Buying Plane Tickets in Foreign Currencies

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I am writing to you now from Matera, Italy. I just finished an eight day roadtrip around the Puglia region–the “heel of Italy’s boot” as many call it–an incredibly beautiful, charming, unpretentious and less touristed area compared to other places on the coast of Italy. More on that to come at a later date. I’m excited to share everything I’ve gathered about that part of Italy with you.

Polignano a Mare, Italy
Polignano a Mare, Italy

Tomorrow evening I will take a ferry from Bari, Italy, to Dubrovnik, Croatia, where I’ll spend three days and three nights before flying to Norway.

A lot of this travel has been planned totally last minute, flying by the seat of my pants, which is unfortunately why I ended up buying a pretty expensive cash plane ticket to get to Norway. The bottom line is that I have to get to Bodo by July 3, as I am meeting friends to take a ferry early the next morning, kicking off a week long trip of hiking and camping in the Lofoten archipelago. As there was no award space available, I booked a flight on Norwegian Air. I was at least able to save a little money with a simple trick that everyone can use.

Why and How to Book in a Foreign Currency

Why?

When booking a ticket with a foreign airline, always check the airline’s native website to see the price in their local currency. Many times paying in the foreign currency versus dollars will be cheaper.

This was the price of my Dubrovnik to Bodo flight when searched on norwegian.com/us/:

Yes, I know that's a miserable layover...
Yes, I know that’s a miserable layover…

That would also be the price you’d see displayed on a flight aggregator like Kayak if you didn’t adjust any settings first.

Now, searching for the same flight on norwegian.com.no (the Norway facing site), this was the price in Norwegian Krone:

2,474 Krone is about $292.

That’s $18 cheaper than the $310 price on norwegian.com.us. Not a huge difference, but something. I’ve seen much larger differences performing other searches.

How?

Browse the airline’s native website to see prices listed in the local currency. If you are based in the US, you will probably be automatically taken to that website first or it will come up first in your google search results. It will depend on the airline how you can switch to its native site, but there’s usually a flag or some other indication of a language to choose from in one of the corners of the homepage.

In the case of Norwegian Air, if you scroll to the bottom of the homepage, you’ll see a drop-down menu for language. Choose Norwegian.

Doing so will switch you to norwegian.com.no.

…oh, you don’t speak Norwegian? Me neither. Starting this whole process in Google Chrome will give you option to translate the page as soon as you switch over to norwegian.com.no.

Fun fact, meny is menu in Norwegian :)
Fun fact, meny is menu in Norwegian 🙂

Sometimes Google translate isn’t all that accurate, so you may want to keep the USA version of the website open in a separate window to follow along with up until payment.

Searching in a Foreign Currency

You can easily search for a ticket in a foreign currency by using ITA Matrix. At the bottom of the search box, change the Sales City to a city in the country whose currency you want displayed.

Doing so will change the point-of-sale.

Watch out for foreign transaction fees!!

Don’t forget to book the ticket with card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees or you’ll be hit with (on average) a 3% fee.

The American Express Platinum cards earn 5x points per dollar spent on airfare booked directly with an airline or through the Amex Travel Portal and will not charge you foreign transaction fees. The Sapphire Reserve, American Express Gold cards, Citi Prestige® Card, and Citi ThankYou® Premier Card all earn 3x points per dollar spent on airfare and are also good options as none of them charge foreign transaction fees.

Bottom Line

The next time you find yourself buying a cash ticket from a foreign airline, always check to see if the price is better in the airline’s foreign currency as opposed to paying in dollars. You can use Google Chrome to help translate the native website.

Have you ever saved money booking a foreign plane ticket in the local currency?


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8 COMMENTS

  1. Saved about 40% using egyptair site. They sell fare classes on their Egypt site that they don’t sell on their US site.

  2. I have often successfully done this. I always price a ticket or a hotel in local currency. I use https://www.oanda.com/currency/converter/ to get the conversion rate.

    Years ago, I discovered that a local ticket bought in New Zealand was much cheaper than the same ticket bought in the U.S. So I contacted a New Zealand travel agent to buy me one there. Still much cheaper, even after the shipping fee. (It was a paper ticket, which tells you how long ago that was.)

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