New cards offer convenience, including ATM usage, for travelers

Tuesday 7 December 2004 15:11 CET | News

Travelers checks, like gift certificates, are moving from paper to plastic.

Both American Express and Visa now sell travel money cards, which are intended to combine the safety of travelers checks with the convenience of a card you can carry in your wallet. The cards are prepaid, reloadable and available in dollars, pounds or euros. They can be used virtually anywhere the card brand name is accepted, including ATMs, and typically include other services such as passport and credit card replacement. Stephanie Stegich, a spokeswoman for American Express, said sales of the TravelFunds Card have been strong since its debut in October. She declined to say how sales of the card compare with those of travelers checks, which totaled $19.2 billion last year. John Gould, however, director of consumer lending and bank cards at the Tower Group research firm in Needham, said prepaid cards are rapidly replacing cash and checks in a variety of environments. He estimates $55 billion in gift cards will be sold this year, and that doesnt include money spent on prepaid cards for other uses. Parents, for example, are using the cards to set spending limits for older children and consumers with poor credit histories use them as replacements for credit and debit cards. Travel cards are easier to use than travelers checks. Users must sign and countersign a travelers check, but with a travel card, its just swipe and go. Still, travel cards arent as flexibile as you might think. For example, travelers checks are accepted almost everywhere, considered to be the equivalent of cash. Travel cards, by contrast, can be used only where American Express credit cards are accepted. The price of a travel card and a travelers check is similar. Buying $1,000 of American Express travelers checks would cost $15 plus $5.95 in shipping if purchased online. The American Automobile Association sells $1,000 of Visa travelers checks for $9.95. An American Express TravelFunds card with $1,000 loaded on it would cost $14.95, with no additional shipping costs if sent by regular mail. AAA sells a $1,000 Visa TravelMoney Card for just $4.95, plus $7 for shipping. Some cards also have reload charges ($5 at American Express, free with a AAA Visa card), ATM fees ($2.50), and cash-out fees ($10 at American Express, $15 at Visa). Like credit and debit cards, purchases made abroad using a travel card are converted automatically into the currency of the country and then deducted from the card amount. There is usually a foreign currency conversion charge for this service. Stegich said travelers who worry that the price of pounds or euros might rise against the dollar during their trip might want to buy the card in euros or pounds initially and lock in an exchange rate for the entire trip.

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Categories: Payments & Commerce | Payments General
Countries: World
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Payments & Commerce