The rise of alternative payment methods like digital wallets, mobile devices, and smart speakers has disrupted the traditional payment landscape across sectors, and travel is no exception. Travelers are no longer limited to using credit cards for booking their itinerary or paying with cash at the point-of-sale while abroad. They can even book a trip using Google Assistant technology and never have to lift a finger, let alone a credit card.
Depending on the jurisdiction, credit card trends are mixed. According to WorldPay’s 2018 Consumer Behavior and Payments Report, which mostly reflects behaviors in the UK, nearly two-thirds of those polled expect their mobile device to take the place of credit and debit cards in the next half-decade. Meanwhile, U.S.-based credit rating agency Experian points out credit card usage hasn’t budged for the past three years.
Companies are building technology solutions that work even in far-flung corners of the world. As a result, travelers are increasingly reaching for a mobile device or an alternative payment card, though there are pros and cons to both. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of relying on alternative payment cards and other non-traditional payments while traveling.
One of the biggest drawbacks of carrying cash on a trip is having to worry about safely storing it in a hotel room or on a person and protecting against robbery or theft. Alternative payment cards provide a security benefit. Even if the wallet or card is lost, the card can be replaced. Cardholder could get their new card speedily if the issuer has set up a shop in the region where the traveler is visiting.
There are perhaps no greater opportunities for tipping than when one is traveling. Whether it’s a bellhop or the caddy at the golf course, tipping is one thing travelers can bank on during their trip.
The blockchain, which is a distributed ledger that supports peer-to-peer payments, makes gratuities easier. Payment startup BRAVO Pay, for instance, lets users send payment in fiat or cryptocurrencies to a service provider by username without a need for sharing an email address or phone number.
Multi-destination trips require lots of planning, but alternative payment cards can make it easier.
Chief among the benefits of traveling with an alternative payment card is the ability to load multiple currencies onto a single card or convert currencies seamlessly. As a result, the traveler doesn’t have to worry about converting their dollars into euro and then into yen.
Mastercard has a pre-paid travel card dubbed the Cash Passport Platinum Mastercard that has the capacity for nearly a dozen different currencies on a single card. The best part is that travelers can avoid the currency conversion fees that are generally attached to traditional credit cards when transacting overseas. This particular card also lets users secure a foreign exchange rate, so travelers don’t have to worry about volatile currency values.
A benefit that cash provides that cards and mobile payments cannot is anonymity unless it’s a prepaid card that doesn’t require personal information. But even Revolut’s prepaid disposable virtual cards require a Premium account. So if for some reason a traveler is looking to complete shielded transactions, they may want to look into cryptocurrencies like Monero or Zcash that are known for anonymous transactions.
We know, convenience was listed as a benefit of alternative payment cards. Not all countries, however, are like Estonia—the world’s first digital nation. Depending on where the traveler goes, not all merchants will always accept non-traditional payments. As a result, a traveler who leaves the cash in the bank could be at a disadvantage when they go into a merchant abroad only to find that the store doesn’t accept alternative payment methods.
The scenario isn’t too farfetched. Mobile payment company Alipay sponsored a tour of Chinese tourists to Finland last year in an experiment for a “fully cashless experience.” While the trip was a success overall, and the group was mostly able to get around using Alipay via a smartphone, one of the tourists had to use cash at a supermarket.
For some cards, the day you load a currency may not be the same day that you have access to those funds. If you need to load more funds onto a card, it can sometimes take days before the money is available to use, which could prove to be problematic when on a tight travel schedule.
Your Money Isn’t Good Here
Travelers who plan to order a latte at a Starbucks in Seattle, Washington or a draft beer at certain U.K. pubs may want to look into alternative payment cards as some of these locations have stopped accepting cash altogether.