Carried a Travelex card

This item appears on page 31 of the May 2011 issue.

For an upcoming trip to Portugal, my travel partner and I (we leave our husbands at home) went to the Travelex office at Broadway and 47th Street in New York City on Dec. 6, 2010. I got a Cash Passport prepaid debit card on which I placed €1,000 at a cost of $1,530.69 (cash). My friend put €800 on a Cash Passport she bought. I took my packet home and followed the directions.

At JFK Airport on our day of departure, we also exchanged cash dollars for cash euros.

We arrived in Portugal on Dec. 16. In the next two days, we tried over a dozen ATMs, and all said our Cash Passport cards were “Unauthorized.” Our home bank cards worked fine, so we were able to obtain cash in euros for daily expenses.

On Dec. 17 or 18 I called the Travelex home office in the UK (our hotel was remarkably accommodating helping with the international call; we were staying at Hotel Métropole [Praça Dom Pedro IV (Rossio) 30, Lisbon 1100-200, Portugal]). The man I spoke to said the cards were fine. I asked the Travelex rep for three or four places in Lisbon where he knew they worked. He named a supermarket (22 kilometers west of Lisbon) and two “banks” in Lisbon, but he couldn’t give us their street addresses. Needless to say, we couldn’t locate the banks.

Over the next two days, we repeatedly tried the Cash Passports in a variety of ATM machines, to no avail. Each time, the machine said “Unauthorized” and returned the card.

Our hotel manager contacted MasterCard and was informed that the cards were “no good.”

We returned to the USA on Dec. 23, each with an unused Travelex card. I applied for a refund, and on Jan. 10, 2011, Travelex sent me a check for the full amount. They were very professional and responsive.

By the way, travelers must be aware that they are paying a premium for the alleged convenience of the Travelex Cash Passport. In New York City, I purchased the card at a rate of $1.53 for €1. In Portugal, exchange rates at two downtown currency-exchange offices and several ATMs were $1.325 and $1.312 per euro. We found the Travelex card to be incredibly expensive for the “convenience” which was advertised.

My Citibank debit card, without a chip, worked very well in all four ATMs I used in Portugal.


New York, NY

ITN e-mailed a copy of the above letter to Travelex Currency Services (No. Am. headquarters at 29 Broadway, 1st Floor, New York, NY 10006) and received the following reply.

When we heard from Ms. Lewis, we immediately escalated her complaint so we could quickly find a resolution. We were very disappointed to hear that her Cash Passport did not work while she was traveling in Portugal. We quickly confirmed that the issue was an oversight not by Travelex but by the dominant merchant acquirer in Portugal, SIBS.

SIBS, which currently represents almost the entire Portuguese banking community, had not properly updated their network with the BIN number for our new card. We had to escalate to MasterCard, and MasterCard had to take action with SIBS to get them to comply.

The issue in Portugal was so broad because so many locations use SIBS as their acquirer. The SIBS network is now confirmed to have been updated, and customers will no longer have problems using their Cash Passport at locations in Portugal which use SIBS as their acquirer.

Travelex Currency Services, Inc.

In December 2010, Travelex became the first to make available to all US travelers a debit card that utilizes chip-and-PIN technology. The chip-and-PIN Cash Passport can be preloaded in euros or British pounds and used wherever MasterCard is accepted. The card requires a PIN to complete chip-based transactions. It also includes a traditional magnetic stripe for those merchants not yet using chip-and-PIN technology. Visit