“It is a complete scam,” said Alexander Bachuwa, a frequent traveler and consumer lawyer who practices in New York, lives in Puerto Rico and writes the Points of Life travel blog. He advises using a currency app on your phone to estimate charges instead.
Just say no to conversions. Always pay in the local currency for the lowest cost to you.
Check your receipt for unauthorized conversions
Often, you don’t get a chance to say no, despite Visa and Mastercard rules that say consumers must be offered a choice if a merchant does currency conversion.
The giveaway that you’ve been hit is when the charge slip lists an amount in your home currency with microscopic print that claims you gave consent.
In India, this maneuver is common at higher-end hotels, where a bill can easily run $1,000 and an extra 5 percent fee is $50.
When the J.W. Marriott in Kolkata initially charged a May stay in dollars despite my request to pay in rupees, a manager explained that the hotel’s systems were set up to automatically add the markup and do the conversion. To run the charge in rupees without the markup, she had to reprocess the payment on a special machine. (Marriott declined to comment, as did Hyatt, another chain where I have seen such automatic conversion frequently occur.)
Banks, which share the extra fees with merchants, appear to be complicit in this fee extraction. When a currency markup suddenly appeared last month on a charge slip from my Mumbai car service, the finance manager said that his Indian bank, Axis, had upgraded his swipe machines, added the fees without his knowledge and was keeping the money.
Axis, which was also the bank for the City Palace in Udaipur, said it offers merchants two types of swipe machines, including one that automatically adds a fee and converts the charge to the customer’s home currency. With that machine, if the customer insists on paying in rupees, the clerk has to go through a convoluted process to redo the transaction.