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Amex Traveler's Check Card - good or bad?

Amex Traveler's Check Card - good or bad?

Old Jun 17th, 2005, 08:52 AM
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Amex Traveler's Check Card - good or bad?

Hello again... 15 days until departure!

Does anyone have experience with the American Express Traveler's Check card? I'm looking at my best option for paying my way through Italy and came across that this week. The advice I've had all says Credit cards whenever possible, ATM's whenever not... would there be any disadvantage to the Amex TC card then?

For those who aren't familiar, it's a pre-loaded card that's not connected to your bank account that should be accepted wherever Amex is accepted and at ATM's. It can be loaded in Euro. ATM fee is 2.50 (plus foreign bank fee), and the exchange currently is 1.2571.

Will I find a better rate than that elsewhere? Are Amex cards accepted for the most part throughout Italy? All help appreciated!


Hopefully when I come back I can start to answer some questions rather than just asking them. =)
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Old Jun 17th, 2005, 09:12 AM
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Yes. You can open a free checking account (they're out there) and get a Visa Check Card. Fund your account during the year, then spend it while you travel. Visa will pass on a 1% fee only, no fees to activate, reload, or empty. No minimum or maximum balance limits. No shelf life limit.

Carry one credit card as a back-up, espec. in the event the Check Card gets eaten at the ATM or someone nips it.

Take a non-800 phone number to reach your bank in the event you have problems (they'll accept a collect call while you're overseas).

You can use the Check Card for atm withdrawals and for purchases, hotels, etc.
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Old Jun 17th, 2005, 09:27 AM
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Possible downsides that I can see -

Transaction costs (my bank doesn't charge any ATM fees)

Low acceptance of Amex if you choose to use it as a credit card rather than withdrawing ATM cash.

Having to prepay and load the funds into the card. What do you do with leftover funds?
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Old Jun 17th, 2005, 09:45 AM
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Hi P,

If you use a pre-loaded travel card, you are giving the bank (AMEX in this case) money to issue you a card. You then give them your own money to withdraw from your card account. they give you a relatively poor exchange rate and charge you a fee for the service.

These cards are useful for very young people, as they limit the total liability to what's in the account, but that's all.

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Old Jun 17th, 2005, 10:38 AM
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Thanks!

If that's the case, where can I get a better exchange than the 1.25 they offer? The card issued through my bank is 1.30. I realize that I'm only losing 50 bucks for every 1000 I spend, but still... that's a good meal wasted.
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Old Jun 17th, 2005, 10:47 AM
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From their website: "There is a $14.95 issuance fee per Card" and in addition "The Card will be charged a $2.50 fee for each ATM use. Additional bank fees may apply."

So they are charging you $15.00 to deposit your money, plus $2.50 to access your money every time you need some, and that doesn't even include the bank fees???!!!

Use your ATM card...it's cheaper. Their way is a rip-off.
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Old Jun 17th, 2005, 11:11 AM
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I suspected it had some fees you weren't disclosing, as all those cards have basic fees to set them up that I've heard of (the $15 is pretty high). I guess if you were going to use the same card for several years, it wouldn't be a bad investment, but I think they zap you for some maintenance fee if you don't use it for a while or something. The ATM fee isn't too bad, about like many. The other fee is nonexistent, just a disclaimer (foreign bank's fees).

However, even the $1.25 rate, which didn't seem that bad on the surface, is about a 3 pct markup over interbank--at least if that is for today. That's what everybody is complaining about for credit cards. If it were one pct, not so bad.

Because it is 3 pct, there is really no point to that card over a credit card and your own ATM card, so why get it?

Some of those cards are only for use in ATMs, not for purchases, in which case I don't think the network matters so much, but some stores won't take Amex for purchases.

Why are you even considering this card? Don't have have an ATM card and credit card?
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Old Jun 17th, 2005, 11:34 AM
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I was (emphasis on was) considering it because the rate seemed not too bad, it wasn't tied to my bank account (which made me feel more secure carrying it) and because if it were lost/stolen I'd still have my ATM and CC's available.

As far as the rate goes, I haven't found anything in my wallet with an exchange rate any lower. Which cards are out there with the lowest markup? (I'll search for this too.)

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Old Jun 17th, 2005, 12:18 PM
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All of the reasons you just gave apply to my suggestion as well, except my suggestion is cheaper.

Based on earlier emails about the currency conversion fees, credit unions seem to be the last bastion of credit cards with no added fees (over the standard Visa 1%). That is the cheapest you can get.
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Old Jun 17th, 2005, 01:54 PM
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oh, I see. Well, actually, I can understand the purpose of having something as a backup source of money, just in case. I do that myself, only I take paper travelers checks in USD. I take them because I figure if one of my purposes for a backup is that all the ATMs are broken or out of money or I can't find one or something (which has actually happened to me a couple times, but not frequently), I want something as a backup that is not just another ATM card. Also, the USD TCs don't cost me anything as I get them free from AAA and then just re-deposit them back home if I don't use them.

I have two credit cards right now with only the one pct fee, so they are really my best choice, with my ATM card. If you only have a card with a total 3 pct fee, I can understand that this AMEX prepaid card isn't any different, and might be worth the $15 cost as a backup source of money for ATMs.

I don't think it's a terrible idea, and if it's easy to get, may be worth the $15 setup fee in comparison to getting a new credit card, etc.

As for what if you don't use the money up someone asked? I don't know about Amex, but I know the similar AAA Visa Travelcard has no fee if you cash it out when you get home -- assuming you do it at a AAA office rather than from a machine. There is some other additional fee to deplete the card if you do it at an ATM (I have no idea why).
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Old Jun 17th, 2005, 02:16 PM
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The conversion fee is in a state of flux right now, with some banks adding a fee atop the VISA/MC fee, while others are not, yet.

I have USAA FSB as my main bank, and they offer a free checking account with an ATM card and no markup above the VISA/MC percentage, and no fee for using a foreign ATM (in fact they give a rebate of the fees my local ATM charges, up to, I think, $15 a month). I have not seen a better deal anywhere. I can transfer money from savings to checking on the internet, so I keep a very low balance in my checking account to minimize the risk of loss.

Credit unions and some local banks (even some national banks, still) do not have a markup. I am in the process of changing local banks, and of three that I have looked into, two do not add a markup, but one of those has a fee for using a foreign ATM (foreign meaning not at their bank). Of course, all of this can change.

You are leaving soon, and often it takes them some time to issue a card, so I would recommend you look around quickly and find a suitable institution.

I would seek one that doesn't add anything above the VISA/MC one percent conversion charge, and that does not impose a charge for using a foreign ATM. My understanding is that banks in the EEU are forbidden to add a charge for use of their ATMs, but not all ATMs are associated with banks, so you could probably be hit with a charge for using a non-bank ATM.
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Old Jun 18th, 2005, 07:44 AM
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>I was (emphasis on was) considering it because the rate seemed not too bad, it wasn't tied to my bank account (which made me feel more secure carrying it) and because if it were lost/stolen I'd still have my ATM and CC's available.<

You can accomplish the same thing by opening another bank account for free and getting another ATM card.


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Old Jun 20th, 2005, 10:29 AM
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In general, it doesn't seem like this card is a good deal. However, as I posted on another thread, American Express is now offering a free companion ticket if you load $300 on their check card. The ticket must be at least $349 for travel between Sept. 15 and Jan. 15, 2006, and at least $379 for travel from Jan. 16 to Sept. 14, 2006. If you can take advantage of this, then it might be worth it.

For more info, please go to www.americanexpress.com/companionair.
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Old Jun 20th, 2005, 11:13 AM
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The companion airfare is limited to a domestic ticket only and there are blackout dates, etc. I don't find that too attractive to open up an account that seems to have more costs attached to it than an ATM card.
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Old Jun 20th, 2005, 11:29 AM
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I would only use this type of card for a teenager traveling, for instance. They are a bum deal plus AmEx is not accepted lots of places (so you'll be going to an ATM anyways).

Other options... ATM card, purchase euro ahead, use your charge card, carry US cash to exchange, open a 2nd account at home, travelers checks.
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Old Jun 20th, 2005, 11:31 AM
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<ATM fee is 2.50 (plus foreign bank fee)>

If you use a normal bank ATM (not an independent kiosk type at a store) there is *no* foreign bank fee for an ATM withdrawl.
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Old Jun 20th, 2005, 11:43 AM
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I agree with everything that's been said so far. I think this card is a ripoff as compared to your own ATM card and credit card. However, as ira and suze said, it might be useful for teenagers. I canceled my Amex credit card years ago because so few places accepted it. I assume the same would be true of the check card.

On the other hand, if you load $300 on it, then withdraw the funds all at once, (to minimize transaction fees) your costs would only be about $25 or so. That would be worth it for a free companion ticket, even with blackout dates.

My guess is that Amex is offering this incentive because the card isn't doing as well as expected and they are trying to increase sales. That's why this forum is so great--spreading information so people can explore options and choose what's best for them.
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Old Jun 20th, 2005, 01:19 PM
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ttt for bellac who asked the same question
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