Does the strong dollar have you considering a trip to Europe this summer? Smart move. With the euro nearing parity with the dollar, your money will go a lot farther.
But if you really want the best bang for your buck on that Paris jaunt, check your credit card. Almost two-thirds of the cards in a new survey by CreditCards.com charge a foreign transaction fee, typically 3 percent.
Card issuers do have to pay a fee to a card network, usually Visa or MasterCard, for a foreign transaction. But “the other percentages would be more or less just a profit thing,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com.
Foreign transaction fees may not sound like much, but they can add up. A family of four would pay about $2 more for a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and about $12 more for a private tour of the Louvre. All told, a $5,000 family trip to Paris paid for by credit card would cost an extra $150.
The good news is that the share of cards without foreign transaction fees is climbing. Four of the 12 card issuers in the CreditCards.com survey— Capital One, Discover, HSBC, and Pentagon Federal Credit Union—do not charge the fees on any of their cards. And the other eight issuers now offer a total of 38 cards without the fees, up from 21 in 2012.
Part of the shift is because the credit card business is highly competitive, and a perk offered by one company may soon be offered by others. Another reason, Schulz said, is that with the recession history, card issuers are eager to add accounts.
“The profile of the average foreign traveler is pretty much the profile that any credit card issuer would want to attract,” said Schulz. “It’s in their best interest to do what they can to appeal to these folks. Losing these fees is something that would definitely appeal to them.”
Ask your credit card company before you travel if your card charges any fees for use abroad. If it does, and you travel outside of the country often, it may make sense to switch to a card without them.
It’s also a good idea to notify your credit card company that you will be traveling abroad. Automated systems to detect fraud can shut down your account if they pick up a series of transactions in a part of the world you don’t regularly visit.
Schulz offers another tip: “If you can find a card that has a smart chip in it, it’s probably good for you to get,” he said. Many merchants in Europe have switched over to chip cards, and your magnetic strip card may not work with them.
All that said, a credit card is an extremely useful tool when you travel, and not just for emergencies. A study by CardHub found that it costs about 7 percent less to convert dollars to euros on a credit card than at a bank.
That’s more than enough spare cash for that extra croissant.