Subject: Retrieving money on travels

Maybe we're lucky, but in the last ten years of travels in US, Mexico, Canada, and eight other countries (we count Wales as a country), we've almost never had a problem getting money from ATMs.

Twice. We took a draw on a Friday and tried another the next day and it was refused--we would have to wait until our bank's next business day, Monday when our draw limit would be restored. The other time was in Italy when we wanted to become a Millionaire (Lire). I took a L 500.000 draw and when I went for the other L 500.000 ($US 250), my draw limit was exceeded. So, with my wife's ATM card on her checking account, she became the Millionaire.

Ask your bank what your draw limit is (ours was $US 300) and ask that it be increased to, say $US 500 or so. Ask about the bank's ATM draw policies.

Credit cards--ask; your issuer bank is obligated to tell you what add-on fees it will levy on foreign charges. Citibank, which gives us AA miles, charges 3 percent, AmSouth, our local bank, levies none. A frequent-traveler friend does business with a local credit union. Not only does the VISA card that it issued her not carry any extra fees beyond the PLUS one percent, it doesn't charge her any transaction fees on its PLUS ATM card draws no matter where she uses it. So check out the offerings from your local credit union. And if you were a US military officer, USAA has some great deals for you.

And don't forget to inform your credit card issuer when and where you will be traveling. Many have sophisticated computer programs to detect unusual charging patterns. Example: We were in San Francisco visiting the grandkids and I was in a big-box store buying something. My credit card was rejected. I had to get on the phone with someone at the issuer bank and recite my biography in order to complete the transaction. I was lucky. Could have happened in, say Alsace.

Most insidious is this emerging trend for overseas vendors to execute your charge transactions in $US at their own rate. First time that this happened to us was in London in 2003 when the hotel processed our charge in $US at an extremely unfavorable exchange rate. We were in a hurry to get to the airport, or I would have tried to get it changed. Last year in Bologna, we had rented a car from Hertz via AutoEurope. When we turned in the car, all we got was a copy of the rental form with the return date and time stamped on it. Then, the VISA billing arrived, and we discovered that the extras--prepaid fuel, extra driver, and some sort of local license fees--had been converted to $US at an outrageous rate and charged on our VISA card. We protested to AutoEurope, but they insisted that it was a local Hertz business practice and that there was nothing that they could do about it.

I don't think that any of it was AutoEurope's fault. Their overall service was great and we would highly recommend them. We had contracted with them and paid for the base rental in $US nearly a year before when E 1 was about US 90 cents. The rate at the time of the trip was about E 1 = $US 1.25. Hertz honored the base rental at the price that we had paid but it was on the add-ons that they hosed us.

And who says that all of the rug merchants are in Morocco?

Jerry in E TN