If you’re planning an overseas holiday and you prefer to spend in cash, you’ll need to buy some foreign currency. There are lots of ways to do it, but one of...
“This is not just food,” said a famous Marks & Spencer TV advert¹. “This is M&S food.” But the British retail giant doesn’t only sell delicious chocolate puddings, roast dinners and so on: it also offers financial products for customers travelling abroad. Which might make you wonder: is it just travel money? Or is M&S travel money somehow a bit fancy, like their food?
The question is: do M&S offer a good deal for travellers when it comes to holiday money? How competitive are their fees and exchange rates? Is it really a good idea to get your foreign currency from the same place you get your office wear and canapés?
This article will give you details about the service M&S offers for travel money, as well as a look at how good a deal it really is.
One thing it’s certainly fair to say is that M&S isn’t just a high street retailer: it’s also a bank. It’s been offering financial services for more than 30 years, and these days M&S Bank is run jointly with HSBC².
Travel is one of the areas in which M&S Bank operates: as well as offering travel money, it does travel insurance too². But that’s too much to deal with right now - the focus here is on getting foreign cash.
At first glance, this might look like good news: the number of actual fees that M&S charges for their foreign currency is pretty low. There’s a £5 fee if you choose to get your money sent to your home, but only if your order is under £500. For orders above that, or for any order you collect from a store, there’s no delivery fee³.
So, perhaps there are no fees at all? That would be nice, wouldn’t it. But it’s not quite right...
Now we come to it: this is where M&S makes their money when giving you your travel money, even though they don’t call it a fee.
Like all currency exchangers, M&S are able to set their own exchange rates, which means that they don’t have to charge the average, “mid-market” rate that you’ll see on online currency converters, or when you Google your currency pair. Instead, they’re able to charge an exchange rate that’s worse for you, and better for them.
What’s more, M&S don’t offer just one exchange rate. They offer 2 of them⁴: a “standard sell rate”, and an “M&S Bank card sell rate”. As you’d probably expect, if you’re able to use an M&S Bank card for your transaction, you’ll get a significantly better deal.
But before you get too excited about that and decide to spend all your extra money on gourmet chocolate biscuits, compare the travel money that “M&S Bank card sell rate” to the mid-market rate. It might be better than the “Standard” rate, but is it really a good deal? Think of everything you’d be able to buy if you got your money converted at the mid-market rate. Forget about chocolate biscuits - we’re talking Prosecco.
It’s not as hard as you might think to get the real mid-market rate. Wise, for instance, always offers it on international transfers, so that the only fee you’ll be charged is clearly, separately stated when you get your quote. And there’s no two-tier system of exchange rates depending on where you bank: just one exchange rate for everyone. After all, the mid-market rate is not just a fairer exchange rate. It’s the only fair exchange rate.
Yes, you can, whether or not you’re an M&S Bank account holder. However, only customers with an M&S bank card qualify for home delivery of your cash - otherwise, you’ll need to go into a store and pick it up from one of their bureaux de change³.
If you need to send money direct to a foreign bank account, this isn’t the service for you - this is just to get cash. For a transfer into a bank account, Wise might do the trick.
Does Marks & Spencer offer a travel money card?
At the time of writing, M&S don’t have a special travel money card that they offer to their customers, although of course if you bank with them then their normal cards - credit and debit cards, and so on - may still be usable for foreign payments and to withdraw money from cash machines abroad. (Watch out for foreign ATM fees, though - not just cash withdrawal fees but also the crazy amounts you’ll pay if you choose to be charged in pounds.)
It’s always advantageous to have money in your account that’s in the correct local currency, though, which isn’t so easy with standard bank accounts. That’s why Wise’s borderless multi-currency account is worth a look. For no monthly fee, you can hold your money in 40+ international currencies, pay out to over 50, and even get virtual account details in pounds, euros, US and Australian dollars. Those account details mean that you can not just pay, but receive payments, just like a local in any countries that use those currencies.
And, yes, UK borderless customers can get a card - a debit Mastercard, to be precise. Which might mean that you barely need any foreign cash at all, anyway.
Remember: this isn’t just about money. It’s about your money. How much of it do you really want to spend for the privilege of getting foreign currency? Wherever possible, you should try and convert your money at the mid-market rate. That way, you’ll have more of it to spend during your trip. And, of course, at Marks & Spencer when you get back home.
*All sources checked on November 8, 2018
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