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How to spend in Pigalle in style: no-hassle travel money solutions

travel money revolutcardJust back from Paris where I spent a relaxed weekend in South Pigalle. It's (allegedly) one of the most fashionable parts of the city these days, a kernel of cool inside a gritty shell of sex shops and girly bars ringing the 'world-famous' Moulin Rouge.

Once you're past the neon, SoPi, as it's shortened to, is now quite gentrified: graceful streets lined with traditional cream-coloured and slate-roofed apartment blocks. Chic Parisians stroll between the high-end patisseries or drink coffee (small dogs on lap) outside a corner cafe. Mooching along the rue de Martyrs, which is filled with independent food and fashion emporiums, was going to prove a testing time for my new Revolut card. (It has such a cool box too, see picture.)

I've written about Revolut before but I haven't changed my mind about the brilliance of prepaid currency cards generally. Mr Minted has always been in control of the card in the past but this time I had my own (although still linked to his account). It really was burning a hole in my pocket.

Alas, it was not to be such a triumph, at least in the Chambre aux Confitures, where I was preparing to lash €20 on fancy jam and caramel spread. The PIN didn't work in the machine so I had to pay in cash. Hmm, not so good. Later, in the Hotel Terrasse, where we had Moulin Rouge cocktails in the roof-top bar (you can see there's a theme in this area of town), the PIN didn't work again. The reader offered me a third and last attempt to get the PIN right. I knew I had the right number and didn't try again - imagining the plastic being swallowed up into the French financial system - and grumpily paid with my Lloyds debit card.

I was right to be in a stink because Lloyds charged me £1.51 for just using that card as well as rolling in a 2.99% fee on top of any currency exchange costs. Plus, if I want to take cash out of an ATM, that's a minimum £2 for the pleasure. Revolut, in contrast, has no transaction fees and a near-perfect exchange rate (it uses the rate that the banks charge each other ie pretty much nothing). There is a cap on how much you can take out of an ATM, however, of £200 or €200 a month before charges hit.

Seeing as it was a new card, I wondered if the activation process had gone astray. A flurry of texts to Mr Minted revealed he'd actually given me the wrong PIN. I hoped this wasn't a deliberate ruse ... Afterwards, armed with the right number, the transactions began to pile up. Because the account is run off Mr Minted's smartphone, he is unfortunately alerted every time the card is used with details of the venue and the cost. It was an interesting night for both of us as he could track my progress from dinner at the Hotel L'Amour (buzzy courtyard garden) then drinks at the Grand Pigalle Hotel (charming bistro) followed by a swiftie at Glass (intimate bar with tiny dancefloor) and one for the road at Dirty Dick's (tiki-style cocktails). Phew - but think how much I saved on transaction costs!

If you're heading off this summer, it's worth looking into these cards. The competitors to Revolut are Monzo, which has no ATM fees although its exchange rate isn't always as good, and WeSwap, which has a cashback but a long waiting period to get your money. If you want a credit card too, we like Halifax Clarity for its low fees.

See the SMM guide to travel money here.

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Saturday, 20 April 2019