Is buying travel money at the airport really the rip off that newspapers claim?
Earlier this month, The Sun newspaper castigated Gatwick and Heathrow airports for the £75m rent they make from currency firms that it said offered “dismal rates” to consumers.
You can read The Sun’s article here, but Consumer Intelligence’s research shows that many travel money buyers are happy with what they get from airport travel money booths, and that many of them may not be getting a dismal rate at all.
How many people use airport cash booths?
Despite the wide availability of online services for travel money, as well as high street providers such as The Post Office, our study shows that buying travel money at the airport is still a popular choice. Around 60% of respondents had picked up cash at the airport in the past, and 47% said they would do so in future.
The rip off message remains
Despite this popularity, the study showed that many consumers have received the message about rates at airports loud and clear. Almost all of those who said that they would not buy currency at an airport gave the reason that the rates are poor and that they could get better deals elsewhere.
Customer comments included “I have been given advice that it is more expensive” and “made that mistake once, rate was terrible”.
But many customers are satisfied
Despite this clear picture, our research shows that the majority of customers who bought currency at airports were happy with the rate they received. Over a quarter (28%) described it as good, the same percentage as described it as “terrible”, and 48% said the rate was “OK”, which suggests that fewer consumers than might be expected feel that they are being ripped off with airport travel cash.
Collection versus airport purchase
Our study shows that many airport purchasers are benefitting from better rates on their travel money because they order the cash in advance. Over a third of all customers (37%) pre-ordered the currency in advance, meaning that 63% opted for an on-the-spot rate.
Comparison sites for travel money show that rates for advance bookings at airports are far better than those for walk-in purchasers, and in some cases compare well with high street providers.
For example, at the time of writing placing an order online with Moneycorp at Gatwick South at least 24 hours in advance would result in you receiving Eu224.95 euros for £200, against Eu219.33 at a walk in price. Sainsbury’s Bank would offer a slightly better rate, at EU226.68, but if you went to the local HSBC branch, you would actually get a worse rate than at the airport itself.
Similarly, it would be cheaper to order your currency to pick up at Heathrow, where you would receive 226 Euros from ICE, than if you went to M&S nearby, where you would receive Eu225.50 for £200.
These figures were correct at the time of writing and come from moneysavingexpert’s travel money comparison tool. They show that while airport booths don’t top the tables for travel money rates, they are not the laggards that many people expect them to be, as long as the money is ordered in advance.
The value of convenience
Consumer Intelligence’s Bi-Annual Travel Money survey shows that customers value convenience very highly when they are purchasing travel money. “Easy Access To Branch” was the most popular response when consumers were asked why they’d chosen a particular provider for their travel money. Just over a fifth —21% — stated this, against 19% saying that rates were their prime motivation.
What’s the lesson for providers?
While newspapers castigate providers for charging poor rates at airports, our study shows that consumers are far less pessimistic. What’s more, they really value convenience, and if you’re jetting off on holiday there’s nowhere more convenient to buy your cash than at the airport.
Stressing the good rates available to those who order in advance might tip the balance in favour of airport providers for many customers, perhaps justifying those high rents that The Sun talks about in its article this month.
Travel money: how Britain buys travel money
Consumer Intelligence’s biannual travel money survey reveals a detailed picture of the UK travel money market. Our last survey involved 1,096 online interviews in October 2017. Here are some highlights.
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