Insights 18 November 2021

The Airline Payment Guide for 2022

Today, people expect a lot from their online consumer experience. Especially when it comes to how they pay online, their retail payment experiences now influence their expectations of the payment experience everywhere. Innovative airline companies have an opportunity to lead the way if they align their payment processes with consumer expectations.

Since over 35% of travellers report that the payment experience is extremely important when booking flights, your payment strategy can be valuable to attract, convert, and retain customers. A secure and agile payment experience at every stage of the consumer journey, starting from the website or branded app right through to payments onboard the aircraft, can impact an airline's bottom line. It builds confidence and trust with consumers while still delivering the frictionless experience today's digital consumers expect.

In this guide, we'll go over ways airlines can improve the payment experience for their customers, improve conversion rates, and become payment leaders in the industry.

Why the payment process matters

The payment process is an integral part of the travel booking experience. Nearly 30% of travellers stop the checkout process and move to another airline if their preferred payment method isn't available. Many times flights are a high-value transaction for travellers, so they give these purchases more consideration as they move through the payment process. This makes it critical for airlines to ensure minimal friction through the process by offering the right payment types across different markets.

For example, today's digital travellers may be open to booking and paying for flights in various ways:

Consumers expect each of these payment experiences to be seamless, regardless of their preference. The transition between starting the booking process (such as an app or website) and paying for it must be optimised to make it easy, efficient, and secure.

Airlines’ must have the appropriate technology, web / native apps, and mobile services that can offer all this and more while still being efficient and optimised.

Let's take a closer look at some of the ways airlines can optimise their payment processes to provide insight, increase topline revenue, and reduce costs, all while improving the customer experience.

Maintain and offer flexible payment options

Consumers have strong preferences in their online payment methods, so if your airline doesn't accept their favourite, you could be losing out on the booking. And even if the traveller reluctantly uses a different payment method if their preference wasn't available, you may lose future bookings as 18% of them would consider going elsewhere for travel arrangements.

Below is a small sample of the variety of airline payment options preferred around the world:

  • Credit cards across North America

  • WeChat and Alipay in China

  • Paytm in India

  • PayPal in Australia, Germany, and Spain

  • Boleto Bancario in Brazil

  • MercadoPago in Argentina

  • Efecty in Columbia

Travellers have many reasons for choosing their preferred payment option, but it's about more than just using what's popular or available in their country. Many people use credit cards or other payment methods such as Paytm in India because of the loyalty program. Earning points or cashback on an expensive purchase like an airline ticket make them a top choice for travellers.

But being flexible enough to offer this much choice to travellers is a challenge for most airlines. While they're global companies, they still must work within their tech stack, vendor options, and payment processor framework when it comes to payments. Creating a centralised payments infrastructure that integrates with your consumer-facing channels (website, app) allows you to support more payment methods globally – and allows you to present the preferred form of payment to the applicable market You'll be better able to manage, increase and optimise your payment experience for travellers while still ensuring you've got their preferred method available.

Aside from integrating with global payment options, what else can airlines do to offer more payment flexibility? Keep reading to find out more.

Increase market share with an instalment payment program

Flights are often the most expensive part of anyone's travel experience. That's why many airlines are starting to offer instalment payment options through services like Affirm, Klarna, Afterpay, and Uplift. Also known as point-of-sale loans, these services allow travellers the option to pay for the flight or trip over a fixed period.

Offering the instalment payment option globally could open an airline to new customers in new and existing markets. Travellers in Latin American markets expect this option more than the rest of the world as paying by instalment is a popular method of payment elsewhere in their economies. It has since spread across the digital world there and become a very popular way to pay for online purchases across many industries. Other regions would be open to instalment payments for flights, too, with India, Spain, and the U.S. also showing that close to or more than half of travellers would pay for flights by instalments.

These third-party vendors make it easy to integrate this option into an airline's payment process, with many offering API webhooks or no-code ways of interfacing with your internal systems. But, since external vendors provide these services, airlines must do their due diligence and only partner with reputable loan operators.

Reduce losses on foreign exchange

Fluctuations in the foreign exchange (FX) market are frustrating for both airlines and travellers. Travellers often incur extra processing fees and get unfavourable exchange rates, leading to surprise when they see their bank statement. These surprises often cause an increase in chargebacks. On the other hand, airlines lose out on the difference between the exchange rate when the transaction is initiated and settled. Depending on how many transactions they do, this difference could be significant to an airline's bottom line. Multi-currency processing (MCP) is applied at the time of payment as an option to convert the purchase price into a currency of the buyers choice. It is not a payment option in itself

Adding a real-time payment (RTP) mechanism to a payment process can help both parties. Travellers would know precisely how much they're being charged in foreign currency, and airlines wouldn't lose out if the rate changed during processing. RTP networks operate 24x7x365 so that payments can be initiated anywhere at any time, and they'll be cleared within seconds.

With the advances in RTP offerings globally, it's possible to combine both an RTP and payment method in one, such as with PayPal. PayPal partnered with J.P. Morgan to offer RTP to its customers in 2019, allowing U.S.-based airlines the ability to save on foreign exchange rate differences.

Travellers have become increasingly flexible in their payment preferences, so ensuring your airline can handle them all is critical. Anything you can do to make paying easier and reduce the friction for travellers will increase revenues and passenger satisfaction.

Increase revenues by reducing payment friction

Friction in a payment process for customers could refer to many things, such as a declined payment without an explanation, an unexpected site redirect, or the need to re-enter their payment or contact information several times. Most travellers will react negatively to any payment friction, causing them to go with a competitor or skip the booking altogether.

Suppose you can reduce the friction by eliminating the obstacles that can happen during online payment. In that case, you stand a better chance of earning the immediate sale and keeping them as a loyal customer, for example, by automatically verifying correct payment details and providing meaningful error messages as needed.

Make it easy to enter payment details

Making it easy to purchase flights online starts by only asking for payment information once during the checkout process. If a web or mobile app requires travellers to enter the details more than once, they're more likely to exit the purchase process. In one survey, over 40% of travellers wouldn't continue a travel booking if they had to re-enter personal information more than once.

Allow travellers to upload payment details with a photo

Airline-branded mobile apps can also take advantage of the functionality that allows travellers to snap a photo of their credit card and have the photo app enter the information for them. The same technology lets iOS or Android users add their payment information to Apple Pay, Google Pay, or Samsung Pay. It can be incorporated into an airline's mobile app to make it easier for travellers to enter their flight booking details or save their payment details to their registered accounts.

Use existing technology to save payment details

Many eCommerce sites offer the ability to check out as a guest without having to register for an account on the website. While many travellers would prefer to create an account on your airline website to save their data securely, others don't. This could be due to their cultural or personal preferences, so airlines that offer both options will please more travellers.

Further, some travellers save their payment details in their web browser or password manager extension. Giving the airline's website payment processing functionality access to this data would encourage these travellers to book more often. This is a big feature for American travellers, with nearly 70% of them saying they're more likely to purchase a flight if they can use the payment details saved in their browsers.

Reduce declined transaction rates with automatic payment detail updates

It is important to offer travellers the ability to store cards securely, And some acquirers can automatically update expired or replaced credit card information for payment details airlines have on file for registered travellers. Card schemes such as American Express and Mastercard offer this service, but not all travellers like it. Some surveys show a strong preference for it in China, India, and Mexico, but not in other areas of Europe and the Americas.

Add local and preferred currency payment options to booking portals

Another element that can encourage travellers to book flights is paying in their local currency or a preferred currency. Given the difference in pricing for different currencies, it can significantly impact a traveller's buying decision. They can avoid high or unexpected exchange fees and take advantage of good exchange rates.

For example, a European traveller may appreciate paying for a flight on a non-European carrier in Euros to take advantage of the positive exchange rate for them and avoid potential bank charges. To do this, airlines would have to implement dynamic currency conversion (DCC) software in their payment processing system and then integrate it into their end-user interface to highlight the cost in the traveller's chosen currency.

Offer extras up-front

Another way to reduce the payment friction for travellers is to sell additional services at the time of purchase. For example, selling a meal voucher when the ticket is purchased, so travellers don't have to worry about buying their meal on the plane. Or offering upgrades and add-ons to their flight that could be purchased easily at the gate or airport with a tap of their bank card. Travellers would only have to go through the payment process once, reducing the friction while increasing your revenues.

This idea only works, however, by considering the offline traveller touchpoints throughout their trip. Give them a chance to combine purchases where appropriate to make it simpler and efficient for travellers to upgrade and enhance their travel experience. Each touchpoint must have the appropriate payment solution available, whether it's a contactless point-of-sale device at the airport gate or an additional product list and purchase feature in your eCommerce web app. The challenge with offer and order management is the fulfilment throughout the customer journey.

Nurture traveller relationships by increasing trust

Trust is a critical element of an online relationship. Reassuring indicators help airlines build that trust and confidence of prospective travellers, ensuring they complete today's transaction and come back for others in the future.

It starts by adding those reassuring indicators to your airline website and app, such as logos and links that indicate your commitment to security, privacy and industry regulators. Communicating the payment process expectations as early as possible can reduce drop off rates and increase customer trust in your airline.

For example, adding an industry regulator logo such as IATA to an airline website can increase conversion rates for travel bookings. Again, since flights are a high-value purchase, adding payment authentication and their logos such as "Verified by VISA" and "MasterCard Secure" reduces fraud and improves the travellers’ confidenceand increases the likelihood they'll complete the purchase.

Reassurance goes beyond payment security and trust. Most travellers respond positively to sincere and legitimate reviews left by previous travellers and customers. A review badge or link to the positive reviews on a globally recognised service such as TripAdvisor or Yelp can significantly increase bookings. Airlines can also integrate customer review services into their website or mobile app to encourage travellers to leave positive reviews, such as TrustPilot and Sprinklr.

In light of the global pandemic, offering traveller purchase protection has increased. People want assurances that they'll get a full refund if they have to cancel their flight through no fault of their own. Many airlines now offer and promote increased flexibility on bookings, such as changes to travel dates and even free cancellations, because they know how important it is to travellers. Airlines should ensure that their payment process can handle refunds quickly and efficiently for travellers. They should also look at their payment processors, acquirers, and payment technology to ensure they can scale up refund requests as needed. An influx of refund or change requests may overwhelm a payment system, and travellers get frustrated with any delays or errors.

This leads to the final payment topic airlines should handle well: communication.

Be transparent and communicate

There's nothing like getting to the end of an online checkout process and seeing extra fees or hidden charges that you weren't prepared for. Travellers are no different and don't want to be surprised at any part of the payment process.

Airline websites, native and mobile apps should be clear about any costs and fees that may arise based on travellers' options. It builds trust and improves the overall payment experience..

Likewise, when something goes wrong during the payment process, clear communication about what's happened through useful error messages and annotations. Clear error messages are critical during the payment process as travellers may already be nervous about entering their payment details online. Consider the difference between "Please validate your payment details" and "We're sorry. There was a technical error on our end. Can you please re-check your payment details so we can try again?" Most online shoppers need a detailed payment error message to feel secure enough to retry the payment, so make sure your payment solution can provide them. Or lets you create custom messages as appropriate.

Inline verification of banking information during the payment process can increase cart abandonment rates due to payment declines caused by data entry errors. For example, if paying by credit card and the traveller enters a card number that's too short or an expiry date in the past, a noticeable highlight and meaningful error message make it obvious and easy for travellers to fix. Often times resulting in a soft decline that can be remedied by the ability to retry with the correct data.

For a positive spin on the communication tactic, airlines can be more transparent about their payment process by using interface elements to showcase progress. Paying for a flight often involves several steps, so showing where they are in the process with a progress bar improves the customer experience, increases conversions, and builds loyalty.


For airlines, their payment process can lead to increased bookings, higher conversions, and a smoother customer experience. It's no longer a given that people will travel as often as they used to. And with travellers' increased exposure to online shopping, airlines will need to up their digital eCommerce game significantly.

It's about delivering a payment experience that supports the varying expectations of travellers globally without compromising security and technology features. The way airlines structure their tech stack and integrate the right solutions at the right time will dictate how well they deliver it. Done well, payments will be another reason travellers will come back to your airline over and over.

To learn more about how CellPoint can help optimise your airline's payment ecosystem, reach out to us today. We'd love to speak to you and see how we can create a customised payment solution for your airline.