How to get the best deal on travel money

Don't let travel money fees eat into your holiday budget.

Woman walking trough the airport
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Travel money may be the last thing on your mind when preparing for a much-needed holiday, but leaving it too late to swap your cash could mean getting stung by high exchange rates or bank fees.

Specialist credit and debit cards, apps and even your supermarket could help access better deals on overseas cash, ultimately boosting your spending money.

Here is how to secure better exchange rates and get the best deal on travel money.

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See also:
How to claim compensation for travel delays
How to get the right travel insurance

Avoid the airport to get the best deals on travel money

The general rule when it comes to travel money is to avoid airport exchanges.

Exchange bureaus at the airport have a captive audience as once you are ready to fly there isn’t much choice about where you get your cash.

This means you will typically get poorer exchange rates and will be left with less spending money once abroad.

A survey by travel money experts eurochange earlier this year found that holidaymakers buying €1,000 at Gatwick, Birmingham and Heathrow typically lose out on around £176 compared with high street branches.

If you have left it until the last minute, one option suggested by MoneySavingExpert is to order the money in advance to be picked up at the airport, which can at least save you some money. 

Consider the cards you use

It may be tempting to just use your credit or debit card when spending abroad.

But you could be hit with charges of around 2.99% on overseas spending and as much as 4.75% for cash withdrawals when using a mainstream high street bank card.

Some specialist travel credit cards including the Halifax Clarity MasterCard and Barclays Rewards Visa don’t charge for overseas spending or ATM withdrawals.

Some current account providers may also offer fee-free spending abroad as well as competitive exchange rates.

This includes Chase’s current account, first direct’s 1st account and Santander’s Edge account.

Challenger banks Monzo and Starling also provide fee-free spending and withdrawals abroad.

Check your account terms though as while most of these cards can be used in well-known European or American destinations, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to use them in more far-flung places.

Another option is using a prepaid travel card or a currency card that links with your current account from providers such as Currensea, FairFX, and Revolut.

Similar to a travel debit card, there won’t be charges for overseas spending or withdrawals and the exchange rate will be better than what you would get at the airport.

Supermarkets

Most savvy shoppers are familiar with supermarket loyalty schemes that give you discounts on your grocery shopping.

Tesco customers can access discounts on items if they are a Clubcard member, while Sainsbury’s offers cheaper products if you sign up to its Nectar scheme.

This is part of the latest phase of the supermarket price wars, with shoppers essentially getting their food cheaper as long as they are registered on one of the loyalty schemes.

But it isn’t just cheaper sausages and soap on offer from these supermarket giants.

Registered customers can also get lower exchange rates on travel money, ultimately giving them more to spend abroad.

For example, if you are travelling to the Mediterranean for your summer holidays, all customers can get a euro exchange rate of 1.1381 for £1 at Sainsbury’s Bank and Tesco Bank.

So a traveller exchanging £100 would get £113.80. 

But if you are a Nectar member, that rate increases to 1.1404. That means £100 gets you an extra 23 cents at €114.04.

Clubcard members can do slightly better.

Tesco Bank offers a euro exchange rate of 1.1427 for Clubcard members,  so £100 would get you €114.27.

This obviously won’t make a lot of difference but the savings start to add up with higher amounts. 

A Clubcard user could convert £1,000 to €1,142, compared with €1,138 for those not registered.

That is an extra €4 to spend on a pint or glass of wine.

Some of the biggest savings are outside the EU.

Visitors to the Black Sea can get a rate of 2.1631 Bulgarian Lev for £1 as a Clubcard member, compared with 2.1545 for non-users.

So £600 would get you 1,297 Bulgarian Lev compared with 1,292.

Turkey tourists using a Clubcard for their money can get a rate of Turkish New Lira 30.4559 for £1, compared with 30.3346 if you are not signed up.

If you wanted to convert £600, you would get 18,273 Turkish New Lira instead of 18,200.

This is only small change, but as the supermarkets say, every little helps.

Shop around 

Your supermarket may seem convenient, especially if you can make a saving as a loyalty scheme member.

But it is important to shop around for the best deal.

Comparison websites such as MoneySuperMarket’s TravelMoneyMax and Travelex will let you find bureaus near you.

MoneyWeek found bureaus offering better euro exchange rates at 1.143 or 1.255 but much will depend on what is available near you and if you want the convenience of using a card abroad or getting your holiday cash with your frozen chips. 

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Marc Shoffman

Marc Shoffman is an award-winning freelance journalist specialising in business, personal finance and property. His work has appeared in print and online publications ranging from FT Business to The Times, Mail on Sunday and The i newspaper. He also co-presents the In For A Penny financial planning podcast.