This is the fifth and last of my series of articles about – basically – earning Avios from your Summer holiday. Previous articles 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 article on ordering £ travellers cheques for home delivery to hit a spend target on a new Amex.
Want to earn more points from credit cards? – January 2021 update
If you are looking to apply for a new credit or charge card, here are our January 2021 recommendations based on the current sign-up bonus.
British Airways American Express
5,000 Avios for signing up, no annual fee and a companion voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review
British Airways American Express Premium Plus
25,000 Avios and the UK’s most valuable credit card perk – the 2-4-1 companion voucher Read our full review
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review
The Platinum Card from American Express
30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review
Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard
15,000 points bonus and the most generous non-Amex for day to day spending Read our full review
Earning miles and points from small business cards
If you are a sole trader or run a small company, you may also want to check out these:
American Express Business Gold
20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review
American Express Business Platinum
40,000 points sign-up bonus and a long list of travel benefits Read our full review
British Airways Accelerating Business American Express
Earn both Avios and BA On Business points with your business spending Read our full review
Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa
The most generous Avios Visa or Mastercard for a limited company Read our full review
Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history. By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker. Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.