cash in hand

UK travellers could save over £5bn a year on currency

We all look forward to our holidays. We work hard through the year to have the best break we can, and we’ll also probably do a good amount of research when booking hotels, flights and car hire so that we can get even more for our money.

But do you realise how much you’re losing out by not putting a little more effort into buying your currency? We’re losing £5bn a year as a nation by making simple travel money mistakes.

By making a few smart decisions when buying and spending your foreign currency you can take charge of your travel money and go even further.

1. Always pay in the local currency

If you’re given the option to pay in pounds whilst abroad, always say no – this is a trap called Dynamic Currency Conversion which often offers poorer rates and additional fees applied by the merchant.

These DCC fees add 6% to the overall cost of your transaction on average, but it can sometimes be as much as 10%. Over a full trip abroad it could end up costing you between £60 and £100, depending on how many times you make the mistake.

We’ve discovered that £380m is being lost by UK travellers opting to paying in pounds when abroad, instead of the local currency. Our latest in-depth research for the BBC has actually revealed that the figure is closer to £500m.

2. Don’t leave currency until the last minute

Want to know one of the worst places for buying your currency? The airport.

Each year, a potential £94.3m is wasted by UK travellers exchanging money at the airport.

Our recent research of 15 UK airports found the average difference between the market rate and the rate you’re offered at the airport for euros is 13%, with the worst offender at Southampton Airport using a margin of 26%.

What does that mean for your travel money? We take an average of £1,100 of travel money on holiday, this means buying currency at the airport would lose you £102 worth of euros. If you bought it from the worst offender you’d lose £208 worth of euros.

Buy your currency in advance of your trip and you can effectively choose the exchange rate, rather than having to buy at the poor rate on offer at the airport.

3. Buy when the pound is having a good day

We all know that the price of flights and hotels can fluctuate from one day to the next, but exchange rates can fluctuate just as much.

Sign up to our Rate Alert service and we’ll let you know when the pound is having a good day. Buying when the rate is in your favour means that you’ll get far more travel money for your trip. We found that buying when the rates were at their strongest this year would save you £63 on an average holiday, adding up to £1.7bn for the nation as a whole.

Buy smaller amounts throughout the year when the rate is in your favour and you’ll have squirrelled away the spending money you need for your trip.

4. Don’t default to your debit or credit cards

Think twice before you default to using your UK debit or credit card. Your UK bank card can come with costly fees when you’re spending in a foreign currency, and you’re almost certain to get what we’d consider to be a very poor rate.

Before you use any service, make sure you check all the fees and charges involved. What is their foreign exchange fee? Do they charge a transaction fee or a “processing” fee?We looked at the ATM fees for 6 banks and found that the average ATM fee for debit cards is 2.9% and the average for credit cards is as high as 4.9%. When you use your debit card to spend in shops you’re charged an average fee of 2.8%, and 3.5% for credit cards.

Currently UK travellers as whole end up paying £834m extra for their trip by using the wrong plastic.

Choose a FairFX Prepaid Mastercard® and you’ll benefit from low, transparent fees on your next trip. There’s also no transaction fee for spending in shops, restaurants and bars.

5. Make use of your leftover currency

UK households could have as much as £2.1bn in leftover currency at home.

Leftover currency means you haven’t burnt through the whole budget for your trip but if it’s tucked away at the back of a drawer and forgotten about, you’re losing out. UK travellers bring home an average of £78 in leftover travel cash.

Make sure you put your leftover currency to good use, or better still, load your travel money on a prepaid currency card before you go so that you can load money when you need it and keep the money secure for your next trip.

Take a FairFX Currency Card on your next trip and you can lock in great rates before you travel, spend fee-free in shops and restaurants, manage your spending through our app and share your budget with additional linked cards.

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Mariette Ferreira

Mariette Ferreira

Mariette heads up marketing at FairFX. She loves travelling, scuba diving and South Africa, but she's yet to combine all three in one.


  1. Avatar

    I appear to follow all your basic ‘rules’ and I can definitely confirm they save me a fair amount every trip I take abroad, which is up to 4 times a year. The FairFX entered my ‘armoury’ some 3 years ago – recommended by a friend – and the rates I get when loading it are excellent and loading in smaller, regular amounts does spread the exchange rate risk and negates any worry.
    Your reminder is timely so many thanks for that and for your excellent currency card. It’s a holiday must.

    1. Avatar

      Thanks for your comment Stephen, glad to know our tips are working. Enjoy your next holiday and the extra pounds you’ll get to spend.

  2. Avatar

    I have a FairFX card and have put £600 on it ready for my trip to Thailand on Sunday, I’m reading the above and it sounds like I should change the Curran y to THB before I go ? I was under the impression that if I used my card abroad it would automatically be changed into the local currency without any charge same if I used it at an ATM ?

    1. Avatar

      Hi Graeme, you’re right that with an Everywhere Card your money automatically converts to the local currency when you spend, so don’t worry, you don’t have to change your money in advance of your trip. What we’re trying to warn people to do is to not exchange their money at an airport or at another last resort location because they will likely get a poor rate. Since you already have a FairFX Card, you know you’ll get a great rate every time you spend – you’ve already done the right thing and planned ahead.

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    I have used my cards to book and pay for fares and hotels USD and Euro and have on many occasions succeeded in getting batter deals

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    I have been unwell on holiday to New York and have over 1500 dollars left can i change it back to sterling?

    1. Avatar

      Hi Gerry,

      Sorry to hear about you being unwell on your trip. There are a couple of ways to take the remaining balance off your card.

      You can use your card to spend in the UK (a 1.75% out of currency fee will apply to all transactions, plus the standard $2 ATM fee will still apply).

      If you prefer the money in one lump sum you can request this from our team for a small fee, please email us on and we’ll be able to provide further details on how to do this.

      Alternatively keep the money on your card for your next trip. Remember that your card is valid for 3 years.


  5. Avatar

    I have a currency card & make international transfers. How/where do you hold currency if I ‘squirrel it away’ and how do I access it when I need it?

    1. Avatar

      Hi Sheila, with one of our prepaid currency cards you top up the card and the money remains on it until you use it to pay or withdraw cash. With the buy & hold functionality on our international transfers service you can buy your currency when the pound is having a good day and keep it in your transfer account until you are ready to send the money to your desired recipient. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact our support team at or on Twitter – @fairfx

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