Does anyone still use cash on vacation?

November 24, 2018, 7:20 PM · How do you pay for your theme park trips? I'm not talking about whether you set aside money or borrowed it, but rather how you completed the transactions. Did you use a card? Your phone? A MagicBand or other device? Or did you take it back old school and pay cash?

A New York Times story describing Sweden's attempt to become a cashless society has been making the rounds this week. That got me think about how little cash seems to get used in theme parks anymore. Disney, especially, might not yet technically be a cashless vacation destination, but it's getting close.

Not only that, but you can visit Walt Disney World without a credit or debit card these days, too. If you are staying on site at Disney, you buy your meals in advance by using the Disney Dining Plan, though you still will need to tip if your plan includes table service restaurants. But you can charge that and your other in-park purchases to your room, using a MagicBand. Even if you are not staying on site, you can use Disney's official app to pay for order and pay for counter-service meals, leaving your credit card at home.

It's been years since I visited the Shootin' Arcade in Frontierland, but that's the last place I can remember in the parks that didn't accept payment with a card or MagicBand. Since you don't need cash pretty much anywhere on a major theme park visit these days, fans have responded by embracing the ease of just using cards (or those MagicBands) to pay for everything they buy in the parks.

Disney gave up on its Disney Dollars because so few people were using cash in the parks anymore. And Universal Orlando's attempt to mimic Disney Dollars with paper-script Galleons in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter died pretty much at birth due to the trend away from cash.

But using cash to pay still offers advantages. It's easier to stick with a budget when paying with cash, especially for children. Once you've spent your cash, you're done. There's no going into debt by buying more than you should when using cash.

Paying with cash can get you out of table service restaurants more quickly, too — assuming you have the right denominations to cover the tip without needing change. There's no time wasted waiting for the server to run your card.

Cash also gives you privacy. No one is tracking your purchases when you use cash. Ironically, using cash now actually can be safer than using a card or your phone, since there's no account to hack or misuse. All it takes is a retailer to make one unauthorized charge on your account for you to start using cash again with that business. I also suspect that — in an increasingly cashless world — the risk of getting robbed at random for your wad of cash is declining since so few people actually carry one anymore.

The Times story said that just eight percent of the United States economy is conducted in cash anymore, compared with 10 percent in Europe and just one precent in Sweden. And those percentages are declining. But is the lower limit zero, or is there some segment of the economy when cash will either be necessary or at least the preferable way to pay?

So how much are you using cash these days?

Replies (27)

November 24, 2018 at 8:35 PM

I actually use less cash in my daily life, debit card for the most part at stores. I do still use some if I need to buy something small at a gas station or 7-11 with a drink or such. At Disney, it is still a benefit if you just want a quick drink or ice cream bar from one of the small stands. It's in the main dining places and shops you'd use cards more.

November 24, 2018 at 10:44 PM

I was just reading an article about how Starbucks is working with NYSE's Bakkt and Microsoft to allow cryptocurrency payments. It'll probably take a while for the volatility to settle down, but I imagine it won't be long before people can pay with crypto at major parks.

November 25, 2018 at 12:09 AM

I use a card for most daily transactions, but I mostly use cash in theme parks - mainly because it does make it easier to set and stay within a budget.

November 25, 2018 at 2:18 AM

You have to factor in charges applied to credit cards for international visitors. I am from the UK, and whenever i use my credit card in America i am charged a flat fee for every use, and then a 5% charge. This soon builds up.

November 25, 2018 at 3:30 AM

We put our cash on a gift card which makes it faster and still gives you more control on what you spend

November 25, 2018 at 3:31 AM

We put the cash on a gift card which gives us more control on what we spend.

November 25, 2018 at 5:38 AM

I carry cash on vacation to tip my valet attendants and bellmen.

November 25, 2018 at 6:22 AM

It really depends on the holiday.

At Disneyworld we can manage pretty much without cash but I've just come back from Madeira and whilst cards are accepted in most shops and restaurants it's still very much a cash-hungry country. The same applied to southern Spain last year. The year before we did a Caribbean cruise and whilst I could survive onboard without cash virtually every one of the islands was cash-based. We actually ran out of cash and had to exchange more onboard!

I do use cash a lot less than I used to and I tend not to carry coins around with me anymore (to the detriment of charity collectors sadly) but I think we are still a long way off becoming totally cashless.

November 25, 2018 at 7:27 AM

I work merchandise at WDW and eventhough people mostly use cards there is still a significant amount of guests that use cash, especially internationals, it's mostly them that choose cash instead of card.

November 25, 2018 at 8:40 AM

Anybody who pays a foreign transaction fee on their credit cards, like me, should pay with cash. It’s not unusual to pay 3.5% above the exchange rate! That’s like paying the money to Disney for an extra dinner instead of to the bank.

November 25, 2018 at 2:51 PM

During our recent WDW trip, we carried no cash, no credit cards and no wallets. All we needed was our MagicBands and a phone (for fastpasses). We loved it!

November 25, 2018 at 2:52 PM

I use cash on holidays all the time.

Unless I am travelling in my home country, the main reason is budgeting, rather than try to keep track of how much I spent, offset against the expected exchange rate and possible international currency conversion cost, which becomes a bigger nightmare travelling through European countries not using Euro

November 25, 2018 at 3:28 PM

I'll know we are a cashless society when the homeless population start asking me if I can spare any bitcoin, or ask me for an Apple Pay funds transfer.

November 25, 2018 at 11:50 PM

I always carry a small amount of cash with me just in case I run into an issue where I can't pay with a card. When on vacation, I do the same, but I will also check where I'm planning to visit and will bring more if the trip includes any cash-only establishments. As far as using it, I'll typically pay in cash when the amount is small (less than $20), is an exact dollar value, or for miscellaneous tips, while I'll use a card for almost everything else.

November 26, 2018 at 8:49 AM

We travel with some cash but rarely use it. The tipping industry seems to have figured this out too and I've seem some smart ways I can add a tip for a service when I pay. FWIW I tend to avoid most tipped services when I can because I dislike this aspect of the industry.

November 26, 2018 at 11:07 AM

I use cash for everything now, vacation or not. We're on the envelope system now to help my wife understand budgeting.

November 26, 2018 at 11:47 AM

We are like AngryDuck, we use the envelop system on vacation with cash only. We never go over budget and we don't have a credit card bill waiting when we get home. As a matter a fact, doing it this way we usually come home with a lot of money left in the envelops because of mindful spending.

November 26, 2018 at 11:54 AM

I carry one card, very little case and an ID. It just makes the security checks at the entrance, at the rides much easier. I can mostly avoid lockers unless they have metal detectors. Car keys. Arghh. Not to call anyone out but you know who you are Universal !

November 26, 2018 at 11:55 AM

I tend to use Apple Pay at Disney and Universal since its safer than using a CC and I dont have to worry about accidentally losing any paper cash

November 26, 2018 at 12:56 PM

On our last trip I kept track of all expenditures (right down to every pressed penny) on a spreadsheet, and using that I estimate that we used cash (or change) for no more than 7% of our expenditures, and that is counting travel, lodging, tickets, food....everything.

November 26, 2018 at 1:06 PM

I use cash to some extent on trips to theme parks, especially to tip an Uber driver or driver of a hotel courtesy van. On the Saturday before last I used cash to buy food at Six Flags Over Texas, partly because I withdrew cash from an ATM before the trip and decided that I might as well spend it. We are still pretty far from being a cashless society. On a recent trip to a theme park there was a diner next door to my hotel that did not even accept credit/debit cards! (For that matter, the medical library where I go to do research doesn't take credit either.) And there are still plenty of places which require a $5 or $10 minimum expenditure to use plastic - although not, in my experience, at theme parks.

November 26, 2018 at 1:59 PM

We use a mix of cash and credit card for vacations. We never use a debit card because fraudulent purchases are not covered by the bank, so the card owner ends up eating it on the fraud. The card is used for reservations, car rentals, plane tickets, after that we use cash in the theme park to help us stay on budget. If we use a card for table-service we always tip with cash.
Also, I had the experience of dealing with a customer who, upon checking her card bill, found out one of my former employees had added an extra zero to the tip on her payment. We refunded her the "extra" tip money and started a policy that all payment coupons are checked daily by the shift supervisor to prevent that from happening again.

November 26, 2018 at 2:14 PM

I'm perfectly happy to use anything other than cash. Sometimes it's impossible to go without, so I always keep a $20 in my wallet, but I only use it if there is no other option. I remember how much I loved it when Epcot started offering the ability to purchase gift cards that came on wristbands for the Wine and Food Festival. Prior to that, the kiosks only took cash. The cash transactions were a big reason for the length of the lines and trying to give and receive cash was difficult when carrying several small plates. It also made it much easier to stay within budget during a visit to the festival. You could decide how much you wanted to spend, put it on the card and when it was all spent, you were all done.
I've often wondered if that system was the spark of the idea for Magic Bands, or if it was a practicality test after the idea had been hatched.

November 26, 2018 at 4:52 PM

Ok, so why do you guys hate cash so much? You realize people have a tendency to actually spend less when they have to take cash out of their wallet, right? I mean, lets be honest, that's the real reason for Magic Bands.

November 27, 2018 at 9:24 AM

I find myself carrying cash less and less (I haven't had more than a few dollars in my wallet since the end of the summer). It's not only inconvenient, especially in situations where you end up with coinage that slows passage through metal detectors, but for me can be even more tempting to spend because it's there ready to "burn a hole in my wallet". In fact, not having cash on hand can be liberating when faced with tip jars for staff that don't work off tips and others who attempt to extract cash from you (window washers, panhandlers, "young entrepreneurs", etc...).

Since purchasing an AppleWatch, I use ApplePay whenever possible, which eliminates the need to even pull my wallet out. Above all, I think it's easier for me to budget through a credit card, because I can better track purchases and scroll through the transaction history, which is not possible with cash unless you hold onto all those foot-long receipts. I also find myself spending less when I don't have cash on hand (I might buy a <$5 snack or drink if there's a bill in my wallet, but I rarely bother making such a small purchase with a credit card). Also, with cash, you know how much you take out of the ATM to start a trip, but it can become more difficult to track/remember exactly where you spent each dollar of your bankroll. For those that have trouble controlling their spending, and resort to the "envelope method", you can always set spending limits on your credit card that caps how much you're allowed to charge each day unless you manually release the lock.

Charging with a MagicBand to me is a non-starter, and I never really understood the advantage unless you're on the DDP and applying a tip at a TS restaurant to avoid having to make a second transaction. I could see perhaps if you're at a water park or somewhere else where you might not have your wallet or electronic device. However, the end result is the same (charge going to your credit card), but it can be harder to track, especially if you have charge alerts setup on your electronic device (charging to a MagicBand delays the application of your charge to you credit card so all charges for the day hit at the same time instead of as you make the purchases, so it's easier to forget those incremental purchases until it's too late).

I think we're pretty close to a cashless society, and I'm enjoying not having to carry cash in my wallet anymore. Now if I could just get rid of all these annoying membership/loyalty/rewards/bank/credit/etc..., my posterior would be liberated!

November 27, 2018 at 11:52 AM

Last time I checked, you couldn't fit a card in the penny press souvenir machines at Disneyland.

November 27, 2018 at 2:20 PM

"Last time I checked, you couldn't fit a card in the penny press souvenir machines at Disneyland."

Nope, but theme parks are slowly switching to newer machines that now dispense medallions or larger denomination coins pressed with a design that can be paid for with a credit card or other electronic payment (they cost more than $0.51 though). In fact, I seem to recall seeing machines in WDW at Space Mountain and Mission Space last year that dispensed medallions with payment via MagicBand.

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