, though maybe not one at the very front of most people's minds. They also sell student travel cards, but here we'll concentrate on the classic Prepaid Mastercard Cashcard. It can be loaded with funds in several ways and used both at home and while you're overseas. That sounds good - but is it?

Here's a handy STA Travel Card review that will give you answers. Here you’ll find what it can do, how it does it - and what you'll pay for it. Armed with that information, you'll be able to compare it with other options like the free to order TransferWise multi-currency card and decide which is the right product for you the next time you're travelling.

Exchange rates

Unlike some similar cards, this one does not use the Mastercard International rate if you're outside the denominated currency zone - so for a sterling card, that means anywhere outside the UK. Instead, there's a fixed “day rate”. You can check it by calling STA’s automated phone line on 020 7070 4907 or checking their website.

Something to have in mind though is that the rates you'll be offered come with a markup. It'll look like you're paying no more than you need, but in fact you'll get a worse rate than you could get elsewhere.

Differently, TransferWise uses the real exchange rate - meaning one with no hidden markup. This is what's called the mid-market rate. If you look up exchange rates on Google or XE, this is the number you'll see. The debit card from TransferWise lets you do the same, with fees that are low and clear.

The best way to show this is to give you an example. Here's how STA's rates measure up against the mid-market rate on the day this article was written:

You spend £200 £500 £1,000
STA rate (€1.0428) €208.56 €521.40 €1,042.80
Mid-market rate (€1.1193) €223.86 €559.65 €1,119.30
Conversion loss €15.30 €38.25 €76.50

Rates displayed are for online orders only. Source: STA Travel* (31/12/18)*

Fees and charges

The STA Prepaid Mastercard Cashcard costs £22 to order, which includes a starting balance of £10. It's free to use your card for transactions both in the UK and abroad. There are fees for other things, though.

You'll be charged if you withdraw cash from an ATM - £1.50 each time in the UK or £2.25 elsewhere. If you're asked at a foreign ATM whether you want to use pounds sterling or the local currency, always choose the local currency. That's because of what's known as Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). It means that the ATM will choose the exchange rate, and it's likely to be a poor one for you.

Topping up is free if you do it by bank transfer or in-store, but at a Post Office it'll cost you 99p. If you use a credit or debit card online, the fee is 3% of the transaction, which can work out quite hefty.

Checking your balance at an ATM costs 25p - this service only works in the UK. There's a 20p charge for load alerts by text message, and it's also 20p to lock or unlock your card that way. Replacing your card will cost £4.99, and if you want a paper statement that's £10.

Redemption or closure also costs £10, and there's an investigation fee of £20. On top of that, if you don't use or top up your card for 12 clear months, you'll pay a monthly inactivity fee of £2.

Currencies available

This cashcard only allows you to load it with pounds sterling. If you use it for transactions abroad, the money will be converted into the local currency first. That means you'll be hit by exchange rate changes, as well as the markup mentioned above.

Limits

You can top up a maximum of £5,000 each day. If you do it online with a credit or debit card, that limit falls to £1,500 daily or £2,000 weekly. You can top up a total of £12,000 each year, and the most you can hold at once is £5,000. There are also limits on withdrawing your money at ATMs. The most you can take out each day is £500.

App overview

The STA Travel app is free for both Android and Apple, from the Google Play and App Stores. You can use this to check balance and transactions, and block or unblock your card. It's mainly promoted as a hotel and flight app, and the card-related features are pretty limited. Users give it an underwhelming rating of 3.5/5 on Google Play and just 2.4/5 on the App Store.

So, how good is the STA Prepaid Mastercard Cashcard?

The STA travel card is a handy way to carry money while you're travelling. It means you don't need to carry cash, and its Mastercard logo means it's accepted all over the world. You also get cashback - 11% at participating UK retailers and 5% around the world with STA Travel. If you book a holiday with STA, there's a loyalty cashback payment of 5%.

On the con side, it will effectively cost you £12 to order one and you'll be hit by fees every time you use an ATM, plus STA's exchange rate includes a markup you won't necessarily see. With that in mind, it might be a good idea to shop around. Comparing what various providers can offer can save you a lot of money in the long run - otherwise, you'll risk being stuck with a card that's going to leave you out of pocket.

Take a look at options to see if they're better suited to your needs. With the free TravelWise debit card, for example, you'll get the true exchange rate and you can take out £200 from ATMs every 30 days with no charge. It'll let you store funds in over 40 currencies, too. All you'll pay is a small, transparent conversion fee.

How to get and use an STA travel card

To get a Prepaid Mastercard Cashcard, you must be over 18 and a UK resident.

Ordering a card

You can order this card either online or in-store. If you go the online route, you'll need to complete a registration form and provide your personal details such as address and phone numbers. You'll also need to give your expected departure date, as well as the source of your funds - for example, wages or savings. The other option is to visit an STA Travel Store and provide similar information. STA says cards should arrive in a few days.

Activating your card

When your card arrives, it will need to be activated. To do this, you'll need to phone Customer Services on 020 7096 9441 and follow the instructions given. The number is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Using your card

You'll be able to use the STA travel money card wherever Mastercard is accepted, as well as at ATMs and online. You'll probably have to punch in your PIN to buy stuff in a shop, so don't forget it. In some countries, like the US, it's more common to sign for a purchase than to use Chip and PIN.

This isn't a contactless card, so you won't be able to use that method for small payments - just enter the card into the Chip and PIN and enter your PIN. There aren't many restrictions on using the card, but there are a few. You're not allowed to use the STA card for gambling, or for pre-authorised regular payments.

Topping up your card

You'll be able to top up this card in several ways:

  • Bank transfer
  • At an STA Travel Store in the UK
  • With a credit or debit card
  • With cash at a Post Office or PayPoint outlet

You'll pay a fee if you top up with cash or a credit/debit card, but it's free using bank transfers or when topping up at an STA Travel Store. Funds from top-ups are available instantly with top-ups made in-store or through PayPoint. The other methods will take 3-4 days, though if you register your credit/debit card, after the first top-up funds will be available instantly.

Buy-back

You can close your account by phoning Customer Services or going to an STA Travel Store. You'll receive the balance of money on your card, but with a £10 closure fee taken off. Since this card is usable in the UK, it may be a better bet to spend the remaining money instead.

Contact information

For questions and information relating to your STA card, you can phone 020 706 9441. The line is always open. If there's an emergency within 48 hours of your travel date, there's an alternative number: (+44) 151 559 3930. If you'd prefer to use email or post, you can use:

You can email at: customercare@statravelprepaid.co.uk

If you'd prefer to write, use: STA Travel Cashcard, PO Box 3753, Chester, CH1 9UH

Troubleshooting tips

It's never great to have a problem with your card. But if you do, here's what you can do to deal with it:

What do I do if my card is lost or damaged?

If you can't find your card, you'll need to call the Lost and Stolen line. The number is 0207 101 6599 from the UK or +44 (0) 207 101 6599 from other countries. STA will cancel your card and send another, though there'll be a fee to send it outside the UK. You can also text the word LOST to 80777.

My card has been declined - now what?

Before you do anything else, check your account balance to see whether it's what you expect. If you have less money than you should have, or you're OK for funds but are still being declined, get in touch with Customer Services for advice.

I've forgotten my PIN

If this happens there's a way out. Go to http://www.statravel.co.uk/cashcard.htm and log in. Then choose the right account if you have more than one card. Type in your password and click GET PIN. You'll see your PIN on the screen. For extra security, it's a good idea to then change to another PIN. You can do this by following the instructions at most ATMs.

If my card is blocked, what then?

If you can't use your card at all, it's a case for Customer Services, so phone them and ask how they can help you.

What will happen when my card expires?

This STA travel money card is valid for 36 months. It isn't renewable, but you can apply for another one. It's a bad idea to leave funds on an old card, since 12 months after expiry STA will start charging an Account Maintenance fee of £2 a month.

If you've read through this STA travel card review, you'll have picked up its main features and limitations. It's simple to use and the cashback offers may be attractive, especially if you're planning on booking hotels with STA. On the downside, the lack of flexibility in currencies may not make it a good choice if you're travelling all over the world.


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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