Airport ATM machines can be a life saver when you really need them, but please don’t depend on them for exchanging currency all the time. If this is the first time you’ve had airport ATM’s brought to your attention, then don’t be fooled by the machines “No Commission” option. It's basically a lie, as although it claims not to take commissions, the reality is that it actually gives you such a poor exchange rate that it might as well have just put a robotic hand into your pocket and pick-pocketed you on the spot.
Changing your money before you travel can sometimes be a nuisance. So doing it at the airport can seem like the natural thing to do, but this comes with its associated costs. There are plenty of resources online these days for people changing money or even buying travel cards, but there will still be some who use airport bureaus de change. Unfortunately, those of you who do will get ripped off because the exchange companies know that people generally use them as a last resort. Avoid being ripped off by knowing your way around confusing ATM and payment options while abroad.
If you compared the rates of an online exchange company with the establishments at airports you would soon realise how extortionate their costs are. Still, under current regulations these exchange companies are not breaking the law, so effectively they can rip you off and get away with it, day in and day out.
The exchange companies have wised up to the negative press and have started installing ATM’s, which can give out foreign currency if you insert your bank debit or credit card. The main banks of the country you were travelling to used to provide similar ATM’s that would, generally speaking, give a much more favourable exchange. However, these have now disappeared. Airport operators have spotted a gap in the market where they can control which companies have ATM’s in their airports and subsequently hand the responsibility over to currency companies, for a fee of course.
Their biggest incentive they like to throw around is “No Commission” when you change with them. But, these companies give you such poor value for your money they are effectively ripping you off. Talk about putting the ‘con’ in concourse. Companies such as bureau de change at airports get away with charging you 10-15% for the privilege, whereas a bank might cost you 3-5%.
Doing a quick check in the market, I found that when buying £1,000 with AUD$ prices differed greatly, sometimes by up to $220. ‘Flight Centre Money Centre’ worked out to be at the cheaper end of the scale with £1,000 costing $1,995. Compare this to Travelex and you could be paying $2,215 for the same £1,000.
A spokesman from the Australian Government’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority was quoted saying “The worst place to exchange currency is at an airport.”
What to look out for
You may notice that some machines are offering a ‘dynamic currency conversion’, (DCC) which will give you two options:
- Pay the amount requested in the local currency and then charge the figure to your card?
- Or allow the ATM to instantly do the conversion for you in your local currency and charge no commission?
Which one would you go for with out reading further? (I know which one sounds sneakier to me.)
In plain English this is what the two actually translate into:
- Your card company will complete the conversion into your home currency.
- The ATM will complete the conversion for your bank and take its cut for doing so.
In this example we tried to buy €1,000 and by choosing option two we were charged $200 for the service. (This is the dynamic currency conversion option.) However, when opting for option 1, we were only charged $186 for the conversion, which is roughly an 8% difference in price.
Here’s another tip for when you pay for something abroad. If you are ever given the option to pay in your home dollar or in the countries moolah you are visiting, always choose the countries currency you are in.
If you choose to pay in your home currency your credit card company will enjoy providing your foreign bill in your domestic denomination with its associated conversion rates. Plus they will then charge you again for the foreign currency conversion they would charge you for anyway if you opted to pay in the local currency.
Beware, if you are not given the option and can only pay in your home dollar you are being scammed. Anyone not offered the option to pay in the local currency can write on the establishment’s copy of the receipt “payment in (X currency) was not offered” and you can dispute the charges with your bank when you are billed.
It’s a dog eat dog world out there and you have to be alert when it comes to your money. One point I would like to leave you with is this, if you do need to use an airport ATM, please use one which is in view of the public eye at all times. Scammers love to highjack machines that are out of view, install card readers onto them and skim your card details so they can rob you right from under your nose. Otherwise, have a great trip, look after your money and don’t forget to send us a postcard.