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Euro Exchange at AAA

When we went to London/Paris in 2014, we exchanged money at bank ATMs in each country using our bank ATM card - no foreign transaction fee, but there was a flat fee each time we withdrew funds. Our local AAA offers Euro exchange at current exchange rate, no fees of any kind as long as you are exchanging $200+. Has anyone done this more recently? I can't see any down-side, so wonder if I am missing something. I believe Euro is supposed to gain some strength, so thought it might be better to exchange some in advance in case that does happen.

This topic was addressed in the past on forums, but all are closed due to age of posts.

Posted by
650 posts

Are you saying you withdrew money from bank ATMs? I know a lot of people disagree on this forum about buying euro from AAA. I buy from them every year, usually between 500-700 euro, and then withdraw cash at ATMs when it starts running low. I don't like worrying about finding an ATM upon arrival.

Posted by
11970 posts

AAA may have no fees, however the exchange rate they give you is less favorable than the bank rate you get in Europe at an ATM.

If you like to have some money before hand, so that you don't need to look for an ATM when you land, just get from AAA just enough for your initial cash needs for a day or two. After that use the ATMs there.

Since many US banks charge a flat ATM withdrawal fee of up to $5 per withdrawal, it is a good idea to minimize ATM withdrawals there by making few large withdrawals rather than many small withdrawals. I generally withdraw each time the maximum allowed (which in many European banks can be €250 or sometime even €500).

I also like to use the ATMs in Europe during bank opening hours (not at night or on weekends). That's because if for whatever reason the ATM eats your card (it may happen if for example you accidentally enter the wrong PIN multiple times), you can still retrieve your card during opening hours.

Posted by
2229 posts

Here in Southern California, their site shows small amounts or larger amounts being available, and says that their partner in this is Wells Fargo Bank; I am sure there is a cost. We have found that just paying a bit from our local bank for $50 or 100 worth, then using our debit card while there, works well for us.

Posted by
7173 posts

Oh dear goodness, don't we have this same discussion about AAA foreign currency at least once a week??? Just get yourself an account at your local credit along with a debit card and withdraw money from ATMs all over Europe. It's the simplest thing to do and will get you the best exchange rate.

Posted by
7686 posts

Gosh, no need to answer if a question bothers someone.

Regarding AAA, different Regions do it different ways. The last time I checked with my area AAA they had prebundled packs of money for sale and they sold them at whatever rate they paid when they purchased. So...if the dollar to GBP rate changed and the exchange rate was more favorable to purchase British Pounds then you would still get the old poorer rate. However, some regions do sell currency the way a bank or credit union would. As Roberto indicated with AAA many here have found after checking closely that they were getting a less favorable exchange rate with AAA than with a local bank.

Posted by
17657 posts

"Our local AAA offers Euro exchange at current exchange rate"

The question is, what is the "current exchange rate". You can find the Interbank rate, the rate at which banks exchange currency pier-to-pier at www.oanda.com. Ask AAA what their rate is, then check with Oanda.

The first time I checked with AAA, they were using Wells Fargo here in Denver, and their "current exchange rate was Wells Fargo's rate, the Interbank rate plus 5%. Next time I checked they were using Travelex at something over 10%.

Posted by
650 posts

Who really cares about 5% if it gives someone peace of mind. I purchased 700 € last year and I paid $750.00.
50 extra bucks. Big deal. It works for me.
I personally don't think that nickle and diming everything makes for an enjoyable planning experience.

Posted by
4822 posts

Whether it be AAA, a bank, Travelex, or your ATM you need not inquire as to their exchange rate or sometimes even fees, just start by asking if you were to get X amount of euros, how much would it cost. So if you want 200 euro and they want $232; that is $1.16 per euro, $0.07 above the current interbank rate of $1.09 or a cost of 6-7%. Call another place and do the same, you will then see the trends. The only other question you might ask is if any of that cost is a fixed fee, then you might be able to get a better rate by getting a larger amount.

Based on feedback by many people on here, here in the US you should be able to find a source of euros for around 5%. 10% would be a bit steep, under 5% a bargain. As someone mentioned though if it is to just get a couple hundred euro to have in hand when landing, then the cost is less of a concern. For your main source of funds though, work to get an ATM card with no service fee and no foreign transaction fee (Most Credit Unions, Charles Schwab, etc) and find a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, otherwise you will pay 3-5% for everything.

Posted by
17657 posts

"A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking about real money." Everitt Dirkson

"Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves" English proverb

Posted by
11613 posts

Lee, one of my favorite political quotes (Dirkson).

I used to get €200 euro from my local bank, now I just save the leftovers for the next trip.

Posted by
2961 posts

There is no "right" way to do this, only the way that works well for you and your budget. I like to have some euros for when I first land, and then I get them from ATMS using a card with no ATM fees and no foreign transaction fees.

Posted by
491 posts

I am glad someone brought this up. I've been debating about whether to buy any British pounds before my trip. I'm a bit confused about what exactly a good exchange rate is. Right now the pound is about .82 to the dollar, whereas a couple of months ago it was about $1.50. Is it good when the pound is worth less than the dollar, or more? Sorry if that is a dumb question. Math has never been my strong suit.

Posted by
8889 posts

SandraL, Currency exchange is a lottery, in which the only people who ever win are the banks. The object is to minimise what you personally loose, which is partially determined by skill and partially by luck. Banks, like casinos, go to great lengths to hide how much they are fleecing you.
This is why banks did not like the Euro, as prior to the Euro they were skimming off the top of all trade between EU countries.

"Right now the pound is about .82 to the dollar, whereas a couple of months ago it was about $1.50." The British Pound (£ or GBP) has always been worth more than the US Dollar ($ or USD). Currently £1 is approximately USD 1.40. But, you can quote this the other way around, USD 1 = £ 0.71. This is where your ".82 to the dollar" comes from.

It doesn't matter what the rate is now. The only question is whether the rate is better (more to your advantage) now than it will be in the future. If you knew this, you could make a killing on the Foreign Exchange markets, and people are paid a lot of money to do this. You just have to hope you pick a good time. And a good rate GBP to USD is a bad rate USD to GBP, and vice-versa.

And changing real money always cost more than getting money from an ATM, because with real money you pay the banks to transport it securely, plus the cashiers time.

Posted by
20632 posts

This is one of the simplest question asked with an even simpler answer but it does get asked frequently and for some reason some folks like to make it complicate.

The cheapest and most convenient way - bar none - to obtain local currency is via a debit card at a bank owned ATM. (Avoid dynamic conversion if offered.) Even if you have to pay a 3% conversion fee it is still cheaper than anything in the US. That is it.

Posted by
40 posts

Thanks to everyone for your feedback. I especially want to thank those that came to my defense in posting this question. As I stated in my initial post, previous threads on this topic were closed and outdated. We all know that when it comes to international travel, things can change rapidly, so I wanted more current opinions and information.

I am a bit of a research geek and am in the domestic tourism business, so I have done a lot of homework in addition to the responses posted here. Here is a summary of my findings.

In my town, I have contacted every bank and credit union and all charge for foreign transactions when using an ATM card (I do not use debit cards ever due to the inherent security issues with those). It appears that the banks in Italy (or any country) establish their own exchange rates and rarely strictly use the prevailing rate (found on OANDA.com). So, when I use an ATM card there, I will be paying a fee per transaction (flat $3 from PNC bank plus any fees the local bank may charge for ATM use) and exchange rate will be that particular bank's prevailing rate. In my area, via AAA and PNC bank, no fees are charged for foreign currency exchange, however, the exchange rates at both is predictably lower than what is found on OANDA. For example, per OANDA, for $200 US dollars today (the minimum to avoid a fee at AAA), I would get 181.68 Euros (rate has been on steady incline again in recent days after a huge decline in early Feb.) However, on Wells Fargo, that $200 would get me just 172.33 Euros. Obviously that $9 difference is more than my $3 transaction fee, but I have no idea what a bank in Italy's exchange rate will be that day.

For my purposes, I am keeping an eye on the Euro/US dollar strengths. If the dollar starts to decline again, then I may order Euros here as I will get a better exchange rate than if I wait and I won't have to immediately look for a bank ATM that is in my network upon arrival.

So, the answer isn't as simple as some seem to think, as it isn't simply about fees. If the dollar tanks in value as it did a few weeks ago -- as compared to the Euro -- I will have been better off to do my exchange now, rather than waiting.

Posted by
3263 posts

Mediaohio, I'm confused by your distinction between an ATM card and a debit card. They are one in the same for the 2 ATM/debit cards I have. Whether I get cash or pay for something, the money comes out of my checking account.

My cards are attached to 2 different credit unions, one in AZ and one in WA. I never use them to pay for anything in Europe. I only use them at ATMs there to get cash, and 99% of the time those are local bank ATMs. With both cards the fee is 1% or less. So if I get €600 the cost is €6 or less. These costs are miniscule compared to the total trip cost. They are also the only costs charged for the transaction. The European ATM provider charges nothing unless you opt for DCC (dynamic currency conversion). Then they can charge you whatever exchange rate they want to for the "service" of converting € to $.

I would never get a cash advance on my credit card because of the interest charges. I use mostly cash and sometimes the credit card to pay for things like meals or lodging. With those purchases, the charge is always less than 1%. With purchases you also want to turn down DCC and be charged in €.

Posted by
2814 posts

I'm pretty sure that no bank in France charges a fee for using an ATM; I don't know about the rest of Western Europe, but it might be the same. So that fee is out. And as Lo mentions, I don't know what the difference is between an ATM card and a debit card, if there is one. And I don't see what the local European bank's exchange rate has to do with it. They give you Euros, and then I assume it's the intermediary (VISA, Mastercard?) that makes the conversion.

Posted by
3263 posts

What Robert said. I have used the same ATM/debit and credit cards since 2009 with the same less than 1% cost results in Iceland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Switzerland, France, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the UK (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland) and the Republic of Ireland. That seems pretty consistent to me, especially considering that there were a total of 5 different currencies involved.

Posted by
2045 posts

mediaohio, I am not sure what your issues are.

We use an ATM card from our banks, we have our online accounts with both Schwab and CapitalOne (as opposed to our local brick and mortar mega-bank) which we set up specifically for travel. Tehse are not the only options, just our choice. Neither one charges any fee for ATM withdrawals. European ATMs that are operated by banks (as opposed to independent money machines) do not charge any fee for ATM withdrawals. You are receiving your money as withdrawal from your account, in Euro (or other local currency). The exchange rate is not set by the whim of whoever's machine is being used - it is set by the network that your bank belongs to (Interbank, CIrrus, Maestro, etc). In the case of our two accounts, we have found that this "friction" for getting money amounts to an increase of .1 to .3 of one percent on the interbank exchange rate that you would look up. On $1,000 worth of withdrawals, we are losing no more than $3. The cards are fully secure, and in fact the Schwab card also is chip and pin, making it invaluable for things such as ticket machines (and again, no foreign transaction fee). And to top this off, both accounts pay money market interest rates. AS an aside, as these are joint accounts, we each have a card with a different number, so that when needed e.g., for rent we each can make a full withdrawal as the daily limit applies to each card, not the account.

Posted by
40 posts

There is a difference between a debit card and bank/ATM card. A bank card is only used at ATM machines. A debit card can also be used to make purchases at stores. Many banks automatically send debit cards now -- we always send back and ask for bank/ATM card only. Many friends and colleagues in the finance and banking industries have cautioned that debit card fraud is more rampant and it is more difficult to recover your money since it is immediately removed from your account as compared to a credit card wherein you can dispute the charges before you pay out any money. By having only a bank/ATM card, it can't be used to make purchases if stolen. Just a personal preference.

I would not do a cash advance on a credit card due to associated fees. We do have a credit card for purchases that has no foreign transaction fees.

As obvious from all of the posts on this matter -- every bank is different when it comes to charges and fees. My latest post was to include a compilation of information so people can make informed decisions -- the same decision isn't right for everyone depending on their banks.

Posted by
629 posts

There is a difference between a debit card and bank/ATM card. A bank card is only used at ATM machines. A debit card can also be used to make purchases at stores.

mediaohio, I too am one that will not use a debit card. I refuse to get them when the bank tries to give me one. I use ATM cards and credit cards only. My husband used to work at a large Bank. The employees get points for how many items they deliver to a customer: checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, ATM cards, debit cards, etc. The bank employee will try and give you all the bells and whistles. They have a quota that they have to meet each month.

Posted by
2814 posts

My bank's on-line info discusses the difference between an ATM card and a Debit card, and implies that they don't issue ATM cards. They then go on to refer to ATM and debit cards interchangeably. They also say that ATM cards don't have the VISA or Mastercard designation on them. Does that mean they can't be used in a foreign ATM machine? I don't know. Personally, I'm not sure why anyone would prefer an ATM card over a Debit card. If you're concerned about fraud on a Debit card, I don't know why an ATM card would be any safer, since it still provides access to your entire account. And if you're concerned about fraud when used for purchases (which I assume is where most debit card security breaches have occurred), you can just not use it for purchases.

Posted by
2961 posts

I've already posted once on this forum, but the continued discussion has just tempted me back in......

People have three main concerns when they are considering options for foreign currency:
1. Safety: They want to be sure that their money and their accounts are safe
2. Convenience: They want to be sure that they have money when they need it with minimal hassle.
3. Cost: They want to make sure that they are able to make their travel money go as far as possible by avoiding unnecessary fees or poor exchange rates.

Each individual will eventually come up with a plan that deals with these issues in a way that fits his/her personal priorities. There are many options out there. We only seem to have "issues" on this matter when one person thinks that his/her solution should be everyone's solution.

I think that whatever the Original Poster decides to do to deal with the money/exchange question, it is important to not let this one issue take away any of the joy of traveling. It will cost to travel. You can plan to minimize costs, but at some point, you just have to accept the costs and go on and enjoy.

Posted by
17657 posts

In Europe, I use only cash that I get from a bank-attached ATM, with a debit card that has no fee or exchange rate discount at an ATM. I would not use a debit card for a point of sale transaction (purchase). In fact, I rarely use a credit card for a sales transaction in Europe, either, and then not where they would go away with the card and bring it back. I've used my credit card in the past at a 1st generation Bahn ticket automat (when they didn't take cash), but rarely otherwise.