Air NZ shakes up Airpoints with debit card option

By Eveline Harvey

Air New Zealand says its new OneSmart card will allow travellers to shop like locals while overseas without being charged international cash withdrawal fees. Photo / Thinkstock
Air New Zealand says its new OneSmart card will allow travellers to shop like locals while overseas without being charged international cash withdrawal fees. Photo / Thinkstock

Air New Zealand says new features on its Airpoints loyalty cards promise to revolutionise the travel industry by allowing users to load multiple foreign currency "wallets" up with cash, send money to other cardholders by text and buy goods from overseas websites.

The airline's new loyalty card combines existing Airpoints benefits with "ePass" check-in technology and an optional pre-paid debit card that has been developed in collaboration with MasterCard.

Air New Zealand Head of Loyalty, Simon Pomeroy, said Airpoints members who activated the debit card feature - dubbed OneSmart - would be able to upload funds to it in New Zealand dollars and convert them to one of eight foreign currencies at highly competitive rates.

This money could then be spent either in New Zealand or overseas, earning members Airpoints on eligible purchases.

Pomeroy said OneSmart, which is on the reverse side of new Airpoints cards being sent out to more than half a million Kiwis over the next few weeks, was the first non-credit card in New Zealand that offered loyalty rewards points and that there was no other product like it in the international travel market.

"There are a whole range of people who don't want credit cards or don't necessarily want to spend money that's not their own, so with this card it's pretty simple: you go into your bank, you transfer the money onto this card, then this card is loaded and ready to go," he said.

Once New Zealand dollars are loaded onto the card, customers can log in online and set up various foreign currency wallets before assigning money to them. Up to four different currencies from a list of eight can be stored at any one time.

Pomeroy said an Airpoints member who had loaded NZ$1000 onto their OneSmart card, for example, could move $500 of that into their Australian currency wallet, where it would show up as the equivalent value in Australian dollars, based on the current exchange rate.

The card could then be used by a traveller while they were in Australia, where it would be recognised as an Australian debit card.

Using the same method, travellers will also be able to shop like locals when they visit Canada, England, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore the United States and European countries which use the Euro. They will also be able to use overseas ATMs without being charged international withdrawal fees.

Pomeroy said the card could also be used for online shopping, allowing money to be loaded into a US currency wallet for use on American shopping websites such as eBay, for instance.

He acknowledged the changes were a commercial venture for Air New Zealand but said the company believed it could offer its Airpoints members a much cheaper way to access their money while travelling.

"What we don't believe is true is that people just go overseas and use their credit card. People want the security of having a card but also want to know that if they want to buy a coffee or want to get a taxi they can get cash... NZ$8 to get cash out of the wall (overseas), to me, is an absolute rip off."

Members who loaded more than $500 onto their card per month would not be charged to use the debit card, Pomeroy said, while those who topped up with less than $500 a month would be charged $1.95 per month.

There was also a $1 flat fee whenever someone loaded money onto their OneSmart card and Pomeroy said Air New Zealand made "a little bit of money" on the currency conversion rate charged to the customer - "but it's no different to the rates that the banks are charging".

"We believe that if we can get enough cards activated that will give us a revenue stream that makes this a very viable commercial proposition. Text messages are free until next year and then consumers will just pay for the cost of the texts, so we're not charging anything on top of that," Pomeroy said.

The Amazing Race's Phil Keoghan demonstrates OneSmart

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