Is the AMEX 2.7% International transaction fee a MYTH? Let’s take a look!

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Last week we had a great SWAG Saturday to see if you all understood the ONE card that can send points to Delta, get you into the Skyclub and then also charge NO international transaction fees. Some started talking about some CHASE cards that do not charge a fee too. But you know what, CHASE may not the best deal!

Most know that the DELTA AMEX cards charges a 2.7% fee for international transactions, but is that really so? Here is why I ask. I did a bunch of test charges on both my Chase cards and my Delta AMEX cards while I was in Sweden. The results were very interesting to me! Here is why.




Think about AMEX Platinum Membership Rewards cards, both the personal and the business cards,  with no international fee. These could be a MUCH better deal than ANY Chase cards due to this! Why did this happen and what are the implications of this? First my experiments.

I charged a few items ALL ON THE SAME DAY on both my Delta Reserve AMEX and on my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (I did this experiment more than once to get some good sample data), and the exchange rate in Swedish krowns (in this case the higher the better) was:


  • AMEX = 6.53 SEK for one US Dollar
  • CHASE = 6.43 SEK for one US Dollar


As you can clearly see, AMEX gave me a 1.5% better exchange rate for my money over Chase. That is a HUGE difference (I have seen this before but never tested over the same day more than once like this time to be sure). Now, clearly the 2.7% surcharge on the Delta AMEX does still end up costing me 1.2% NET to pay with that card over the Chase card. Lets take this a step further.

First is that I could potentially have come out 1.5% ahead with the AMEX Platinum Membership Rewards card if I had one, but also, depending on how much each of us value or NEED Delta Skymiles, it could, EVEN WITH the international fee, be worth it to use the card to buy things outside the USA.

None of this math takes into account the value of say an Ultimate Rewards point compared to a Membership Rewards point, but the higher exchange rate must now also be seriously looked at as a component of value when making that final judgment of what you want the most.

So just what is going on here? Is AMEX really paying a higher exchange rate than CHASE is? The fact is these results will vary due to, not the transaction date, but the at what time & date AMEX or CHASE decided to process the transaction, and international exchange rates do change all the time day by day (even hour by hour). So, if the rates do swing big enough, the total fee could be wiped out or even move the other way and be 3 or 4% compared to a card with NO international transaction fees!

Anyway, this has been an eye opener for me and I hope for you too that just because a card seems to offer a better deal, in practice, the results can be very different! – René

Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card
from American Express®
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Thank you for ALWAYS starting here!



  1. While I have never actually sat down and done the math, I have always been suspicious of this. Perhaps it is a “just depends” thing….but I doubt it. Nice post.

  2. I think you need a substantial amount more of data to determine whether Chase and other no-FX fee card issuers are monkeying about with the trans/posting dates and building in fees into the exchange rate. The main reason I want to believe the banks would tread lightly in this respect is the large FX fee settlement that was had a few years ago, the banks (owners of the card networks) were just barely lucky to not get severely hammered, another similar occurrence and it could cost hem dearly both financially and loyalty wise for something trivial (swipe fees have to be more lucrative so why risk customers going back to cash or cash equivalents over FX revenues).

    My experience with this is expense reimbursements, the reference rate for our software is always less favorable or equal than what chase has charged over a 2 yr period. Unfortunately no AMEX fee comparison because I used the Plat card internationally. Maybe that’s a comparison that could also shed further light on the machinations of no-FX fee products.

  3. This is a just depends thing. It’s entirely possible that the exchange rates could have flip flopped, which would have made the spread between the two cards more in favor of Chase.

  4. If someone were to build an app that gave realtime exchange rates at each bank, I’d pay for it.

  5. Very interesting article, but you have to take into consideration the category bonuses for the Chase Sapphire preferred and the 7% annual bonus. Especially on travel and food purchases, which account for most expenses when traveling.

  6. I think you should show exactly what you charged, how much it was in the local currency, what the exchange rate was, etc.

    Either way, you may not be talking about much money. Hard to tell just from the post above.

  7. @Lawrence – not trying to get into a uber detailed math post ( gosh I had fun last summer with a PHD in math last year – ugg ) just to show, as I sum up in the end of the post, that depending on when a bank decides to run the charge, you may not get the same deal as the day you purchased the item. This can negate or help the perks or fee’s. You are correct you are not talking much money on small transactions, but 1-4% on say $1000 or $5000 can become “real” money.

  8. Unless there purchases were done at the exact same time, I have my doubts as to if this indicates a disparity in rates. A couple weeks ago I made identical purchases five minutes apart on my PR Gold card and the foreign transaction charge was different.

  9. @Kris – they were done within minutes of each other. Again, it is NOT the transaction time and date that matters, but when the BANKS decide to run the transaction. Thus, even when run at the EXACT same second, the results can be very different!

  10. It is very country/bank dependent. Each country is going to be very different. On one of my trips, I used a Chase and Amex card same day because my chase card had problems after the first purchase. The chase was a small percentage and the amex was definitely larger (I don’t remember the exact amount other than my shock at the difference and that is why the Amex card never comes out of the wallet on trips).

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