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Very High currency fees at some airports

According to an article I read, some of the ATMs at Heathrow that are operated by Money Changer companies (not banks) are taking a lot off the top when converting dollars to pounds. In the article the author found that he received 10% fewer pounds at the Heathrow money charger ATM than he would have received at the ATM of a real bank in London.

The dollar is strong. Be alert to those who would try to drain that strength into their own pocket.

Posted by
10344 posts

Thanks for the tip. This has been previously mentioned here and you've given more details.

Posted by
640 posts

I would think that there are bank-affiliated ATMs in Heathrow. No need to wait for a "real bank in London".

I remember the same issue in Prague. The first few machines I saw were the kind of machines you saw at Heathrow. Walking a little further throught the terminal led to a series of bank-affiliated ATMs.

Posted by
4514 posts

Reference to this article surfaces every now and again. The suspicion is that the author did not decline dynamic currency conversion at the ATM which is not unique either to airports, nor to non-bank ATMs. This certainly used to be possible, even if not completely obvious, but needs someone to verify that it still is the case.

Posted by
20973 posts

I thought that all of the ATMs at Heathrow were NON-bank owned ATMs. I think there is a trend for airports to have an exclusive contract for ATMs and knocking out the bank ATMs. We never use airport ATMs so it is not a subject I follow closely.

Posted by
16817 posts

If the ATM looks less than ideal, then I'd just take out as much cash as you need immediately and take out more closer to your hotel.

Posted by
9363 posts

Eric, at last report there are no bank-owned ATMs at Heathrow. But if you need a bit of cash to get into town, you can always just get a little, then hit a regular ATM in the city.

Posted by
796 posts

We only use banks for changing money or bank ATMs. There aren't any bank ATMs at Heathrow that I know of. The thing, the money changer companies are in the business of making a profit and that profit comes from those who use their ATMs. Good tip. Yes, indeed, the Euro is going through a weak spell, for sure, right now. It is a good time to go to Europe.

Posted by
4514 posts

Over half of the ATMs in the UK are non bank ones. Some of these have use fees, but the trend has if anything been away from this in recent years, except in places such as bars. In high foot fall areas they can make more than sufficient income from the inter-bank transaction fees and not charge directly.

Posted by
31219 posts

pdb,

Thanks for the warning! The non-bank ATM's are often referred to as "white label" machines, and I tend to avoid those at any time, whether in bars, convenience stores or where ever.

Posted by
4981 posts

As Marco mentioned above, the issue is not "bank owned" vs "non-bank owned" ATMs, the issue is Dynamic Currency Conversion or DCC. This is where the entity operating the transaction point offers to do the currency conversion for you, as opposed to having the network or your credit card do it for you. Of course they charge a rate that will cost you from 3% to 10% vs your ATM card rate of about 1% plus bank fees (if any).

To be fair, yes, I have encountered this at Heathrow, but also at ATMs in London, At ATMs at the Barcelona Airport, ATMs in Barcelona and surrounding towns, At Tegel Airport in Berlin, and at ATMs at Berlin HBF. The ATMs were a mix of Travelex, Bank ATMs, and Private Label. You can also encounter this with a credit card at a merchant.

HOWEVER....In each of these cases, I walked away paying no more than my typical ~1% conversion fee, because they specifically ask you if you want to do the transaction in your home currency (bad) or the local currency (good), or more simply, decline the DCC. Yes, it may seem confusing, but you better get used to it, in one to two trips a year to Europe, I now encounter it nearly every trip.

Posted by
9363 posts

The issue is not just the DCC. It is also that non-bank ATMs charge fees that bank ATMs do not. That has been the case since before DCC became a common practice.

Posted by
4981 posts

Fees can certainly be an issue, but I have to say, in 15 years, maybe 20 trips for about a year of stay total, I have never paid a fee at an ATM in Europe. Maybe in a bar or a small hotel I was asked if wanted to pay a fee and declined, but that was rare. DCC, I have encountered many places and maybe 20 times, all in the last 5 years, and more in the last 2 years. The difference is the fee I decline and go elsewhere, the DCC I decline and still get the cash I need.

Posted by
2170 posts

I have posted this remark elsewhere, but since this thread has jumped back up I will add this again.

I tested a Travelex in Heathrow 2 on April 9 using my Schwab chip debit card. The conversion into dollars was well under one percent, which is what I expected. No DCC, it didn't even offer it.