Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Don't Leave Home Without Them

Remember traveler's cheques? Remember how Karl Malden told us, "Don't leave home without them?"

Back in the 1980's, I remember the ritual. Mom or Dad would go to the bank or the AAA office and buy hundreds of dollars worth. I remember a bank employee opening up a box with them stacked up and parceling them out in front of us. We never dealt with thieves, and we never had to ask for a refund, but we did have to go through another ritual -- stopping somewhere simply to cash one of those cheques. Dad handled it while we would wait in the car. Or, we could rely on Master Charge/MasterCard, which would get us through the sit-down restaurants and hotels, but not the fast-food joints. And we still needed walking-around money for the petty expenses here and there.

I was surprised to see American Express still issues them in the age of ubiquitous credit card acceptance and ATM's everywhere. But I'm not surprised to learn many places don't accept traveler's cheques anymore.

You might think they would still have a place in people's hearts given fear of credit-card ripoffs and identity theft while abroad. But even back when those checks were en vogue, they were still a pain in the rear. You had to get the cash out, buy the cheques, record the serial numbers, sign the checks once and then again when you used them and get refunds on the ones you didn't spend. American Express touts them as a form of vacation budget control. But you can do the same with a prepaid, reloadable debit card. Visa makes a TravelMoney card that combines the protections of traveler's cheques with the convenience of a credit card. If only we'd had that back in the 1980's.

Either way, they sure beat personal checks, which come with a whole new set of problems.

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