As the US dollar continues to strengthen against other currencies, many people are resurrecting their overseas vacation plans postponed for years due to a weak dollar and struggling economy. But as much as the cost of international travel has come down, travelers need to find ways to stretch their dollars.
In addition to finding the best possible airline and lodging deals, travelers should look to their credit card for big savings. Foreign transaction fees can tack on 2 to 3 percent to your vacation bill, so the first item on your vacation list should be to review your credit card’s fees and, if needed, apply for one that has low or no fees.
Foreign transaction fees occur as part of the currency transaction process whenever a U.S.-based credit card is used to make a purchase overseas. When the card payment is processed through a foreign bank, it charges the issuing U.S. bank a conversion fee. The U.S. bank then passes the fee on to the credit cardholder.
Some fees can be as high as 3 percent, but the average foreign transaction fee charged is around 1.5 percent. Credit unions generally charge the lowest fees, and some of the major credit card companies are now trying to achieve a competitive advantage in the growing international travel market by waiving their fees altogether.
Some people try to use their bank’s debit card or ATM card to get around the foreign transaction fees, but these forms of payment can end up costing even more with the hefty ATM and debit card fees charged by foreign banks.
In an effort to attract more business and leisure travelers, some of the major card companies are issuing credit cards designed for international travel with reduced or zero foreign transaction fees. The thinking is that, if they can win over the more affluent traveler, they can gain their loyalty and make up the lost revenue through an ongoing relationship. So, when planning your trip, it would be important to compare credit cards based on fees.
But, be sure to compare other aspects such as the APR and annual fee as banks are notorious for finding ways to raise revenue through credit card transactions. Also, it’s not unusual to find some transaction limitations buried in the fine print, so be thorough in your comparisons.
As a final consideration, you should try to use a card that offers a robust travel rewards program. There’s no reason why you can’t turn your vacation spending into cash rewards that can further offset your travel costs.
Of the major credit card companies that offer low or no fees on foreign transactions, which includes Capital One, American Express and Discover, the Chase Preferred Sapphire card offers one of the better cash back rewards programs for international travel in addition to having no restrictions on its fee-free foreign transactions.