Apple Pay for Travel: Very Far from Great, or Even Good

Quite a few years ago now, I needed a new cellphone but I didn’t want an iPhone. Sure, my husband had one as did all of our kids, but I wanted something different. Two hours later I returned home. With an iPhone. Since then I have added updated models, an iPad, and a Mac Air so I guess I am kind of iHooked.

iPhone 6

Everyone has different features they most like about the new iPhone 6 but for me, one of them was the long awaited Apple Pay. As I said in a previous post, this has the potential to be a real game breaker for processing purchases. Would it really be possible to leave my credit cards at home and use my password-protected, fingerprint identification iPhone for transactions instead?

Well, Apple Pay is active now and I was able to register most of my credit cards on my phone very easily. The key word here is most. Some cards, like the neat looking United MileagePlus Club card, has the card number and expiration date on the back, not the front. Well, the iPhone couldn’t scan the information. Yes, it could be entered manually and yes, it eventually did work.

So with my card data stored in my phone, how did it work? Eager to test out Apple Pay, I was delighted to see it work perfectly at McDonald’s and Starbucks. Target said their NFC scanners are not installed yet. The strangest experience was at my bank. I went inside the bank to see a teller about a transaction. A large poster was hanging on the wall behind her announcing Apple Pay. I asked the teller if she could simply scan my iPhone bank card and she responded, “What is Apple Pay?” I guess she hadn’t taken in the large poster yet. No, the bank did not yet have NFC terminals.

When Apple Pay was first announced, CEO Tim Cook made a point that it would be accepted at over 200,000 merchants and the partner list was impressive. What he didn’t say is that many of them will not have their terminals in place at the launch date. Obviously some of them don’t even know what Apple Pay is, even when it is written on the wall behind them.

So how did Apple Pay work for travel? With extreme sadness, this is even worse. The hotels that I have stayed at looked at me like I have three heads when I tried to use my iPhone at check-in. So what about booking airline tickets online? Also not ready for prime time.

I travel a lot internationally but my hopes for carrying around a phone instead of credit cards were again dashed. The earliest adoption date I can find for Europe is sometime next year. China, a very big market for iPhones, may also have made arrangements to bring Apple Pay to their country but again, no date has been set.

Bottom line here, Apple Pay certainly has great potential but for those who are traveling, it only offers limited use in the U.S. at the moment and is worthless right now outside the country.

Though I did enjoy the coffees at both McDonald’s and Starbucks in my Apple Pay experiment.

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