Fifteen years ago, if you would have asked an air travel customer service rep if you could pay for a flight with a virtual cryptocurrency, you might have heard a dial tone instead of an answer. Today, though the idea may seem only a little less absurd, it is becoming easier for travelers to use Bitcoin to pay for their travel.
Bitcoin is an invisible, digital currency. In some circles, it’s been dubbed “nerd’s gold.” Like gold, no central bank controls it and the only reason it has value is because people believe it does.
So, how does one acquire Bitcoin? The former most popular way to get your virtual hands on it was through the Japanese website Mt Gox, which collapsed early this year. However, there are still ways to convert real dollars into Bitcoins, should globetrotters choose to do so. And yes, some companies do accept it.
In May, online travel agency CheapAir.com gave the nod to Bitcoins, allowing customers to make reservations for hotels and Amtrak train travel.
Similarly, revenue management engine Revpar Guru built a booking widget around Bitcoin to streamline hotel payments. In this way, international customers can deposit Bitcoins into accounts that can be used for small items so they don’t need to exchange currency. Travel Keys has also adopted Bitcoins.
While all of these are a small step forward in paying for travel, the digital dime got a stamp of legitimacy when Expedia.com, one of the world’s largest online travel agencies, started accepting it for payments for hotel rooms on its website. Depending on how well the hotel trail goes, the site plans to eventually give the green light to other services such as flights and car rentals.
The CEO of Expedia, Michael Gulmann, was optimistic about its adoption.
“The path Bitcoin is on is in some ways what PayPal was on,” Gulmann said in a press release. “At first it seems strange … but it’s going to become more mainstream.”
Many travelers worry that Bitcoin is still extremely volatile. In January 2013, one Bitcoin was worth around $13, climbing in November to a high of $1,242. As of June 18, 2014, one Bitcoin equals $607.
To avoid these giant fluctuations in the currency, Gulmann told the Wall Street Journal that the firm would not hold the currency, but would convert its Bitcoin deposits back into U.S. dollars every 24 dollars.
As for travelers looking to ditch cash and credit cards, the time has not come. It is too soon to seamlessly book a vacation from start to finish using Bitcoin.