Cash may still be king, for now, but when it comes to onboard purchases airlines are already demanding alternative payment methods

10 January, 2020

‘Cash is king’ is an age-old saying reflecting the belief that money (cash) is more valuable than any other form of investment tool. It remains as valid today as when it was first coined, when it comes to running a business even if the acceptance of cash in day-to-day trading is reducing. First it was cheques (with traveller’s cheques particularly important in the travel space), then credit and debit cards and now increasingly it is numerous virtual payment options as "tap and go" technology proliferates.

Travel has come a long way since the days of traveller’s cheques and queuing at traditional bureaux de change, and the payment methods holidaymakers use abroad are rapidly changing. With technology developments and changing habits it is suggested that by 2028 less than 10% of purchases will be made in cash by 2028.

In fact, new research from independent UK airport parking company, Airport Parking and Hotels (APH), has found that when it comes to onboard purchases it is becoming more difficult to actually pay in cash as more and more airlines adopt cash-free approach to onboard purchases. Its analysis has found that only a third of the largest airlines are actually still accepting cash payments onboard.

So, is it really over for cash payments onboard airlines? Its research shows that 10 of the 15 most popular airlines, such as Singapore Airlines, British Airways and Emirates Airline have already moved away from accepting cash payments and only accept debit or credit card payments inflight.

All 15 of the major airlines it analysed accept major credit cards such as American Express, Visa and Mastercard, while around half also accept debit cards: the latter including Turkish Airlines, Japan Airlines and British Airways.

Those major carriers still accepting cash for onboard purchases comprise Air France, Lufthansa, Delta Air Lines, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways, although the latter only accepts payments in Qatari riyal and US dollars.

Other increasingly popular payment methods include application payments such as Apple Pay which is accepted onboard Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways, Japan Airlines and Delta. Similarly, travellers are being encouraged by Air Canada and Lufthansa to use the airline’s own apps to purchase digital content and shopping services whilst onboard.

Similarly, those flying with American Airlines can use its app to pay for an upgrade mid-flight from Economy to Main Cabin Extra. Meanwhile, travellers flying with seven of the 15 airlines, including Air Canada, Air France and Virgin Atlantic, can also pre-pay for inflight duty free.

For the more technology-savvy traveller, Emirates have introduced an on-screen ordering system in its first class where food can be bought directly to passenger seats. The research shows four of the airlines analysed have already listed prepaid travel cards as a valid payment method onboard, with Turkish Airlines and British Airways accepting prepaid Monzo cards, and Emirates and Delta also accepting post office travel cards alongside Monzo payments.

To help travellers keep up-to-date with these developments, APH has released the following infographic guide detailing which methods of payment are accepted onboard the world’s leading airlines.