Exchanging holiday money

Money talks – how to get the best exchange rate

Getting the most bang for your buck, Euro or Yen could make your holiday that touch more perfect.

You don’t have to try out your best Wolf of Wall Street impression and spend the weeks leading up to your holiday watching the rates, but a little bit of preparation could mean a bigger pay out when you come to swap your sterling.

man holiday euros holiday money

Understand the market

When it comes to getting the best exchange rate, you’ll need to understand what everything means. Financial companies can be accused of over-complicating things with niche terms, but all you need to really know is that:

  • 'Sell rate' is what you get when you exchange your currency.
  • 'Buy rate' is what you get when you exchange your leftover holiday money back into pounds.

You also need to take time to understand any anomalies or quirks in your destination’s currency. If you’re travelling around Europe or to the United States, exchanging your pounds is pretty straightforward. But did you know, for example, that Cuba has 2 different currencies, 1 for tourists and 1 for locals?

When is the best time to exchange currency?

To keep up with the ever-changing rates, start looking at least 1 month before your holiday and use an exchange rate tracker around the time you’re thinking of exchanging your money.

Buy when the rate climbs to a good deal and the pound is strongest. This’ll give you enough time to order your travel money online if this works out cheaper.

Should I exchange all my money at once?

This is a judgement call. If you've been tracking exchange rates and you've left a couple of weeks before your holiday, you could exchange the lion's share when the pound is performing strongly, but leave a little bit leftover so you can exchange if the rate gets even better closer to your holiday.

Look before you book

It’s too difficult to say there’s one place that’s likely to offer the best rates. Rates and fees go up and down so don’t just stick with what you’re familiar with and rely on the Post Office.

Can’t I just get it at the airport?

You might think this is the easiest option. That way you don’t have to budget beforehand, and you know exactly what you’ve got going spare in your account but, generally speaking, the airport is the one place you should avoid getting your money exchanged.

Most exchange kiosks at the airport know that you don’t really have much of a choice but to exchange there and then, so you can expect high commissions and fees.

Pre-paid cards

If you wouldn’t feel safe carrying around wads of cash with you, consider getting a pre-paid travel card. Your money is locked at the exchange rate on the day you bought the card – which could be good if it’s at a high – and it won’t fluctuate as you spend, like using credit cards.

You load the card with money before you leave then use it as you would a normal debit card. You can easily top-up your card if you need to. If you’re not sure if a pre-paid card is for you, check out the pros and cons.

  • Spend only what you transfer over, and no overdraft means you can’t overspend.
  • Convenient to top up, with most new cards allowing you to do so on the go with your smartphone.
  • Loading your money on beforehand means you can make the most out of a good rate when you get to your destination.
  • No credit checks necessary.
  • No transaction fees like your debit or credit card.
  • Loading your balance beforehand means you might miss out on a better rate down the line.
  • Some might add fees if you choose to top up again.