It was only about five years ago that Bitcoin became a thing in travel.
Early pioneers in accepting the cryptocurrency as a payment option included CheapAir, Expedia and airBaltic as well as travel technology systems provider Ypsilon.
And then the buzz fell silent: perhaps the bad publicity surrounding Bitcoin, talk of the Dark Web and the huge fluctuations in its value scared companies off.
Or, perhaps there was little traction at the time.
It might be a bit of a stretch to call it the Comeback Kid in 2019, but PhocusWire asked some of the companies involved in the early days to comment.
It’s widely reported that Expedia dropped the currency as a payment option about a year ago, but others have persevered it.
CheapAir, among the earliest platforms to accept Bitcoin for flights in 2013 following a request from a customer, believes it might remain the only online travel retailer in the United States to offer the payment option.
The company, which also now accepts Bitcoin for hotels, says the currency is still a small part of revenue.
However, according to Jeff Klee, CheapAir’s CEO, its crypto customers are very loyal and “even evangelize for us on social media.”
He adds that Bitcoin customers tend to be younger, more often male and more international that those using more standard payment methods.
Klee says the market remains underserved and that CheapAir has widened its cryptocurrency payment options to include Dash, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin and Ethereum.
He adds: “There hasn't been much downside for us, and we're proud to have been early adopters.“
AirBaltic laid claim to being the first airline to accept Bitcoin in 2014 via Airbaltic.com.
The carrier says that since introduction, more than 800 clients have used the service to make one or more reservations. A spokesperson adds that after significant growth in usage in 2017, the number of customers using Bitcoin in 2018 and the first half of 2019 has remained stable.
The payment option is available for purchasing airBaltic Basic class, its cheapest tickets, for flights booked at least five days in advance of departure.
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Ypsilon was slightly later to the party and integrated the payment option with its technology in 2016.
CEO Hans Joachim Klenz says it initially recorded “sporadic bookings” paid using the currency but that since 2018 it is seeing payments almost on a daily basis for flight bookings.
“We’re satisfied with the development and consider our investment in the payment method worthwhile.”
What’s interesting more lately in the cryptocurrency’s development is the startups building up around it as well as its entrance into different segments of travel which might help drive traction.
Corporate Traveller, for example, began accepting it for payments recently via a partnership with BitPay.
The travel management company, which is part of Flight Centre Travel Group, says it’s in response to customer demand particularly from the fintech sector.
And companies to watch include Bitcoin.Travel and Travala as well as some of those building up around loyalty and B2B travel payments.