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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Alex, who miscalculated the cost of airfare during a family trip:
During a family trip to Korea and Japan, a hurricane was passing through our flight path from Tokyo to Busan. Our flight on a budget airline was canceled and the airline employees went home, so we were stranded at Narita Airport. In a panic, I started looking for alternative flights on my phone and found what I thought was a steal: a flight to Seoul with six business class seats for 100,000 Korean Won (around $85) each. We could take the train from Seoul to Busan and avoid the hurricane, but the flight was leaving soon, so I had to act quickly.
I booked with Expedia and immediately got a call from their fraud prevention department to verify that I had made the purchase. I confirmed it was me, but they never gave me the price in dollars for the flight. After boarding the (almost empty) flight and settling in to our amazing lie-flat seats, I started wondering why the cabin was so empty given that so many flights were canceled. I reviewed my confirmation email and realized the reason: I hadn’t checked the currency.
The flight was priced in Japanese Yen, which meant that I had paid over $900 per ticket. Needless to say, I was not able to enjoy the amazing service or my seat, and since I had been the one doing all of the booking, I didn’t feel I could ask anyone in my family to help offset the big expense. Lesson learned: know which currency you’re using, and if you get a call trying to verify payment, make sure you ask for the total price.
You can sometimes save money by purchasing airfare in a foreign currency, or by simply navigating to the foreign version of an airline’s website. But as Alex points out, you should always verify which currency is being used to process your transaction and confirm the exchange rate with your home currency to make sure the price is one you want to pay. Even if you feel comfortable running the numbers in your head, I recommend installing an app like the XE Currency Converter so you can check your math and get a more precise answer; that can help make buying less stressful if you’re pressed for time. As a failsafe, consider setting account alerts to warn you if a purchase exceeds a certain threshold.
You should pay attention to which currency you’re using not only when shopping for airfare, but for any purchase you make abroad or from a foreign website. Many foreign merchants will offer to let you pay in your home currency (rather than the local currency) using a “service” known as dynamic currency conversion or DCC. It might seem advantageous to see prices in a currency you’re familiar with, since that way you don’t have to think about the exchange rate. Unfortunately, getting you not to think about the exchange rate is exactly the goal, since that rate is likely to be abysmal. Your best bet is to decline DCC (including at foreign ATMs) and get in the habit of doing the conversion yourself.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Alex a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to email@example.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!
Featured photo by Daisuke Kishi / Getty Images.
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