Press release: UK adults spend nearly £1 billion just to 'get rid' of currency at airports in past year

Tuesday 14 July 2015

  • We need £52 of currency left to think it’s worthwhile changing it back to British pounds
  • Less than half look for the best rates when changing currency
  • 42% get ‘carried away’ with their spending while on holiday

Many holidaymakers will be familiar with the dilemma of what to do with leftover currency after a holiday, but new research released today by the Money Advice Service reveals that UK adults could be better off to the tune of £941 million* if they changed their money back after their break. This is the figure UK adults say they spent at foreign airports solely to ‘get rid’ of currency in the past 12 months. This equates to the average holidaymaker spending £14.27 at the airport, per foreign trip, just to save them from bringing home the currency.

Change back tipping point

The survey also found that the average UK holidaymaker needs to have at least £52 left over in currency to go to the effort of changing it back to pounds – the ‘change back tipping point’.

Not looking for the best rates

UK adults could be getting better value for their money by researching the most competitive rates, before they go away. Less than half (49%) say they look for the best rates when changing currency. A third of holidaymakers (33%) use a high street bureau de change –– while one in ten (9%) change their money at airports where rates can be up to ten per cent lower than the best available**.

Why do we accept poor airport exchange rates?

The key reasons so many UK adults choose to change their currency at the airport are:

  • Didn’t get around to pre-ordering it before (33%)
  • Habit – I have just always changed currency at the airport (32%)
  • Believed that airports offered the best rates (26%)
  • Attracted by the ‘zero commission’ signs (15%)
  • Felt better rates only make a small difference to the amount of currency you receive (11%)

Getting carried away with holiday spending

Many UK adults also get caught up in the holiday spirit and spend more than planned during their break. One in three (34%) run out of money while on holiday – half of those (51%) say they’d typically run out by the fifth day of a week-long break.

The average UK holidaymaker spends £80 a day while away, but 26% say they ‘usually’ or ‘always’ go over their holiday budget. In total, 42% admit that they get ‘carried away’ with their spending when away.

Good habits

The research found that many are taking a more sensible financial approach to holiday spending. Twenty three per cent said that they set a budget for spending money when they go away and 15% set an annual budget for their total holiday spend.

Responding to the findings, Andy Webb, money expert at the Money Advice Service, says:

“Holidays are a great time to relax and unwind from the stresses and strains of everyday life. But it is important to stay savvy when it comes to getting the most out of your money both before and during your break.

“It is always best to plan ahead and change money before you go as you are likely to get a better exchange rate. If you are abroad and changing several hundred pounds into foreign currency, the difference in exchange rate could be the cost of a nice meal while you are away - so it pays to be organised and look for the best rates around.

“It’s also really worth thinking twice before spending your leftover money at the airport before you fly home. Changing money or keeping it for another time is much better for the long term. Every penny counts and you could put it towards savings for your next holiday.

“We’ve got lots of tips about how to make the most out of your holiday money on our website, including a handy guide to changing currency. A quick look at this could really help you make your money go much further.”

Additional exclusive stats for BBC use:

  • The average UK adult goes on 2.4 holidays a year – in the past year they have been on 1.3 holidays abroad

  • When asked about the ways they pay for things abroad, 75% of UK adults that holiday abroad change up their currency before they go. In addition to this:

• 25% withdraw cash when they get there

• 24% use their debit card

• 32% use their credit card

• 9% use a pre-paid card

  • When it comes to left over currency from holidays:

• 10% spent it on the last day to get rid of it

• 11% spend it at the airport

• 3% give it to charity

• Less than a quarter (23%) actually change it back to pounds

  • Holiday-makers spend an average of £1,702 on our actual holidays each year, not including spending money – yet just 15% have an annual budget for holidays and just 23% have a budget for spending

  • 29% set a budget for each holiday

  • Holiday-makers spend an average of £1,702 on our actual holidays each year, not including spending money – yet just 15% have an annual budget for holidays and just 23% have a budget for spending

  • 29% set a budget for each holiday

To find out more about money and holidays, visit



1. *Research conducted by Opinium for The Money Advice Service in June 2015 amongst 2,229 UK adults. The survey was conducted online

£941m figure was reached by: UK adult population (ONS) = 49,122,174. 61% went on a holiday abroad in past year = 29,964,526. Of those that went on a foreign holiday last year, they went on an average of 2.2 holidays abroad each = 65,908,527 holidays. They spent an average of £14.27 per holiday getting rid of currency at airport = £940,706,329

2. ** According to Which currency exchange survey:

3. _*_Specific articles include:

Saving for a holiday

How to get a holiday for less

Get set for summer

Tips for paying for a holiday

Travel money options

About the Money Advice Service

The Money Advice Service is an independent organisation. It gives free, unbiased money advice online at, over the phone on 0300 500 5000, and face-to-face right across the UK. The Service was set up by Government and is paid for by a statutory levy on the financial services industry, raised through the Financial Conduct Authority. Its statutory objectives are to enhance the understanding and knowledge of members of the public about financial matters (including the UK financial system); and to enhance the ability of members of the public to manage their own financial affairs.

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