Plastic goes the extra mile

Banks and finance companies compete to offer the best travel perks for customers

Image Credit: Corbis
Travellers stop by the gold kiosk at Dubai Duty Free. The airport launched a prepaid card last year

Whether it is booking a ticket, spending money abroad, currency conversion, local travel or hotel accommodation, there’s a card for every step in the consumer’s travel cycle.

Credit card companies are vying with each other to present frequent travellers with platinum options. For those who don’t have credit cards, prepaid cards that can be used online are a viable option. And those travelling abroad — pretty much everyone in the UAE — can avail of better rewards on credit cards and prepaid cards loaded with the currency of their choice.

“Travel is big,” Rasool Hujair, CEO, Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) Finance, tells GN Focus. “Travel is big for two reasons. One, because our customers and potential customers — UAE residents, both expats and nationals — travel a lot. Research shows that UAE nationals spend $3,200 a day when they travel. More than 50 per cent of them travel two to five times a year. When you know that over 50 per cent of what they spend is on air tickets and 20 per cent on accommodation, it makes sense to have products that cater to this. Travel is important for the customer and it is important for us,” he says.

Easy cash

MAF Finance recently launched two travel-focused products. Its Travelez card, offered jointly with Al Fardan Exchange, is a prepaid card for travel and can be topped up with dollars or dirhams, with the company planning to soon expand the range of currencies offered. Its Najm Platinum credit card is targeted at frequent travellers and allows them to convert rewards into accommodation and tickets. Mashreq is another player in the sector, teaming with travel companies MakeMyTrip and SNTTA, for its credit and debit cards.

“Customers can use their Mashreq Card internationally and benefit even further through the special international usage programme. This is coupled with travel conveniences including supplementary card issuance, international card delivery and offshore travel booking discounts,” says Nimish Dwivedi, Head of Payments, Mashreq.

Statistics further support the potential in cards offering travel perks. At the Prepaid Summit Middle East 2012 held in Dubai this March, travel and foreign exchange products emerged as a segment for high growth, according to experts.

Research house TNS MENA presented research that showed almost 80 per cent of UAE-based travellers used cash while travelling internationally, arguing that with the right product they could all be prepaid users.

Tickets to fly

Elsewhere, a MasterCard survey released earlier this year showed that the greatest proportion of online spending is occurring on airline sites, with 78 per cent of UAE respondents preferring to buy tickets online rather than through traditional outlets.

Inbound travellers are also potential customers of these cards. MasterCard Worldwide launched DXB Connect, the world’s first airport prepaid MasterCard card, at Dubai international Airport in November last year. The card, aimed at the 51 million estimated passengers that travel through the transit hub (2011 figures), is not just a simple prepaid option but comes packed with deals such as discounts at duty free stores, hotel stays, spas, F&B outlets and family entertainment venues across Dubai. From the consumer’s point of view, the card pays for itself with these value additions.

CashU, a secure online payment provider, and Kuwait-based airline Jazeera Airways, have announced a partnership that enables Jazeera Airways passengers who do not have a bank account or a credit/debit card to securely complete transactions on the airlines’ website using cashU’s prepaid cards and services. UAE residents and visitors have already been introduced to travel cards via the Nol cards issued by RTA for bus and Metro travel.

Card wallet

Emirates NBD’s Go4it card, launched last year, works like a wallet fuelled by the card. It combines RTA’s Nol application (which allows you to swipe a card for transport use), with an Emirates NBD credit card.

Cardholders can set an auto top-up option which connects their Salik or metro wallet to the credit card. Once the amount is below the set limit, it automatically tops up via the credit card. “Seeing an opportunity in the under-Dh5,000 salary segment, we have launched a debit card as well. We’ve seen that it is becoming very popular with employees of companies located near Metro stations,” says R Sivaram, Senior VP, Head of Cards, Retail Cards Business, Emirates NBD.

Cash-dependent customers now have many alternatives that not only make spending while travelling safer but also extremely lucrative.