Bit by bit, fans of bitcoin—the virtual currency currently experiencing wild fluctuations in value—are finding ways to use the digital dollars for travel.
On Thursday, November 21, on-line travel agency CheapAir.com announced it would accept bitcoin as payment for flights booked on its website. Soon the company plans to accept bitcoin for hotel reservations and flights via its app as well.
Scroll through the Bitcoin.Travel website or Facebook page and you’ll find an eclectic listing of other real-world cafes, transportation companies, hostels and tour companies around the world advertising the fact they’re willing to accept bitcoin payments.
Among those is New Jersey-based A Class Limousine, which provides sedans, limousines, vans and shuttle buses for airport and point-to-point travel in its region.
The company has been accepting bitcoin payments since January “because it is cheap, quick, and virtually risk free,” said accounts manager Aaron Williams, “and because it helps us grow our client base.”
The benefit to travelers, said Williams, is that bitcoin is now an internationally accepted currency “so there is no currency to exchange before getting in your car or credit card forex fees. The long and the short of it is that people spend it and we want them to spend it on our services.”
In and around Santa Cruz, Calif., travelers are welcome to use bitcoin to pay for airport shuttles, wine tours and other services (even weddings) offered by Santa Cruz Experience or one of the other companies operated by Norcal Transportation Corporation.
Company CEO Austin Twohig said he added the bitcoin payment option in part because the fees charged to merchants are lower than those charged for credit cards and because there are no worries about charge-backs.
So far, though, he’s had no takers. And even though he’s been watching the value of bitcoin fluctuating wildly, “if someone called today and wanted to pay with bitcoin, I would not hesitate at all.”
Mike LaGrotta, CEO and co-founder of New York- and London-based Techno Tourist travel company is also a big fan, mostly because bitcoin helps avoid bank or credit card fees that can hover around 10 percent for clients sending payment from places such as North Africa and Eastern Europe.
“In terms of speed of payment and accessibility for people to use it to pay us, it’s just easier in every single way imaginable,” he said.
“It’s just a no-brainer for us to offer customers this option.”
Road warriors have another option for turning bitcoin into travel: gift cards.
Among the more than 150 brands of gift cards available through online gift card company, eGifter are cards from American Airlines, BedandBreakfast.com, Carnival and Celebrity cruise lines, Hyatt and Marriott hotels and the Global Hotel Card from Orbitz. Gift cards for meals, gasoline and other consumable travel items are also offered.
“One of the advantages to accepting bitcoin is that it has attracted a whole new market of early adopters,” said eGifter CEO Tyler Roye. “There aren’t a lot of places to spend bitcoins now and we provide a whole bunch of options in one move.”
The company has been accepting bitcoin since August through Coinbase, a company that creates a digital wallet for users and a secure way for merchants to get their cash at service charge rates below what most credit card companies charge.
“They accept the bitcoin and convert them to cash so that we never have to touch the bitcoin or figure out what to do with them,” said Roye.
The pass-through shields the company from market fluctuations and other risks associated with taking bitcoin.
“It’s just a no-brainer for us to offer customers this option,” said Roye.
(My story about using bitcoin for travel first appeared on the CNBC Road Warrior)