Dec122014

London Gatwick Airport ATM Bad Exchange Rates

A SmarterTravel.com article by Ed Perkins: Beware the New Airport ATM Scam mirrors my recent experience at London Gatwick Airport for on-arrival local currency at lousy airport currency exchange rates. It pays to know the bank market rates for currency from a site like xe.com. Getting currency at the airport with a U.S. bank debit card used to seem like a better deal to me when it was common to find a relatively decent exchange rate within 5% of the bank market rate from an airport ATM. My recent experience in London Gatwick had me needing to buy some British pounds at bad exchange rates.

I had 80 Euros in my wallet from a previous trip to Europe when I landed in Ireland for 48 hours before flying to London. I didn’t need to buy euros in Ireland during the brief stay. London Gatwick Airport LGW at 19:00 on a Saturday night and the only ATM in South Terminal was selling at a rate 1 GBP for $1.80 USD or $1.7957 to be precise. The bank market rate was $1.57 per pound. That is almost a 15% mark-up.

I exchanged $20 USD for £11.14 GBP and pennies. The twenty dollar exchange for £11.14 GBP was enough to pay for the 3 GBP bus fare on the dedicated Holiday Inn London Gatwick Airport shuttle to get to my hotel for the night. The cashier at ITT Moneycorp Limited waived the exchange rate fee for me when I said I just needed money to pay cash bus fare.

The purchase of two Oyster cards at £46 GBP the next morning at Gatwick Airport Concierge posted as $72.19 on my credit card statement for an exchange rate $1.5693 USD = £1.00 GBP.

That £11 pounds lasted 48 hours. Credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere. I prefer not to use a credit card in pubs where they often want to hold the card. On my third day in London, I went to an HSBC bank ATM on Shaftesbury Ave near Covent Garden in central London and withdrew 200 GBP using my debit card. The exchange rate $1.6194 USD = £1.00 GBP. Total withdrawal $323.88.

We got home with about £20.00 GBP in cash, which will be sufficient upon arrival in London to get into the city on the next trip for a better bank exchange rate than the airport.

IHG Rewards Club MasterCard: exchange rate for £1.00 GBP = $1.57 USD.

HSBC ATM in central London: exchange rate for £1.00 GBP = $1.62 USD is 3.2% higher than credit card.

ITT MoneyCorp ATM LGW London Gatwick Airport: exchange rate for £1.00 GBP = $1.80 USD is 14.65% worse than credit card exchange rate and 11% worse than exchange rate at central London major bank ATM.

Cost to buy £200.00 GBP from central London ATM = $1.62 USD = $324 USD.

Cost to buy £200.00 GBP from London Gatwick Airport ATM = $1.80 USD = $359 USD. You are paying an airport exchange rate fee of an extra $35 USD for every £200 GBP you buy compared to using a major bank ATM away from the airport.

These numbers were accurate for the dates of transactions in November 2014 and taken from receipts, credit card and bank statements.

HSBC ATM London

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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Comments

  1. You don’t have the Charles Schwab card? Would the exchange rates have been better/different if you had that debit card? That’s usually the card I use when I am abroad.

  2. I don’t understand this. When I take money from an ATM outside of the US, I withdraw in the local currency. It is my bank that does the exchange rate, not the ATM. How does the ATM know what currency my account is denominated in?

  3. The exchange rate at the London Gatwick Airport ATM was set for $1.7957 to buy 1 GBP at the ITT MoneyCorp ATM. It did not matter what debit card you use, since the point of transaction had a set exchange rate for USD as far as I could tell from the information provided at the ATM.

    I doubt other currency rates were any better.

    When you withdraw money from the ATM, the transaction is going back to your home country bank account and if your account is U.S., then the transaction takes place at $1.7957 per 1 GBP withdrawn from the ATM.

  4. I think you accepted some form of DCC for an ATM. Conversion should be done by Visa USA or MC or your bank in the USA for ATM withdrawals. Don’t know if the DCC was mandatory or not, but if it was, it’s the first time I’ve heard about it. Was it possible to decline their conversion? (I think there’s some talk about some ATMs in Thailand offering something like this also, but I wouldn’t accept it.)

    -David

  5. Never do money at an airport.
    Never buy any Euro currency in the US.
    You will get eaten up.

    I keep a London Bank account (with a chip and pin) debit card attached to avoid all the exchange rate traps.
    I fund the UK account periodically with $ via a Canadian brokerage at wholesale rates.
    Never a direct US to UK Bank transaction.
    You will get eaten up.

    When in UK first thing I do is hit the local ATM with my UK card and get cash. (
    Using the free LINK system ATM’s)
    All the major institutions are on LINK.
    S

  6. Ric, in the picture above from the HSBC ATM, you would have gotten a (marginally) better rate had you selected the “continue without conversion” button on the left. That’s the DCC issue discussed above. As a rule of thumb, you’re better off always opting for charges to be made in the local currency by declining the US Dollar amount or selecting the option to continue without currency conversion. Sometimes the differences are minimal, sometimes they’re massive. I’m an American expat living in the UK and I’ve never once accepted these silly conversion rates despite being offered them countless times.

  7. Thanks for the information. Next time I need currency, I will approach this currency exchange a bit more systematically to compare differences in rates and fees. Seems like very useful information to know. On small exchanges, like I made for just a little over $400 in three currency transactions, the cost is still low at under $15 to have $400 in spending cash. You can also be hit with $3 to $5 from your own bank charging for an international withdrawal. The fees can approach 5% of the exchange transaction on a small withdrawal and even 15% when the only ATM in the airport is tied to an airport currency exchange booth like in Gatwick and not a major bank brand.

    Someone exchanging for $3,000 to $4,000 on international trip expenses and shopping can see a significant financial transaction hit choosing the less advantageous way for currency exchange.

  8. The money-related scams in fees in UK/EU are exasperating. A rule of thumb in my travel, which applies worldwide, is that Travelex is the reference point for the worst deal on the market.

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