Should American Express refund this 50-euro travelers check?

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Ralph Westfall wants his 50 euros back from American Express. Should I help him?

Your favorite column Should I Take The Case is back after a short hiatus. Our advocacy team is tired of having to make all these difficult decisions ourselves, so we’re reaching out to you today for help.

Here’s the first thing you need to know about Westfall’s case, and the issue that gave our advocates pause: It’s six years old.

Cases don’t age well, even under the best of circumstances.

Why did it take Westfall six long years to ask us for help? Let’s take a look at the details for the answer.

Westfall bought American Express euro traveler’s checks for a trip to Europe back in 2006.

“We had some left over, so we kept them for a future trip,” he says. “Back in Europe, we found that no merchants except the Palace of Versailles would take them. After cashing some there, we still had a 50-euro traveler’s check left.”

What to do with the remaining euros?

“A money exchange place would cash them at a ridiculous rate — only 42 euros for a 50-euro check,” he says. “Even the American Express office at the Copenhagen airport — one of the few we could find left in Europe — wouldn’t cash its own check at face value.”

So Westfall mailed the check back to American Express asking for a refund. Here’s where things get complicated. The euro traded at about 1.20 to the dollar in 2006; today, it’s roughly at parity. That means a dollar is about one euro, more or less.

American Express sent him a check for $8.

Huh?

“I phoned them about that around a month ago and they said they would do something about it. However we have not gotten anything back from them yet,” he says.

A look at American Express’ terms and conditions suggests it will replace a check with another check, but I don’t see any provisions for refunds. If I had to guess, I’d say there’s some kind of fee being charged for returning the check, perhaps one that accrues on an annual basis. It may also be a hefty currency exchange fee.

That’s my best guess for making sense of turning 50 euros into $8. According to Amex, its traveler’s checks are as good as money.

Westfall needs a paper trail on this before we can get involved. But even if he establishes one, I’m not sure if his chances of recovering more money are that great. The longer you wait to fix something, the harder it gets — even for a check that allegedly never expires. Amex’ records from 2006 may or may not be complete.

Now that Westfall has mailed his check — and I hope he made a copy of the check — this further complicates the resolution.

Is it worth going to battle with Amex over $42? Or should we recommend that Westfall take the loss and never, ever purchase a traveler’s check again?

Should I take Ralph Westfall's case?

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