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Preparing for Summer 5 – earning Avios when ordering foreign currency

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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.

Amex at Heathrow T5

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:

Heathrow Rewards

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.)

Avios

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.

Locations

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.

Comments (42)

  • JK says:

    I just did my first foreign currency order using this method (specifically, the BA link). €300 for £266.29 isn’t too bad. Using the non-BA link would have saved me just over £1.05, but I’ll take the Avios for that!

    My question though – this has already posted on my “Pending Transactions” on my AmEx Cent card account, but the Category is showing as “Finance”.

    Is this in-line with what you all see when you’re making purchases this way? I’m keen to avoid the financing charges, so I knew this would be a bit of a gamble. I note that Raffles said this always comes up as General Purchase, but I definitely see it posting as “Finance”.

    Any confirmation of this would help me sleep tonight! 🙂

    Cheers,
    JK

    • ComeFlyWithMe123 says:

      Yes – came up as Finance for me but no charges 🙂

      • JK says:

        Wonderful! Thanks for putting my mind at ease! 🙂

        • Christian says:

          Hi there,

          I want to try this method too but am scared it will go through as a cash advance. Can you confirm that you have a BA Amex card and that it went through as a purchase? And you pre-ordered your currency online using the link?

          If so, I definitely want to do this! How long do you have to wait before it shows up on your statement as a cash advance or a cash purchase?

          Thanks!
          Christian

          • JK says:

            Hey Christian,

            Yes, yes and yes to all of the above. Based on my own experience, I’d say you’re absolutely safe to go ahead and repeat what I did. YMMV of course, but I sincerely hope not.

            In my case – it posted as “Finance” in pending transactions almost immediately, but maybe you need to give it a day or so. Looking at my actual statement, it’s still there at exactly £266.29, with a note saying “Amex Travel Money – corporate express cash” – but there are no additional charges whatsoever, beyond what was shown on the screen when I made the transaction. So it’s most definitely gone through as a purchase!

            Overall, very happy, and shall never acquire foreign money in any other way! 🙂

            I think you should give it a shot! 🙂

            Good luck,
            JK

          • Christian says:

            Thanks so much for your swift reply. That’s really great news – I am definitely going to give it a go!

            Christian

          • JK says:

            My pleasure – and good luck!

          • Christian says:

            I just made a purchase and it is sitting on my list of pending transactions online with no additional charges, just saying ‘finance’ as you said.

            Fingers crossed it stays that way! I will keep an eye on it over the next few days!

            Thanks again 🙂

          • JK says:

            Looks good to me – well done!

    • JK says:

      Strange, but I have received 415 Avios for this transaction, when I only expected 266 (the transaction total was £266.29).

      I am absolutely not complaining – but any ideas why the extra? I want to be sure I repeat the same process next time! 🙂

      • JK says:

        Actually, on reflection, I think these points may have been for airport parking… So I don’t think I’ve yet received my Avios for the FX transaction, even though I did use that link.

        How long has it taken everyone else to see Avios post after an FX transaction?

  • James67 says:

    At theweekend my dad was able to order sterling travellers cheques no problem using his new gold card. He tried £500 and should be noted he already has an SPG card so possibly points above that have other cards already is a factor. He has checked with Halifax who have confirmed he can pay the cheques into his current account free of charge. This morning, the transaction has posted on his amex account but no MR points have postred so far. Does this mean it is now unlikely that he will get points and/or the transaction will not count towards his £2000 target spend?

    • JK says:

      I’ve never done the above, so my input is a guess at best – but – I’ve always found that MRs take a few extra days to post, after the charge appears on your online statement. I’d probably sit tight a couple of days. Have MRs for transactions either side of this posted yet?

      • James67 says:

        Thx for response. No, the FX was his last transaction. It was on Sunday for delivery today. Transaction posted this morning, also as financial rather than general purchase. No cash advance fee but let’s hope this change of category does not now mean no MR points or qualifying spend for bonuses. I’ll keep an eye on it and report back.

        • Alan says:

          IME it always takes at least 48h for MR points to post after any transaction moves from pending to actual.

    • Rob says:

      Points always post 1 to 2 days behind the statement charge appearing, same with all Amex cards. It will be fine.

      • James67 says:

        Yes, it seems all remains well with currency purchases despite spending category change. 500+ base points posted o n dads account this morning. so likely fine for introductory bonus also 🙂

        • KimJoi says:

          Hi James67. I got rejected from Halifax when trying to bank-in the Amex issued Sterling Traveller Cheques. They ONLY accept provided these Sterling Traveller Cheques issued by Halifax (as a buy-back). Any problem on your side ??