ALMOST half of overseas holidaymakers spend hours hunting for a booking bargain, saving up to £100 on flights and the same on places to stay.

But even more travellers put the same effort into planning their foreign currency and plastic cards, according to a Visa survey, because they can make similar savings on their cash, stretching holiday budgets further.

Shopping around can buy you up to 30 extra euros on a £750 spend, according to comparison website Money, which listed 17 online providers in the top 20 for rates.

The best deal overall was from SATFX, which was offering €850.50 for £750 as well as free delivery. Best on the high street were Debenhams, John Lewis, Sainsbury’s Bank and Tesco Bank, which all also offered free delivery and between €10 and €13 less than the specialists.

The online sellers slip down the league on a £500 spend, due to delivery charges, so the retailer’s banks have some of the best rates, especially if you can collect from Debenhams or John Lewis.

Brits like to flash the cash abroad – only a quarter use a debit or credit card on holiday and almost half visit a bureau de change, the survey found. That is because charges are steep.

First there is the mark-up - known as loading - that banks add to the market’s exchange rate to ensure they get a cut on any withdrawal or transaction. The typical mark-up rate is 2.75 per on debit or credit cards, while at Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Halifax and TSB it is 2.99%. Nationwide limits its mark-up rate to 2%.

Then there is the ATM charge. Using a UK bank card in a European cash machine will cost you 2% if you bank with RBS, 1.5% if your account is with Bank of Scotland and 3.75% if it is with Clydesdale Bank. Most banks charge 1.5% to 2%, with a minimum fee of between £1.50 and £2. HSBC, RBS and First Direct have a maximum of £5, at TSB it is £4.50, at Lloyds and Halifax it is £1.50 and at Nationwide it is £1.

Using a credit card in a cash machine should only be a last resort as you will also pay interest from the date of withdrawal.

Andrew Hagger of Moneycomms said: “The card fees that catch most people out are those levied for debit card purchases in shops or restaurants which are subject to the usage (loading) charge, plus up to an additional £1.50 per transaction regardless of the amount.

“The worst offenders are Santander at £1.25 per transaction, TSB at £1 per purchase and Halifax and Lloyds Bank, which levy a 50p purchase surcharge.”

There are smarter ways to spend. Hagger noted that the Tandem credit card and the Starling Bank debit card charge no loading or fees, while the Revolut Currency Card and the Monzo debit card have zero loading and free cash withdrawals of up to £200 in a month (including in the UK). These cards from new fintech brands offer other perks and services, though as with mainstream banks their offers and conditions could always change in future.

The Halifax Clarity card, and Nationwide’s Select card for its customers, also offer free credit card transactions. The Barclays Platinum card offers free transactions and withdrawals until 2022, as well as no instant interest on cash withdrawals.

Hagger said: “The golden rule is never pay in British pounds when abroad. Although it may seem like a good idea and convenient to know exactly how much you’ll be debited, the downside is that it gives the retailer the opportunity to use a poor local exchange rate which could see you paying way over the odds.”

A popular alternative is the pre-paid currency card, from the likes of WeSwap, FairFx, EasyFX, Caxton FX and ICE.

Nick England, CEO of EasyFX, said: “Use them instead of your usual bank card and you'll be paying for everything in the local currency, thus avoiding all those foreign bank fees. They are usually completely free and involve no hidden charges. You simply top up your account with a credit or debit card, purchase your currency and start spending.”

The exchange rate is fixed when you load up the card. Ian Strafford-Taylor, CEO of FairFX, said: “Keeping an eye on exchange rates ahead of planned trips and locking-in at a guaranteed rate is the best way to get more travel money for your hard-earned cash.”