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Travel Money: Foreign Exchange rates are negotiable

Posted by daveb on June 15th, 2009

You’ll be astonished at the variances between the rates you get at high street Foreign Exchange desks — the rate you get can even vary at the same desk!

Previously, when I saw the electronic ‘current rates’ boards in a travel agent’s window, I–and the rest of the world, no doubt–have assumed that that would be that.

Not so. I called in at the first agent, let’s call it ‘Tom Chef’, asked how many Pounds Sterling I would get for my AUD$1400 and US$700 of traveller’s cheques and was quoted £621.50 and £395.91, respectively. Never one to take the first offer on the table, I crossed the street to another outfit–let’s call it ‘Son of Thom’–and was quoted £597.64 and £381.54. I challenged the cashier by politely indicating that I had been offered a better rate elsewhere.

What resulted has both surprised me and subsequently rewritten my mental rules pertaining to consumer foreign exchange rates. Numerous keystrokes and mouse-clicks akin to those witnessed airline check-in and, lo!, the rate changed right before my very eyes. What was originally £597.64 + £381.54 became £636.37 + £400, straight-up.

Considering my next move, I jotted down the deal and made for the next shop. The cashier asked me to return if I got a better rate elsewhere. Three doors down was a ‘Travel Co-operative’ desk who offered yet better rates: £644.89 + £413.17, although crucially didn’t have enough Sterling to complete the deal today.

Back to Tom Chef to give them another go at it, to no avail: their original deal stood firm. And so back to Son of Thom for a final go at improving their offer. Rampant key-tapping nudged the rate higher again: Aussie Dollars from £636.37 to £645.17 and USTC from £400.00 to £414.21. Deal done.

I’m astonished at how a foreign exchange counter, in this case Son of Thom, was able to vary their rate — and by so much. They started by offering the worst deal (£979.18 total) and within a matter of keystrokes ended-up offering the best (£1059.38 total). That’s an improvement of over 8% — and all at same shop, same counter, same cashier!

My Mum commented that it must be nice for me to have an hour to haggle over the rates across town. My response was that I made over £80 for an hour’s work and there ain’t too many jobs paying that nowadays.

So there’s something you might not have realised, which I hope helps you as it did I: Foreign Exchange rates are negotiable.

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