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October 12, 2003|Jane Engle

American Express adds prepaid card for travelers

American Express, longtime purveyor of traveler's checks, is offering a new option for those worried about theft of their money or identity.

The TravelFunds Card is a prepaid, reloadable travel card that works somewhat like a phone card. You load it with $300 to $2,750 and use it to get cash from ATMs or buy from merchants who accept the American Express card.

For a $5 fee, you can reload it at ATMs that accept American Express or by calling a toll-free number. The card is free through Dec. 31; then it will cost $14.95.

The card is available in U.S. dollars, euros and British pounds.

The company says it provides a 24-hour service to replace the remaining value of the card if it is lost or stolen. Another security plus: Unlike a debit card, it's not linked to your bank account.

A caveat: Fees can mount. Buying the card through credit card companies other than American Express may incur cash-advance fees. There may be currency-conversion charges. The card expires in three years, requiring $5 to renew. For details, call (888) 412-6945,


Cruise finance plan combines work and play

Having a tough time scraping together cash for a cruise? Maybe your employer can help.

The latest in cruise financing is payroll deduction. You choose the type of cruise you want, and the cost is deducted from your paycheck over 16 to 48 weeks.

St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Genesis Travel Benefits has teamed with Carnival Cruise Lines on the program. Genesis President and Chief Executive Simon Reynolds said he had signed up more than 25 businesses, representing about 250,000 employees, and would begin the program this week.

Genesis' fares are close to Carnival's Super Saver early-booking discounts but higher than many last-minute deals, Reynolds said. A quibble: The Genesis Web site shows the per-paycheck deduction but not the total. Get out your calculator. (800) 881-0303,


2 Florida theme parks get help to stay afloat

Two aging Florida tourist attractions recently got reprieves: Cypress Gardens and Weeki Wachee.

Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, which closed in April, has been bought by a nonprofit environmental group in a $22-million deal. The Trust for Public Land hopes to sell the nearly 70-year-old water-themed park, popularized by swimmer Esther Williams and other stars, to another buyer, which would reopen its botanical and historical exhibits, a spokeswoman said.

Weeki Wachee, about 50 miles north of Tampa, which has presented underwater ballets by women in mermaid costumes since 1947, had been threatened with closure because of problems with the area sewer system. But last month, the local water district decided to keep the park open while the repairs are being made.

Both parks have suffered declining attendance because of the travel slump since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and because of competition from such other Florida theme parks as Walt Disney World and Busch Gardens.



Avis offers free aids to drivers with disabilities

Avis Rent A Car System Inc. is providing free specialized equipment to drivers with disabilities.

Los Angeles and San Diego are among 40 cities with the program, dubbed Avis Access. By the end of the year, Avis expects to have it in 100 cities and hopes to add more in 2004, said Susan McGowan, spokeswoman for Cendant Car Rental Group, the parent company.

The extra equipment includes boards to ease transfer from wheelchair to car seat; a knob that permits drivers using one hand to fully turn the steering wheel; a panoramic rearview mirror (which Avis says is legally required for hearing-impaired drivers); and hand controls for drivers with limited leg function. Reservations are recommended at least a day in advance. (888) 879-4273, (800) 331-2323 (for hearing- or speech-impaired),



Falling rates at Sequoia park

Wuksachi Lodge at Sequoia National Park in Central California offers midweek rooms for $89 per night for stays through Oct. 30. By comparison, summer peak-season rates start at $155 per night. The rate, allowing two people per room, is valid Sunday through Thursday nights and is subject to availability. The 102-room lodge, in a forest setting at 7,200 feet, includes a restaurant and retail shop. (888) 252-5757,



Striking gold in Sacramento

The "Fall/Winter 2003 Sacramento Visitors' Guide" is well larded with advertising but also well organized. It has an extensive events calendar, suggested walking and driving trips in the state capital area, and lists of hotels and restaurants (mostly, alas, without prices). (800) 292-2334,

-- Compiled by

Jane Engle

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