Thanks to several helpful readers, I can now speak as an authority on the conversion-rate problem.
1. Visa and MasterCard take a 1% “conversion fee.” But each issuer bank decides how much to add on to that. So far, I haven’t found a source that compares the issuers, but an additional 2% seems standard. If you find an issuer that does better, please let me know and I’ll pass it along.
2. That’s still a better deal than the typical Bureau de Change, by a considerable margin.
3. The best deal now seems to be withdrawing foreign currency through an ATM, which I’m told typically gets you within 1-2% of the true conversion rate. (If you wind up with cash left over at the end of your trip, use it to settle your hotel bill.)
4. It turns out the credit card issuers failed to disclose the charges and got stung for it by those evil class action lawyers the Rebublicans are so eager to rein in. It also turns out that Amex has found some truly crooked class-action lawyers who were willing to sell out their clients on the cheap. Somehow none of the proposed “tort reforms” would fix this ugly little problem.