This is the fifth and last of my series of posts about – basically – earning Avios from your Summer holiday. Previous posts focussed on getting a discount on airport car parking, selecting the best credit card to use abroad, discussing whether Cash Passport cards were worth it and earning miles from car rentals.
Even if you do decide to pay for the majority of your holiday costs by credit card, you will still need some foreign currency to tide you over. In general, I avoid getting foreign currency from a Bureau de Change and simply use a cash machine at my destination. The overall cost is unlikely to be worse than using a bureau and it is far easier.
That said, you are taking a gamble when you do this, especially if you need money for a taxi. When I landed in Berlin from New York in February, I wasted around 15 minutes trying to find a cashpoint and heading back to the taxi rank – especially galling when I could have literally got into a taxi outside my arrival gate.
When you need foreign currency, Amex Currency Exchange is the way to go.
Why? Because of a unique loophole in the way that Amex Currency Exchange works. When you pre-order foreign currency with an American Express-issued Amex card (ie BA, SPG, Gold, Platinum, Nectar – but NOT an MBNA or Lloyds Amex) it is treated as a Purchase and NOT as a Cash Advance.
This means that you will receive miles and points for your American Express spending, and the transaction will count towards any sign-up bonus.
Let’s get something clear. Everytime I write about this, at least one person and usually more than one rings up Amex to check if I am right. This is despite the fact that hundreds of people have successfully done this, including myself. The Amex phone reps tell them that I am wrong and that the transaction will be treated as a Cash Advance and they will be charged. The Amex phone reps are wrong. The transaction will be treated as a Purchase.
You can actually triple dip with Amex Currency Exchange. The first ‘dip’ is your credit card points, followed by:
If you collect your currency at Heathrow, you will also earn Heathrow Rewards points at the rate of 1 per £10 exchanged. These never post automatically for me, so keep your receipt for sending off when you return! (It is not certain if you are meant to get Heathrow Rewards on preorders, but I always have when retroclaiming.)
If you prebook your Amex Currency Exchange order via this link then you will also receive 1 Avios point for every £1 you exchange.
The snag is that the exchange rate is worth than the ‘standard’ website which is here.
For example, changing £1,000 into Euro last week, the BA link offered €1,127 whilst the ‘standard’ site offered €1,135. This is still a decent deal – you are getting 1,000 Avios for just €8 – but the Avios are not ‘free’ by any means.
According to this website, Amex Currency Exchange offices can be found at Heathrow, Edinburgh and Birmingham. If none of these are convenient, they will also deliver to your home.
Under no circumstances use Amex Currrency Exchange without pre-ordering!
Meanwhile, a final word on why you shouldn’t buy at the airport with no pre-order. As I wrote last time I checked, Travelex at Terminal 5 was charging £48 more for $1,000 to anyone who did not pre-book. The Amex Currency Exchange difference is presumably similar. If you are spending your own money, avoid buying at the airport (without pre-ordering) at all costs.
Warning – not all Amex cards work with Amex Currency Exchange
There are limits to the amount of foreign currency that you can order from Amex. You may find a ‘Cash Advance’ limit printed on your BA or SPG card statement, which is 20% of your credit limit in most cases. For charge cards, Amex imposes limits without telling you. For new cardholders, you may be restricted from cash transactions altogether – some people have told me that Amex is making them wait six months!
If your initial order is refused because you asked for more than Amex is happy with, they are also known to block your account for FX purchases until your next statement month.
(Ironically, even though Amex treats the transaction as a Purchase, they use your Cash Advance limits to decide whether or not to accept the transactions!)
PS. If you were not reading Head for Points in February, you may also be interested in this post on ordering £ travellers cheques for home delivery to hit a spend target on a new Amex.