get free travelers checks from AAA.

also get a AAA money card, which is a plastic version of traveler's checks and it's free too!!!

Traveler's check usage in decline More vacationers carry credit and debit cards

Mary Jo Pitzl The Arizona Republic Jan. 9, 2006 12:00 AM

Consider the traveler's check.

Katherine Chapman, visiting from London, did. Vaguely.

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 traveler's checks farther down the list of must-have items for those on the road.

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

Diminishing, perhaps, but nowhere near extinction.

AAA's statistics show traveler's-check sales in Arizona for 2005 should be on par with those from 2004, about $7.5 million. That's down from 2003's sales of $8.4 million.

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' pre-paid items, said spokesman Robert Sherman, in part because they are accepted the same as cash.

Except, sometimes, they're not.

The local IHOP chain doesn't accept them.

"That's our company policy because there's so many counterfeit ones out there," said Michelle Reynolds, assistant manager of the restaurant on North Central Avenue.

She said it's hard to verify the authenticity of traveler's checks, so management decided to simply avoid them. The policy affects the 22 franchise IHOP stores in the Valley.

Both AAA Arizona and American Express said their checks have security features, including watermarks on the Visa Travellers Cheques that AAA issues.

Other retailers said they readily accept the checks.

At the Mission Grille in the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel, Kris Holmes said customers bring in the checks perhaps once or twice a week.

"I guess they're not that common," he said.

However, for his own travel, Holmes said traveler's checks are a standard part of his trip preparations.

"I usually use them on vacations because I like to deal only in cash," he said.

"I've never come across a place where they won't take them."

Chapman, the London visitor, said she has been 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 rigamarole 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 said.

Even traveler's checks have gone plastic.

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

The cards offer the same safety and security as the paper traveler's checks, said 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 said.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8963

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