Delta Airlines will accept China's Alipay

Apr 01, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
A Delta Airlines pilot doing his aircraft pre flight at Concourse 'C' in the Denver International Airport. February 19, 2015 Denver, CO
Joe Amon/Denver Post via Getty Images

Delta Airlines became the first U.S. carrier to accept payment from Alipay, a Chinese electronic payment system akin to Pay-pal. The airline has started taking payment for flight tickets on from Alipay's 300 million-plus registered users, Alipay said in a statement on Wednesday, reports Reuters. As the largest online payments service in a country where consumer finance remains less-than-fully developed, supporting Alipay - run by Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial - should make it more convenient for would-be Chinese travelers to buy Delta tickets. That decision underscores the attractiveness to the industry of China, now the world's largest source of outbound tourism after a decade of super-charged economic growth. The U.S. airline has said it wants to be the most Chinese-friendly American carrier.

Chinese tourists have emerged as a potent economic force, ranking among the world's biggest spenders.They splashed out $165 billion on international travel in 2014, up 28 percent from 2013 - the biggest percentage increase in two years, according to data released by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange. Much of that is spent in and around Asia, but governments are increasingly wooing the country's affluent jet-setters. In November, the United States signed a landmark deal with the country, extending one-year visas issued to Chinese travelers to up to a decade.

Delta has been expanding nonstop flights to China since 2009 and now offers service from Detroit and Seattle to Beijing and Shanghai/Pudong, notes USA Today. Delta also has daily nonstop between Shanghai and Tokyo Narita. On July 9, Delta begins flights between Los Angeles and Shanghai. Delta's move to add Alipay comes as visa restrictions have been eased for Chinese visitors traveling to the United States. "This exciting new partnership is one of many Delta initiatives to build the most Chinese-friendly U.S. airline," says Vinay Dube, Delta's SVP for Asia.

About 1.8 million Chinese visited the United States in 2013, contributing $21 billion to the economy, according to the White House. But those numbers are expected to grow with easier visas. Alipay is the largest online payment provider in China with 300 million registered users, according to parent company Ant Financial Services Group. Like PayPal, Alipay customers can use credit cards, debit cards or cash from a bank account to pay for a transaction. "We are thrilled to help Delta Air Lines make purchasing travel in China easier and more accessible than ever," said Jingming Li, Ant's president in the Americas.