Monday, June 7, 2010

American Express Foreign Currency Conversion Fee

On my way back from Canada two weekends ago I naturally wanted to hit up the duty-free at the Thousand Islands crossing to shore up on my summer reserves of booze sans tax. While the exchange rate isn't awesome these days, the prices are marginally better and you can also load up on Canadian candy (Smarties baby!) and maple syrup.

So after scoring bottles of Patron, Hendricks, Ketel One and Grand Marnier, I thought I was pretty clever right up until I got stopped at the US Customs and Border Patrol checkpoint and referred to secondary inspection after admitting I'd ignored the one-bottle per visitor rule and actually purchased four.

They lined me up with about 7-8 other cars and had me roll up all the windows and leave the vehicle and not use my cellphone (to call my Al Qaeda friends), while a big Ford truck with a white box in the bed (Mobile Radiation Portal Monitor) slowly puttered down and up the line of cars apparently shooting some kind of radiation to find bombs, yellowcake or other instruments of terrorism.

Satisfied that we were carrying nothing dangerous, CPB let us go and I was off into the States with my tax-free hooch.

Now a fortnight later, I'm checking my American Express bill online and notice this funny little blue dot in the statement next to my duty-free liquor purchase:
...and find that AMEX has tacked on an extra 2.7% to my purchase for the service of foreign currency conversion. Shame on your AMEX for taking the low-road of surprise hidden fees (though I'm sure I was notified in one of those dense, rice-paper pamphlets about my Terms and Conditions), but I guess you have to take advantage when you have the world by the balls? That's nice customer-centric thinking.

I used to think of AMEX as the goto for travel purchases, but knowing that I'll pay an extra 2.7% on top of anything I buy in foreign currency, I'm thinking twice.

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