EU referendum uncertainty has seen the pound drop again to just €1.26 and $1.41, increasing the potential cost for many holidaymakers. So it's never been more important to ensure you get the most buck for your bang.
Most people pay to pay when away - with hidden charges that can add £100s over a holiday. So I've a broad range of tips to slash these costs.
1. New. Try our free TravelMoneyMax app. Building on the TMM website's success, our new app's now fully up and running for summer. It shows YOUR cheapest way to spend abroad - just download the free TMM iPhone app or TMM Android app. It will...
- Compare 40 bureaux for the cheapest travel cash. Tell it how many euros, dollars, ringgits etc & it finds who's cheapest, incl fees. Plus select 'collection' & you can limit it to those within a set distance.
- Uniquely, when away, it shows YOUR best way to pay. It's also a personalised currency calc where you can store the plastic you already have, and what you paid for your holiday cash. Then whenever you buy something it'll tell you how much it really costs, and what's the cheapest way to pay.
PS: We first tested the apps last Oct - ta for the plain-speaking feedback. Our new version last week has fixed those glitches, but do feed back to us on what you think and how well it works.
2. Save over £100 per €1,000 spend. Whatever the rate of the currency you're using, don't throw more money away by paying the wrong way. I'll run through each top option below, but first, to show the scale of possible savings:
The cost of €1,000 (5 x €100 at ATMs, rest spent in 20 transactions)
- Top specialist credit card repaid in full: £796
- Cash, via TMM's cheapest bureau (must pick-up in London): £800
- Cash from M&S on the high st (non-cardholders): £815
- Using a debit card from hell (Halifax in this case): £849 (see point 8)
- Change at airport (not pre-ordered): £905
3. The EASY solution: Near-perfect rates in every country, every time, and extra protection. Most debit and credit card firms get a near-perfect exchange rate from Mastercard or Visa, but then add a 3%-ish 'non-sterling exchange fee' to what they charge us, so £100 of euros costs you £103.
Yet a few specialist credit cards have no exchange fee, so we get the same near-perfect rate the banks get, converted on the day you spend. Pocket one of these, only for use abroad, ensuring you repay IN FULL each month to minimise interest. My top picks are...
- Long-term winner: Halifax Clarity (eligibility calc / apply*) has good feedback and a) It's a Mastercard, which tends to win on the underlying exchange rate - see rates compared. b) It has low fees for cash withdrawals.
- Slightly cheaper at ATMs: The Creation Everyday (apply*) is similar, but cash withdrawals are a touch cheaper. We've little feedback though (let us know).
- Easy-to-get card, but bad for ATMs: The Aqua card (eligibility calc / apply*) has no exchange fee and 0.5% cashback on spending, and it accepts some with past CCJs/defaults. But ATM withdrawals have high fees & high interest.
The Golden Rules. Full info: Top Overseas Cards (APR Examples).
1) Pay on the card - it's cheaper than withdrawing cash to spend.
2) Clear IN FULL or these cards are 18.9%, 12.9% & 34.9% rep APR.
3) You usually pay interest on ATM withdrawals (not spending) even if you clear in full. Factor that in and still Halifax and Creation will beat most bureaux.
Extra protection: With credit cards (not debit, prepay or cash) you get Section 75 protection on all spending over £100, incl abroad, so if problems occur with what you bought, the card firm must sort it.
4. New. The Supercard's back - if you can't get/don't want a credit card. The Travelex Supercard* is a hybrid card ANYONE can get, as there's no credit check (they do ID-check you though). Full info in Supercard analysis, but in brief...
1) Via its app, link it to your existing debit or credit cards (not Amex).
2) Spend on it abroad.
3) It charges your plastic in pounds, at that day's Mastercard exchange rate with no added fee, making it far cheaper than spending direct on most cards.
Some of you will have had a Supercard as part of a limited trial last year. If so, you need to reapply for the new card. The big difference is it now has a 2.99% fee for cash withdrawals, so while the exchange rate's the same as the top specialist credit cards, it's costlier for cash.
Plus you don't get the added Section 75 protection with Supercard, even if you link it to a credit card. However if you link it to a card that pays you cashback or rewards, you will get those.
5. £60 of euros for £50 on top PREPAID cards (anyone can get one). With prepaid cards, you load cash, use 'em like a debit card - and there's no credit check. The rates can be very good, but unlike the options above, you get them on the day you load, not spend, so for good or ill you're at the mercy of currency fluctuations.
- Top pick for dollars, euros and a few others: The first 3,000 signing up via this WeSwap* link get an extra £10 when loading £50+. Plus it'll give you the perfect interbank exchange rate for a year, provided you wait a week for the conversion to happen (normally there's a 1% fee for this). There's no ATM fee if you withdraw over equiv of £200 but there is for less. Full analysis: WeSwap.
- Top pick for other currencies: The Revolut card* gives the perfect interbank rate for more currencies, with no fees on spending or ATM withdrawals (up to £500/mth, 2% above that). Sign up and use the code MSE for an extra £5 when loading £500+. Full analysis: Revolut.
For more help and to see how prepaid cards stack up against the top credit cards, see Cheap Prepaid Cards.
6. Should I buy euros before the EU vote? And other key questions...
Q. Should I buy euros before the EU referendum? Ah, now there's a pickle, so it needs a full answer - see my Buy euros before the EU vote? analysis.
Q. When they ask 'do you want to pay in pounds or euros', what do I say? In a nutshell you pay in euros. Full help in my Pay in euros? blog.
Q. Will withdrawing cash abroad hurt my credit file? On the right card it's cheap, but there's a possible impact - see Withdrawing abroad.
Q. Why've I been charged extra at a bureau de change? Pay on a credit card & it counts as a cash withdrawal - full help in Paying at bureaux.
7. If you're thinking 'I thought I had a top specialist card?' My two top-pick credit cards aren't the only decent ones, just the very best. Other specialist cards aren't Mastercards &/or have higher ATM costs. If you already have one of these, it's still cheap & not worth swapping...
MBNA Everyday Plus | Nationwide Select | Post Office | Saga | Santander Zero (no longer avail) | Full comparison in Top Overseas Credit Cards.
Also, the Norwich & Peterborough Gold Classic current account has a load-free worldwide Visa debit card with no ATM fees - possibly beating even the credit cards. But it's more hassle - you need to pay in £500+/mth (or keep £5,000 in there) to avoid a £5/mth fee. More info in Top overseas debit cards.
8. Is your bank card an overseas DEBIT CARD FROM HELL? Not only do they add around 3% to the exchange rate & an ATM fee, they also charge up to £1.50 every time you use the card to spend overseas.
DO YOU HAVE A DEBIT CARD FROM HELL?
Bank of Scotland | Halifax | Lloyds | Santander
TSB | NatWest/RBS (hell for small spends) | Clydesdale/Yorkshire
ANY other card, including a credit card (if repaid IN FULL), is cheaper to spend on than these. See full Beware the debit cards from hell info.
And to find what all your plastic charges, use the TMM iPhone app, TMM Android app or our How good is your current plastic? checker.
9. Just want cheap cash? DON'T leave it till the airport. Airport and ferry-port rates are usually atrocious, as they know you're a captive customer. Use TravelMoneyMax to find a cheaper deal, or, if you've left it too late, at least pre-order in advance online for airport pick-up to get a better rate.10. Take a peek inside my overseas wallet. Are you part of the 'overseas wallet or purse' club? I most certainly am. After all, there are some things you only need when abroad. The first is a specialist credit card - these tend to be pretty poor for UK use, so mine lives in the wallet till I go away. To find out what else is in there, take a peek inside my overseas travel wallet.
This article first appeared in the weekly email on 15 June 2016. Its contents were fact-checked and updated on 21 June 2016.