I split expenses 50/50 with a friend on vacation. She wants me to split the cost of her foreign credit card transaction fees. Is this sharp practice?


Dear Quentin,

I recently took a trip to another country with a friend. We agreed to share the costs. When they listed their expenses, they included a foreign transaction fee that was charged to the credit card they were using.

Before we left for the trip, I looked through my credit cards and used the one that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. We didn’t discuss anything about foreign transaction fees beforehand.

I think they are responsible for the cost of using the card they choose to use.
Do I owe them half of these fees? If so, I’ll get my bolts. If not, how do I explain that card charges are not a shared cost?

Careful friend

Dear Attention,

This is hard. I will explain why.

On the one hand, charging you foreign credit card transaction fees isn’t all that different from charging you for her late charges: the foreign transaction fees appear on her credit card bill, not the restaurant bill. Like you, he has control over whether or not he pays them by choosing the right credit card. If he was withdrawing money from an ATM, he will not charge you for these fees. On the other hand, they were — strictly speaking — carried out as part of the transaction.

These fees can cost anywhere from 1% of the purchase price to 5% on the high end, although most cards typically charge around 3%. For example, the credit card company could charge 1% for a currency conversion fee and the bank could charge a 2% interchange fee. Whether you’re paying at a restaurant or retail store or withdrawing money from an ATM, you’ll pay this fee. Plus, if you choose to pay in, say, euros, you’ll likely get a worse interest rate than if you’d paid in dollars.

Most cards that waive foreign transaction fees come with an annual fee, but they also have plenty of perks, benefits and bonus points that help offset that fee. Some cards will give you thank you points for using your card at a gas station, restaurant, hotel or airline. In your view, you wouldn’t split an annual fee with your friend 50/50 just because you used that card on vacation, just like you wouldn’t split the Thank You points you received as part of your travel.

You wouldn’t split an annual fee with your friend 50/50 just because you used that card on vacation, just like you wouldn’t split the Thank You points you received as part of your travel.

But while it may seem like a sharp practice from your friend to include it in your final bill, it doesn’t mean you have to adhere to the strictest standards of etiquette. As with most things, it comes down to a balance between what is right and what you can live with to keep the peace. This is likely why some members of the Facebook Moneyist Group are divided. One person wrote in response to your letter: “How are you responsible for the credit card he chose to use?”

While another replied: ‘Will it break the bank? Why not just pay and take the opportunity to offer some education, like “Hey, I just found out my X card doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, but my Y card will. If you have more than one card, check them as it may be a way to avoid these charges on your next trip.” I think this is fair and transparent: you alert your friend about the next trip, but you also get the higher point .

Ultimately, it all depends on the amount of foreign transaction fees and the nature of your friendship. If this is a girlfriend who nickel and dimes you at every turn, and is a hottie from Paris to Pittsburgh, this could be an opportunity to finally cut your losses and tell her you’ve had enough of her transactional nature. If, however, you’re good friends and the fees add up to $100, you might decide it’s worth paying the $50 share because the price of your friendship is worth much more.

If you decide to pay, notify her of the alternative cards and politely let her know you won’t be paying for the foreign transaction fees again.

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