Frommer's lists exact prices in the local currency.
The British pound (£1), a small, chunky, gold-colored coin, is usually accepted in vending machines, so you can never have too many in your pocket. It’s commonly called a “quid.” Like money in America, Canada, and Australia, it’s divided into 100 pennies (p)—the plural, “pence,” is used to modify amounts over 1p. Pence come in 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, and 50p coins. Patterns on the obverse of the £1 and 50p coins periodically change to commemorate various areas or events. You’ll see large bull’s-eye £2 coins, too. Bills come in £5, £10, £20, and £50. Now and then, you’ll receive notes printed by the Bank of Scotland; they’re perfectly valid, but an increase in forgeries means some shops refuse them. Banks will exchange them.
Currency rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/currency/converter to check up-to-the-minute rates. There’s also a smartphone app available for pretty much any mobile device; see www.oanda.com/mobile.
All prices (including at most B&Bs but not at all hotels) are listed including tax, so what you see is what you pay. No guesstimating required.
When bringing up prices, always insert the word “pounds”: For example, £2.50 would be uttered as “two pounds fifty” but not “two fifty.”
Every visitor should have several sources for money, but cash is still king, as they say (Queen Elizabeth isn’t jealous—her face is on all the money). The simple prescription is to pull cash from an ATM upon arrival; the rates are the cheapest there. Before leaving home, warn your bank and your credit card issuers that you intend to travel internationally so that they don’t place a stop on your account when international charges start cropping up. You may also need to adjust your PIN, since English banks require 4-digit codes. If you know your PIN as a word, memorize the numerical equivalent. Most banks hit you with fees of a few pounds each time you withdraw cash. Your own bank may toss in a small fee of its own (another 2% or 3%, but ask ahead to see what its policy is), so gauge for yourself how much you feel comfortable withdrawing at a time to offset that fee. If you have an account with an international bank chain, ask whether using their machines during your visit will save on fees. Also ask your bank if it has reciprocal agreements for free withdrawals anywhere. One institution known to charge international usage fees that are below the industry standard is Everbank (www.everbank.com; [tel] 888/882-3837); another is Charles Schwab (www.schwab.com; [tel] 866/855-9102), which reimburses ATM fees.
Be quick when using ATMs. Retrieve your card immediately from ATM slots; many machines suck them in within 10 to 15 seconds, for security. Should that happen, you’ll have to petition the bank to have it returned to you.
Now that ATMs are common, traveler’s checks are nearly dead. Using them, you run the risk of most places declining them. Creditors have come up with traveler’s check cards, also called prepaid cards, which are essentially debit cards loaded with the amount of money you elect to put on them. They’re not coded with your personal information, they work in ATMs, and should you lose one, you can get your cash back in a matter of hours. If you spend all the money on them, you can call a number or visit a website and reload the card using your bank account information. Travelex Cash Passport (www.cashpassport.com; [tel] 877/465-0085 or 01733/501-370 in the U.K.; $2 per ATM transaction) works anywhere MasterCard does and can be loaded in British pounds, Euros, or American dollars; also try NetSpend (www.netspend.com; [tel] 866/387-7363; $1 per purchase, $5 per ATM transaction). That one costs $4.
Changing cash is also on the outs, and good riddance, since exchange rates are usurious. ATM withdrawals give the best deals, so old-fashioned cambios are few and far between these days, although you’ll still find a few upon landing at the airport and around Leicester Square. If you need to change money, take advantage of the better rates offered by banks (9:30am–4pm).
Credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere. However, American Express is accepted less widely. Bring a Visa or MasterCard; they are the chief cards. Many credit card issuers levy an annoying international transaction fee on top of your purchase; Capital One Venture (www.capitalone.com; [tel] 800/955-7070) is one that does not. Small vendors may charge a transaction fee (3% is the norm) as a way of defraying the cost of dealing with credit card companies. Try not to use credit cards to withdraw cash. You’ll pay a currency exchange fee, and worse, you’ll be charged interest from the moment your money leaves the slot.
Europeans use “chip and PIN” credit cards requiring a code number. Many vending machines will not accept swipe-only cards and may cause you to think you were declined. Travelex (see above) sells debit cards that work in chip-and-PIN readers. For swipe-only cards, clerks will always verify your signature, so make sure your card is signed. For security, restaurants will usually process your payment at your table with a radio device.
Bonus: The money on your Starbucks card can be used for coffee in the U.K.
What Things Cost in London (UK£)
Taxi from Heathrow to central London -- 60.00-85.00
Double room at a very expensive hotel -- 360.00
Double room at a moderate hotel -- 140.00
Double room at an inexpensive hotel -- 99.00
Lunch for one at an expensive restaurant -- 24.00
Lunch for one at an inexpensive restaurant -- 9.75
Dinner for one, without wine, at a very expensive restaurant -- 75.00
Dinner for one, without wine, at a moderate restaurant -- 17.50
Dinner for one, without wine, at an inexpensive restaurant -- 13.00
Pint of beer -- 3.00-4.50
Cup of coffee -- 1.80-3
Admission to state museums -- Free
Movie ticket -- 9.00-14.00
Theatre ticket -- 25.00-85.00