The End of Credit Cards for Travel?

Okay sure, credit cards are necessary today when traveling. And slowly, major U.S. merchants and credit card banks are switching over to the chip-and-signature cards that are safer than the magnetic strip cards. But there is still the annoyance of remembering to contact some credit card issuers before you begin your travels, especially internationally, much less the risk of having to carry around all these cards. All of this may prove to be just a temporary stop gap before we finally arrive at a 21st Century solution and leave the credit cards at home, if you even keep them at all.

If Plastic has their way, you will never carry a credit card again. They have created a system where one small lightweight card with a touchscreen can replace all your credit cards. Actually this single card can contain information for 20 cards, including debit, ATM, and travel loyalty program cards. You can even store gift cards on this thing. One bizarre thing about the card, it needs to be recharged. Ever do that with a credit card?

But there’s even more. If you somehow forget and leave your card somewhere, it will automatically lock and erase all the stored data. This card also includes the ability to add a photo so it easy to match the user to the transaction. Nice protection. In addition, they are going the extra step and using more advanced chip-and-PIN technology instead of signature. Rather than trying to describe how this card works, take a look at their 2-minute video.

The Plastic Card is not available yet. In fact it won’t be available until next summer. They just began a blog about the card but for those who are very brave and trusting, you can pre-order this card now for $155. Of course, you have to use one of today’s boring, yesterday’s-technology normal credit cards to place the order.

So does the future of travel mean carrying only one card? Not if Google or Apple have anything to say about it.

Google introduced Google Wallet way back in September, 2011. The idea behind it was simple – an easier way to pay with all your cards in one place. Google claims it includes all types of cards, including loyalty programs, but I have never tested it. By applying Near Field Communication (NFC), Google devised a way to just use your Android smartphone to make payments. Unfortunately, Google has struggled to get merchants and banks onboard with their system.

At the announcement for the new iPhone 6, Apple said they will begin Apple Pay in the near future. Arguably applying catchup technology, Apple also uses NFC to allow your iPhone (or the new Apple Watch next year) to make payments. All the major banks and many large merchants have already signed onto the Apple program and it will be available at over 200,000 stores. An advantage with Apple Pay, it will also work with some apps. As a protective measure in case your device is lost or stolen, Apple uses Find My iPhone to put it in Lost Mode. Actually, the Plastic Card may be safer here. If you do not have any way to activate Find My iPhone, the data remains available in the device while the Plastic Card goes into an automatic shutdown mode if you are separated from the card.

Both Google and Apple use a token-based security system but at least for now, they are different. Google opted for a cloud-based system – which has been a bit prone to hacking recently – while Apple’s system uses a random generated number. And kudos to Apple for creating such an easy payment system. Instead of unlocking the phone, applying a password, and searching for the right app, payment is activated by simply using a touch sensor.

So if Google and/or Apple make significant advances in replacing credit cards, does this mean the end of the Plastic Card before it even begins? It may. After all, most people have smartphones today and if Apple’s version catches on, you can be sure Google will remedy their Wallet and be a major player as well. For those who don’t have smartphones, the Plastic Card still seems to be a viable alternative to carrying around a pocket full of other cards. But the Plastic Card may also have a hidden advantage. Hackers are getting bolder and more successful. It seems far more likely that they would go after the treasure of a Google or an Apple long before they would target a smaller entity like Plastic Card.

Another thing to consider, the Apple version is only available on the iPhone 6. Since previous phones won’t work with Apple Pay, there will be some resistance to buying a new phone, and maybe having to sign a new carrier contract, just to have a handy feature like Apple Pay. And until we know the full ability of Google Wallet or Apple Pay, it’s possible that the Plastic Card will still be valuable for storing things like debit and gift cards (great for some manufactured spend enthusiasts). But there is a wild card unknown about all of them … will they work internationally?

Anyway, the Plastic Card looks very cool. Think of it as a single credit card on steroids. Again, watch their video and decide for yourself.

Disclosure: All the links to the companies are directly to them, not affiliate links. This blog is for information purposes only and I have no direct investments in any of these companies, though I do use an iPhone 6 and know a few people that work for Google and Apple.

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