Houston Intercontinental Airport currency exchange: Beware of high fees

TransferWise content team
12.07.18
5 minute read

George Bush Intercontinental Airport, also known as IAH or simply Houston airport serves over 40 million passengers a year, arriving and departing from the Greater Houston Metropolitan Area. It’s the 15th busiest airport in the US, and has been in operation for almost 50 years.

If you’re planning on passing through Houston airport, either leaving the US for a trip overseas, or arriving for a break there, you might be wondering how to exchange your currency. There are several options within the airport, including Travelex currency exchange services - although you’ll want to check the exchange rates against alternatives such as using an ATM at your destination.

Here’s all you need to know about currency exchange at Houston airport.

Where to change money at Houston airport?

Houston airport has several options for currency exchange. There are exchange desks located in Terminals B, C, D and E, and plenty of ATMs if you’d rather withdraw some dollars directly.¹

Currency exchange services are provided by Travelex.² You can either go to one of the desks for an on the spot exchange, or order in advance for collection. If you’re exchanging a large amount, or an exotic currency it’s a good idea to order at least a day before you fly, to make sure what you need is available. Ordering in advance often gets you a better exchange rate, too.

Should I exchange money at Houston airport?

There’s little real competition within an airport, and as such the exchange rates on offer typically aren’t the best. If you have to get some cash immediately - for a taxi for example, then you may be better off if you only exchange a little at the airport, and wait until you get into the city centre to change the rest. Alternatively, if you need dollars, using an ATM in the airport is usually a good way to get a fair rate as long as you avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). We’ll cover this tricky hidden fee, in a moment.

Watch out for hidden fees in the exchange rate

The best way to get a good deal on currency exchange is to understand a bit about the mid-market exchange rate.

The mid-market rate is the only real exchange rate. Banks use it when they trade currencies between themselves - but exchange services often won’t offer this rate to retail customers changing smaller amounts of currency. Instead, they take the mid-market exchange rate and add a margin or markup, which they then keep as their profit. This is a hidden charge, and can make it very hard to see if your exchange is really a good deal or not.

Before you decide which currency exchange service to use, it’s a smart idea to compare exchange rates for your currency pairing. That can help you to spot if there are fees hidden within the rate. If you don’t like what you find, it might be time to find a different exchange service - some providers such as TransferWise do offer the real exchange rate, and charge a transparent fee per transaction. More on that, later.

Use a currency converter to check the airport exchange rate

To keep up with the exchange rate for your currency pairing, you can use an online currency converter, or Google. Exchange rates do fluctuate all the time, so this is the simplest way to find the current rate. Knowledge is power, after all.

What is the best place to exchange money?

If you’ve started to research the exchange rates and fees on offer for currency exchange at the airport, you might have found that it’s more expensive there than you’d expect. Luckily you do have other options.

If you really need cash quickly upon arrival at Houston, you might consider taking money out of an ATM instead of exchanging it. This will usually get you a fair fee, as long as you avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC), which we touched on earlier. DCC is where you’re using a credit or debit card abroad, and you’re asked if you’d rather be charged in your home currency instead of the local one. This is sold as a service, because it means travellers don’t have to work out the costs of their purchases - but actually it usually works out more expensive than using the local currency. That’s because the exchange rate used is typically not very good, and there may be higher fees to pay too. Always ask to pay in the local currency if you’re making an ATM withdrawal, or any purchase, using your card overseas.

If you don’t want to use your card to make an ATM withdrawal, you could order currency online for collection at Houston, or get yourself a prepaid travel card. These cards let you load currency on them in advance, which you can then get from an ATM once you arrive in your destination - or you can often use them in stores and restaurants to spend directly.

If you have your own bank account in the US or if you’re travelling there to meet friends or family who live there, you might also consider using TransferWise to get your spending money. TransferWise provide low cost international transfers, which are made using the real, mid-market exchange rate. Send money to a friend with a US bank account and there’s no exchange rate markup and no hidden fees - just a small upfront charge when you arrange the payment. Once your money has reached its destination, you can withdraw it from fee free ATMs when you arrive.

Finally, if you travel a lot or want a flexible account to use while abroad, you could get a multi-currency Borderless account from TransferWise. There’s a card coming soon as well, at the time of writing this article there’s a waitlist you can sign up to. Your card will be linked to your own borderless account, which lets you hold your money in any of over 40 different currencies all at once. You top up the currency you want to spend in, and then you can use the debit card for your day to day spending or to get cash from an ATM in your destination.

How to avoid paying high fees on your money exchange in Houston

Don’t get ripped off by high exchange fees. Here are some tips on how to avoid having to pay unfair exchange costs:

  • Compare both the upfront fees your bank or exchange service state - and the exchange rates they’ll use. Make sure there is no fee hidden in the exchange rate that will cost you more than it should
  • Try to buy your currency when the exchange rate looks good - an online currency converter can help you keep up with the rates and which way they are moving
  • See if you can get a better exchange rate by exchanging currency before you travel - sometimes ordering in advance is better value for example
  • Get a multi-currency debit or credit card, or a prepaid travel money card to use for day to day spending and ATM withdrawals, and save money
  • Work out a budget before you travel, and change only what you need. Exchanging your travel money back to local currency when you get home will incur further fees and costs

Whatever your reason for passing through Houston airport is, you’ll want to make sure you get the best available value for your currency exchange. With a little advance planning you’ll be able to find the best deal for you - and then you can kick back and enjoy your break.


Source:

  1. https://www.fly2houston.com/iah/services/ (13 November 2018)
  2. https://www.travelex.com/stores-by-state/airport-currency-exchange/george-bush-houston-international-airport (13 November 2018)

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