Sucker punch

Question: I recently purchased four airline tickets from Singapore Airlines. My credit card company, Chase, charged me a $108 foreign transaction fee, which I didn't see until a month later. My bank refuses to reverse this charge. I used a U.S. bank credit card, and the purchase was made in the U.S. How would I know, sitting in my living room in the U.S. and purchasing an airline ticket, that I would incur a $108 foreign transaction fee?

Iqbal Mahmood


Answer: You wouldn't.

Looking at Mahmood's confirmation e-mail, I see only U.S. dollar signs. There is no indication that the transaction was in anything other than U.S. dollars. So how did this happen?

I'll save my screed about foreign currency transaction fees for a later time. I'll skip over the notion that those fees are a rip-off and that they border on gouging. Instead, I'll go directly to the story at hand, which lacks the delicious "stick it to the consumer" outrage and is more a tale of bad playmates.

In separate conversations with Chase and Singapore Airlines, each said the other was responsible for the charge.

"Singapore transacts in both U.S. and Singapore dollars," said Gary Kishner, a Chase representative. "If the purchase was done locally or through a retail outlet in the U.S., the purchase will process in U.S. dollars. If purchased on the Internet, it is processed through the country, resulting in the Singapore dollars."

Although the airline has a foreign merchant transaction number, it contends that it adds a notation that the charge occurred in the U.S. Some credit card companies do not or cannot process that information.

It's rare, but it happens.

"When we're made aware of this, we will work with passengers and customers' banks to find a solution," said James Boyd, a representative of Singapore Airlines. "At the same time, these are fees that don't accrue back to Singapore Airlines. These are fees that are charged by the bank."

The good news is that Singapore is working with Mahmood to resolve his situation and to prevent others from occurring.

The bad news is that you, as the customer, have no way of knowing that this could happen.

And that's the issue here. It's about transparency. Tell us upfront, even if this is just a distant possibility, and let us make the decision about whether we are going to buy from you or from someone else. But don't spit in my ear and tell me it's raining.

Meanwhile, this is a reminder -- an expensive one -- that you need to stay on top of your bills and question all charges. A traveler today can't be too cautious. You never know when a rain shower is brewing.


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