The Magic Triangle of Payments

And it happened again! I was constructing a complex flight itinerary online, reflecting the preferences of my wife and our three adult children. I managed to create the perfect combination of segments at a good price. Only one final step was still pending: payment. I entered my credit card details and … an authentication through the app on my mobile phone was required. But where was my mobile phone? Not at my desk, not in my office – so I tried to call it from my landline, but remembered at the same that I muted it. Therefore, I ran two floors downstairs to the living room, still could not find the damn thing, but saw my Apple watch. I pinged my mobile phone, after shouting out to everyone to be silent for a moment and finally found it on the terrace. I accepted the payment on my phone (pretending not to hear my wife asking me to help in the garden), went back upstairs to my office only to see that the session of my favourite flight portal had already ended. No payment, no conversion and not a good customer experience, but a very secure (unfortunately unfinished) payment process.

I am sure that I am not the only one who has experienced this. We all understand that there is a big need for an airline, as with all other online retailers, to execute payment securely as the number of fraud attempts (e.g., using stolen credit card data) has continuously risen over the decades. Increasing security by enforcing regulations such as PSD2 (Payment Service Directive) and 3D Secure are de-risking payments but are also creating complexity and may even negatively impact conversion, as customer experience suffers.

At the same time, payments are increasingly becoming a significant cost factor for an airline. Numerous studies assume that payment costs represent up to 3% of airline revenues, which is very close to the annual profit our industry is usually achieving on average. McKinsey summarizes that annual payment costs for airlines have already hit the $20 billion barrier.[1]

What does this mean for an airline that is working on a payment strategy? In essence, an airline needs to optimize three strategic components: conversion, fraud prevention and cost efficiency. But these targets are conflicting. Conversion can be increased by the provision of easy and straightforward payment processes. However, this approach may compromise on security. Indeed, in my illustrative, but “based on a true story” example, I have not converted as a client, because I wasn’t able to meet the security requirements of the payment process. In this case, security took precedence over conversion – and I think for a good reason.

Let us take another example: supporting local payment methods is becoming increasingly a necessity for airline retailing. In Switzerland, “Twint” is one of the most used alternative payment methods (APM). Many local retailers support it, as it is secure, provides a good customer experience and Twint claims to lead to increased conversion rates. But APMs are known to be costly for retailers, especially if they need to support different APMs in different markets.

We do not need a lot of imagination to identify and describe other combinations where increasing conversion, reducing fraud and reducing cost are conflicting targets. Our payment “guru” Urs Kipfer summarizes this dilemma in a triangle.


It is obvious, that an airline’s payment strategy must follow a holistic view, which defines the strategic target that should be achieved, and thus also takes into account the need to compromise on the other targets. As airline organizations traditionally have the tendency to be complex, it is essential to include all internal stakeholders – especially as the affected business units may have conflicting interests among themselves.

A strategic approach that clearly defines the targets to be achieved, includes internal stake holders and is driven with the airline’s senior management endorsement is essential for success. It is worthwhile to choose to follow this path. McKinsey estimates that our industry is not addressing an annual $14 billion in potential revenues and savings. Missing revenue opportunities during the payment process itself, too complex payment methods and unaddressed cost reductions all contribute. It is now time to strategically address the payment potential for every airline!

In the end I finally booked our flights – but used a different portal, as my initial itinerary wasn’t available any longer. But I still had to run down two floors afterwards, again – this time to help in the garden, but this is another story.

This post has been published in collaboration with Terrapinn.

Boris Padovan, Travel in Motion AG

Meet the team: Do you want to further discuss this topic or are you interested in an exchange about how airline distribution is changing? Meet us at the Aviation Festival Americas on 15 and 16 May 2024 in Miami, USA. You can register here and by entering the discount code INMOTION40 you will get a 40% discount on the admission fee.

[1] McKinsey Sep. 2022 – Airline retailing: How payment innovation can improve the bottom line. (



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