A travel trend has descended on Europe. It's worse than selfie sticks. It's worse than drone photography. Like a pickpocket at a train station it pretends to be your helpful travel guide before leaving you a few euros short.
It's called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC), and despite its off-putting name it can butter up unsuspecting tourists when they come to pay their bills.
You've probably been one of them.
Picture this: you're finishing up dinner at a Parisian brasserie or pizza parlour in Naples, you hand over your debit or credit card and the friendly waiter asks if you'd like to pay in your home currency used on the card – dollars – or euros (or whatever the local currency is). So helpful, right?
Travel budgets are hard enough to manage (especially after a few drinks at dinner) and then along comes this offer to convert your meal bill into simple New Zealand dollars at the point of sale to help you track you spending. Do not do it.
This is Dynamic Currency Conversion. The exchange rate applied to convert your dinner bill (or new shoes, or souvenirs) is the worst currency conversion rate going and the merchant is offering you the "convenience" at the point of sale not from the good of their heart, but because they earn a small commission for on-selling this service.
Offering a conversion rate of €0.58 to the dollar instead of your bank's €0.63 may not sound like much of a margin, but over a month-long jaunt to Europe that could see you losing out hundreds while the merchants cream it.
You wouldn't be alone in opting for this cheeky convenience - one in five travellers fall victim to this pushy trick, according to currency company FairFX.
Although now common throughout Europe and elsewhere, the mark-up charged varies a lot depending on the shop or restaurant, your credit card firm, the DCC operator and the payment gateway being used. Since the merchant is getting a slice of the action, suddenly it makes sense why they are suddenly worried about your convenience and ability to track your holiday spending. Yeah, right.
Several shop assistants and restaurant staff have been rather too forward in offering this service, making the assumption that I, the customer, would much rather pay in my home currency and present the bill already converted when handing me the card payment terminal.
Like an over-cooked steak, send it back. Do the same if asked when using a foreign ATM to withdraw cash, because to choose the convenience for knowing exactly how many dollars will come out of your home bank account will only mean that more will be deducted.
And in case you're feeling smug because you think your pre-paid, pre-loaded travel debit card protects you – that's not always the case. You will still be offered the service and if you accept (or don't decline the converted rate that appears before you on the terminal) it will still deduct the agreed dollar equivalent from your pre-paid account, even if you have pre-loaded local currencies. Sound complex? It's meant to.
To win the war on confusing currencies: just say no.
Written by Josh Martin. First appeared on Stuff.co.nz.