Bitcoin begins inching into travel as an alternative means of paymentNews / OnlineBy Nick Vivion | November 26, 2013Share This article was originally published on The digital currency Bitcoin is inching its way into the travel purchasing process, as OTA CheapAir.com and space specialists Virgin Galactic have announced acceptance of Bitcoin.Bitcoin is a virtual currency traded only on online exchanges, which has led to an extensive network of interconnected computers (known as "miners") that are constantly verifying the transfer of Bitcoins on a shared universal ledger.CheapAir.com was the first to make the Bitcoin announcement, with CEO Jeff Klee saying on November 19th:“We will do whatever it takes to make travel buying easier and give CheapAir customers more options. We’re intrigued by the growing bitcoin phenomenon and we are happy to provide bitcoin users an easy, secure way to book flights.”Richard Branson clearly had been thinking about Bitcoins as well, because a few days later he made this post on his blog that explained why Virgin Galactic would take Bitcoins:"Virgin Galactic is one of the universe’s most exciting, futuristic companies. Bitcoin, the virtual currency, has really captured the imagination recently as one of the world’s most innovative businesses looking to the future. So we think it is about time Virgin Galactic customers can choose to pay with bitcoins.""Virgin Galactic is a company looking into the future, so is Bitcoin. So it makes sense we would offer Bitcoin as a way to pay for your journey to space. A lot of the people who have joined Bitcoin are tech-minded people, as are many of our current future astronauts."The company claims that a "future astronaut" in Hawaii has already purchased her space flight using Bitcoin.CheapAir.com is currently the only merchant in the United States where flights can be purchased with Bitcoins, and Virgin Galactic is - dare we say - the only place in space that currently accepts Bitcoins. Well, it remains to be seen if Galactic will accept Bitcoins for in-orbit purchases, so perhaps they're not quite the only place in space to take Bitcoins.Semantics aside, this development brings travel into what appears to be a currency here to stay. With Congress hosting sessions on the viability of the developing means of payment, there's a critical mass of discussion fueling more broad understanding and curiosity about Bitcoin. Indeed, the market has grown and the virtual currency is on track to be the world's first trillion dollar currency without government backing.China has also shown an incredible interest in the currency, as this recent Forbes piece encapsulates. That country's central government has implicitly allowed the continued trade of Bitcoin - even after forcing Tencent to regulate their QQ virtual currency. And more online companies and brick-and-mortar shops continue to announce the acceptance of Bitcoins as payment. With search giant Baidu getting into the game, the speculation surrounding Bitcoin kicked up into another level.If China truly engages with the currency, which is increasingly inevitable as the country hosts a large share of the Bitcoin exchanges, then there will be even more pressure on retailers to accept the currency as the Chinese middle class continues traveling internationally.With lower fees than credit cards, merchants might be able to offer a slightly lower price for products and service paid with Bitcoin - which could further fuel growth.There's also already a website tracking where Bitcoin can be used while traveling, which is yet another sign that the reign of Bitcoin is only just beginning: http://bitcoin.travel/.Bitcoin is not without risks, however. Online exchanges have proven vulnerable to hackers, with the second heist this month netting over $1 million from users' Bitcoin wallets. Will the security issues deflate the speculation? Or is security simply a growing pain on the road towards global acceptance of this alternative currency? Stay tuned.Still wondering what a Bitcoin is? Here's a handy video that breaks it all down:NB: Bitcoin image courtesy Shutterstock.