/ Travel & Leisure

Do you still use traveller’s cheques?

Are you planning to catch some summer sunshine abroad? What form of travel money are you intending on taking with you?

Researching a recent article for Which? Money, I looked into traveller’s cheques, and it made me wonder: how many people still use them as their primary source of spending abroad?

They’ve declined in popularity in recent years – in the past being offered by Thomas Cook and Visa, but now only by American Express (though Visa do still issue them to US customers).

I personally have never used them, and with the ease of using prepaid cards I probably never will. And before researching the article I’d not met a single person who had purchased or cashed one anytime within recent years.

How do they work?

Perhaps you’re not familiar with how traveller’s cheques work, so let me explain briefly. Traveller’s cheques are preprinted cheques for fixed amounts. They can be used when you’re on holiday in place of cash, or can be exchanged for cash while you’re away.

When you purchase them, you’ll need to sign each one (usually in the top left-hand corner) and take a note of the serial number of every cheque you are issued. This is in case your traveller’s cheques are lost and need to be replaced at a later date.

When you spend or cash them in, you’ll be required to countersign each one a second time in the presence of the person accepting it. This is so the two signatures on the cheque can be compared and your identity verified.

Advantages vs limitations

The key advantage of traveller’s cheques is that they’re safer to carry around than cash. Provided you’ve noted down the serial number of each cheque you were originally issued, you will be able to get them replaced should they be stolen or lost.

Another perk is that the cheques don’t have an expiry date, which could be useful if you go on a few holidays a year.

Unfortunately you’re limited to a very few (albeit major) currencies: US Dollars, Euros, Canadian Dollars, Australian Dollars, Pounds Sterling and Japanese Yen. It also may prove difficult to cash them (and expensive if you’re charged commission) – in many countries you’ll have to go to a bank or bureau de change.

Alternatives

If you’re a fan of traveller’s cheques have you considered prepaid cards as an alternative? They can be loaded up with money and used like a debit or credit card to pay in shops but they don’t have a borrowing facility.

You can choose from currency specific options – like a euro or dollar prepaid card – or go for a sterling prepaid card which can be used for multiple currencies worldwide.

Like traveller’s cheques, they’re a safer option to carrying cash as you can get your money back if it’s stolen – and, unlike a specialist credit or debit card for travel, you don’t need to pass a credit check to get one.

Other options include specialist credit or debit cards for travel, or cash (more useful when visiting a rural area with less access to cash machines).

So if you travel abroad, what’s your favoured form of spending? Do you prefer to rely on a card (whether it’s prepaid, debit or credit), cash or a good old traveller’s cheque?

Comments
Alan Holden says:
24 June 2018

I just travel with my regular debit and credit cards.
ATMs are available throughout the world – even remote outposts in Nepal.
I do tend to keep $100 or so cash in my travel wallet for emergencies though.

B W Brightwell says:
24 June 2018

I have a Travelwise account in Euro’s. The account has good exchange rates. Have sett up regular payments into account each month….and as we only holiday in Europe… we always have sufficient for hotel costs and daily spending whenever we wish to travel.

I used a prepaid card in the USA 4 years ago and found it wholly unsatisfactory. Many places could simply debit the card without any signature (most places in the US don’t seem to use PINs) so it was not as secure as traveller’s cheques. It also seemed to take a couple of days for the transaction to appear on the account making it difficult to keep track of how much I had left on the card. So now I take cash and, because my credit card doesn’t charge commission or make a transaction charge, I use that for other purchases.

Patrick Taylor says:
25 June 2018

Depends hugely on the country you are going to, the places which you are going to visit , and how long overall you are going to be there and anticpated spend.

For short stays taking some cash and a card would be adequate. Having cash is very useful if you need to pay for things almost immediately and you cannot guarantee access to a WORKING cash machine. In Brazil, as living is cheap, small cash goes a long way and relying on cards may be hopeful in some areas.

It should be mentioned that in Stockholm they seem to be working to get rid of cash to the extent some bank branches have no cash!! Having multiple cards might be handy.

So basically horses for courses. Bear in mind the recent Visa blanking of most of Europe due to a “mulfunction” and carry at least two cards.

And always check the FCO advice on travel – sample here:
gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/ecuador/safety-and-security

I used traveller’s cheques on holiday in India about eight years ago. They were just about still accepted in some places, but imagine they’ve declined in popularity further since. I quite liked the set amounts the cheques came in — good way to plan and limit what you’re spending. I had planned to use a pre-paid mastercard, but trying it out about a week before the trip it didn’t work, so opted for what seemed the safer option of traveller’s cheques.

I spend in GBP using my GBP-denominated American Express card; I spend in EUR using my EUR-denominated American Express card; and I spend in USD using my USD-denominated American Express card. This is because I want some rewards for my expenditure, and Amex gives the best rewards. Failing that, I use a debit card on my EUR or USD bank accounts. For other currencies, I use Revolut in the 25 balance currencies that it supports, whereby I can choose the exchange rate at which I buy the currency in question. For any non-supported currency, I use my Tandem MasterCard, which uses MasterCard’s FX rates, but also gives me 0.5% cashback. As a foreign exchange professional in investment banking, I know that my means of spending give me the best possible deal.

Anyone still using traveller’s cheques is obviously too stuck in their ways to care about paying huge amounts of charges, many of which are hidden in a very poor FX rate.

We have come across about £300 in old travellers cheques in Sterling and Canadian dollars.

Except for one Mastercard/Thomas Cook £20 cheque, they are all American Express bought through First Direct.

They say they never expire but………….

Asked First Direct who stopped issuing them in 2013 and stopped accepting them in 2014.

Post Office wouldn’t accept Canadian dollars but offered £17.50 for each £20 (£100 in all).

Nat West would not take them and suggested Travelex.

Travelex asked for cheque numbers but don’t want to know as they didn’t issue them.

So any suggestions how to convert them back to usable money without paying an arm and a leg in commission?

Coincidentally, I found ten £20 sterling travellers cheques carefully concealed in an old suitcase. They must have been there for 15 or 20 years and I knew I had them, but had given them up as lost. NatWest paid £200 into my account but said that they would debit the amount if they were too old. That was eight days ago and the money is still there.

I suggest getting a second opinion and going to a main branch of your bank. Best of luck, Alfa.

I can now answer my own question regarding the AMEX travellers cheques.

We phoned AMEX and spoke to their lost cheques department who were extremely helpful. A bank draft will be on its way on receipt of copies of the cheques.

Who issued yours wavechange?

Persistence pays. 🙂 Mine were AMEX.