Getting the most Euros for your Dollars

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the September 2016 issue.
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Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 487th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine.I think it’s a good bet that you would be interested in getting the most euros for your dollars or the best value when making a purchase involving currency exchange. If you are, you’ll be glad to read the results of the fourth annual Currency Exchange Study, released on May 12 by the credit- and financial-advice company WalletHub (www.wallet hub.com).

Luxembourg’s Grand Ducal Palace

When wanting to purchase something in Europe — for instance, a meal in a restaurant — a traveler can (1) use a credit card or debit card to pay for the meal, possibly incurring certain currency-exchange fees. Or he can pay in cash. To get the cash, he can first (2) go to a nearby ATM and use a debit card or credit card to withdraw euros, incurring certain currency-exchange and, possibly, ATM-usage fees. Or he can use currency previously acquired either (3) from a bank at home before leaving the States or (4) from a kiosk/outlet run by a currency-exchange company such as Travelex (located in airports and cities in the US and many other countries).

WalletHub compared the costs of (1) making purchases with a card, (2) making ATM withdrawals using MasterCard and Visa debit cards and credit cards, (3) exchanging cash at some of the most popular US banks and credit unions and (4) acquiring euros from Travelex. For consistency, the exchange rates used in all of the transactions were the ones posted on May 12.

So, for value received, which options were the most economical?

The researchers found that making a purchase with a credit card that charged NO foreign transaction fee (FTF) was the best option, by far, with an average exchange rate of $1.1424 to €1 and no additional costs. (If you charged a €100 meal on such a card, the amount of $114.24 would appear on your next credit card statement.)

The second-most economical option was making a direct purchase with a debit or credit card that DID charge an FTF OR getting money from an ATM with a debit card that charged an FTF. In the study, the base exchange rates for both types of transactions averaged $1.1424 to €1, and the additional FTFs were LOW, averaging 1.87% for debit cards and 2.08% for credit cards.
(The FTF on a €100 purchase with a debit card would be $114.24 x 0.0187 = $2.14; therefore, on a €100 withdrawal/purchase with a debit card, you would actually pay $114.24 + $2.14 = $116.38 [plus, at an ATM, any ATM-usage fees]. And on a €100 withdrawal/purchase with a credit card, the FTF would be $114.24 x 0.0208 = $2.38, and you would pay a total of $116.62 [plus, at an ATM, any ATM fees].)

At an ATM, if your card is charged any additional ATM-usage fees (from your card’s bank or the bank the ATM is at), a HIGH ATM fee could offset the lower cost of getting cash from an ATM. Therefore, WalletHub recommends acquiring a debit card from a bank that charges a low ATM fee or no ATM fee. (The study specifically mentioned Charles Schwab and America Net Bank as banks that do not charge ATM fees.)

(At this point, I should remind you that, unlike with a purchase, if a credit card is used in an ATM, the withdrawal will be considered a cash advance and will incur a much higher interest rate [starting on that day] than a purchase would have, and this rate will continue to be charged on that amount until the entire credit card bill is paid off. Use a credit card for purchases, not for ATM withdrawals.)
For currency exchanges made in person in the US, banks averaged a rate of $1.2056 to €1. And the average extra service fee charged by US banks for in-person exchanges was $2.78 per transaction (so to get €100, you would fork over $120.56 + $2.78 = $123.34), but at many banks there was no service fee. (This was $6.96 more expensive than using a debit card that charged an FTF.)
WalletHub found that exchanging money at credit unions cost quite a bit more than it did at banks, with an average exchange rate of $1.2161 to €1 plus an average fee of $3.33 ($121.61 + $3.33 = $124.94).

According to the WalletHub study, the three best banks or credit unions at which to exchange currency were State Employees’ Credit Union (1.51% more expensive than using a debit card that charged an FTF), Northern Trust (3.49% more expensive) and BMO Harris Bank (3.83%).

In general, the currency-exchange company Travelex had the worst exchange rate for consumers — $1.2814 to €1 (to get €100 cash, you would fork over $128.14) — even though they did not charge additional fees. (They make their money through their higher rates.) (This was $11.76 more expensive than using a debit card that charged an FTF.)
Even though, overall, exchanging currency in person at a bank was a better option than doing so at a Travelex kiosk, there were three banks where the return on the dollar was found to be even lower (thanks to incredibly high fees of up to $15 per transaction). These costly banks were ESL Federal Credit Union (9.94% more expensive than using a debit card with an FTF), First Tech Federal Credit Union (11.22%) and Citizens Bank (11.24%).

WalletHub also warned travelers to avoid what is known as dynamic currency conversion, or DCC, which is when a merchant offers to charge your transaction in US dollars instead of in the local currency.

While a DCC transaction may allow you to avoid any FTF, the merchant will be using an exchange rate worse than what you would get if you paid in local currency and allowed your bank or credit card company to handle the conversion.

To read the complete results of the study, go to www.cardhub.com/edu/currency-exchange-study.

If saving money doesn’t do it for you, how about getting something for free?

In Europe, it’s common for major cities to each host an annual “Museum Night,” when participating city-run museums as well as some private museums remain open late and offer free admission. In addition, events and activities such as concerts and live theater often are also held — for free — on those nights.

Many cities, including Paris, London and Rome, hold their Museum Night events on or around International Museum Day, which is “organized on and around May 18” each year, according to the International Council of Museums [ICOM].

However, in other cities with Museum Nights, the dates can fall during other times of the year. In Luxembourg City, the museum night is held in early October, while in Brussels it’s in early March and in Prague it’s held in June.

If you’re interested in finding out whether or not a museum in a city you are planning to visit observes the May 18 International Museum Day, visit http://network.icom.museum/international-museum-day and, from the menu box just above the map, select “Museums” and click on “Search.” Then, on the map, click on a region you’re interested in, then on any of the tags appearing over cities with participating museums.

If you don’t find a participating museum in a particular city, try doing an Internet search for “free museum day” and the name of the city. You may get lucky.

In ITN, we often direct people to websites that are not in English and do not offer English translations. When a website provides an English version, it usually can be accessed by clicking, in the upper-right-hand corner of the homepage, on the letters “EN” or “Eng” or on an icon of the Union Jack or an American flag.

Such an option does not always exist, however. For example, in Philip Wagenaar’s recent letter about Fietsvakantiewinkel, a terrific bicycle shop in the Netherlands that also offers books and maps (July ’16, pg. 47), he mentioned the shop’s website — www.fietsvakantiewinkel.nl — which is in Dutch only.

Philip suggested using Google’s “Translate” function when visiting the site. I will now walk you through how to use that function.

To translate a webpage by using Google, you must start out by searching for the website on www.google.com. In this case, you would search for “Fietsvakantiewinkel.”
As with any Google search, a number of search results come up, the top line of each being a link to a webpage. If the webpage is in a language other than English, the words “Translate this page” will appear underneath the link. By clicking on “Translate this page” rather than on the usual link, you will get a version of the page as translated into English by Google.

If you already know the URL (web address) of a website that is not in English, you can copy and paste (or type) that URL into the field at translate.google.com (at left, under the word “Translate” in red) and, after clicking on the word “Translate” (in the blue box at right), you will be taken to an English-translated version of that page without having to do a Google search first. (This trick will not work for every webpage.)

Furthermore, once you’re on a translated webpage, if you click on a link to any other page, the webpage that comes up will also be translated into English. Be aware that translations made by Google are not perfect. Grammar may be sketchy, and in many cases they’re quite literal translations and may not convey the exact or intended meanings of things. Also, words within graphics or superimposed over images will not be translated. But this function can be a big help.

Connie Martin of Prescott, Arizona, wrote, “A friend of mine introduced me to ITN a few years ago. Now I am an avid fan. My husband and I have used several of ITN’s advertisers for organizing our travel, and, of course, the information provided by subscribers has been invaluable.”

Booking a trip with an ITN advertiser also helps support this magazine. Let them know that you read about them in ITN.

This note from Mary O’Donnell of Wilton Manors, Florida, gave us a lift: “I am enclosing the name and address of a friend who has just retired and is having a wonderful time exploring the world. ITN has been a treasure for and to me over many years, and I believe it will be the same for him.

“Because of ITN’s staff and the readers/writers, my husband, Guy, and I have expanded trips, modeled an Indian one after two articles in ITN, found a wonderful tour guide in Egypt, purchased travel insurance from Dan Drennen (Travel Insurance Center, Omaha, NE; 402/343-3621) a number of times, and the list goes on and on. Thank you.”

Lastly, George Cromer of Southfield, Michigan, received a sample copy of ITN and, in subscribing, wrote, “We never knew you existed! You’re just what we’ve needed for 40 years. You’ll be hearing from us.”  I’m glad George and his wife picked up on the main concept of ITN right away, that we print the trip reports, opinions and travel recommendations of our subscribers.
Tell us about your latest find outside of the US. Or let us know what you’re interested in. International travelers gather here.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 487th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine.I think it’s a good bet that you would be interested in getting the most euros for your dollars or the best value when making a purchase involving currency exchange. If you are, you’ll be glad to read the results of the fourth annual Currency Exchange Study, released on May 12 by the credit- and financial-advice company WalletHub (www.wallet hub.com).

Luxembourg’s Grand Ducal Palace

When wanting to purchase something in Europe — for instance, a meal in a restaurant — a traveler can (1) use a credit card or debit card to pay for the meal, possibly incurring certain currency-exchange fees. Or he can pay in cash. To get the cash, he can first (2) go to a nearby ATM and use a debit card or credit card to withdraw euros, incurring certain currency-exchange and, possibly, ATM-usage fees. Or he can use currency previously acquired either (3) from a bank at home before leaving the States or (4) from a kiosk/outlet run by a currency-exchange company such as Travelex (located in airports and cities in the US and many other countries).

WalletHub compared the costs of (1) making purchases with a card, (2) making ATM withdrawals using MasterCard and Visa debit cards and credit cards, (3) exchanging cash at some of the most popular US banks and credit unions and (4) acquiring euros from Travelex. For consistency, the exchange rates used in all of the transactions were the ones posted on May 12.

So, for value received, which options were the most economical?

The researchers found that making a purchase with a credit card that charged NO foreign transaction fee (FTF) was the best option, by far, with an average exchange rate of $1.1424 to €1 and no additional costs. (If you charged a €100 meal on such a card, the amount of $114.24 would appear on your next credit card statement.)

The second-most economical option was making a direct purchase with a debit or credit card that DID charge an FTF OR getting money from an ATM with a debit card that charged an FTF. In the study, the base exchange rates for both types of transactions averaged $1.1424 to €1, and the additional FTFs were LOW, averaging 1.87% for debit cards and 2.08% for credit cards.
(The FTF on a €100 purchase with a debit card would be $114.24 x 0.0187 = $2.14; therefore, on a €100 withdrawal/purchase with a debit card, you would actually pay $114.24 + $2.14 = $116.38 [plus, at an ATM, any ATM-usage fees]. And on a €100 withdrawal/purchase with a credit card, the FTF would be $114.24 x 0.0208 = $2.38, and you would pay a total of $116.62 [plus, at an ATM, any ATM fees].)

At an ATM, if your card is charged any additional ATM-usage fees (from your card’s bank or the bank the ATM is at), a HIGH ATM fee could offset the lower cost of getting cash from an ATM. Therefore, WalletHub recommends acquiring a debit card from a bank that charges a low ATM fee or no ATM fee. (The study specifically mentioned Charles Schwab and America Net Bank as banks that do not charge ATM fees.)

(At this point, I should remind you that, unlike with a purchase, if a credit card is used in an ATM, the withdrawal will be considered a cash advance and will incur a much higher interest rate [starting on that day] than a purchase would have, and this rate will continue to be charged on that amount until the entire credit card bill is paid off. Use a credit card for purchases, not for ATM withdrawals.)
For currency exchanges made in person in the US, banks averaged a rate of $1.2056 to €1. And the average extra service fee charged by US banks for in-person exchanges was $2.78 per transaction (so to get €100, you would fork over $120.56 + $2.78 = $123.34), but at many banks there was no service fee. (This was $6.96 more expensive than using a debit card that charged an FTF.)
WalletHub found that exchanging money at credit unions cost quite a bit more than it did at banks, with an average exchange rate of $1.2161 to €1 plus an average fee of $3.33 ($121.61 + $3.33 = $124.94).

According to the WalletHub study, the three best banks or credit unions at which to exchange currency were State Employees’ Credit Union (1.51% more expensive than using a debit card that charged an FTF), Northern Trust (3.49% more expensive) and BMO Harris Bank (3.83%).

In general, the currency-exchange company Travelex had the worst exchange rate for consumers — $1.2814 to €1 (to get €100 cash, you would fork over $128.14) — even though they did not charge additional fees. (They make their money through their higher rates.) (This was $11.76 more expensive than using a debit card that charged an FTF.)
Even though, overall, exchanging currency in person at a bank was a better option than doing so at a Travelex kiosk, there were three banks where the return on the dollar was found to be even lower (thanks to incredibly high fees of up to $15 per transaction). These costly banks were ESL Federal Credit Union (9.94% more expensive than using a debit card with an FTF), First Tech Federal Credit Union (11.22%) and Citizens Bank (11.24%).

WalletHub also warned travelers to avoid what is known as dynamic currency conversion, or DCC, which is when a merchant offers to charge your transaction in US dollars instead of in the local currency.

While a DCC transaction may allow you to avoid any FTF, the merchant will be using an exchange rate worse than what you would get if you paid in local currency and allowed your bank or credit card company to handle the conversion.

To read the complete results of the study, go to www.cardhub.com/edu/currency-exchange-study.

If saving money doesn’t do it for you, how about getting something for free?

In Europe, it’s common for major cities to each host an annual “Museum Night,” when participating city-run museums as well as some private museums remain open late and offer free admission. In addition, events and activities such as concerts and live theater often are also held — for free — on those nights.

Many cities, including Paris, London and Rome, hold their Museum Night events on or around International Museum Day, which is “organized on and around May 18” each year, according to the International Council of Museums [ICOM].

However, in other cities with Museum Nights, the dates can fall during other times of the year. In Luxembourg City, the museum night is held in early October, while in Brussels it’s in early March and in Prague it’s held in June.

If you’re interested in finding out whether or not a museum in a city you are planning to visit observes the May 18 International Museum Day, visit http://network.icom.museum/international-museum-day and, from the menu box just above the map, select “Museums” and click on “Search.” Then, on the map, click on a region you’re interested in, then on any of the tags appearing over cities with participating museums.

If you don’t find a participating museum in a particular city, try doing an Internet search for “free museum day” and the name of the city. You may get lucky.

In ITN, we often direct people to websites that are not in English and do not offer English translations. When a website provides an English version, it usually can be accessed by clicking, in the upper-right-hand corner of the homepage, on the letters “EN” or “Eng” or on an icon of the Union Jack or an American flag.

Such an option does not always exist, however. For example, in Philip Wagenaar’s recent letter about Fietsvakantiewinkel, a terrific bicycle shop in the Netherlands that also offers books and maps (July ’16, pg. 47), he mentioned the shop’s website — www.fietsvakantiewinkel.nl — which is in Dutch only.

Philip suggested using Google’s “Translate” function when visiting the site. I will now walk you through how to use that function.

To translate a webpage by using Google, you must start out by searching for the website on www.google.com. In this case, you would search for “Fietsvakantiewinkel.”
As with any Google search, a number of search results come up, the top line of each being a link to a webpage. If the webpage is in a language other than English, the words “Translate this page” will appear underneath the link. By clicking on “Translate this page” rather than on the usual link, you will get a version of the page as translated into English by Google.

If you already know the URL (web address) of a website that is not in English, you can copy and paste (or type) that URL into the field at translate.google.com (at left, under the word “Translate” in red) and, after clicking on the word “Translate” (in the blue box at right), you will be taken to an English-translated version of that page without having to do a Google search first. (This trick will not work for every webpage.)

Furthermore, once you’re on a translated webpage, if you click on a link to any other page, the webpage that comes up will also be translated into English. Be aware that translations made by Google are not perfect. Grammar may be sketchy, and in many cases they’re quite literal translations and may not convey the exact or intended meanings of things. Also, words within graphics or superimposed over images will not be translated. But this function can be a big help.

Connie Martin of Prescott, Arizona, wrote, “A friend of mine introduced me to ITN a few years ago. Now I am an avid fan. My husband and I have used several of ITN’s advertisers for organizing our travel, and, of course, the information provided by subscribers has been invaluable.”

Booking a trip with an ITN advertiser also helps support this magazine. Let them know that you read about them in ITN.

This note from Mary O’Donnell of Wilton Manors, Florida, gave us a lift: “I am enclosing the name and address of a friend who has just retired and is having a wonderful time exploring the world. ITN has been a treasure for and to me over many years, and I believe it will be the same for him.

“Because of ITN’s staff and the readers/writers, my husband, Guy, and I have expanded trips, modeled an Indian one after two articles in ITN, found a wonderful tour guide in Egypt, purchased travel insurance from Dan Drennen (Travel Insurance Center, Omaha, NE; 402/343-3621) a number of times, and the list goes on and on. Thank you.”

Lastly, George Cromer of Southfield, Michigan, received a sample copy of ITN and, in subscribing, wrote, “We never knew you existed! You’re just what we’ve needed for 40 years. You’ll be hearing from us.”  I’m glad George and his wife picked up on the main concept of ITN right away, that we print the trip reports, opinions and travel recommendations of our subscribers.
Tell us about your latest find outside of the US. Or let us know what you’re interested in. International travelers gather here.