Dear Hotels: Stop With Your Currency Conversion Scams

“Would you like to pay in [local currency] or US Dollars?”

It’s a question virtually anyone with a US-issued credit card has been asked when checking out of a hotel abroad.

When you’re using your credit card abroad, you should always pay in the local currency. Always. I don’t even know why hotels offer the option of paying in another currency, since there’s zero upside to paying in USD. Why?

  • Many credit cards have no foreign transaction fees nowadays, which usually use a market conversion rate (or very close to market)
  • For cards with foreign transaction fees, you’ll typically still be charged the foreign transaction fees for things billed in USD outside the US (because it’s about where the purchase is processed and not necessarily the currency in which it was processed)
  • The currency conversion rates hotels use are terrible

So while I’d love to see hotels suggest guests pay in local currency (since a lot of people don’t realize they’re better off paying in local currency than USD), I’m happy when they at least give the option of which currency to pay in, which they almost always do (and should).

But not yesterday when checking out of the Hilton Queenstown. I was given my bill, which showed everything in NZD. The total was 1,163NZD, and when I signed the credit card slip I noticed he had billed me in USD — the total was 806.96USD. The slip even said the rate included a commission of 2.05%.

Currency-Conversion-Scam-2

So just how far off was the currency conversion? Using today’s exchange rates, 1,163NZD should be 762.57USD.

Currency-Conversion-Scam-1

Instead I was charged 806.96USD — that means I was overcharged by $44.39, or 5.8%.

I called the associate out on it and asked why he didn’t give me the option of paying in NZD. He said “oh, they train us to just charge in the currency of the card.” I explained to him that not only does that translate to a terrible conversion rate, but the receipt even said there was a further 2.05% fee. His response was “are you sure?”

Unfortunately I was in a rush to catch my flight, since there was one person working at reception on a Monday morning after the hotel was sold out for the entire weekend, and I had to queue for 20 minutes before I was helped. I also didn’t want to delay the people behind me. I’ll be following up with the hotel, though, on principle, and ask them why they’re training their employees this way.

Hilton-Queenstown

To the major hotel chains: I really wish this is an issue you’d tackle globally. I stay with hotels like Hilton, Hyatt, Starwood, etc., because I expect they train certain standards globally to avoid scams. Sure, some major hotels have hidden/ridiculous resort fees, etc., but would it be too much to ask that the major hotel chains train their individual hotels about this “scam,” because it’s costing guests a lot of money?

Anyone else face these currency conversion scams at hotels?

Comments

  1. Car rentals are also bad about this too. I fought it was a Hertz and finally got corporate to reverse it. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was the principle. You should always ask the customer first.

  2. Restaurants too. Although you may have indicated that you want to pay in the local currency, some will select the “home” currency option back-end at their terminals and you have no way to find out until you check the bank statement.

    I have called Citi a couple of times to block such transactions and their response is always “you must collect the final terminal print-out that shows the local currency option selected”. Geez.

    Dynamic Currency Conversions lets the vendor earns a certain percentage of the commission once they hit certain targets.

  3. Agreed, it’s a complete scam and needs to stop. And it’s not just hotels, it’s a lot of retailers, restaurants, car rental/hire, and tourist attractions that try this as well.

  4. As the Hotel gets a cash back commission on the conversion fee you will see this getting pushed harder and harder by hotels. I have now made it a part of my checkout routine to say “Check out please, Please charge me in local currency” and have them confirm that I they understand that I want to be charged in local currency even before I’m being handed the bill for review.

  5. I was recently charged in the USD for an Indian hotel bill at a major high-end chain, and when I asked them to reverse it so I could pay in INR, they refused, saying “we have no choice”.

    It really is a scam – and that chain will never have my business again.

  6. I tell them that they are violating their merchant agreement with Visa/Mastercard, and I will report them for fraud if they do not fix it. If I’m in a hurry or if they refuse to fix it (or pretend to not know how to), I write “REFUSE” in the signature spot. If the hotel is a part of a loyalty program, I will complain to them too. Amex and Chase have always granted the disputes for me. I’ve never used Citi for hotels abroad, but the new cards will likely change that.

  7. This is hardly something that is targeted at Americans. I get the same choice when I swipe any of my Singaporean, Australian or Swedish credit cards in the US as well. Last time was at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel.

  8. I had this happen to me at Hotel Majestic in Barcelona. Staff didn’t even give me an option. Wasn’t paying attention when I checked out. Emailed the hotel a few days later and gave me a similar line “We charge guests in their home currency for convenience.” Thankfully they credited and rebilled with no issue.

  9. Theoretically there is an upside to it, if the local currency suddenly appreciates. Appreciates a lot. It’s more of a theoretical possibility though, which yes, makes this is a scam. Disputed this with my bank, several times, and always, on principle, go to to tripadvisor and give the hotel one star. That’s what a hotel deserves that knowingly cheats guests. That many hotels do this does not make it better.

  10. Dynamic currency conversion is the bane of the modern traveler. It’s simply become routine that after every trip I file a dispute on at least one charge that was put through in the wrong currency. I’ve never had a problem with any card issuer, but I always keep the receipt where I clearly mark the local currency. I can’t imagine the establishment actually gets that much money kicked back from dcc, so it’s my hope that if more people go to the trouble of disputing when charges are processed in the wrong currency, the incentive balance will change.

  11. Hotels obviously offer this “convenient” option because they get a kickback. What irks me is when they don’t offer me the choice and then are unable to reverse the transaction and charge me in local currency, but I will always follow up to get it reversed. Please follow up with the hotel and Hilton about how you were misled and disserviced. The fact customers put up with this is why it is so broadly offered.

    I find Starwood properties in Europe to be notorious offenders.

  12. Had the same reaction during my Hyatt stay in Dubai. Everyone around me essentially requested they be charged in their home currency. I asked the guest relations manager the very same question you’ve asked here and his response was that many travelers are only comfortable in seeing the total cost in their home currency – that’s why they offer the option. He does, however, agree that it usually doesn’t make sense for anyone to do the DCC option.

  13. I, too, always tell the receptionist (hotel) or waiter (restaurant) or vendor up front that I want to be billed in the local currency and see a receipt showing the completed transaction in the local currency.
    Not withstanding, I’ve encountered numerous establishments that refuse and state categorically that they always bill in US dollars if you are using a US issued credit card. I still haven’t found a way to force an establishment to bill in the local currency if their policy is to do otherwise.

  14. Same thing happened to me at the Westin Tokyo over Christmas. Luckily checkout wasn’t busy and got it fixed then and there.

    It’s even more nefarious, because I bet most leisure travelers think they are paying less if they opt for their currency – it sounds like you won’t pay the fees.

    I also try to use my credit card for everything while traveling. I keep a small amount of local currency, just in case. The rates used by foreign exchange services at airports are also a giant scam. Way better off letting Amex or Visa use their conversions, on a no fee card. Huge savings to me.

  15. I was surprised to see this rearing its ugly head recently at a Hilton abroad. I explained it to the young clerk, who had no idea. It seems to be a growing trend. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled, given the comments above about other retailers.

  16. Miss happened to me once, and luckily I noticed it and the hotel agreed to reverse the transaction. Issue was, not the refund of the transaction instead of reversing it. I therefore got charged double the commission. One for the charge, and the other for the return. It was a solid 10% difference between the amount of the charge in the amount of the return. Luckily, American Express offers great customer service and agreed to refund the difference.

  17. This is a blatant violation of the card association operating regulations. This should be reported to both your card issuer and the card association (Visa/MC).

  18. I make it VERY CLEAR before I hand out my credit card to them: I want to pay in the local currency. In Europe at least you have to enter the PIN so you have the option to select what currency you want to pay. That puts you in charge on the transaction and not the hotel or restaurant.

  19. “I don’t even know why hotels offer the option of paying in another currency, since there’s zero upside to paying in USD. Why?”

    Think a little longer and the reason will come to you.

  20. The only time DCC is useful is when you are paying with a prepaid “Cash Passport” type card which charges criminally high rates (20-30%) for currency conversion commissions. In many developing countries, these are sometimes the only way to get access to foreign exchange quotas. Being able to transact in USD at “only” 5% commission via DCC is a huge savings as a result.

  21. Another common scam similar to DCC but a lot harder to spot is fake POS category. That happens almost daily in some Asian countries. You thought you pay for a meal and use Chase Sapphire Preferred, only to find out days later that the POS machine at the restaurant is designated as General Retail (or some other lower-commission-rate category) instead of Restaurant.

  22. Chile is an exception. As a non-resident, if you want to save the 20% VAT you must pay in US dollars. That does mean, if you use a credit card, you’ll be charged the bad exchange rate, but you still come out way ahead with the lack of sales tax. If you want to save the conversion fee in Chile, pay in cash in US dollars. But for just about every other country, you’re best off paying in the local currency.

  23. I was at Heathrow recently buying something at the Duty-Free and the woman asked me if I wanted to pay in Pounds or USD. I told her Pounds and she went off on me about it. I told her that it is always best to pay in local currency and that I wasn’t some newbie who doesn’t travel a lot, I know what I am talking about. Sure enough as soon as I left I pulled up my credit card app and looked at the charge and the rate converted to USD was lower than the one they had quoted me in USD when I went to pay.

  24. As others have mentioned, dispute/chargeback is the way to go on this. CC companies will always side with you.

  25. @Global Highlander
    Even if you write “refuse” technically you signed the slip.
    You don’t need to actually sign your name for the charge to go through. Any doodle or marking will work as nobody checks it.

  26. This is a game. Hotels steal from you, you steal from the hotel. Don’t feel bad about it. After the financial crisis of 2009 I am convinced following the law is for idiots. So many scoundrels got away without jail time.

    So anyway what did you steal from the hotel?

  27. It’s a scam and hotels should be honest about it and stop it.

    Your post is great – thanks for paying attention to this!

  28. InterContinental Rome. An otherwise perfect stay, spoiled by the use of DCC without asking me first whether I wanted to pay in Euros or USD. I complained, and was told that they could not reverse it, and that I was getting a “great rate”, bla, bla, bla. Had an Uber waiting, so gave up arguing. I lost ~5% to their scam. They gained some $ in commission, but they lost a client. Scammers!

  29. Hertz in Ireland does it all the time and there is no way for them to reverse it. They automatically charge you in your own currency and when I complained to customer service/corporate they claim that is how their systems are programmed.

  30. Park Hyatt Paris explicitly stated that they charged me a ‘commission’ of 7% to use Hyatt’s own USD check certificates.

  31. I usually don’t have this issue at hotels since I prepay my bill, but I’ve had it at other merchants. On a recent trip to Spain I went to a few places where they did not ask me and then I received a receipt indicating I was charged in dollars. Several of the receipts even said on them something to the effect of “I certify that I requested to be charged in dollars,” making me think that the merchant’s agreement with the financial institution requires consent from the cardholder. The lesson I learned was that, if possible, I should say something to the effect of, “If there is an option, I would like to be charged in the local currency.”

  32. Does it help to specify at check-in that you want to be billed in local currency? Anybody have experience with that?

  33. Has anyone had success reversing the charge to local currency when calling your bank back in the US? Unfortunately, I can see where they would say they have no control over what the hotel, restaurant, etc. does.

  34. Sorry, to clarify, I meant to ask if people have had success with Chase reversing the charge if you dispute it. Thx.

  35. DCC is a total scam. Also happens to me in Hong Kong a lot (Singapore issued citibank credit card). Currently in Zurich: all supermarkets here seem to have this option and select home currency as default. But at least the system accepts my choice of local currency.

  36. “I don’t even know why hotels offer the option of paying in another currency, since there’s zero upside to paying in USD. Why?”

    As others have indicated, the real question is “cui bono?” That the hotel makes a bit more money seems to be motive enough for the offer. Also, I’d guess that a lot of casual travelers like the reassurance of paying in their own currency (without considering, or perhaps without even being aware, that they are paying more).

  37. One nice thing about finally getting chips in our credit cards is that it’s now often the machine that asks what currency you want to pay in rather than the cashier. It’s still annoying however that these cards are chip and signature.

  38. You should feel ashamed Lucky, that you didn’t stand up for the future customers, including the ones waiting on line, by refusing to pay the bill until they stopped cheating you.

    You should always examine every single credit card receipt you sign to check that it has the correct amount on it before signing. It’s a simple precaution and your obligation as a cardholder.

    @Skywardbd ” I still haven’t found a way to force an establishment to bill in the local currency if their policy is to do otherwise.”

    You demand to pay in local currency. If they refuse, you tell them to send you a bill at your home address and walk out without paying. It’s the same thing you would do if the credit card machines were all down because of a power outage. In this case, the machines are down because they’re scamming you.

  39. @Ricardo ” I complained, and was told that they could not reverse it, and that I was getting a “great rate”, bla, bla, bla. Had an Uber waiting, so gave up arguing. I lost ~5% to their scam. They gained some $ in commission, but they lost a client. Scammers!”

    Did they have a shackle on your legs? Walk out of the hotel and tell them to send you a bill. They have your home address from check in. They even have your credit card imprint and can charge you correctly with it once they figure out how.

  40. DCC is the biggest scam! I am a resident of Shanghai and I thought this was only something that happens in China. I am constantly checking if the restaurant or hotel charged me in USD or CNY. I’m glad I know it happens everywhere, so at least I can be aware of this.

    If at a restaurant I get the slip to sign and notice DCC was used, I will tell them to charge it in local currency or void the charge and use either cash or a local card. But that is ultimately very annoying. 99% of the time the employee doesn’t know how to change it.

    I have also noticed that even if you have an option to check the box for local currency versus USD it is already too late, the charge was processed in USD.

  41. Agree it is a scam, but a legal one that naive people fall for.

    I always refuse the “option” and tell hotel clerks that it is an awful choice.

    I insist they reverse it when I’m not presented with the option. Unfortunately sometimes that takes time to work through.

    When I’ve run out of time two courses of action have worked. FIrst I email the hotel. Usually this gets a reversal done. They credit the USD rate (or HKD rate for my HKD cards, this is NOT just a USD issue) and then recharge in local currency. A 5-6% difference is not atypical. Second I challenge the charge with my bank. That has also worked sometimes, but is a last resort.

  42. When in Australia in November, a few places tried to automatically charge my UK debit cards in GBP, as the exchange was around £1 for $2 at the time, it was obvious how much of a rip off it was! Luckily with chip and pin, I could make sure the payment was not processed and get it changed, although some places weren’t happy when I complained about it.

    One of my bad debit cards still processes these conversions as overseas transactions anyway, I once took €100 out of an ATM in spain, it offered me the chance to take the money out in GBP (didn’t understand about this at the time), got the terrible exchange rate, got charged an extra 2.75% by my bank as well as the £1.50 charge they add for each foreign transaction. That card never leaves my wallet outside of the UK now.

    My UK AMEX cards never offer this option tho

  43. In the UK, when a US-based credit card is used, some payment terminals display the amount only in US Dollars. You need to hit “reject” or “cancel”; the machine will then process the transaction in GBP. (Totally counter-intuitive, but it works.)

    When disputing a charge with Visa, specify “chargeback reason code 76: Incorrect currency”.when the cardholder was not given the choice to pay in the merchant’s currency. If the charge-back volume is high enough, merchants and processors won’t be able to profit from this scam; it might actually go away.

  44. A couple of years ago I was shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch in London and, at that time unaware of these unfavorable FX rates, wanted to press “Yes” to being charged in EUR instead of GBP. Fortunately, the cashier stopped me and pressed “No/Cancel” stating that these rates are always bad and I would be charged much more compared to when I get charged in their base currency (GBP). I was very thankful. It was the only time that happened – since then I always decline to be charged in my card’s home currency despite the cashiers/merchants encouraging me to do so.

  45. I booked on spg.com a hotel in the UK with my European credit card. Room rate confirmation in GBP, found out the credit card was charged in EUR. T&C’s of the website say they will charge in hotel’s currency, so not only did I not have a choice in currency, or approve the exchange rate, it was also against their own T&Cs! Called the hotel afterwards and they changed it. Exchange rate was 1.41 EUR/GBP instead of 1.38 EUR/GBP

  46. @Lucky has flagged a very important problem for overseas travelers to which he also provided the correct response: ALWAYS PAY IN LOCAL CURRENCY!

    For my recent hotel stays, these 6 of 8 hotels did the right thing automatically and charged me in local currency: Conrad Koh Samui, Hilton Shanghai, WA Beijing, Park Hyatt Siem Reap (they use USD anyway), Grand Hyatt Singapore and Marriott Renaissance BKK. On the other hand, Conrad HKG and Grant Hyatt Erawan BKK first asked me if I wanted the charges in USD or local currency, to which I responded: “Always in local currency.”

  47. Thank you for writing about this scam. It is a problem all over Europe. I was recently charged $3000 extra for a tour booked through a company in the UK because I paid with my US credit card. I called the company and they refunded my charge and then submitted it again in UK pounds so that I paid the correct amount. This is a horrible scam and should be stopped.

  48. It is visa n mastercard that is allowing this to happen. Amex does not hv such issues.

    If this practice is banned by visa/mc, then no one will be scammed. But r they not the ones encouraging it?

  49. DCC is btw not limited to US$ and US cards. It´s exactly the same with EUR credit cards. Even in the US I get asked if I wanted to pay in USD or EUR. So – this is in fact a worldwide problem and I´d love to see this targeted against the card-companies – even if I don´t see how that could happen.

    It´s important to see that the banks and not the hotels / retailers etc are to be blamed first. Why? Because that is their way to sugarcoat rising fees or less attractive terms of business for card acceptance. They are training the people to upsell their revenue a little bit or at least earn back the provision by scamming with foreign currancy exchange. Additionally it is a fine way (at least for hotels) to cope with the disappearance of fees for changing currencies – because in first world countries almost nobody will exchange money nowadays – because we all have credit cards. Now the circle is closed again 😉

  50. Dear Ben,

    Thank you for your email and post to your site. My apologies for the delay in responding however I wanted to ensure I was providing you the correct information.
    This service is provided by Travelex who conduct regular training for our team on how to use the system as well as to explain the differences.

    Our objective is to inform the guest of the options and as such have a ‘script’ to explain the differences and impact.

    “The commission to change NZD to your own currency is already included in the exchange rate and purchase amount, which is fully disclosed separately on the eftpos receipt” – you could also add onto the end of this “the exchange rates are provided by Travelex and are market competitive” “We are aware some overseas banks may charge a transaction fee for international purchases if you pay in NZD or your own currency. We would advise you contact your bank if you have any queries on this”

    All this information is also provided in detail on the slip which requires your signature to provide maximum transparency

    We do provide on-going extensive training with the team across a wide range of subjects required for them to perform their role here at the hotel. As a result of your feedback we will ensure that this subject takes a priority as a refresh with the team over the next days.

    Thank you again for your feedback and we look forward to having the opportunity to welcome you back again soon.

    Kind regards,

    Chris
    General Manager
    Hilton Queenstown Resort and Spa

  51. Chris:

    After reading your reply I still have NO idea what you are saying. Your hotel is cheating customers, are you going to stop doing it or not, it’s a very simple question.

    My husband is a Hilton Diamond member and we plan to visit New Zealand soon, if we’re going to get screwed by your hotel then we’re going to stay elsewhere, he’s also Marriott Platinum so we have plenty of options.

  52. This is a typical problem where a large number of consumers of the service (i.e. guest) are not the ones who will ultimately foot the bill. The fee is not coming directly out of the guest’s own pocket (assume a business or government traveler who will be reimbursed by their employer), there is little incentive to haggle about some minor charges, beyond a cursory, “What’s this?”. The hotel employee’s answer is almost irrelevant, since the expense report will bury the charge even further. Even when the traveler is paying from their own wallet, other pressures like getting to a flight or beating the crowds at Disney will cause the traveler to do as Ben did, i.e., “decide to (not) delay the people behind me (and) following up with the hotel (later)”. How many times have any of us said that to ourselves (or our spouse), and later never arrived?

  53. @Chris — Did you not understand the facts/question or are you trying to hide your hotel’s unethical practices?

    1. Yes or No. Does your hotel permit guests to choose to pay in NZ Dollars on their foreign credit cards?

    2. Yes or No. Do you understand that if you force guests to pay in their home currency on their credit cards you are forcing them to pay a higher exchange rate and commissions than they would otherwise pay?

    3. Yes or No. Do you understand that not giving guests a choice on dynamic currency conversion is a breach of your agreement with the credit card issuer?

    My suspicion is that your answers – though we will never see them here — are 1) Yes (we do this because we’re getting a kickback); 2) Yes (it improves our revenue); 3) Yes (we’ve gotten away with it so far and it’s increased our revenue so we’re going to continue to do it). How much does a charge back cost you?

  54. @Paul I suppose. But this way, if the hotel provides a copy of the slip when I dispute the charge, it will be clear that I was not willfully selected the DCC choice.

    @Barb. I have always had success with Chase when disputing charges. I simply dispute the amount that I have been overcharged. So, I’ll just see what the charge should have been through Google, and any amount I’ve been charged above that in the DCC, I will dispute that. They’ve always credited the amount back to me.

  55. Dear Brian,

    I thought best to respond one by one.

    1. Yes or No. Does your hotel permit guests to choose to pay in NZ Dollars on their foreign credit cards?
    Yes a guest can pay in NZ dollars or local currency. It is their choice. They must select a button on the machine to chose which currency they would like to pay.

    2. Yes or No. Do you understand that if you force guests to pay in their home currency on their credit cards you are forcing them to pay a higher exchange rate and commissions than they would otherwise pay?
    We do not force the customer to pay in NZ dollars or their local currency. The choice is yours. You must select it at the time of transaction

    3. Yes or No. Do you understand that not giving guests a choice on dynamic currency conversion is a breach of your agreement with the credit card issuer?

    We do not force the customer to pay in NZ dollars or their local currency. The choice is yours. You must select it at the time of transaction

    I hope that clarifies your concerns. I am also a traveller and recently bought some items at the airport duty free and had the same options provided when I paid. It was my choice if I wanted to pay in the local currency of that country or if I wanted to select to pay in my local currently, NZ dollars so that when I got the receipt it stated an exact amount that I would then see on my bank statement at home.

    Russell, I appreciate you asking to get the correct information before reaching a decision, I trust you would agree by giving a customer the control of the decision, we are providing them options of what they prefer. We do hope to have the opportunity to host you during your visit to Queenstown.

    Kind regards

    Chris

  56. This hits a sensitive nerve with me as this is nothing more than additional profit center for hotels that prey on unsuspecting guests.
    I stopped staying at the Hilton South Wharf in Melbourne,Australia over the practice years ago and I actually liked the hotel.
    The first time I accepted their office management apologies about the confusion of the agents not asking me what currency I want to be billed in. Of course they billed me in American dollars ka ching!
    The receipt said I authorized it and it is a final sale/transaction! Lie Lie Lie
    The second time I froze the charges on American Express and my stay was refunded by American Express and I never returned to the hotel in principal
    Hilton seems to be heavy into the scamming and it has damaged their reputation as has the credit card surcharge fee
    I look at Hilton as evil and avoid them now.
    They helped start the cancer and now its spread to some of the other hotel brands properties and even restaurants!.
    There is a huge price to be paid for dodgy business practices and they know damn well what they are up to! Its time to get main stream media involved in the fraud
    Bottom like unless you are pro active they will rarely ask you how you want to be billed but simply bill as to what gives them the best kickback
    Let the educated traveler beware its a corporate entity picking pockets like a thieves in the street
    Shame on all of them ! Hilton Pickpocket International

  57. They train their employees that way because it’s more profitable for them. They get part of the commission and the acquirer gets the rest. Win-win for all parties involved except the customer.

  58. I am being forced by MEPS to pay a 4.99% markup on my credit card to convert to USD. The cashiers say the machines do it automatically, which it does, because I watch them use the machine. 2/3 of merchant it lets me choose between USD and JOD, but 1/3 of merchants just goes straight to USD with the 4.99% markup. On the receipt, it even says I “have been offered a choice to may in my currency…” but it’s a lie… there’s no choice. Where is the class action lawsuit again the credit card companies?

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