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Airport ATMs

Samantha Brown recently complained (I think it was in AARP magazine) that many ATMs in European airports are being taken over by Travelex. Wasn't clear on why that bothered her. I know their travel prepaid cards are not well thought of.

OTOH, I noticed the other day at a local mall that Travelex had a currency exchange stand with ATMs. In the exotic city of Los Angeles.

Posted by
15574 posts

Go ahead and stick your card in one and let us know.

Posted by
300 posts

Here's the issue with a Travelex ATM compared to a regular bank ATM.

A bank ATM will issue your Euros (or whatever) and then tell your bank that you just withdrew so many Euros. Your bank will convert that withdrawal to dollars using a published conversion rate and maybe a small markup. Maybe your bank will charge a fee of few dollars because the withdrawal came from an ATM outside the US.

A Travelex ATM, on the other hand, will convert the amount of your withdrawal to dollars before telling your bank how much you withdrew. The conversion rate Travelex uses will be closer to their money changing rate than the bank's rate. Count on at least a 5% markup and maybe 10%. And you won't save the fees that your bank charges for non-US withdrawals because (read the fine print) they're based on where the transaction occurs and not on what currency the transaction is based on.

Since we're on the subject, when you use a credit card overseas you may be asked if you want the charge to be run in Euros or dollars. Choose Euros - the conversion to dollars will have a markup of at least 5% and the credit card issuer will still add whatever markups they charge for foreign use. Often they'll tell you what the amount would be in dollars so if you're familiar with the daily interbank rates (the Google Now page on my smartphone automatically tells me the interbank rate for the local currency when I travel) you can quickly determine that having the store do the conversion is a bad financial deal.

Posted by
46 posts

I really don't think that highly of any service with the Travelex brand, whether that be a foreign exchange center, their prepaid card or an ATM. I went to their counter once but that was just to pick up my Holland Pass, not for any exchange service. Their rates and fees are terrible. They are all over the world. At Leidseplein in Amsterdam their were two Travelex ATMs with people lined up constantly taking out money. And a lot of people at the airport exchanging money. I do not understand the draw. Maybe they just have no idea how much of a markup they are paying.

Also, I totally agree with Peter. In Europe, if they give you the choice of Euros or Dollars, always choose Euros as the total cost including foreign exchange fees that appears on your statement will always end up being less. This goes for other countries outside of Europe as well. Hotels in Hong Kong always try to convince me to make the charge in U.S. dollars and then they get all surprised when I insist on Hong Kong dollars.

Posted by
4686 posts

FYI, the scheme where ATMs offer to withdraw the amount "in your own currency" is called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). It has become widespread throughout Europe in the last few years, not just at ATMs. I've even had hotels offer me the choice of charging credit card in US Dollars instead of Euros - same scheme, all it would do is cost me more. Just say "no" and always make sure you are charged in the local currency, not your own.

Posted by
6543 posts

You'll get more Euros for your money at a bank ATM than at a private owned or Travelex ATM.

My Wells Fargo ATM charges a 3% plus $5.00 for every ATM transaction. That's why I also stock a credit union share account so I can get full currency conversion and no service charges on any ATM transaction.

I also make minimal ATM withdrawals as I put everything on my Capital One Visa account that I can--hotels, restaurants, rental cars, etc. They're one of the few credit cards that give a full value--not discounting overseas transactions.

Posted by
2028 posts

I have posted this before regarding Travelex at the airports.

As an experiment, when we landed at Heathrow 2 in April, we used our Schwab card at the Travelex ATM there for a minimal 20GBP withdrawal. When we had a chance to check our bank records, we found the debit was $29.84 USD (or 1.492 per GBP), which was a markup of we are not sure, as the published interbank rate for that date would have meant a debit of $29.85, the rates were dropping during the day. For the charge to have been as high as 1%, we would have been debited $30.13.

And bigger surprise, DCC was never offered. This went straight to GBP.

Based on this, it should be fine to use your debit card at Travelex ATMs, at least in Heathrrow where there are no bank ATMs. If you use the Cirrus and Plus ATM locators, you should see that there are ATMs on these networks in almost all the major European airports.

Posted by
4468 posts

These articles that warn people off either airport ATMs, non-bank ATMs or both are too simplistic. It is spotting DCC and being offered an exchange rate that needs to be emphasised and declining it. This can happen at the airport or in the street, at bank or non-bank ATMs.

Travelex themselves state: DCC is a foreign exchange service enabling overseas customers to withdraw local currency from an ATM and, should they elect to do so, to immediately settle the transaction in the currency where the card is issued rather than in the currency of the country they are withdrawing from. (my bolding)

Travelex operate about 400 ATMs in the USA mainly in Simon malls - and yes they are DCC-enabled too.

Posted by
607 posts

Do all ATM's use the same exchange rate on any given day? When you withdraw, the ATM does not state the exchange rate. And you cannot find out the rate until you get your bank statement or can check your account online. But it does seem to me that different financial institutions can set their own rates and I would think that a non-bank ATM especially at the airport may charge a higher or fee or both than at a bank. But you cannot know without actually comparing the rates and fees.

Posted by
4468 posts

If they are using DCC, then the rate is declared on the screen. If you are being charged the card issuer's rate then the ATM operator doesn't know what that is. The ATM might be charging a user fee, but that is far less common than it is in the USA and in most if not all countries it need to be declared.

Posted by
2028 posts

I believe when you check your account you will find that your bank charges the interbank rate, which may fluctuate during the day, with a mark-up of up to 0.6 of 1%. That has been the case with our CapOne and Schwab cards for several years, through 10 countries, and including the Travelex machine above and a Travelex equivalent in Germany.

Posted by
3230 posts

My experience with Travelex ATMs is limited to London Heathrow 4. A couple years ago I attempted to get cash out of one and was presented with a screen that gave me a "daily offer" of a rate that would have cost me 20 cents more per Pound than the interbank rate. Also wanted to charge me in USD instead of Pounds. I moved to another bank-run ATM nearby and got Pounds at the proper rate. Last year when arriving in Heathrow 2, I saw nothing but Travelex ATMs, which I avoided due to the previous experience so I don't know if the same "offer" approach is still in effect ( I had a few Pounds in my pocket that were enough to get me where I needed to go using the Tube).. I later found multiple bank-run ATMs at various points around London that have a sign on them claiming "FREE Money" meaning they don't charge a fee, not that they are actually handing out money really for free.

While I have nothing against Travelex charging a fee for their services, even at an ATM, I also see no reason to pay those fees when other options are available that save you money.

Posted by
1406 posts

just as an aside, Avis in France used DCC on my car rental without asking. When I got home, my credit card statement clearly spelled out what it actually cost me, and I did some figuring and it wasn't all that bad.

And let's remember, money changing is a business so someone, somewhere is going to charge you somehow. Just be clear on how much and how.

Another aside, my LA credit union had a deal with a local currency exchange place to waive their usual conversion fee. So we were able to save some bucks that way. Ask before you go.

Posted by
42 posts

A few short notes on the subject. Several months ago the website "Airfare Watchdog" reported that Travelex, which charges higher fees, was making deals with European airport authorities to replace the bank ATMs with their own. They wrote that as of writing only Dublin had not done so, however in May I found a Deutsche Bank ATM at the Frankfurt airport. If I know I am returning to a place at some time in the future I try to beat the airport money changing pirates by bring home enough of the local currency [in this case Euros] to get me into town when I return where I can go to a bank and get a better rate. Also my Amazon Rewards Visa card [issued through Chase] does not charge foreign currency transaction fees, saving me the typical 2.5% fee.

Posted by
2028 posts

Just curious, are you saying you use your Amazon Visa credit card to get cash? If so, there may be no foreign transaction fee, but interest charges of way over 10% will start accruing the moment the cash advance is taken.

Posted by
42 posts

Hi Larry. No, I use the credit card to charge for items such as hotel rooms, transportation, souvenirs, etc.. I use a bank card [debit] to get cash from the ATMs.

Posted by
2028 posts

immacdonell -May I ask you about that Amazon card? I have that card too, through Chase. Mine has the standard 3% foreign transaction fee (not a problem, we have CapOne Mastercard with no foreign fee for our traveling). Really curious how you got that deal from Chase.

Posted by
42 posts

Hi Larry. I got the card through amazon.ca, if you are in another country the same deal might not be offered. It wouldn't hurt to call them up and ask for it though. To quote from their literature, "You can use your card when shopping outside of Canada, either in store or online, knowing you won't pay a foreign currency transaction fee."

Posted by
4686 posts

Getting credit cards with no foreign transaction fees is becoming more and more common. I used three different credit cards on my trip to Europe in May, and I realized that none of them, even my Amex, had foreign transaction fees.