Budget Travel, Legal Scams

Legal Scams: Airport Currency Exchange

Ever thought about doing your currency exchange at the airport? This quick post details my first experience getting ripped off at the Barcelona Airport. Stay tuned to learn about how currency exchanges make their money. And how much cash the managed to snatch from me!

The Beginning of the Great Currency Exchange Heist…

My flight to Barcelona from San Francisco via Iberian Airlines arrived at 3 pm on a Sunday. Having done extensive research on Barcelona before my visit, I knew that most places in the city would be closed on Sundays as a leftover of religious traditions in the area.

Thus, my big excursion for the day was taking public transportation from the airport to my hostel. Upon arrival, I followed the other passengers through the exciting shuffle of customs. My goal was to get out of the airport as quickly as possible, so I was speed walking to pick up my bags at baggage claim and finding $$$ for the bus.

You see, I am a procrastinator to the extreme. I was fully intending to go to the bank on my way to my flight out of SFO. Not surprisingly, I ended up running out of time. That is the long way of saying that I showed up to Spain with only 5 euros and about $200 US dollars in my pocket.

My hope was to find an ATM that was associated with one of my banks (Wells Fargo or Chase) and withdraw a couple hundred with no fees. From my one and only experience abroad, I was able to do at Charles De Gaulle airport in France. So I thought that this was going to be possible in Barcelona as well…

The Moment I Got Bamboozled at the Currency Exchange

That was not the case, with precisely zero US ATMs insight on arrival. However, right next to the baggage claim there was a currency exchange with a sign that loudly proclaimed: “No Commission, No Fee Currency Exchange!”.

I have done extensive research on the cheapest ways to withdraw money while abroad. Nearly every source I found told me that the airport is the most expensive place to do an exchange. So, knowing that anything that is too good to be true is probably a lie… I decided to go ahead and try out the airport currency exchange anyways.

I walked up to the counter and asked to do a cash exchange of $200 US dollars into euros. She quickly filled out the exchange slip and handed it over to me. Sure enough, there was a box that said: “Commission Fees- 0,00 EUR”. It seemed as good of a currency exchange option as any of the other exchanges lined up!

Copy of my receipt showing their “exchange rate”… yay for 0 commission fees. For some reason the woman listed my Address as Hostal Chic and Basic… which I googled and is an actual location not just a commentary on my outfit.

So what’s the catch? I had an inkling of what it could be when I found out that my $200 dollars would turn into only 148,72 euros. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not up to date on exchange rates… but that still seemed a little short by about $20 bucks.

Realization of the Currency Exchange’s Petite Larceny

Once I settled into my hostel (HarmonyHostel), I did a quick google search to find out what the real currency exchange rate was. It was so exciting to learn how much I was getting cheated for! Turns out on Jan. 13th, 2019 exchange rate was 1.13. This means that one euro is equal to $1.14 USD.

Sure enough, the currency exchange rate that showed up on the receipt they gave me listed the exchange rate as 1.34. This means that my $200 was actually worth 175.65 euros instead of the 148,72 that they gave me!

This is a screen shot of Google’s exchange rate calculator, on the graph you can see what the exchange rate was for Jan. 13th, 2019, which is when I flew into Barcelona.

They were able to pocket the 25.93 difference! This is hands down the largest fee I’ve seen in my life. The only reason that I’m not too mad is because I made this cash by selling items during my move… many of which I never even bought in the first place.

If you’d like to learn some of my tricks to make and save money, check out my ‘4 Best Financial Tips for 2020‘.

Currency Exchange Take Aways: How to avoid this banditry!

All in all, we learned 2 things today:

  1. Never, ever do currency exchanges at the airport. Even if the sign says “free, no fee, no commission”
  2. I would like to invest in airport currency exchanges. This is the best legal scam I’ve come across.

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Kathryn Rucker is a sales consultant and content writer. With 7+ years of sales experience, she is passionate about helping businesses and individuals grow their sales pipelines by improving their online presence.

She has been traveling full-time since 2018 thanks to the location and financial independence she has gained from her business, Rucker Sales Consulting. You can connect with her on Linkedin!

Kathryn Rucker is a sales consultant and content writer. With 7+ years of sales experience, she is passionate about helping businesses and individuals grow their sales pipelines by improving their online presence.

She has been traveling full-time since 2018 thanks to the location and financial independence she has gained from her business, Rucker Sales Consulting. You can connect with her on Linkedin!

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