What is the best way to get travel money and how do I avoid getting a poor deal?
Preparing to go on holiday can be a stressful time. Deadlines to meet, clothes to wash and bags to pack – there’s lots to think about.
One thing that often gets left until the last minute – but never gets less important – is sorting out your holiday money. Getting it isn’t difficult, but knowing where to go for a good deal is.
So we’ve done a bit of research and put together a guide. Follow this and avoid any nasty financial shocks when you get home.
Never exchange money at the airport.
This is a super-easy rule to follow: Simply don’t use bureaux de change at the airport to exchange your currency. Ever.
It might seem like a convenient option, and it is, but the exchange rate is always horrible and at that late stage what other choice do you have but to accept it?
Don’t be fooled by a sign that reads “0% Commission”, the fees are often hidden in a poor exchange rate. This is a good rule to follow in general: When a sign reads “0% COMMISION”, it’s usually too good to be true.
Using your UK debit/credit is super-easy but can be super-expensive.
Of course, you may get to the airport, see those poor rates and decide to use your UK card abroad. More and more travellers are opting to take their regular debit/credit cards away anyway.
This is by far the easiest option and requires no effort whatsoever apart from packing your wallet. The thing is – you’ll often spend a considerable amount on fees.
Let’s take a Halifax debit card, for example. If you were using your card in Rome – they would charge you £1.50 for each point-of-sale transaction and/or £1.50 for every ATM withdrawal. On top of that, a 2.75% conversion commission is charged each time. Costly.
Don’t exchange abroad
Of course, you could just do the exchange once you reach your destination. The problem is you’re still going to have to hunt around for the best rate.
Spending the first day of your holiday scanning for the best deal doesn’t sound like much fun, wouldn’t you rather be having a glass of wine and picking at some olives?Also, what about paying for your taxi from the airport?
Prepaid cards are usually the cheapest way.
Prepaid cards are cards that you load up with currency before you go and use when you’re on holiday like a debit card here.
Imagine a prepaid card is like a pay-and-go mobile contract. You can’t spend until you’ve loaded it with money but there are lots of benefits once you have.
Like a pay and go – you can track exactly what you’ve spent and how much you’re spending. You can also ‘top up’ anytime. The rates are much better than most other options and unusually, rates are fair and transparent.
The guys at Money Saving Expert know their stuff, they’ve reviewed all of the UK options.
We really like WeSwap which is a prepaid card with a difference.
Instead of buying money from a trader and selling to you – like most banks and bureaux do, WeSwap actually swaps money between travellers heading in opposite directions.
Swapping is obviously much cheaper and therefore so is WeSwap. They noe have 200,000 travellers in their community and just raised over £2 million in crowdfunding.
Beware of dynamic currency conversion
Cash machines and some vendors will ask you when making a transaction whether you wish to make it in pounds or in the local currency.
It very rarely pays to make the payment in pounds. This is due to the fact that the overseas vendor is making the conversion, usually at a less than favourable rate.
In short, always select to pay in the local currency.
If you’ve already swapped into Euros – which you will have done with a prepaid card – you don’t need the ATM to convert because you’ve already done it! This is just a way for the local bank to try and make some extra money.
Don’t take a packet of cash, it’s not 1997.
A surprising amount of people still nip down to somewhere like the Post Office or M&S, swap all their money and take it in their suitcases.
Not only are these traditional providers often expensive – how often do you walk around with hundreds and hundreds of pounds in your wallet in the UK?
Even if you hide a few hundred Euro under a mattress, in a ball of socks or inside the curtain it’s not exactly bullet proof. If it doesn’t get stolen, it is easy to lose and you’ exchange rate would have been poor anyway.
Keep an eye on the markets and watch out for elections.
It is worth keeping an eye on the FX markets in the lead up to your trip and bearing in mind the potential impact of politics.
Two surprise election results had volatile consequences on the FX markets in 2016. Firstly, the British public voted to leave the European Union, and secondly the American public voted Donald Trump as their next president.
Both of these decisions had a negative impact on their respective country’s currency. Basically, markets don’t like uncertainly and new leaders and political change often mean uncertainty.
Shrewd travellers may have exchanged some money pre-election so as not to be affected by the result. Obviously this isn’t very practical but it helps to have a little knowledge of these things so you can make a measured decision.