Five travel money scams to avoid

29 July 2010

We all know getting our holiday money sorted as early as possible is a good idea. But if you find yourself having to do some last-minute currency conversion, be sure to avoid these scams.

Dynamic currency conversion 

This is frequently used by restaurants abroad (as well as in shops) when you are dining out and decide to pay by plastic.

The waiter will ask if you would like to pay the bill in sterling, instead of the local currency, and act as if they are doing you a great favour.

"When they offer this, they can convert your bill at any rate they like," says James Hickman, managing director of Caxton FX currency exchange broker. "There is no law in place or regulation to stop them from doing so," he adds.

Rather than use the market exchange rate, the restaurant is likely to add 10% to 20% onto your bill. However, it will still display the original total to you in the local currency, so you can't even catch it out by doing a quick calculation.

It's only when you get home and check your credit or debit card bill that you will see just how poor the exchange rate it was.

If you are given the option, always pay in the local currency and leave your bank to do the exchange - this generally works out cheaper. Also, remember it is up to you to choose the currency you would like to pay in, so don't let the waiter pressure you.

Changing money at the hotel

Although it might be quick and convenient, the exchange rate charged by hotels typically bears no resemblance to the market rate, according to Hickman, and is best avoided.

However, it tends to be skewed higher for selling currency than it does for buying it, which means you can get a good deal if you are changing the local currency back into sterling before you return home.

By the same token, if you are staying in a UK hotel before flying on elsewhere, think about changing your sterling there. Its exchange rate will likely be set up to rip off tourists coming into the country, so why not take advantage of it.

Aeroplane purchases

As no-frills airlines continue to step-up their money grabbing tactics of charging for everything including a cup of coffee, it can be tempting to use up some leftover holiday money to pay your bill.

Airlines tend to accept most currencies and stewards will act as if they are helping you out by ridding your wallet of all that foreign cash. But often the prices they charge are completely unrelated to the market exchange rate. You might hand over a €5 note for a cup of coffee and receive no change, for example.

Generally the rates on the plane will not be favourable, so either pay in sterling (then at least you know you are being overcharged for a vending machine coffee or rubbery sandwich) or take your own refreshments on with you and avoid the high charges altogether.

Street vendors

When you reach your destinaton, you may find you've miscalculated how much dough you'll need while abroad.

In these circumstances, it can be hard to know where to find the best deal. One option you should definitely avoid is the nearest street vendor. These people can be incredibly intimidating and pressure you into using their services, so try to avoid them at all costs.

Stick to reputable money transfer services such as the local banks. And to help prepare against such eventualities, consider taking alternative forms of payment with you such as travellers cheques, or pre-paid currency cards. Read our guide to travel money here.

Check your change

Finally, familiarise yourself with the currency as soon as you can. It can be confusing paying with a currency you are not used to, particularly when it is one with high denomination notes, such as Turkish Lire.

If you are handing over notes with a value of thousands, local scammers won't think twice about short-changing you at the till.

Don't wait until you get back to your hotel to check, it will be hard to prove that you were short-changed. And if you go back to contest it, the shop owner or taxi driver will likely dismiss you as a silly tourist and you will be left fuming with no alternative but to walk away red-faced.

While it can feel foolish, carry a calculator with you and be sure to check your change before you leave the shop, so you can address the issue right away. It's better to be over careful than to end up getting ripped off for being naive.


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