A lot of digital ink is spilled every day on which payment card you just HAVE TO add to your wallet, arguing the available sign-up bonuses, valuable rewards or potential for manufacturing spend. The one thing usually missing from the discussion is security and peace of mind! I recommend to address that first, before worrying about rewards. Nothing will spoil your dream vacation like credit card fraud and the hours spent trying to resolve it while at a beautiful beach resort on a tropical island…
Therefore, everybody should have a pre-paid debit card in their wallet before leaving the country on a trip! I have had one for years and have US$300-500 on the card before leaving home. Whenever I use an ATM outside a bank branch in a country with high risk of fraud, buy a small item from a small merchant and/or have to let the card out of my sight, I use the pre-paid card and don’t have to worry about the card information being skimmed or copied. Even if it is, the worst that can happen is too loose a few hundred dollars (which I can claim back like with any other card), but the damage stops there. There is no high credit limit, no cash advance, no recurring charges to the card, no changing card information for stores or sites I regularly purchase from to worry about. I can close the card, get a new one and move on with my life! Since using a pre-paid card, I don’t have to worry about a vendor or ATM that seemed dodgy in hind-sight.
One of the best cards for this purpose is the American Express Bluebird card, offered in partnership with Walmart. Yes, it is also recommended for its potential to manufacture points, but that’s not what this post is about. For an occasional use card like this, it is important to keep the fees low and the AmEx Bluebird has no monthly or annual fee, no fees for funding, loading, inactivity or replacement. There are no ATM fees at MoneyPass ATMs, but there is one for non-MoneyPass ATMs. Most importantly, and different from most pre-paid cards, there is also no foreign exchange fee! That’s better than even the AmEx Gold card with a $175/year fee! All of that allows you to carry an AmEx Bluebird card at virtually no cost – peace of mind with no extra charge!
Other useful features for use as a travel card are the ability to have family or sub-accounts and “SetAside” accounts: Sub-accounts allow you to have multiple cards, for example for your spouse or teenage children, with the option to set daily spending limits or disable ATM access. SetAside accounts are intended to save for special purposes and remove that money from direct access with the card. I use it to fine-tune the security of the card: For example, when I expect to need US$800 for a trip to a high fraud risk destination, I will move US$600 to a SetAside account, keeping only US$200 in the card account. That limits any single transaction, purchase or ATM (and my maximum possible loss), to US$200. As I use the card, I move funds from the SetAside account to the card account, always keeping an eye on the funds I need and the possible loss. I can make these transfers from my smart phone and the money is available instantly! Between trips abroad another good use for a pre-paid debit card, is for internet purchases from not well known vendors. After years of a love/hate relationship with PayPal, the AmEx Bluebird card has become by go-to card for small online purchases.
The account is easy to apply for and to manage online, from a PC, tablet or phone. Apps for iOS and Android are readily available. You can deposit money via check, direct deposit or transfer from your checking account for free. You can even pay bills online or use checks! You have to be a US Resident to apply. With so much peace of mind for so little fees, I recommend this card to anybody!