My month in money #16: bank transfer blocks, hotel savings, customer service nightmares & more

What I’ve actually done this month to be clever with my cash.

There are a couple of thoughts behind this feature. Often there are small things I’m doing that don’t warrant a whole article so this can bring them together! Plus, it’s a great way to show that I “walk the walk” and really do follow my own advice!

So here are the key money matters from my own life in April 2023

In the pic: Enjoying a walk in the Yorkshire Dales

Getting an instant debit card replacement

I’ve been toying with the idea of going for the Ulster Bank £200 switch offer, seeing as it seems possible to get multiple cash payments from the different Natwest Group brands. However, to do this I needed a dummy account, and I’ve got to a position where despite having loads of accounts, I actually want to keep most of them (some for perks and benefits, others so I can access them if I need to write about any future changes).

Which leaves me just one account – Metro Bank. The problem here was my debit card had expired, and since it hadn’t been used much it wasn’t automatically replaced by the bank.

I could have ordered a new one via the app, but I took the opportunity to try out one of Metro’s selling points – the in-store replacement.

So on a trip to London I popped into a branch and 10 minutes later I had a brand, spanking new debit card! Of course, you need to have a branch near you, but it is a handy feature in the event you do lose your card.

I’m still weighing up whether to use it for an Ulster Bank switch – looking at your comments in the Facebook group it’s more admin faff than any other application!

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Connecting Amex Reward point accounts

I’ve spoken previously about cancelling the American Express Platinum card once all the bonuses and benefits had been claimed in order to reduce the impact of the huge £575 annual fee. And I mentioned the importance of ensuring you have another Amex card that earns Reward points to protect your points balance (if you’ve not already redeemed them). The same goes if you want to avoid the year two charge on the Amex Preferred Rewards Gold card.

Doing this actually brought up a couple of things worth noting. First, as I had the Platinum Charge card rather than credit card (they’re all now credit), the Reward balance wasn’t connected to the balance on my Amex Reward card! Luckily I checked this when cancelling the Platinum and they easily fixed it.

Also, the refund for the fee was sent in the post as a cheque! It’s not that often I get one of these, but fortunately most banking apps now allow you to submit them electronically. It took me a few attempts with Starling though and it only worked when I’d scanned the cheque placed on a black chair (my previous attempts had been on my white desk).

Virgin Media 3 hour call centre nightmare

I feel like I’ve spoken a lot recently about haggling with Virgin Media to get a better deal. I was happy with the £27 price I was offered to prevent me from leaving, and thought everything was sorted for another 18 months. If only.

I noticed that my new contract came through at £32 (remember to check what you pay after any offer is applied) rather than £27. I also hadn’t received the intelligent wifi pods that were promised.

So I called up Virgin Media to query this. The first call lasted 44 minutes and though they could see I wasn’t getting the deal I was promised, I was told they’d need to check and call back. I missed the call, and they didn’t try again, so I got back in touch. This time I was on the phone for 28 minutes and told it was sorted.

So when the next bill came through last week, and it was still £32 I called again. 37 minutes later and we still hadn’t got to a place where I’d be paying what I was promised.

Finally a callback hours later from a supervisor (lasting 20 minutes) got us to a place where the contract is amended and the wifi pods are on their way.

Add on the two calls I had to get the deal in the first place and it’s a huge 286 minutes of my time spent talking to Virgin Media!!

I’ve put a complaint in so hopefully that will address this and compensate me for the time wasted fixing their mess.

Starling transfer nightmare

My main bank is Starling, which regular readers will know I’ve raved about for years. It does everything I need it to better than any other bank I’ve had (and I’ve had a few!).

Well, almost everything.

At the end of the March I tried to move some money into Premium Bonds (to beat the end of month deadline), and at the same time I moved some other savings into better paying accounts (Tandem had just increased to 3.5%). And this is where my Starling experience went sour.

As you’d hope, moving a large amount of money triggered some automatic warnings, encouraging me to check I wasn’t being pressured to do this and that I’d used the account before. All was fine so I entered my password and expected the cash to be transferred.

But instead the payments were either declined or put on hold for a manual check. I’ve no real issue with this as it’s a process put in place to stop scammers from getting your cash, though it was a frustrating delay, especially so close to the ISA deadline.

A few hours later I received a call from a lovely bloke from Starling’s fraud team, who went over the same questions and approved the payments. Apparently, the extra precautions were because I’d set up a new account that I’d not sent money to before.

This was a Thursday and I assumed it was all sorted. But when I tried to move money again on Sunday morning to another account, this time to an ISA ahead of the April 5 deadline (as I wrote about last month). And the same thing happened. And I was also blocked from manually transferring other sums, even to existing accounts. Fortunately standing orders and Direct Debits weren’t affected.

I missed a call from Starling late Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t until Monday night that they tried again. The process had been allocated to a single support staff member, and he wasn’t back in until later the next day.

I was effectively blocked from transferring money for more than 32 hours because of shift patterns! I’ve put a complaint in, but not heard anything else.

Of course, this isn’t the only bank that will have checks, or daily limits online. A quick look at my top current accounts shows the following:

  • Barclays: £50,000
  • First Direct: £49,999
  • Halifax: £25,000
  • HSBC: £25,000
  • Lloyds: £25,000
  • Monzo: £10,000
  • Nationwide: £10,000
  • NatWest: £20,000
  • Santander: £25,000
  • Starling: £1m
  • TSB: £25,000
  • Virgin Money: £100,000

And some of these might have additional limits, such as Natwest requires you to have sent money to an account via online banking before you can send £1,000 on the app.

So it’s worth thinking well ahead if you’re going to transfer £10,000 or more. It might be you need to spread it over a few days, or even head to a branch to make the payment.

Shopping around for hotels saved £180

We also booked some time away this summer, a chance to relax for a few days. I found a nice cottage on AirBnb coming in at a huge £700. But a quick search online found the exact same property for the same dates over on for £560! Factor in cashback of £40 and it’s a massive saving.

It shows that it’s not just hotels that can come up at different prices online, but other types of accommodation too. Here’s more on how to find the best prices.

And the rest…

I can’t remember everything but a few extras in brief…

  • I ordered a free GHIC card to ensure if I go to Europe this year my travel insurance will cover medical care
  • We used our Two Together Railcard for the first time since buying over Black Friday, making the money back and more
  • I received a scam call from someone claiming to be from O2, sadly they hung up before I could record it!
  • On a trip to London we had the amazing value set meal from Hawksmoor, though it’s sadly gone up in price (as have so many things!)

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