The buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) trend has quickly gained popularity in online shopping, and it's now made its way to the travel industry. Travelers can now book flights with major airlines and pay for them over time instead of at booking.
Unlike hotels and car rental companies, which let you reserve in advance and pay when you check in or pick up your vehicle, airlines have traditionally required you to pay your bill well before you fly. The BNPL arrangement can be beneficial for some, including people who have a tight cash flow, and can even allow you to travel before you fully pay. But there are downsides to consider.
Learn about how BNPL flying works, the airlines that offer it, and how to take advantage of these services.
How Do Book-Now-Pay-Later Flights Work?
The general concept of “buy now, pay later” is that consumers can make a purchase without paying for it in full at the time of the transaction. Instead, you can pay monthly. While some BNPL services don’t charge interest for online shopping purchases, the main players who offer BNPL for flights do.
The ability to book a flight now and pay over time is similar to what you’d get if you used money from a fixed-rate personal loan to pay, but the loan occurs at the point of sale. The benefit is that you don't have to apply for a loan before you start the process. (That’s the same reason these services may appeal to people who don’t want to use a credit card to make the purchase.)
To take advantage of these services, which are typically provided by third-party companies like Affirm, MarcusPay, and Uplift, you'll go through a normal booking process. When you're ready to pay, if the airline has partnered with a BNPL service, you’ll be given that as a payment option and you can then choose a monthly payment plan.
After you provide some information about yourself, the loan provider will run a credit check to determine your eligibility and loan terms. Then, if you are approved, you'll receive an offer, including an interest rate and a repayment schedule. If you agree, you'll complete the reservation and start making payments as agreed with the third-party BNPL service.
If you're planning to book other aspects of your trip, such as hotels or a rental car, you may also be able to find BNPL services through online travel agency websites like Vrbo, Priceline, Kayak, and more. Even some cruise lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean, offer a BNPL option.
Airlines That Offer BNPL
There's a long list of airlines that allow you to book now and pay over time. Here's a quick summary:
|American Airlines||Uplift for vacation packages|
|Delta Air Lines||Affirm for vacation packages|
|TAP Air Portugal||Uplift|
Currently, Affirm only works with one airline directly—Delta Air Lines (and then only for vacation packages, not individual flights). However, you can book now and pay later with Affirm for purchases made through websites like CheapOair, Priceline, and Expedia which can include flights.
When you're booking your flight, you'll select Affirm as your payment method and provide the information requested for a hard credit check. If approved, you'll receive an offer for a repayment term of six, 12, or 18 months. The APR can range from 0% to 30%, depending on your creditworthiness.
JetBlue partners with MarcusPay for flights and vacation package reservations. You'll go through the booking process as usual, and if your reservation costs between $750 and $10,000, you can choose MarcusPay as your payment method.
You'll then provide information for a hard credit check, and MarcusPay will give you an offer. APRs range from 10.99% to 25.99%, and you can pay over 12 or 18 months.
Uplift is by far the most popular BNPL service for flights, working directly with 11 airlines, plus many other travel providers and websites.
As with the other services, you'll book as usual, then choose Uplift at checkout. You'll apply for a loan, at which point the lender will run a hard credit check. Then you'll receive an offer, with an APR ranging from 0% to 36% and a repayment term of 11 months, 18 months or 24 months.
One thing that sets Uplift apart from other services is that you may need to make a down payment in order to qualify for financing.
Tips for Booking Now and Paying Later
If you're thinking about using a BNPL service to book your next flight, here are some tips to help you maximize the feature for your benefit:
- Avoid it unless you need it: Unlike many other BNPL services, the ones that partner with airlines charge interest, and the rates can be high. This can add substantially to the total cost. What's more, you could still be paying off your last trip while you're planning your next one. Keep in mind that applying for BNPL to pay for a flight often requires a hard credit pull, which means your credit score could take a hit. Consider using a BNPL service to book a flight only if the trip is necessary and you legitimately can only afford it with a monthly plan. Otherwise, you may regret your decision.
- Compare options: For all of these services, high interest rates can make for an expensive trip. Consider all your financing options. If you can qualify for a new credit card with an introductory 0% APR promotion, you might save money compared to these services (especially if you pay off the balance before the promotional period ends). Or, shop for personal loans with lower interest rates than BNPL options. However, the best financing solution may be to wait until you have enough cash to pay for the flight outright when you won’t incur debt or pay any extra in interest.
- Try to pay off early: If you do go with a BNPL option, you can minimize your interest charges and reduce the total cost by paying off the debt early.
It may also be worth it to look into applying for a new credit card to earn a welcome bonus. Many airlines offer credit cards that give you tens of thousands of bonus miles if you meet a minimum spending requirement. This may not be a good alternative if you need to book now, but it can be helpful if you have time to plan your trip. Just keep in mind that you should use caution when opening credit cards, as applying for too many cards at once can affect your credit score and open you to the temptations of revolving debt.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Which websites can you use for “book now, pay later?”
Affirm, Uplift, and MarcusPay are the three third-party services that allow you to book now and pay later with various airlines. However, you'll go directly through the airlines to apply for the loan.
What happens if you use “buy now, pay later” and never pay back?
These loans from BNPL services function similarly to traditional loans. As such, if you don't repay what you owe, interest will continue to accrue, and the lender may choose to report your nonpayments to the credit bureaus. In some cases, the service may also blacklist you from borrowing from them again. Failing to pay your debt obligations can damage your credit score and make you appear unreliable to other lenders. That can make it more difficult for you to get approved for other financial products like mortgages or auto loans.
Who was the first to use “buy now, pay later?”
It's unclear which airline was the first to use a BNPL service to give customers more payment flexibility. However, as the BNPL industry grows, more opportunities for more affordable payments may arise over time.