The credit card has long been heralded as the international traveler's ally because it usually garners the best exchange rates. Untrue. The exchange rate credit card companies get is as random as any you can land. And there's more...It turns out that every time a credit card company processes a currency conversion, you're charged twice¿once by the bank card association (i.e., Visa, MasterCard) and once by theissuing bank (i.e., Chase, First Bank, Citibank). Although percentages vary, the average charge is between 1 and 3 percent (fortunately, 3 percent is the cap). So, if you have a Visa Mileage Plus through First Bank, Visa will charge you 1 percent and First Bank another 2. Because banks use either the exchange rate on the statement's closing date or a blended rate and not the date on which you made the transaction, determining what you'll actually pay is a guessing game at best.
Of all the credit card companies, American Express has the most straightforward policy. All currency conversions are charged 2 percent.
The only way to completely avoid such charges is to use Traveler's Checks. Buy them at a bank, and you'll be charged between 1 and 4 percent. Call AmEx directly (800-221-7282), and you'll pay 1 percent. Have a platinum American Express card? Then and only then can you buy Traveler's Checks at no charge¿and those take seven to 10 days to receive.