Five ways holidaymakers can beat the weak pound

22 September 2009

1. Shop around for currency

One of the biggest mistakes many of us make each year is to wait until we get to the airport to change our currency. But bureaux de change at airports and hotels benefit from a lack of competition, and in most cases offer poor exchange rates.

That doesn’t mean you should be content to buy your currency from your local high street bank.

Again, the exchange rate might not be very competitive, and when the pound is so weak it’s vital you get as much for your money as possible.

Use the internet to compare deals – the Post Office and Marks & Spencer tend to offer fairly competitive exchange rates, but don’t rule out buying from an online currency provider. While this latter option will require you to plan ahead, it might be the best way to get more for your pennies.

The best way to find the best deal is to compare the total cost in sterling of any foreign currency purchase – if in doubt, ask how many units of currency you’ll receive for your bulk sterling payment. Don’t be swayed by promises of commission-free exchange, as the exchange rate might offset this saving.

James Hickman, managing director at Caxton FX, says holidaymakers should plan ahead and seek out the best currency deals before going away.

“Even if the euro advances only a little further, tourists should expect parity at an airport bureau de change or high street currency provider,” he adds.

2. Consider avoiding the ATM

If you intend to withdraw money from your current account while abroad then make sure you find out what charges this will incur ahead of your trip – it might make you think twice about relying on your debit card.

Most providers charge their customers with loading fees and cash withdrawal charges when they use debit cards abroad – these can make purchases and cash withdrawals all the more expensive.

Generally speaking, it is best to avoid making small purchases with a debit card because, alongside loading fees, you may also be charged a one-off transaction fee by your provider.

3. Use the right credit card

Using a credit card on holiday can actually be a good idea as all purchases between £100 and £3,000 are covered by the Consumer Credit Act – this means your provider is jointly liable to refund you should something go wrong.



However, before you stick purchases on plastic, you should think about how much it will cost you. The vast majority of credit card providers charge for overseas transactions – these normally range between 2.75% and 3% and can add significantly to the cost of your overseas break.

It is possible to avoid these fees altogether by opting for a fee-free credit card – sadly, only the Santander Zero credit card and the Post Office waive these fees at the moment.

4. Dynamic currency conversion

When paying for goods abroad on card you may be offered the option to make the payment in sterling as opposed to the local currency – this is known as dynamic currency conversion.

However, it is hard to know whether you are getting a good deal because the retailer or bank will apply its own exchange fee.

Generally speaking your own bank or provider is likely to offer a more competitive exchange rate, so paying in the local currency is normally the cheaper option.

5. Alternative ways of paying

Taking out a pre-paid currency card is a good way to use plastic abroad without being hit with the associated fees. You can’t go overdrawn on a pre-paid currency card – instead, you load up the card with money that can then be spent in shops or used to withdraw cash.

While it’s fairly easy to get a pre-paid card, it’s well worth doing your research and shopping around. The first thing to watch out for is the cost as many pre-paid card providers charge fees.

Sadly, these are not always easy to compare. Some providers may levy a general usage charge, while others will hit you with fees when you withdraw money. Some even charge if you fail to use your card for a certain period of time. 

In addition, it’s important to find a card that offers a decent exchange rate.

Travellers cheques, while often dismissed as old fashioned, are also worth considering as an alternative way of paying. These are an ideal way to avoid credit and debit card fees, and to protect your money should you lose your bag or fall victim to theft.

However, bear in mind that exchange rates on these cheques aren’t always as competitive as changing currency, plus you’ll need to show ID in order to cash them.

Also, remember to make a note of the serial numbers so you can replace these should you need to.

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