In the 2004 Vraja Mandala parikrama two devotees discovered that American Express traveller's cheques can be impossible to replace. Read about their tale of woe.
Thomas Cook cheques are also widely accepted, so I would recommend them instead.
An encounter with American Express in India yields frustration and anxiety for devotees in the 2004 Vraja Mandala Parikrama.
Though we have recommended American Express travellers cheques (checks) for years on this website, we must now recommend against purchasing them.
Imagine you are in India and you discover that you have lost your American Express travellers cheques.
At this time you are supposed to feel smart for having bought American Express traveller's cheques. After all, the TV Police Detective Karl Malden told us for decades "It could happen to YOU! If your American Express traveller's cheques are lost or stolen, they can be replaced within 24 hours, anywhere in the world. American Express traveller's cheques — Don't leave home without them".
BUT the reality is a bit different.
In the Vraja Mandala Parikrama in 2004, a couple from Germany and a devotee from England each lost all of their American Express traveller's cheques
In both cases the cheques had not been stolen as far as they knew, so they were not required to file a police report. They may have fared better if they had, though the American Express office never requested them to do so.
Though the devotees apparently lost their cheques at different times and circumstances, they came to know about each other's predicament from other devotees.
At some point they were asked by American Express "Do you know anyone else who has lost traveller's cheques" and the fact that they answered "yes" to the question put them under a great deal of suspicion. Apparently the only "correct" answer to this question, even in a tight-knit religious community like ours, is "NO".
On the American Express traveller's cheques website, the small print says "*All refunds are subject to compliance with terms and conditions. Not all services are available at all locations, and are subject to local laws and cash availability."
I searched for the details of their "terms and conditions" but found nothing. Apparently this is stated in a vague way which allows them to interpret it any way they please, which is illegal in many places. In our devotees' case, they were required to provide job and family references and an itemised list of expenditures for their India visit.
In each case the New Delhi American Express traveller's cheques office "moved the goalpost", i.e. came up with new requirements after their previous request for information had been fulfilled.
It took weeks of fruitless calls to the New Delhi American Express traveller's cheques office, only to be told curtly "We think you still have them. Look for them some more and we will re-validate them".
Apparently American Express suspected the devotees of some sort of scam, though it is hard to imagine what that might be. Every transaction using American Express traveller's cheques is tracked, must be signed in the presence of the merchant, and positive identication (passport) is required to cash them.
The last I heard from the English devotee, who had by now returned to England practically penniless, was that he was denied refund. "Finally denied, and without any ability to appeal", or so he was told curtly by the Office of American Express New Delhi. The reason? "It is our internal policy and therefore we are not required to tell you the reason". He called American Express in the UK and with some difficulty had his case transferred there. I have suggested to him to send them a letter demanding an immediate refund. If they send him a letter denying refund in England he has various legal remedies available under UK and European Union consumer protection laws.
American Express has a right to try to limit their loss exposure, but their policy in India, to treat the customer like a common criminal, seems to me quite outrageous, if not illegal.
Meanwhile the devotees who relied on their marketing slogan are cheated out of their money, thousands of dollars!
American Express traveller's cheques. Leave home without them!