Using the Wrong Credit Card in Canada — Reader Mistake Story

Aug 15, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there’s also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I’m calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.

From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Alan, who accidentally paid extra for restaurant purchases while traveling abroad. Here’s what he had to say:

Alan remembered the restaurant bonus on his Chase Freedom card, but forgot the foreign transaction fees.

My family and I just returned from a trip to Canada. We spent three nights in Quebec City at the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac (the upgrade to Gold Level is well worth the money), and four nights in Montreal at the Hotel Saint Sulpice. It was a wonderful trip with great food, drink and scenery, but halfway through I realized I was making a big mistake.

I have both the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and Chase Freedom card. I use the Sapphire Reserve for most purchases, but since the Freedom card is offering 5 points per dollar at restaurants this quarter, I gave it a more prominent spot in my wallet so I’d remember to use it when dining out. Hoping to maximize the bonus category, I paid for all our restaurant purchases with the Freedom card during the first part of our trip.

After three days, however, I took a quick look at the Chase app and realized using the Freedom card in Canada was a mistake. I had completely spaced on the 3% foreign transaction fee charged by the Freedom Card — I’m so used to using the Sapphire Reserve (which doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees) that I didn’t think twice about it.

You can imagine my surprise when I saw all the fees listed in my account. I’m sure they cost me more than I got in return by earning those additional points, especially since I could have reached the bonus limit without using the card in Canada. I hope this serves as a reminder to think about these small details when using a credit card abroad.

(The Chase Freedom is no longer open to new applicants)

Processing a foreign transaction adds minimal expense from the bank’s perspective, so foreign transaction fees (along with dynamic currency conversion) are little more than a nuisance to international travelers. Several prominent travel rewards cards have dropped these fees in the last few years, but plenty of others still charge extra for purchases made outside the US. Hopefully more cards (including Chase Freedom) will follow suit, but until then bring at least one card that waives foreign transaction fees with you the next time you leave the country.

Fortunately for Alan, his mistake wasn’t too costly. The Sapphire Reserve card earns 3 points per dollar at restaurants with no foreign transaction fee, while the Freedom card currently earns 5 points per dollar with a 3% fee. In the end, he effectively purchased extra Ultimate Rewards points for 1.5 cents apiece. He can easily break even by redeeming those points directly through the Chase travel portal, or he may be able to come out ahead by transferring to travel partners for premium awards. His mistake would have stung much worse if his card didn’t offer such a good earning rate.

Plenty of cards don’t add foreign transaction fees; make sure to bring one with you when traveling abroad.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Alan for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image courtesy of compassandcamera via Getty Images.

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