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Friday, 5 June 2015

Traveller Card is not everything it boasts itself to be

Last year in August when I was still living on the Coast and looking after mum fulltime I had to make a quick decision about travelling to Japan because of a health crisis with my daughter, who was then and is now still 22 years old. As part of my preparations I created a Mastercard Traveller Card and loaded it with Japanese yen before boarding the aeroplane. In addition I had an amount in cash, in Japanese yen, to take with me to Tokyo. I also took with me US-dollar denominated travellers' cheques.

I stayed in Japan for a long time that time, about three weeks in total. I knew I would have some expenses because I usually do when I go back there. But one thing about the Traveller Card that signally failed to impress me was the lack of compatible ATMs in Tokyo. In the area I was staying in, which is an area named Shibuya, there was not a single compatible ATM. And Shibuya is like the southern half of Sydney. It's a major shopping destination. But not one ATM was there that would take the Traveller Card. I had to finally look it up on the website and organise to get on a train to reach another part of Tokyo, and there locate a specific convenience store in the basement of a large office development. That's where I found a compatible ATM, and I used it to withdraw pretty much the total amount I had on the card. So it turned out to have some utility. This was on a day near the very end of my stay.

Back in Australia however I very recently received a letter from my bank, which had issued me with the Traveller Card last year, telling me that if I didn't use the card they were going to start charging me a monthly fee. When I finally got around to phoning the company that operates the card they confirmed that they start charging you a fee after one year of inactivity. Which would mean that in September I would have been made to pay money just to have the card in my wallet.

Initially I rather optimistically got in touch with my bank through the internet banking interface and asked if I could cancel the card with them online. I was a bit disappointed, but not surprised, when they replied to me the next day telling me that I would have to contact the card operator by phone to cancel the card. Which I did today. Actually it's not a trivial process. Even in the automated segment of the telephone call you have to enter identifying details using the keypad. Once the telephone has been answered by a human operator you have to repeat some of those details plus provide additional identifying details in order to proceed further. So when they told me to empty the card and call them back I got a bit angry. I have to go through the verification process again? I thought. No, I said, let's just log into the bank's internet interface right now and empty the card, and then we can cancel it while I'm still with you on the phone.

Which is what I did. So I'd have to say that, overall, the experience of having the Traveller Card was one that can best be characterised by saying that it was of marginal utility. I did manage to get cash out of the ATM in Tokyo when I needed it but it took a bit of work just to find a compliant ATM. Then after I get back home I find that they're going to slug me with a charge just to keep the card active. Not very good, frankly. Other countries might offer more options in terms of ATMs, it's true. But in my case the experience was not a great one.

Apart from the obvious utility of having Japanese yen in cash with me, the most convenient method of taking money to Japan, I found, was the travellers' cheques. There was a bureau de change right next to my hotel in Shibuya that happily converted these instruments into cash for me, even on weekends at limited hours.

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