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Little plastic cards stack up well against traveler's checks

The electronic version acts like a prepaid gift card, programmed for set amounts. They may be easier to use.

December 07, 2003|Jane Engle | Times Staff Writer

Plastic is no panacea. A colleague was surprised last month when a remote fishing lodge in Mexico declined to take credit cards. Another colleague reports cash machines are scarce in parts of Eastern Europe. The best tactic, especially when going abroad, is to take along several methods of payment.

Before you order a prepaid card, check out the fees. American Express, for instance, charges $5 to reload its TravelFunds Card and, starting Jan. 1, $14.95 for the card. (It's free now.) AAA's Cash Passport is free to AAA members who load $300 or more onto it; nonmembers' costs vary by club.

If you still want to tote the traditional paper traveler's checks, you'll have plenty of company. American Express' Beard says more than one out of four Americans who go on a trip four days or longer carry them. "They like that it feels like cash," he says, "and they like knowing exactly how much they have at any one time."

Or maybe, I suspect, they're just old-fashioned.

Jane Engle welcomes comments and suggestions but cannot respond individually to letters and calls. Write Travel Insider, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, or e-mail

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