Thursday, 27 June 2013

Marks And Spencer's Offer An Alternative Way of Banking - But Is It Really Better?

Marks and Spencer are set to launch 50 bank branches by the end of 2013 complete with flowers, handbag hooks and more personal touches in an attempt to offer an alternative experience to disgruntled customers of traditional banks.

The M&S branches have been launched in stores across the UK and offer customers access to M&S Money products including Travel Money, Current Accounts, Credit Cards and Loans. The branches operate a pager service allowing customers to continue shopping instore instead of queueing. 

Interestingly the move is backed and owned by banking provider HSBC, so you have to question whether this is really a fresh new alternative way to bank or simply a wolf in sheep's (or M&S) clothing? HSBC already own M&S Money and profits are shared equally between the two firms.

Consumer confidence in the main banking providers is at an all time low. M&S have seen a steady rise in the number of customers switching to their current accounts following recent banking scandals in the media. The Metro, Nationwide and Co-operative Bank have also reported a healthy increase in new customers switching accounts due to an ever increasing mistrust of the big banks. 

Because M&S bank is backed by HSBC we wanted to investigate how good a deal customers are really getting...... We compared a number of products offered by each company and found that customers generally got a better interest rate with M&S. For example an M&S personal loan of £7,000-£15,000 has a 5.4% APR (representative) for new customers and 5% APR representative for existing customers. HSBC offer 5.9% APR (representative) on the loans within the same value range.

Likewise with credit cards M&S offered the a more competitive interest rate of 16.9% APR (representative)   variable whilst HSBC offer 17.9% APR (representative) variable. 

HSBC offer better online travel money exchange rates than Marks and Spencer. Many may find this surprising as we regularly spot comments on Twitter suggesting the opposite!! At the time of writing this article HSBC were offering a Euro rate of 1.1450 and a US Dollar exchange rate of 1.4994 whilst Marks and Spencer offered a Euro rate of 1.1267 and a US Dollar rate of 1.4908. 

It was difficult to compare bank accounts because the incentives differ enormously between the two providers and determining which current account is best is entirely dependent on an individuals lifestyle and shopping habits.

We would always recommend shopping around to find the best deal when purchasing any financial product. 

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Thomas Cook Launch 11 Mitre Street Skills Soccer Academies

Thomas Cook will be running 11 Soccer Academies in resorts across European in an attempt to attract more families to their Familyworld and Airtours Sunstar resorts. 

The Mitre Street Skills Soccer Academies are reasonably priced at 20 Euros for three 60 minute sessions and are available to boys and girls aged five and over. They aim to help children develop energetic, creative and deceptive moves to beat opponents on the football pitch. The sessions are set to music and provide a great safe environment to make friends and use up energy!! Uli Speri the Product and Yield Director for Thomas Cook believes that the"new partnership with Mitre offers a great way for budding street soccer stars to develop their passion for the sport while on their family holiday, as well as an exciting way for our younger guests to meet new friends and have lots of fun."   

You can relax by the pool whilst your child has great fun developing their soccer skills and making new friends.

Courses will be run from the 1st July until the 1st September 2013 in the following 3 and 4 star resorts:
Thomas Cook FamilyWORLD hotels:
4 Star Stella Palace, Analipsi, Crete
4 Star Parque Cristobal, Playa del Ingles, Gran Canaria
4 Star Blanc Palace Resort, Sa Caleta, Menorca
4 Star Iberostar Vell Mari, C'an Picafort, Majorca

Airtours Sunstar Resorts
4 Star Zorbas Beach Hotel, Tingaki, Kos
3 Star Marelen Hotel and Apartments, Kalamaki, Zante
4 Star Aparthotel Paraiso De Albufeira, Albufeira, Algarve
3 Star Oasis Village, Corralejo, Fuerteventura
3 Star Sun Tropical Island, Playa Blanca, Lanzarote
3 Star Binimar Resort, Cala'n Forcat, Menorca
3 Star Hi! Bouganvilla Park in Sa Coma, Majorca

Thomas Cook offer a great range of family holidays. You can also book travel insurance, travel money and airport parking via Thomas Cook. However we would always recommend shopping around first to find the best deal.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Travel Money: BBC Watchdog reveal another post code lottery

Last night BBC Watchdog investigated the difference in exchange rates offered from the same providers at various locations throughout the UK and revealed that the same providers can offer up to a 40 Euro difference (when exchanging £500 into Euros) between branches.

Riz Lateef at BBC Watchdog explained how exchange rates are determined internationally by global factors such as economic growth, inflation and political stability. During the past 12 months the British pound has fallen in value against 80% of the major currencies around the world making it far more expensive for us Brits to go on holiday.

The exchange rate you will receive when you purchase holiday money will vary due to the factors mentioned above and the rate offered by each currency provider will differ slightly depending on their costs and profit margins.

Or so you would think........

BBC Watchdog contacted the 10 leading currency firms and revelled that the same provider does not offer the same exchange rate across the country. On the same day they found that the Post Office, Thomas Cook, No.1 Currency, Ice PLC, American Express and Travelex offered different exchange rates at different locations across the UK.

When exchanging £500 into Euros with No.1 Currency you would receive 572 Euros if you visited the Cardiff branch where as up in Glasgow on the same day you would receive only 566 Euros.

The Post Office offered 565 Euros in their Camden London branch but only 555 Euros in Leeds. Thomas Cook offered 570 Euros in Cardiff and only 537 Euros in their Newcastle branch.

Exchange rate differences weren't based just on regional differences, the BBC programme found a difference within cities from the same currency provider. For instance when exchanging £500 into Euros, Ice PLC offered 574 Euros in their Earls Court, London branch but 3 miles away in Westfield you would receive 564 Euros.

When the major firms were asked why exchange rates varied from one location to the next it became clear that local competition was a major factor.

But is this fair on you?   

If you live in an area with numerous currency providers up and down the high street you are likely to get a getter exchange rate and have more money to spend whilst away. However if you live in an area with fewer bureau de changes you are likely to get a worse exchange rate.

Airport currency providers have even less competition and will offer you a much worse exchange rate to convert your cash. Watchdog was unable to confirm which airport provider offered the best exchange rates as they also vary depending on location!!

If you were to convert £500 into Euros with American Express you would receive 536 Euros at Edinburgh Airport or 510 Euros in Birmingham Airport. Travelex offered 537 Euros in London City Airport or 513 Euros at Liverpool Airport whilst Ice PLC offered 560 Euros at Norwich Airport and 520 Euros at Luton Airport.

Riz Lateef confirmed "If you are unprepared changing money can be the same as playing a game of chance. Exchange on the wrong day with the wrong company and in the wrong city or airport and you could end up losing out."

However there are simple steps you can take to ensure you don't suffer from the pitfalls of this unfortunate post code lottery. Nick Trend Consumer Editor from the Telegraph Travel recommends that you "order it (travel money) online in the UK before you go..... For the very best deal make sure you pay all of your big bills such as eating out using your credit card." (Remember to pay the balance off of your card at the end of each month to avoid any charges and never to use your credit card to withdraw money from a cash machine)

We have found that nearly every currency provider offers a better exchange rate online than in branch. If you order in this way to can avoid the post code lottery and get more Euros or Dollars for your pound. The major providers such as Ice PLC an Travelex offer an airport collection service so you can order online and collect just before your flight to save time and still get the best exchange rate.

On the high street the Post Office offer preferential rates to customers that purchase online for branch collection.

Our travel money comparison table can show you who is offering the very best exchange rate, you can order your currency online and choose to have it delivered to your home address or arrange for branch collection.  

Watch the BBC One Watchdog Travel Money Episode

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The end of the Travel Agent.... How the internet has changed the way we shop for a holiday

The days of booking a holiday in your local high street travel agent and picking up your currency at the same time are long gone. People have wised up to their limited selection of overpriced apartments and need more than a personal recommendation from Sue at the bureau de change counter that the food in Hotel Con Descuento is any good.

Travellers want more choice and at far better prices. Websites such as, and offer information on thousands of hotels at much better prices. However people do not buy on price alone.... Once upon a time a personal recommendation from Sue would have been enough, today we want more. We want views of hundreds of other travellers to see whether the hotel of our choice truly lives up to the glamorous pictures we have viewed online. Reviews on have become as important to shoppers as price and a hotel with a bad Tripadvisor rating can really suffer as a consequence.  

This change in the way that we shop for a holiday does save money and will hopefully reduce the chance of staying in a substandard hotel however it does come at a price..... You can often end up feeling overwhelmed with the number of flights and hotels available and the actual decision making process can feel rather arduous. Following these simple steps can help you to speed up the process and feel confident that you have found the best deal at the best price.

How to book a holiday quickly:
  • Jot down your travelling dates, the climate and type of holiday you want (Beach, City break, Adventure, Skiing etc)
  • Think about airports, if you fly short haul you can probably fly from your local airport but if you want to go further afield you may have to travel further for a long haul flight (unless you live in London or Manchester!)
  • Now with your dates and destination in mind use the travel comparison sites to find the best deals.
  • Check out the reviews on Tripadvisor and if the hotels overall rating is positive - book it!!

A few more holiday essentials you can buy online to save money.....
  • Travel Insurance
  • Foreign Currency

If you don’t have travel insurance with your bank account visit‎ and find the best priced insurance for your requirements. If you are a frequent traveller a multi-trip annual policy may work out cheaper than taking out a single trip policy every time you fly.
A few weeks before you travel it is wise to start monitoring the exchange rate to ensure you get a good travel money rate. Similar to shopping for your holiday you will save money by buying online. At you can compare the main currency providers and find who is offering the best exchange rates. You can buy online for next day home delivery or reserve a rate online for branch collection. This service is really handy if you want to collect currency from your local high street and companies such as the Post Office offer far better exchange rates online than they do in branch.

On Twitter it is common to see people ask "where's the best place for Euros?" the night before they fly. A frustrated "rip off" tweet is then sent out the next day explaining how they feel about the exchange rate they received at the airport as they had left it too late to buy from anywhere else. Don't let this be you!!