2008 Beijing OlympicsLast month, I used my AT&T Universal credit card from Citi to buy some CFL football tickets online — the only available option from 500 miles away. It was a game that we were going to attend while on vacation.

Back when I bought them, I bemoaned all of TicketMaster’s surcharges that I was forced to pay. Something about “convenience”…

Little did I know that my credit card company would take a slice as well… just a few weeks after the fact.

Upon returning home from our vacation, I noticed that my credit card was carrying a balance. A nice and even $5.00 balance. Not something that I expected, so I logged in to see the details:

MasterCard Foreign Transaction Fee

A foreign transaction fee. Okay, whatever. It’s just five bucks, right? Not that big of a deal. But buried in the fine print (yes, the fine print even exists on a computer screen), I came across this:

Your Card provides the convenience of transacting in foreign currencies worldwide wherever MasterCard is accepted without having to exchange and carry more foreign currency than you need for your transaction. Each purchase you make in a foreign currency is subject to a one-time transaction fee. The Annual Percentage Rate for Standard Purchases shown on this statement applies only to purchases made in a foreign currency.

There’s that magic word again: convenience.

I’m sorry, but if a vendor lists that Visa or MasterCard are accepted at their establishment, the consumer shouldn’t be paying any additional fee on their purchases.

Now, again, why am I making such a fuss about one $5 transaction fee? Well, because I used the card SIX more times while in Canada after this last statement came out.

My understanding of the line “each purchase you make in a foreign currency is subject to a one-time transaction fee” means that I’m going to get hit with another $30 in unexpected fees at the end of this month.

That’s a lot of money for “convenience”, don’t you think?

Now I realize that I used a MasterCard in this instance, but I looked up the terms and conditions on my Visa card through Bank of America, and they appear to be the same. Wouldn’t have mattered which card I chose.

Of course, neither discloses what the exact “convenience” fee will actually be in the fine print. Depends on the weather, I guess.

But in Visa’s case, I have a bit more of a problem with the whole idea of foreign transaction fees — especially in countries that they currently operate in and have operated in for years!?

(I target Visa here because I can’t recall a widespread MasterCard advertising campaign that involves non-domestic transactions.)

See, of late, you can’t watch more than 20 minutes of NBC programming without viewing a Visa commercial where they tout themselves as an official sponsor of next month’s Olympic Games in Beijing.

Going to their website, they boast:

Visa-branded ATMs have been installed in and around Beijing for your convenience.

As a Worldwide Partner, Visa is the only card accepted at any Olympic venue throughout China and for Olympic merchandise purchased online, in Olympic retail stores and by catalog.

Wow. There’s that word again. Convenience.

Odd how they “conveniently” fail to mention that if you use one of those Visa-branded ATMs in Beijing, you’re going to get dinged with an extra fee — from them and probably your bank back home too if you have a linked debit/credit account.

Convenient.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Bank of America charges these fees even for online purchases made from within the U.S. when the merchant is in any other country, including Canada. I found your post while shopping around for banks that don’t apply that charge, since I’ll definitely be leaving Bank of America over this. It’s just a nasty policy and amounts to thievery in my book.

  2. We are a Canadian based online merchant doing business in the US. All our transactions are in USD, yet some of our customers get charged a “Foreign Transaction Fee” of 1% for some reason. Our ticket price is only $30, so a $0.30 fee isn’t the end of the world, but still… No currency conversion is taking place, so why are they charging extra??
    Garbage.

  3. AT&T Universal Mastercard are charging %-based foreign transaction fees for purchases made in the USA, in US$, if the merchant is overseas based, even as Alex says if the merchant is getting only the US $ and no foreign transaction takes place. Another lawsuit in the offing !

  4. I use a bank of america Visa CC. I make a lot of online purchases from foreign sellers in U.S. dollars.

    The foreign exchange fee seems to be a new thing, at least for USD transactions, as I didn’t get this fee in the past.

    I guess it’s time to try another card for online foreign purchases.

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