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Top 10 most popular hotel payment methods

Last updated on June 12, 2024

Perhaps more than any other sector, the hotel industry is where the diversity of consumer payment preferences is most on display. Hotel guests travel from across the globe, each bringing their own set of behaviours and expectations. 

Technological advances in payment technologies have only intensified this diversity. The once simple choice of “cash or card” has evolved into a growing list of options, from digital wallets to rewards points to niche regional card schemes and even cryptocurrencies—with no single payment method dominating the global market.

For hoteliers, regularly checking in with the preferred payment methods of hotel guests from across the globe is essential for maintaining guest satisfaction and keeping up with the competition.

What is a hotel payment method?

A hotel payment method is the mode by which guests pay for their stay, such as a credit card, cash, or digital wallet. It can also refer to the payment method guests use to purchase additional goods and services during their stay, such as meals at the hotel restaurant, activity packages, and spa services.

In addition to the technology itself, a hotel payment method can also refer to the journey a guest takes to make their payment. For example, paying online via a secure payment gateway or using a QR code to pay for items in person.

The popularity of different hotel payment methods tends to reflect the wider commercial landscape. However, given the international nature of the hospitality industry, hoteliers are often the first to encounter emerging payment trends and must pay close attention to how payment preferences vary significantly from one region to another.

Top 10 hotel payment methods

1. Major debit/credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover)

Although the rise of digital payment methods over the last decade has encroached on card usage, major credit card brands like Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover, remain very popular ways to pay for hotel stays. Whether paying directly through the hotel website, using a third-party booking site, or paying in person at the hotel checkout counter, the four major credit card brands still make up a large percentage of all hotel payments. 

2. Regional and speciality debit/credit cards

In addition to the major card brands, there are a number of region-specific and speciality card brands that guests may prefer to use if given the opportunity. Although these cards are not as widely accepted internationally, they’re often a first-choice payment method for cardholders based on their familiarity and compelling incentives.

Examples of regional and speciality cards include:

  • Bancontact (Belgium)
  • Union Pay (China)
  • JCB (Japan)
  • Bancomat (Italy)
  • Maestro - (Global, owned by Mastercard)
  • Diners - (USA, owned by Discover)

3. Major global digital wallets

The popularity of digital wallets, such as Apple Pay, PayPal, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay, has skyrocketed over the past decade. Used for both online and in-person payments, digital wallets securely store payment details within a user-friendly mobile app and enable super speedy payments via fingerprint or face recognition.

Hotel guests, particularly those in younger generations who are more comfortable with new payment technologies, increasingly prefer the convenience and security of digital wallets over more traditional payment methods. 

4. Regional digital wallets

Perhaps more than any other payment method, digital wallet usage has the greatest regional variation. Unlike with cards, where four card networks dominate the global market, digital wallet preferences tend to be highly regionalised.

For example, in China, digital wallets AliPay and WeChat Pay make up more than 90 per cent of the mobile payments market, with a combined user base of nearly 2.5 billion users. Despite their dominance in China, these wallets are not widely accepted elsewhere. Hoteliers therefore have a huge opportunity to tap into international markets simply by adding more regional wallets to their list of accepted payment methods. 

5. Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) apps

Increasingly, many hotel guests would prefer to pay for their hotel stays using short-term financing and payment plan apps, known as Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) services. Popular BNPL brands, such as Klarna and Sezzle, allow users to delay their payments or pay in instalments over the course of several months.

Without needing to pay in full upfront, BNPL services remove a significant financial barrier for people, especially younger generations, who might otherwise struggle to budget for travel expenses. Having BNPL as a payment option can be a key factor in a guest’s decision to choose one hotel over its competitors. 

6. Gift cards

Hotel stays and hotel services, like spa treatments, make great gifts for friends and family and are an opportunity for hoteliers to expand their revenue streams. Hotels can add gift cards to their list of accepted payment methods and process gift card transactions by using an all-in-one, unified payment platform with built-in gift card management. These platforms don’t just process gift card payments, they also handle the distribution of gift cards to recipients and make it easy for hotel staff to track gift card sales along with all other transactions. 

7. Loyalty/rewards points

Many hotels offer their guests rewards points as part of membership programs designed to encourage repeat business. For guests who belong to such programs, being able to pay for their stay with rewards points—in addition to other perks like room upgrades and late checkout—is a hugely attractive prospect. In addition to hotel-based loyalty schemes, many credit card companies offer rewards points that can be used toward the cost of hotels.

Rewards programs are particularly popular with people who travel frequently for business or leisure, as they can significantly reduce their travel expenses and enhance their overall experience.

8. Bank transfers

Although much less common in the modern era, bank transfers are a reliable and secure way to pay for hotel stays. Different regions have different bank transfer schemes based on local banking practices and regulations.

Some of the more commonly used bank transfer schemes include: 
●    BACS UK (United Kingdom)
●    SEPA Transfer (European Union)
●    iDEAL (Netherlands)
●    Sofort (Europe)

9. Cash

Paying for hotel stays in cash is far less common than it once was, with most hotel guests preferring the convenience of web and mobile payment methods. However, many guests still prefer to pay in cash for ad hoc hotel services during their stay, as it’s straightforward, familiar and allows them to easily stay on top of their holiday spending.

10. Cryptocurrency

Although not a widespread payment option, the use of cryptocurrency within the hotel industry has grown in recent years. Travel sites like Trevala and apps like BitPay make it easy for hotel guests to pay for hotel reservations using their preferred cryptocurrency. Hoteliers can also now accept cryptocurrency payments directly—both online and in person at the point of sale-–through a single, integrated payment system

Hotel booking: diverse pathways to payment

In addition to the specific payment methods used by hotel guests, there are also many different paths they may take to arrive at the point of sale. Payments can be made online or in person, via web browsers or mobile apps, through travel agents or directly with the hotel, using POS terminals or self-service kiosks—the options are vast and varied.

The typical sales journey and booking behaviours of hotel guests vary based on a number of factors, most notably the guests’ age and country of origin. For example, younger guests—such as those in Generation Z—tend to prefer online and digital payment methods, whereas older guests are more likely to make in-person card payments. When configuring their booking and payment systems, hoteliers should keep these demographic behaviours in mind to ensure all guests feel welcome and accommodated.

Here is an overview of the most common hotel guest payment journeys:

Online Payments

- Direct via the hotel website or app
Many hotel guests prefer to book and pay for their hotel stays directly through the hotel website or mobile app. Guests enter their payment details through a web or mobile payment gateway where the payment is processed and completed. For hoteliers, the key to enabling direct bookings is a robust booking engine with secure payment processing.

- Third-party booking sites
Certain hotel guests may choose to book and pay for their hotel stays through third-party travel websites or travel agents. Although these websites can be a useful way for hotels to broaden their reach and secure more bookings, the hotel pays a commission on each booking and loses control over certain elements of the guest experience. It is for this reason that many hotels implement loyalty programs and exclusive offers to encourage direct bookings. 

In-Person Payments

- POS tills and terminals
Some hotel guests prefer to make payments in person, in a more traditional setting with the assistance of the hotel’s front desk team. In this scenario, hotels rely on point-of-sale hardware—card machines and tills—to process cash, card, and digital wallet payments. Modern POS terminals are capable of processing contactless card payments, Chip/PIN card payments, contactless mobile wallet payments, and even QR-code-based mobile payments. By using an integrated payment system, cash payments can also be accepted and tracked alongside card and digital transactions, all within the same unified platform.

- Self-Service Kiosks
Hotels are increasingly using self-service kiosks to streamline the check-in and check-out processes. Kiosks are typically stationed in the hotel lobby, with a staff member on hand to assist if needed. Using the machine’s touchscreen, guests can enter their booking reference, pay any outstanding charges, and even activate or deactivate their own room keys, depending on whether they’re checking in or out. 

Benefits of diversifying hotel payment methods

As a hotelier, adding more payment methods to your payment system is beneficial not only for hotel guests but also for your bottom line.

- Access to new markets and international spending
Integrating multiple payment methods, particularly regional mobile wallets and card schemes, instantly broadens your appeal to people from the regions where those payment methods dominate. In addition to the practical appeal it has for international guests, it also signals that you’ve carefully considered their needs and that this attentiveness will extend throughout their stay.

- Securing the next generation of hotel guests
Adding newer payment methods, like BNPL services, to your list of payment options is a great way to ingratiate your hotel with younger guests. It is an effective way of drawing in younger tourists who are still shaping their travel preferences and can become lifelong repeat customers.

- Enhanced operational efficiency
Giving guests the ability to pay on their own terms helps reduce checkout queues, increases transaction success rates, and generally streamlines the payment process. Diversifying your payment methods also helps with cash flow by enabling a quicker, less error-prone settlement process.

FAQs

Do most hotels still accept cash payments? 

Some hotels accept cash payments for the final bill of a hotel stay, but those that do will likely still require guests to submit their credit card details to secure the booking and cover any incidentals. Most hotels do accept cash (in the local currency) for additional goods and services purchased at the hotel, such as meals, gift shop souvenirs, and spa services. 

How can hotel guests pay in their local currency?

Hotel guests can pay for their hotel stay and other hotel services in their local currency if the hotel has integrated Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) into its payment gateway and POS machines. This technology makes it easy for guests to select their preferred currency and pay in line with the prevailing exchange rate.

Are hotel stays eligible for VAT refunds under tax-free shopping schemes?

In most cases, hotel stays are not eligible for VAT refunds under tax-free shopping schemes. Tax-free shopping typically applies only to tangible items bought for personal use that meet the minimum transaction threshold. As a hotel stay is an intangible service, in most cases it would not qualify. However, items bought from a hotel gift shop, so long as they meet the other necessary criteria, may be eligible for a VAT refund.
 

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