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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 5, 2006

Paper travelers checks: More people are leaving home without them

Arizona Republic

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Consider the travelers check.

Katherine Chapman, visiting from London, did, but ultimately, she decided to rely on her debit card for ready cash during her travels through Arizona.

Increasingly, people are turning to debit and credit cards to finance their travels, pushing travelers checks farther down the list of must-have items for those on the road.

"The demand for travelers checks has been declining over the past several years," says George Howell, director of travel for AAA Arizona. "With more consumers having access to electronic money, the need for a secure travelers check is diminishing."

Diminishing, perhaps, but nowhere near extinction.

Nationwide, American Express reported a 3 percent increase in sales in 2004, the latest year for which statistics are available. The checks remain a stable part of American Express' prepaid items, says spokesman Robert Sherman, in part because they are accepted the same as cash.

Except, sometimes, they're not.

Chapman, the London visitor, says she has had her checks turned down, especially in Europe.

Ditto for her friend Susannah Park, from Aberdeen, Scotland.

In addition to finding a place to redeem the checks, Park said, there's the whole rigmarole of cashing them while on the road: Unlock your passport from the hotel security safe, take it and the checks to the bank, get cash, then traipse back to the hotel to lock the passport up again ("I don't like to carry my passport") and then head out to start your day.

"Everyone uses cards now," she says.

Even travelers checks have gone plastic.

AAA offers money cards, which are a plastic version of travelers checks, while American Express in 2004 launched its Travelers Cheque card.

The cards offer the same safety and security as the paper travelers checks, says American Express' Sherman. That means a lost card, just like lost checks, can be replaced within 24 hours, restoring a traveler's access to easy cash.

Try doing that with a lost credit card, Sherman says.