smart spending

Boost your international travel dollar

Highlights
  • Dollar has been down against several foreign currencies in recent years.
  • Avoiding currency conversion fees and ATM fees can net savings.
  • Pre-paying your way beforehand may pay off later.

Are there smart ways to stretch your dollar during international travel?

Although the value of the dollar fluctuates, it generally has been down in recent years against the euro, pound and yen.

Well-traveled bloggers, expats, authors and other experts suggested eight dollar-boosting tips for spring or summer vacations abroad.

1. Fight currency conversion fees. Many international travelers shop and withdraw cash with credit cards and debit cards. But upon returning home, many users are shocked by the fees tacked onto each card transaction.

Before traveling, call your card issuer and ask how much it is tacking on any foreign conversion fees.

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Typical fees range from 1 percent to 3 percent of the withdrawal or purchase. While it may not sound like much, 2 percent of a $4,000 vacation amounts to $80, which goes a long way toward an extra night's stay.

Some card issuers offer transaction-fee-free plastic, such as Capital One. Compare credit card rates and switch to a low-fee or no-fee card before you go.

2. Avoid ATM fees. ATM users may pay two fees for the ease of use -- a currency conversion fee and a machine fee. Credit card users withdrawing from ATM machines will also pay cash-advance fees on top.

But some banks partner with banks in Europe. Partnerships allow you to skip paying surcharges for out-of-network ATMs.

For example, Bank of America and Citibank debit cards work at partner-bank ATMs, says Anne Banas, executive editor at the travel-news site SmarterTravel.com.

"With a Bank of America debit card, you can make unlimited withdrawals without being charged a single fee at ATMs in the U.K., Germany, France, Canada, and in Australia and New Zealand," she says.

Matthew Kepnes, blogger at NomadicMatt.com -- a site discussing budget travel and world travel -- keeps fees down by using an HSBC bank account.

"They have ATMs all over the world, so I can avoid getting dinged with an ATM fee," he says.

Of course, always make sure your card will work before traveling and ensure that your PIN is functional. Tell your bank you're going abroad; some banks cut off cards when charges start rolling in, fearing a stolen card or number.

3. Ask about cash discounts. Many hotels may require a credit card deposit to reserve a room, but you may be able to cut your check-out bill with cash.

"Often you can get a 3 percent or greater discount by paying with cash," when staying in Europe, says Chantal Panozzo, an expat working in Zurich.

Susanna Zaraysky, author of "Travel Happy, Budget Low," says cash discounts extend to stores in some countries.

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"In Brazil, it's common to give a 10 percent discount for cash purchases," Zaraysky says.

4. Keep up on rates. Although exchange rates probably won't swing widely during your travels, it's wise to keep an eye on financial news. Even a small change benefiting the dollar may mean that it's cheaper to pay off your hotel bill on one day instead of another.

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