Air travellers are getting ripped off at airports with profits from bureaux de change rising to more than £100 million, while some exchange rates have fallen below one euro to the pound an investigation by The Times has found.
Passengers at British airports get worse rates than those in Europe, as Heathrow and Gatwick drive up rents and strike exclusivity deals with foreign-exchange operators.
More than five million people are expected to fly from British airports this Christmas, with almost 250,000 travelling through Heathrow on its busiest day. One in ten travellers buy currency from their departure airport.
The average rate at 20 British airport bureaux de change surveyed by The Times over the past three months was 13 per cent worse than the market exchange rate. Travellers can get a better deal at European airports, where profit margins are a quarter lower on average.
The worst rate was at Southampton airport, where Moneycorp was offering 95 cents to £1 compared with a market rate of €1.18 to £1.
Ian Strafford-Taylor, of the online currency exchange FairFX, said: “Over the last three months, airport rates have been as much as 26 per cent different from the market rate, which is nothing short of shocking. Airports are clearly taking advantage of their captive audience of holidaymakers and business travellers.”
Airports do not set currency exchange rates but Heathrow and Gatwick earned £76 million from rents charged to bureau de change operators last year, with revenue rising by almost 20 per cent in the past two years. Heathrow alone generated £53 million from its 33 bureaux de change, £1.6 million per kiosk each year.
The average rate offered by Travelex at Heathrow was €1.02 to the pound, 12.5 per cent worse than the market exchange rate.
A Gatwick spokesman said: “Our foreign exchange provider — Moneycorp — incurs higher costs as, unlike high street outlets, they are open and staffed 24 hours a day and hold substantial volumes of more than 50 currencies. For customers who are able to pre-order currency for collection, we can offer rates that are among the best anywhere in the country.”
Heathrow said its rates were better than at Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt. It said that the rise in revenue was not representative of a trend. A spokeswoman added: “We are confident that Travelex provides competitive rates at Heathrow compared with the UK and internationally.”