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Avoid changing travel money at airport, Which? warns

New research shows just how much you could lose

Foreign currency in neon

This year’s holidaymakers should avoid exchange their travel money at airports bureaux de change or they could lose out on their foreign currency, new research from Which? has found. 

Airport exchange rates are notoriously poor, but Which? found that you could get a significantly better deal by ordering in advance online and collecting when you fly.  

Airport exchange rates exposed

Which? researchers checked exchange rates at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and Manchester over a six-week period as part of a wider comparison between online, high street and airport providers. Airport bureaux de changes offered persistently low rates, worse than high street outlets and much less than you can get by ordering your currency online. 

For £500 we were quoted an average of 540.52 Euros by International Currency Exchange (ICE) at Heathrow, 523.39 Euros by Moneycorp at Gatwick and just 517.52 Euros by Travelex at Manchester. This compares with online rates of 569.82 Euros from Moneycorp and 567.63 Euros from ICE.  Our table below shows the full results. 

Airport exchange rates and why you should avoid them
Currency provider Airport Airport average rate Online average rate Difference
Moneycorp Stansted €518.42 €569.82 €51.40
Travelex Manchester €517.52 €564.46 €46.94
Moneycorp Gatwick €523.29 €569.82 €46.43
Amex Heathrow €521.79 €563.92 €42.13
Travelex Heathrow €522.83 €564.46 €41.63
Ice Luton €528.28 €567.63 €39.35
Ice Heathrow €540.52 €567.63 €27.11
Ice Gatwick €546.92 €567.63 €20.71

Table notes

  1. The rates shown are for £500 worth of euros, taken online and at airports over a six week period between 13 February and 20 March 2013.

Ordering currency online     

By ordering currency online, you can secure the best exchange rates, for home delivery, or collection at the very airport bureau de change that offer such a poor deal to ‘walk up’ customers. Travelex and and American Express only require four hours notice for advance online ordering, so it’s possible to cut things fine and still get a good deal. 

Ordering online for home delivery is an easy way of getting top rates, although for small sums most suppliers add a delivery charge which may wipe out your gain. We found 17 online suppliers who offered a better deal than our top high street exchange bureau. These ranged from specialist suppliers, like Best Foreign Exchange, which offered a chart-topping 570.43 Euros, to high street names, such as Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, which all had keen online rates.

The only drawback to online ordering is that currency exchange remains unregulated and your cash isn’t covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme if a supplier fails.

High street bureaux de change   

For those who prefer to buy their foreign currency face to face, there are good deals to be found on the high street, although our research suggests that shopping around is worthwhile. 

The most popular high street supplier is undoubtedly the Post Office. In our £500 survey, it offered only 551 Euros however, less than Co-op Travel (559.89 Euros), Asda Money (559.08 Euros), Tesco (558.93 Euros) and several other well-know outlets. 

More on this…

  • Currency exchange – customer satisfaction scores compared
  • Pre-paid cards- what they are and which ones are best for travel
  • Which? Money Helpline– for all your currency exchange queries
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