Currency Exchanges In-Flight: How the World’s Best Airline is Stepping into Fintech

Image of an Air Asia plane in taxi position at an airport.

AirAsia is enabling its customers to make purchases and exchange money directly in-flight via its very own payment platform.

Called BigPay, AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes told Business Insider the payments platform will help the airline remove the hassle of dealing with cash for purchases made on board, and lessen the loss the company takes on exchange rates by taking cash from all of the countries it services across Southeast Asia.

“We’re so excited about the fintech revolution,” Fernandes said. “We hate cash. It’s a pain for our cabin crew. FX is a super pain. It leads to fraud. It tempts my crew to do things they shouldn’t do.”

But the fintech play won’t just service in-flight needs.

“We think our customers are being ripped off by banks,” Fernandes said. “If you were traveling to Bali, [Indonesia] from Da Nang, Vietnam and wanted to exchange your Vietnamese Dong to Rupiah, we would facilitate that for you at a much lower rate.”

According to Business Insider, BigPay was built with group travel in mind, allowing users to share bills and transfer money to one another. Initially, BigPay is available via a prepaid MasterCard ready to use on bookings at AirAsia.com and in its online duty-free store: Rokki.com, but Fernandes and his team are working to make it more app-focused.

For now, BigPay will work with 10 currencies, with intentions to increase that number as well as eventually expand the payments platform beyond the skies into mainstream retail.

It’s noteworthy a major airline company wants to provide customers with better financial services right from an app on their smartphones, especially at a pain point banks have exploited for years. Even the progressive home rental platform Airbnb hasn’t been moved to provide customers a better way to deal with foreign exchange rates when transacting in foreign countries.

With a reported 73 million customers already registered in AirAsia’s overall database, Fernandes sees potential to build BigPay into a digital payment platform capable of taking on Alibaba’s Alipay, the leading payments industry player in the world.

Cadence is a fintech reporter and writer at Fintech Unltd, where she covers the changing landscape of financial technologies. Previously, Cadence interned at Psychology Today, Business Insider and the Wisconsin State Journal. Cadence is interested in how science and technology intersect with power and culture and is curious about the world we are creating for tomorrow, consciously or not. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2017 with degrees in Journalism and Chinese. Send tips and story ideas to Cadence at [email protected] You can also follow her on Twitter @cadencebambenek.