September 17, 2014

Will Bitcoin take off for private jet flights?

Recently I’ve been asked to speak about about PrivateFly’s decision to accept payment for flights in Bitcoin. We were featured on a Channel 4 news feature in September, which looked at the increasing popularity of the cryptocurrency.

I was also invited to present at at Retail Week’s Technology and Ecommerce Summit 2014. As an online retailer I spoke about why we decided to accept Bitcoin at PrivateFly; the process of evaluation we went through; what it brings to our business – plus my view on the future for Bitcoin in wider retail.

The cryptocurrency has been a big talking point for months (and much of that has been around security concerns). But the debate now seems to be a little more forward-thinking: Looking at how Bitcoin fits in today’s global financial structure – and discussing its future potential.

(Most often I am asked to explain how Bitcoin works of course – but to avoid my attempt at an explanation, you might want to view this video, which gives a quick summary).

So why did we decide to accept Bitcoin?

PrivateFly’s aim is to make choosing and buying private jet charter as fast, efficient and cost-effective as possible, using technology. So after customer feedback asking us to consider accepting it, we researched the risks and costs and decided to offer the facility. So far it’s still a niche payment method for us but as the first global private jet company to accept Bitcoin, it has helped to raise our profile, especially amongst technology entrepreneurs.

We weighed up the risks – including exchange rate volatility and money laundering – against the benefits. And concluded that the flexibility, speed and low cost of Bitcoin payment processing made it worth offering. The private jet market is all about fast turnaround and processing bank transfers or clearing credit card payments at short notice can slow things down.

With Bitcoin we can easily make a £20,000 payment at midnight when the banks are shut. So far there has been a modest demand and, using BitPay to process the transaction, we convert the payment instantly to sterling or dollars to minimise the risks. This is the approach taken by almost all the 63,000+ global retailers who already accept Bitcoin (including Expedia, who recently announced a US trial for its hotel bookings).

PrivateFly has always been driven by innovation. So offering Bitcoin payments feels a natural progression. But I don’t see it taking over from traditional payments any time soon. For us, offering Bitcoin is about increasing customer choice, improving efficiency and embracing the latest technology. It’s one to watch. More about PrivateFly’s payment options.

The Channel 4 News report concluded that the concept of cryptocurrency is here to stay – even if it evolves considerably from Bitcoin today. I spoke to reporter Helia Ebrahimi about PrivateFly’s experience with Bitcoin as part of her report.

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