Ways To Avoid Stupid Travel Money Expenses

It's easier than ever to get money overseas, but that convenience comes with a cost. From avoiding ATM expenses to not getting slugged with currency conversion fees, these are our best tried-and-tested tactics to keep those bills lower.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Being able to use your credit card or bank account overseas is a massive improvement on the old-fashioned approach of organising traveller's cheques or travelling with multiple wads of different currencies. However, if you don't pay attention, you can easily end up paying a hefty price for that convenience. Total up the per-transaction charges and the often sub-optimal conversion rates and you might be surprised at the total. Avoid that horror by following this advice.

6. Don't make repeated ATM trips

If you have no local currency and really need some, hitting an ATM is an obvious choice. Just remember you'll be paying two sets of fees: currency conversion charges and a foreign country ATM charge. If you do want to use an ATM as an exchange mechanism, calculate how much money you'll need for the rest of the trip, and withdraw that amount. Repeated visits will do you no favours. (You're also less likely to be aware of potentially suspicious modifications on overseas ATMs, so choose your withdrawal locations with care. As a rule of thumb, machines that are part of bank branches are less risky than standalone machines.)

5. Be cautious with hotel pre-authorisations

Virtually all hotels will swipe a credit card to cover "incidentals" when you check in. In practice, they usually take a pre-authorised payment (often $50 or $100), and it can take up to a week for this money to be "refunded". Factor that into your planning, especially if you're trying to avoid interest payments or don't have a lot of spare credit. You can avoid this expense by paying a cash security deposit instead, but this creates other hassles: you'll often be asked for a larger sum, you'll need the money to hand, and the checkout process can be delayed since some hotels will insist on manually checking the room before handing back your security deposit.

4. Check credit card exchange rates and charges

Paying using a credit card can save you money: the exchange rates can be more competitive, and individual credit card transactions won't rack up fees at the same rate as endless trips to the ATM. However, details differ heavily between cards. Some charge a per-transaction fee for anything other than your 'native' currency; others don't do that, but use a much lower conversion rate than you'd expect. Find out in advance, and work out which option will suit your needs best. Debit cards ensure you aren't spending money you don't have, but often have a different set of fees to their equivalents.

3. Make sure you have a back-up card

While credit card acceptance is close to universal in major destinations, that isn't always the case. There are lots of ways you can get caught out. An individual restaurant might only accept one type of card. Some ATMs overseas won't work with all cards. In countries which use pin numbers, signing may not be accepted. A suspected fraudulent transaction might result in your bank suspending your card. In all these circumstances, having a second backup card gives you additional options to handle ongoing expenses or emergency payments.

2. Convert in advance for better rates

If you're an organised traveller with a trip booked in advance, you can watch currency movements and time your conversion to moments of maximum advantage. This isn't an exact science — currency fluctuations can happen unexpectedly at any time, and what seems to be a good rate right now still might not represent the absolute best value over a 12-month period. However, if the value of Australian currency relative to your destination appears to be entering a period of decline, converting can help you make the most of what you have.

1. Pay in advance and set a daily budget

All of the tactics will be more effective if you have an overall travel budget to start with. You'll almost certainly pay for flights in advance, but other options can vary (some hotel bookings are paid for at time of booking, but many are only secured via a credit card and are actually paid on departure.) The more you've paid for prior to departure, the less hassle you'll experience on the road. In the same way, if you work out a daily expenditure allowance covering meals, shopping and excursions, you'll be able to change money more effectively and can charge items to your credit card without panicking.

Got extra strategies to add to this list? Share them in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman needs a bigger drawer for all his spare travel currency. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


Comments

    Get a card like 28degreescard and avoid foreign currency surcharges etc. And prepay that card so you don't get charged interest on cash advances.

      Just make sure you pre-pay the card. 28 Degrees is only the best option if you're using money that you've placed on the card that is in the positive.

      Yes, the 28 Degrees card is the best card for overseas, and even in Australia. Load money onto it before you leave and you can withdraw from ATM's without being charged interest. Here's my complete review of using it on my O/S Holiday http://www.jackcola.org/miniblog/2012/08/16/review-of-the-28-degrees-master-card/

        Thanks for this! I am travelling overseas this weekend and was wondering if I could use my 28 card as a debit card. Your link cleared up all my questions I was about to ask!

          Hi Mango, I am glad you found the post useful. If you have any further questions, just let me know.

    Also be wary of credit card lower limits. You can buy a cup of coffee on your credit card in Iceland, but if you want to have dinner in a restaurant in Bruges (Belgium), check the lower limit: even if your credit card is accepted, there may be an unexpected minimum (mostly around $50).

    Last time I went to North America, I took my ING Direct Orange Everyday Visa. 2.5% fee on purchases, or a $2.50 fee (no conversion fee) on ATM withdrawals. Whenever I needed cash, I just withdrew a few hundred dollars and I was set.

      +1 to this. Much better value than 28 degrees card, plus the peace of mind of knowing you're not dealing with the scumbags at GE Money.

        In what way is ING better than 28 Degrees which doesn't have any conversion or transaction fees on top of Mastercards exchange rate?

        Plus, every time I called 28 Degrees, they answered instantly via Skype

    Hotel pre-auth fees nearly killed my trip. The hotel didn't tell us the fee would be so high (we were only expecting around $50-$100 since that's the usual charge) but it came to $200. Thank god we live in the mobile age where we can transfer money using our phones.

    I recently went to singapore and found that the CBA travel money card was great, it was $15 to set up, and the exchange rate on purchases was good, and no issues withdrawing money either.

    Bankwest platinum card offers no currency conversion fees and interest free period.

    Much better than the unrealistic restrictions placed on the 28 degrees card.

      Plus free travel insurance if you buy your ticket on the card. Another one to mention is the Citibank Plus cheque account that doesn't charge you for using foreign ATMs.

      Costs nothing to use credit overseas, I'm using it now it's great. Plus book ur flights with this card and you get complimentary travel insurance, which makes it well worth the $99 annual fee. Often has interest free promotions too, I got 12 months.

    As a purchaser of a lot of computer hardware & games, I must say I love my 28 deg mastercard. Means I can buy new hardware, and be covered for any price reductions for a period of 6 months (have to pay the optional insurance).. Also, i've bought games from russian, south american websites without issue as the transactions go through without any red flags being raised.

    I've looked into the other options for previous o/s trips - and traveller's cheques still come out on top as the best value for money with the least fees. (get them cheap from Australia Post before you go)

    Why is this considered old fashioned? I consider it safer and easier than using a credit card in foreign countries.

    Plus some countries (like Thailand) charge a government imposed fee for the use of credit cards and use of ATMs. You might feel safe using credit cards in Europe or the US, but I wouldn't be as comfortable in other parts of the world.

    Last edited 04/12/12 12:05 pm

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now