Get your Christmas travel money sorted

8 December 2008

Increasing numbers of people are heading overseas on cheap holidays this Christmas but with the pound weak against the euro and the dollar, it pays to get your travel money sorted before you pack your suitcase.

Travel agents have reported an increase in budget holiday sales, but with the pound weak against the euro and dollar, holidaymakers may get a shock when they land. Last Christmas you could have got $2 or €1.35 for your £1 - now however you’d be lucky to get $1.50 or €1.18.

So whether you’re planning to do your Christmas shopping in the States or spend the 25 December sipping sangria in Spain, it is going to be more expensive than last year even once you've bought your flights. Making the most of your hard-earned cash all depends on how you plan to spend it, and when and where you plan to buy it.


If want a bit of rest and relaxation over the Christmas break, you need to sort out how you plan to spend your money before you even think about hitting the high street for sun cream or ski goggles.

While it can take a bit of work to find out who gives you more bang for your buck, by far the worst place to buy your holiday money is at the airport.

Comparing exchange rates on the high street can help you bag a good deal, so take some time to browse the windows of banks and travel agents, as well as Marks & Spencer and the Post Office. However, make sure you choose a provider that not only offers the best rate, but charges 0% commission too.

Buying online can often be the cheapest and quickest option as many internet providers undercut their high street competitors. boasts that it will always give you the best price on your currency and will refund the difference if you find it cheaper elsewhere. You can pick it up, either in cash or travellers cheques at the airport before you board.

Other online currency providers include, and Delivery is usually free for orders over £300.


If you plan on flexing your plastic, using the wrong type of card abroad can prove to be a costly mistake. Most providers will levy a fee, sometimes referred to as a foreign loading fee, which is typically 2.75% on all purchases, and an extra fee if you withdraw cash. This is typically 2.67%, plus interest of around 30% is added from the date you use the ATM.

According to research by, consumers incur an average fee of 3% for using their plastic overseas – adding almost £686 million in charges to their final bill each year.

However, there are cards that can help cut the cost of travel abroad. Abbey’s Zero card has no foreign loading fee on purchases and allows you to withdraw cash for free too. The Nationwide and Post Office credit cards also come with no foreign loading fees, but be aware that cash withdrawal fees of 2.5% apply.

Debit cards have similar charging structures as credit cards, but also charge a spending penalty each time you use your card. Halifax charges top whack at £1.50, while Abbey, NatWest, RBS all charge £1.25.

Shopping overseas

Whatever you plan to buy while you're away, it’s worth making a note of how much you can legally import if you don’t want to be hit with a hefty fine.

Travellers can now bring back more than double the amount of gifts and souvenirs if you’re travelling outside of the EU without paying UK duty. From 1 December, the tax and duty-free allowance increased from £145 to £300, with a further increase to £340 from 1 January to take account of the recent fall in the value of the pound.

You can also bring back more alcohol, with a new allowance for beer of 16 litres and a doubling in the allowance of still wine, from two to four litres.

But if it’s the seasonal booze cruise to France the limits are even higher. You can buy up to 3,200 cigarettes, 200 cigars, 3kg of smoking tobacco, 110 litres of beer, 10 litres of spirits and 90 litres of wine.

Five money saving tips:

1. Airport shops make a killing on books, magazines and puzzle books, so visit your local library first.

2. Make sure you do your research if you plan to park your car at the airport. Turning up on the day to park your car for a week or two will burn a serious hole in your pocket. Check out to find the cheapest place for your motor.

3. If you’re flying no frills, buy your food and drink before you board. Airlines tend to charge around £3 for a tumbler of coke and even more for food.

4. Don’t leave transfers until the last minute. Booking or negotiating airport transfers early will save you on pricey airport taxis.

5. If you are going to hire a car or a van always make sure you get the best deal. Watch out for hidden extras such as fuel refill charges, insurance fees, child seat hire, and other charges that may not be included in the original quote.

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