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PADI will never change their outdated business practices under the current leadership. That became incredibly clear to me during this pandemic which is why I did not renew my Pro membership. Good riddance.
PADI doesn't want you to know this one simple trick to get free ecards...
Go ahead and get as many certifications and specialties as you can then get your divemaster cert. Bam! Download all your ecards for free!
PADI is still issuing plastic as the primary choice in the US and ecards in some other countries. Europe & Middle East, I believe. You still have the option to request an ecard instead of a plastic card if that is what you want. Your instructor should have asked you if you had a preference.
I don't think it is unreasonable to charge for an ecard if you got a plastic card. Is the price too high? I guess not because people are buying them at that price. If nobody bought the cards and word got back to PADI that students were balking at the price then the price would come down.
I teach for other agencies that are all digital and some students don't like they have to pay extra for a plastic card. If the cost of everything was rolled into the course fee I think the students would have a better customer experience but scuba is so price competitive that everything is cut to bare bones and any options are up charges.
My apologies. I just found out I had access to something others did not for reasons I cannot discuss.
Contact PADI and tell them you want to be able to choose. Their market research shows everyone in North America wants plastic and Europe wants electronic. If the demand increases the choice will become available.