Online travel agency CheapAir.com has become the first to offer customers a monthly payment option to pay for their flights. Customers can travel now and pay for their flights over three, six or 12 months via a partnership with financial company Affirm.
Greg Samson, vice president of marketing for CheapAir.com, said the idea for monthly payments is part of his company’s evolution. “We’ve already done a number of things to try and innovate on how people pay for travel on CheapAir.com,” he said.
A number of years ago, CheapAir.com was the first to allow customers to pay in cash at Western Union or via the company’s app, said Samson. “We were also the first travel agency to take Bitcoin. We try and have unique payment options to respond to our customers’ different needs,” he stated. And the company was the first to offer buyer protection with its Price Drop Payback, which pays back customers up to $100 per ticket if their fare drops before their trip.
Travel can be expensive, and it can be difficult for people to pay the entire cost up front, said Samson. “So we wanted to give them one more way to buy travel.”
Affirm was the ideal partner, said Samson. “At the technical level, we liked the way we could integrate easily with their systems. And we also liked the ease of use,” he said. “All we do is ask for a few pieces of information -- your name, email, phone number and date of birth DOB -- for a real-time credit decision, and we like the simplicity of that.”
The way Affirm handles approval is informed by FICO scores, but not entirely reliant on it, said Samson. “Some customers may not have a traditional credit history or hold a credit card, but they can still have the opportunity to get financing for a trip using this option,” he said.
It gives CheapAir.com the opportunity to reach a segment of customers that don’t like to use credit cards or don't have them, said Samson, citing a Bankrate survey that found 67 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds do not have a credit card. “Many Millenials do qualify, but choose not to use traditional formal kinds of credit that older generations use regularly.”
The interest rates range from 10 percent to 30 percent annually, said Samson. “But the amount people pay will typically be less than that. If you finance over six months, effectively paying five percent,” he said.
When customers are on the checkout page, they can choose the monthly payments option. Affirm does not charge late fees, service fees, prepayment fees or any other hidden fees, and customers can pay their monthly bill by debit card, ACH transfer or check. The credit check is done in real-time to confirm identity and determine purchase eligibility and does not impact credit scores.
The transaction with Affirm is transparent. “They’re not making money from late fees, service fees, prepayment fees or other hidden fees,” he said “They are making it easier for people to pay over time. We want people to have a positive experience, come back and do it again.”
It will be interesting to see the range of trips charged via Affirm, said Samson. “We don’t yet know and we’re curious to see what that looks like, but the average purchase on the site is around $400,” he said. “We’re actually curious to see whether trips that get financed are in line with that or cost more. We’ll see what happens when this is launched.”
A quick check on the website for fares between Washington, D.C., and San Francisco in October listed flights on seven airlines with fares ranging from $404 to $449 roundtrip.
It’s possible that people will finance trips that are more expensive, said Samson. “There’s the potential that people will take bigger or international trips, or do more last-minute trips, which tend to be more expensive,” he said.
CheapAir.com won’t be promoting specific trips, said Samson. “But we’re excited that any trip can be financed -- domestic or international, tomorrow or six months from now,” he said. “You now have the freedom to buy travel when you’re ready.”