/ Money

The holiday money postcode lottery…

Where do you buy currency before you go on holiday? For most, the answer is the Post Office, Marks & Spencer or Thomas Cook. But did you know that rates can change depending on where you live?

We’ve looked into currency exchange rates and found that the best deals were not on the high street at all, but were offered to customers who ordered their currency online. We also found that over an eight-week period, the providers with the best rates were ICICI/ICE, Rational FX and Moneycorp.

So, by ordering online instead of going to the Post Office in person, you could gain an extra €7.84 for your £500. However, you have receive your currency in the post to get the best rates, which means you have to be at home to sign for your money. This also means you have to plan well in advance to make sure your cash arrives in time.

On top of that, if you want a small amount of currency, there’s usually a delivery fee to pay between £3.95 and £5 for sums under £450, which could wipe out your saving.

Location, location, location

If you stick to the high street; the Post Office and Thomas Cook seem to have the best exchange rates for Euros (better than banks and much better than airport bureau de change). However, our snapshot survey at the end of March found surprising evidence that you could lose out depending on where you live. For example, for £500, the Post Office offered us:

  • €578.50 in London and Glasgow,
  • €574.85 in Manchester, Norwich and Southampton
  • €565 in Birmingham, Haverfordwest and Sheffield.

Thomas Cook quoted:

  • €585 in Sheffield
  • €583 in Glasgow, Leeds, Haverfordwest and Croydon
  • €580 in Birmingham and Southampton
  • €575.80 in London
  • €575 in Norwich
  • €553.80 in Manchester.

Although this doesn’t seem right, there’s not a lot that holidaymakers can do. ‘Shop around’ is our normal advice, but it’s hardly practicable under these circumstances. Ordering online eliminates any regional bias, but clearly isn’t convenient for everyone.

Don’t stash the cash

My answer is to keep cash to a minimum and take a prepaid card. When we looked into the available cards for summer travel at Which? Money, we found that the best cards offered good exchange rates and a reassuring level of security. I took one from the Post Office last time I went to France and used it at cashpoints and shops with no trouble at all.

Do you think it’s worth worrying about exchange rates, or are the savings too small to make it worthwhile? Have you seen any examples of variable regional pricing?


Unless you are taking large amounts of cash the few pounds difference shopping around would save is probably not worth the effort and convenience is far more important for many people.

Bryan Oldaker says:
28 May 2012

Whatever you do, my advice would be to avoid using Travelex Cash Passports. My partner and I went to New Zealand and took Travelex Cash Passports with us, each loaded with £2500 worth of NZ dollars. We did not use one ‘passport’ and upon our return we went to convert back to sterling. Despite the fact that the exchange rate had not altered the difference between the Travelex selling rate and buying rate meant that we lost £600 in six weeks! Yes £600!!
We now use a credit card that charges little or no rate when you buy abroad or obtain foreign currency from an ATM. I will never again use Travelex for any currency transactions.

Me neither. I suppose I’m not allowed to say its a racket so I’d better not. Lets just say I did not read the teeny weeny small print. So Buyer definitely beware. Never again for me.