Mobile payments and why they should matter to travelers

June 2, 2015 |

Mobile payments are growing with the adoption of Android Pay and Apple Pay. Does this matter to travelers?Mobile payments are not exactly new. Countries around the world such as Japan, Australia, Kenya, Finland and more have embraced payments via SMS and other mobile technologies. Some have been doing it for more than a decade.

In the US, however, using your cell phone as a payment device didn’t start to take off until recently. Tech-forward people with NFC-enabled (that’s the chip that makes mobile payments connect) Android phones have been using services like Google Wallet for a few years now, but it wasn’t until 2014, with the release of Apple Pay on iPhone 6 devices, that the rest of us started looking at mobile payments as a truly legitimate way to pay.

Last week at its I/O developers conference, Google announced the evolution of its payment technology, called Android Pay.

Is paying with your phone just a novelty? Why bother doing it and facing the questioning store clerk or scrutiny of others in line when you can just pull out your credit card and pay like “normal people”? Why would travelers want to bother with this when they can use the time-tested plastic card system? Security and convenience are the major reasons:

Security
Both Apple Pay and Android Pay work similarly. You hold your phone up to the payment terminal at a store. The service generates a single-use account number, which is transmitted along with your device’s security ID to the merchant so that they never actually handle your real account information. Once the transaction is approved, you’re essentially done and can go on your way with whatever you’ve just paid for. Both systems require that you either use the smartphone’s fingerprint scanner (if there is one) or enter in your passcode on the phone to approve the transaction for an additional level of security. If someone steals your phone, they won’t be able to use the payments without your fingerprint or your code.

There’s no such fingerprint scanner on a plastic credit card – once your card’s been stolen the thief will be sure to use it as much as they can until you are able to call and cancel it.

Convenience
If you look in your wallet, you probably have three or more payment cards and a million different club and loyalty cards from the shops, travel vendors and restaurants you frequent. Imagine a world where you didn’t have to worry if you had the right travel rewards card with you, or if you remembered to move your corporate credit card to your travel bag. Both Apple and Android have tools that will help you store and use those digitally. You can even use them to keep your concert and movie tickets. While not every merchant supports mobile payments and not every bank offers cards that support mobile payments, the list for both major platforms continues to grow. We have even reported that some airlines are beginning to take mobile payments in-flight. With the announcement of Android Pay, a new crop of phones with fingerprint scanners and the hardware and software capable of supporting mobile payments is on its way as well. Don’t forget the watches! You’ll be able to access and make payments via your Apple or Android Wear watches. In the future you might not even have to worry about bringing your wallet along.

Useful for Travelers
Mobile payments seem to be made for travelers – especially frequent business travelers. When you combine the security and convenience of mobile payments with other technological advancements such as mobile travel apps (like Dash, from Travel and Transport), mobile boarding passes, mobile check-in at hotels and more, we are coming very close to a perfect mobile ecosystem.

Of course there are growing pains as with any new technology. If your phone is stolen, it is still a huge inconvenience and expense, even if your personal information is protected. If data connections are slow or unavailable, many of the apps and services discussed here aren’t able to function properly – or at all. We’re getting there, however, and we’re getting there quickly.

If you have Apple Pay or another mobile payment system, I suggest you try it out! See what you think of it, and let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Android Pay wasn’t the only exciting new announcement made by Google last week that has the potential to be huge for travelers. Check out my upcoming review of the new Google Photos service on Friday!