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