The Currency Club cuts cost of travel cash

Research from The Currency Club, an online travel money specialty group, has discovered that there are plenty of big costs attached to using most major credit and bank cards while travelling that are oftentimes well hidden from the user until it is too late.

In the research The Currency Club discovered that many high street banks continue to lack transparency which when combined with poor public awareness often leads to many travellers facing high hidden costs every time they use plastic while travelling overseas.  The extra charges oftentimes occur both at ATMs or when the card is used as a specific location to make a purchase and can reach as high as £47 in hidden costs for every £1000 spent.

Over the course of 2010 it is estimated that over the last six months of the year about £60m was wasted total on paying hidden credit card charges and a new survey that was conducted over the course of the first two months of this year discovered that about half of all travellers who pay for purchases with a credit or debit card while abroad are now aware of what hidden charges are applied to each purchase.

Using a credit card as a source of foreign exchange overseas is a poor choice that leaves the traveller a lot worse off at the end of the trip. Some banks will apply not one but two hidden costs to each transaction, leaving the majority with a nasty shock when they return home to check their bank balance.

These wasted pounds are made up of a percentage fee – usually around 3% of the value of the transaction – simply for the privilege of using a credit card abroad. A second loss then occurs at the point of transaction as the exchange rate provided is often appalling. It is certainly incredibly uncompetitive when compared to online travel currency exchange rates.

The Currency Club called five major credit card providers in January 2011 to understand the total spread that a customer can incur when using their ‘flexible friend’ overseas. The scenario: a traveller using their GBP card to transact in the US. The ‘privilege’ fee of using a credit card abroad varied from 2-3% from bank to bank.

When the spread of the interbank exchange rate was included, the total fee incurred by the traveller equates to approximately 6-7% of the cost of the purchase. This means that a traveller making a retail purchase of $1,000 on their credit card can expect an exchange rate of 1.47 including fees.

This makes the total cost of the item $1,000/1.47 =£680.27. The Currency Club online exchange rate for pounds to dollars is 1.58, so the cost of the item using travel currency bought in advance online is $1,000/1.58 = £632.91. The consumer paying with a credit card is charged an additional £47.36 simply by virtue of the fact they used a card rather than cash.

The Currency Club also found that certain banks including HBOS (which includes Halifax cards) can place limits of £1,500 on debit card transactions to a third party site offering better savings – such as The Currency Club’s site. There is evidently a conflict of interest here given that banks and foreign currency providers both supply travel money. On a debit account it is worrying that banks are able to dictate spending thresholds as the amount should be at the traveller’s complete discretion. The account holder should be able to benefit from savings to be made with online exchange rates, particularly when the purpose of a debit card is simply to provide convenient access to one’s own money.

Following their investigation, The Currency Club concluded that most banks refuse to disclose with clarity the exchange rate they charge the end user and in many cases the bank’s representative is not entirely sure of the spread or fees charged. It is no surprise travellers are unaware that they are getting a poor rate. The entire process of discovering what banks are charging is tiresome and tedious as most queries regarding credit charges and cash withdrawals will reroute to overseas call centres which in many cases won’t have access to or knowledge of those exact figures.

Withdrawing cash using your debit card at a cash point in the resort can seem like a convenient alternative to spending on a credit card. However, this also ends up being a bad decision that holidaymakers pay handsomely for. Not only is there a charge for accessing personal finances overseas, but as discussed above the poor exchange rate offered from the bank can also short change the traveller. Some banks, including Lloyds TSB, RBS and Santander charge a transaction fee of £1.50 or more every time money is withdrawn or a debit card is used to pay for something overseas.

So what’s the best option for converting hard earned pounds to dollars, Euros or other travel money currencies? Avoid airport bureau du change as you’re a captive customer so they don’t need to give you a good rate and avoid the high street providers. The best exchange rates are to be found online. Buying currency online from reputable and long established companies is the quickest way of sourcing the best exchange rates possible and a safer alternative to buying over the counter. The reduced overheads associated with providing holiday money online rather that through a high street location mean preferential exchange rates can be offered.

The Currency Club is a totally automated retail currency system with dynamic rates that ensure the traveller gets the best exchange rate whenever they buy. With zero commission and a free next day delivery, travellers can order up to a day before they leave and benefit from substantial savings. Furthermore, The Currency Club is registered with the Financial Services Authority (the regulatory body for all providers of financial services in the UK) and employ SSL encryption technology with their ordering systems. These measures make ordering online as safe as internet banking.

Sam Thakkar, director of The Currency Club said, “Hidden charges at foreign ATMs and poor exchange rates on credit and debit cards can mount up and there is not enough information flow to alert travellers about this. Our own experience when conducting research highlighted how difficult it is to obtain accurate information on fees. It’s comforting to know that more than half of people still pay with cash when abroad and banknotes is still the number one mode of payment. The sooner travellers get online and realise how sharp our exchange rates are, the sooner they can benefit from the savings.”

For more information on The Currency Club’s currency exchange services and to order, please visit