Two announcements today about Google Wallet suggest travelers may soon start paying for things at US destinations with their mobile devices.
Google Wallet -- an app that lets users send money from anywhere in the US -- now comes in a version for iPhones.
Until this week, Google Wallet only worked with devices that had near-field communications (NFC) chips -- something Apple devices lack.
Travel companies sign up
In a blog post, Google Wallet also revealed that it has partnerships in the pipeline with several travel companies, including Avis Car Rental, InterContinental Hotels Group, and Marriott.
We don't know yet if these travel companies will be able to offer travelers loyalty points redemptions via barcode scanning and the Google Wallet app. But the app will likely pinpoint on a map offers from participating companies that are near the location of the user's device.
Google Wallet already promotes Alaska Airlines's frequent flier program by encouraging users to join it from within the app.
Priceline's Travel app for Android enables Google Wallet users to pay for their hotels with Google Wallet. (Airbnb, Booking.com, Uber and Expedia have also added the purchase-with-Google-Wallet option.) Presumably, that functionality will be added to the iOS version of its app.
There's a potential that Google Wallet could serve as a balance tracker for frequent flier miles and loyalty points, as totals could theoretically be updated in real-time via the app.
Last autumn, the company said that one of the types of things its trying to do is make it easy for airlines, transit providers, and other types of issuers of credentials to make it super simple for them to get their credentials stored in the wallet.
E-mailing money, avoiding carriers
In May, Google will allow grown-up Gmail users in the US to attach money to their emails, and it is slowly rolling out that service to users. Once a user sends money through the Wallet app, he or she will also get access to sending money within Gmail from their desktop browser -- thus becoming one of the first cohorts to be trialing the Gmail mobile payment service.
This e-mail angle is important. Previously, mobile payments have been hampered by the reluctance of wireless carriers to participate in something they don't directly control and by the reluctance of small businesses to install receivers that work with NFC signals.
Transactions are free for Gmail users who link their bank accounts to Google Wallet; using a credit or debit card hits users with a 2.9% fee.
Mobile payments, at last?
As Tnooz recently noted, mobile payments are getting serious on Google as Wallet evolves to handle travel.
It's possible that mobile payments will become popular in North America if it isn't necessary to tap a phone on a terminal or have a wireless carrier participating.
A mobile wallet war might be averted, depending on what kind of fiefdom start-up Square carves out in mobile payments and depending on the success of Isis, the mobile phone payment consortium created by three of the four largest US mobile network operators, which aims to have an NFC-based system in place next year.
It's less clear if local tourism will be ready for mobile payments.