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Before pressing the button on that skiing trip or winter holiday in the sun, ask yourself the question commonly put to commuters on transport strike days: is your trip strictly necessary?
The pound has been plummeting, so holiday bills are 20 per cent greater than expected. Every time you take your card out to pay for a restaurant bill on the slopes or at that beach café, you might as well also get out your brain calculator and start whirring.
Nowhere is this dread realisation more apparent than at airport ATMs and foreign exchange counters. Parity between the pound and the euro is coming, foreign exchange analysts believe, but it has already come to a screen near your departure lounge.
Reinhold Behringer, a Leeds-based professor of creative technology, this week tweeted a picture of an ATM screen at Manchester airport displaying an exchange of one pound for one euro. “All thanks to #Brexit,” he tweeted.
But is Brexit really deterring the British from travelling abroad? Are they really ready for the chill of a winter staycation? Not a bit of it — the Brits are a wily, imaginative bunch, and when confronted with apparently insurmountable odds, they find a way round the problem.
Ask the Post Office, which claims to account for a quarter of all UK travel money transactions. It is reporting a 14 per cent increase in euro sales in September compared to the same month in 2017, and purchases of the dollar up 16 per cent for the year to date. Brexit, what Brexit?
There are even bigger increases for the Indonesian rupiah, for which year-on-year demand is up 50 per cent, and the Costa Rican colon, up 44 per cent.
That is not because sterling has held its own against these currencies. It has not. Holidaymakers are looking at the relatively cheap cost of living in resorts, such as Bali, and believe even a depreciating pound still has value.
The pound has fallen a relatively modest 11 per cent against the colon in the past six months and by a “mere” 8 per cent against the Mexican peso.
So “some canny travellers are choosing resorts where sterling has fallen in value least,” says Andrew Brown at Post Office Travel Money.
And British travellers are also wising up to the folly of leaving it late to purchase their currencies. Buying currency at an airport was a daft idea before Brexit, and looks pretty senseless now. Convenient, yes. But on a €1,000 currency exchange, Which? magazine reckons the price difference between airport deals and others offered online or on the high street or by certain credit card companies is in the region of £125.
Caxton FX, a currency exchange processor which offers pre-paid currency cards, says a pound exchanged at Stansted, Gatwick and Luton airports will now get you less than a euro. Against the dollar, Caxton says all of the London airports will give you no more than $1.10 for each one of your pound coins, and in Stansted’s case a mere $1.05.
By contrast, a pre-paid Caxton card offers an average rate of €1.078 and $1.198.
Even airport currency providers are extolling the benefits of buying online. Koko Sarkari of International Currency Exchange, says customers look for convenience, but the last-minute airport purchase is just one option.
“We do always recommend that customers plan ahead and shop around before they leave for their holiday, checking any ‘click and collect’ type deals that may sometimes offer better online rates,” he says.
“The difference between online and branch prices is due to differences in distribution, costs of operation, regional competition and other factors such as ongoing volatility in the market,” Mr Sarkari adds.
Similarly, Travelex blames market volatility in the market and operating costs for Heathrow prices that on Tuesday this week stood at €0.9914 and $1.0824 to the pound. But go to Travelex online, and the pound would get you €1.0947 and $1.1915.
The Brexit effect means the airport currency counter may soon be consigned to history. A convenient last-minute dash for cash it may be, but at prices like these the ever-dwindling custom it attracts is surely only going to shrink further, and operators may conclude the costs are not worth it.
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