Lottery of holiday money exchange rates

Currency providers are short-changing holidaymakers, offering big price differences depending on where you live

Mystery shoppers from Which? have revealed that the Post Office and Thomas Cook, two of the biggest high street providers of foreign currency, are short-changing some holidaymakers with wide variations in the euro rate from one outlet to the next.

Which? swapped £500 for euros in 10 locations across the UK on the same day in March and found big price differences, even within the same chain. For example, the Post Office in London and Glasgow offered €578.50 for the £500, but this dropped to €574.85 in its Manchester, Norwich and Southampton branches. Lowest was €565 in Birmingham, Haverfordwest and Sheffield.

Thomas Cook had even bigger differences with the best euro total, €585, in Sheffield. In Glasgow, Leeds, Haverfordwest and Croydon it was €583, while Birmingham and Southampton quoted €580; London €575.80; Norwich €575; and Manchester €553.80. That’s a difference of just over €30 or £25 – potentially enough to pay for your taxi to or from the airport.

But it was not the case for all the high street providers. Marks & Spencer offered the same rates nationwide, while Sainsbury’s showed no significant regional variation. There was some variation between branches of Asda and Tesco, but this was not common.

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, says: “While we understand that local competition may play a part in the rates set, it is unfair that people are missing out on the best currency exchange rates just because of where they live. Holidays don’t come cheap and these anomalies don’t help hard-pressed consumers. Currency providers need to make sure their rates are consistent to ensure a fair deal for everyone.”

Which? also looked at credit, debit and prepaid cards to find the best value ones to use abroad. Metro Bank’s debit card topped the list, but as the bank is London based and you need to open an account in-branch, it isn’t much help for those living outside the capital.

Best credit card was Halifax’s Clarity MasterCard while the best prepaid card was Travelex Cash Passport Globe. On a €500 transaction, the worst cards were up to £43 more expensive than using the Metro Bank debit card. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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