Airport robbery; a narrow escape from Spanish bandits

by | Aug 24, 2017 | Finance, Markets

In a robbery, it is customary for the robber to approach the victim. This is not the case however in most airport robberies. At the airport, it is usually the victim which approaches the assailant.

There are hundreds of robberies daily at the airport, as anybody who has changed money at a foreign exchange booth will know, be that a Travelex booth or a Thomas Crook, sorry Cook.

Now there is a new gang of robbers on the beat, a Spanish gang called Global Exchange. Your humble correspondent can report an attempted robbery by Global Exchange upon his own person on Monday morning this week.

We approached a Global Exchange window at Sydney Airport and asked how many Australian dollars we might receive in exchange for 760,000 Indonesian rupiah.

As this was a small amount, said the Global Exchange representative (softening up her victim for the impending sting), the rate would not be particularly favourable. After a few taps of the keyboard …

“That will be $33 Australian,” said the rep.
“But the exchange rate is $A72,” we protested, valiently suppressing the urge to make a snide comment.
“Could you explain the fees please?”
“There is a $17 service fee,” she said almost unapologetically.

All up, Global Exchange was offering less than half the market exchange rate – 54 per cent in fees. Even stripping out the $17 “service fee” – a fee nearly as rude as a carjacking – there was the question of the other $22 which had vanished in the “spread”.

The spread is the the bid and offer on the exchange rate. In this case, there was another 30 per cent on top of the 24 per cent service fee.

We declined the offer, managing a wounded grimace and a reluctant “thank you” and, on a hunch, wandered off to try another forex booth. The next two booths, both Global Exchange, offered different rates still. Three outlets from the same company that is, within 50 metres of each other, offered three entirely different outcomes.

The next offer, downstairs at a booth in Arrivals, was $A41.45. Service fee $6.90. The third Global Exchange booth, just 20 metres walk from the second, offered $37. Service fee $18.

Were the booth operators remunerated with commission, we inquired. No, came the answer.

Global Exchange won the Sydney Airport contract from Travelex last year and now has 25 branches at the airport. Failing to see a Thomas Crook, sorry Cook, booth we happened upon the ANZ bank operation. There was a short queue here and we soon realised why.

ANZ public relations department will confirm that we have been loath, historically, to do this bank – indeed any bank – any branding favours but ANZ offered $A54 for our $A72 worth of rupiah.

This was well short of the wholesale forex rate but a damn sight better than Global Exchange and we gladly accepted the offer.

Moral of the story? Don’t change money at the airport but if you do, shop around. And, if you are tempted to make a snide comment such as “Am I required to stick my hands in the air during this exchange?” … forget it. This money-chargers are inured to snide comments and other forms of customer outrage.

Surely these airport forex cartels must come close to breaching Section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act, Misuse of Market Power.

Reader feedback is welcome: stories of similar hold-ups and suggestions on the best places and ways to exchange currency.

While we are on the subject of finance and banking rip-offs, all travellers should be aware of the Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) scam. This is global and almost all banks are in on the racket.

Travellers: don’t get ripped off on your currency conversion




Michael West

Michael West

Michael West established to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelWestBiz.


  1. Avatar

    Why use foreign exchange services before departure when it’s usually quite easy to withdraw from an ATM at your destination using a low cost pre-loaded debit card such as Citibank Plus?

    • Avatar

      It was when he arrived back at Sydney and wanted his Indonesian currency changed into $s.

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        Missed that. I use up spare currency or dispose of it before I leave, for that reason.

  2. Avatar

    Cairns Airport 1993 and the PNG kina at that time was worth exactly double our money
    1 kina worth 2 AUD

    I had arranged kina with Westpac prior my trip went and did my months touring around the Southern Highlands after the obligatory Port Moresby sojourn
    I withdrew extra funds in Mendi,flew Mt Hagen to Moresby to connector back to Cairns

    Conveniently next door at that time was an AMEX money exchange,the lone Mohican
    I enquired how much in AUD I`g get for 105 kina,I was told $145
    I went what!! the kina is worth twice our money and I was effectively being ripped of $70 or around 30%,I left it and deposited into my bank acc at my branch losing similar as when I traded prior my trip,7%
    You may ask why not buy up at Duty free in Pt Moresby,I did,I bought my limit of Johnny Walker black,ciggies,coffee beans

    Moral—-Bank got me both ways anyway

  3. Avatar

    Very funny reading Westie.. Spanish bandits at the airport! You should have put your hands up. Perhaps Border Force would have then charged over, guns unholstered, thinking they’d be heroes of the impending threat to one of our citizens. You might have even got a better deal – if the teller behind the counter didn’t go into shell shock.

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    Recent trip to Singapore. Thought I’d change some cash at the airport (BNE) before flying out. I asked for and received the airport workers discount on the fees. For AUS$500 I received SGD$420 or thereabouts. On the streets of Singapore the going rate was dollar for dollar! On checking out of the hotel was offered the option of paying in AUD$. Why not I thought? I’ll save on the conversion…? Won’t fall for that one again.

  5. Avatar

    Based on costly experience, it is always worth a 30 minute walk around the block in Melbourne’s CBD – in advance of any overseas travel.
    The route in Melbourne is Flinders Street, Swanston Street, Collins Street and Elizabeth Street. There are equivalent streets in other capitals.
    The question is a simple one – fired at each of the 15 or so money changers: “How much will it cost to buy one thousand euros?” – or whatever currency is required.
    Several booths will ask “How much do you want to pay,” to which the reply is “I will back soon.”
    Last time I did this, costs varied from about A$1400 to A$1750. So I gained $350 over those who simply walked up to the cotliest booth and didn’t haggle. In half an hour.

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