Et tu, latte? Starbucks no longer accepts traveler's checks

Starbucks has mounted signs at its cash registers announcing that as of May 25, the chain will no longer accept personal checks or traveler's checks. Et tu, latte?

Personal checks I understand. Who does accept them these days? But traveler's checks have been dying an ignoble death in recent years. Whither Starbucks goes, so shall follow Citibank? Well, no. But Starbucks is a canary in the coal mine when it comes to consumer trends, and such an important chain's refusal to honor what was once an upstanding form of secure payment is a sure sign that the old traveler's check is ready to be covered with a handful of dirt.

Many times, travelers are finding, to dismay and sometimes vacation disaster, that they aren't accepted anymore. American Express checks, especially, used to be the standard for traveler's checks, but internationally, they're now rejected as often as the company's plastic is. That is, if you can find a store clerk who doesn't hold them to the light, scrutinize them, and then refuse to accept them.

There are some very good reasons that traveler's checks appear to be sputtering out. They're safe, but they're not usually the best deal. You may pay a fee to buy them, you may pay a fee to cash them, and when you're abroad, you will certainly take a third hit in a poor money exchange when your purchase is made.

Those inconveniences pale compared to the trial of redeeming them: Many clerks are no longer trained in how to approve them and validate them, no one brand is universally accepted, and signing over the checks can be time-consuming and cumbersome. In other countries, sometimes the only place you're sure to redeem one is at a bank, and finding one that's open and not swarmed puts a major crimp in your touring day. In the United States, using a traveler's check is also a sure way to ensure the manager will be called over and while you hold up the line.

If it's safety you want, you might as well submit to technology and tote along a traveler's check card, also called a prepaid card, which looks like a regular credit card and can be used wherever those are. There are still fees, but they're more convenient than those double-signed checks. American Express used to offer a prepaid card, but it discontinued them, leaving Visa TravelMoney and the Travelex Cash Passport (which also makes a MasterCard version).

Perhaps it should say something that I'm a travel writer, and I have not carried a wad of traveler's checks with me for about seven years. My ATM card, plus about $100 in U.S. dollars is my preferred method for drawing cash in foreign countries. If you make sure your PIN is four digits and your bank knows you're heading abroad, this method is easiest, and ultimately, no more expensive, provided you draw money sparingly.
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