Article: An Apple Pay-cation

by on July 31, 2017

A few days ago, I got back from a road trip to New England—that covered the last of the “lower 48” states that I haven’t visited. I went with a friend to make the trip even cheaper. Although we rotated off on some expenses, or settled up using Square Cash, we kept noting how we were able to use Apple Pay in a lot of places without actively seeking it out.

There are still plenty of people that think phone-based payments are dead on arrival because big retailers like Walmart and Target don’t support them. The other misconception is that from a merchant end, Apple Pay is something special that needs to be enabled or set up. Most newer credit card terminals support NFC and display the NFC symbol when ready to read (the other tell is the first of four little lights lit up across the top). If a merchant has a terminal capable of receiving NFC-based payments, Apple Pay should work. Over the past two and a half years, I’ve been able to wave my phone and watch at quite a few terminals around the Indianapolis area with no trouble (the Michigan-based grocery/discount chain Meijer even puts NFC readers on their gas pumps, so I hit up ours quite a bit to avoid the skimmers that have become all too prevalent). In-app Apple Pay has grown to include most apps that I’d pay through, and Apple Pay for the web is a nice addition, too.

For our trip, I booked most of the hotels through’s app, which allowed Apple Pay for most properties. There were two hotels that didn’t, and I had an activity fee at one upon arrival. Other than holding a card on file for potential damages, most hotels were paid this way, and the process was easy. Due to an issue with the room, we even had to bail on one in the middle of the night and book another and I booked it in the car while riding in the passenger seat. Certainly not anything special now, but in the context of technology and telecom television commercials from the early 1990s, it was downright amazing.

Besides a place to stay, the other big expense on a road trip is the means of getting there. Since we were going to a part of the country where ExxonMobil has a large presence, I was able to use the SpeedPass+ app and use Apple Pay through that. We may have favored these gas stations on the trip, but there wasn’t any treks off the beaten path to find them. If you haven’t used this app, it uses your location when you open it at the gas station to verify that you’re there, then asks for the pump and other pre-filling questions (car wash, receipt, etc.) and then authorized the transaction on your phone. Once ready to go, you get out of your car, and within 30 seconds, select the grade and fill. Since it doesn’t seem to require massive retrofits or new hardware on most pumps, I’m surprised that more gas stations aren’t implementing something like this, and that my closest Mobil station at home hasn’t adopted it. Two stops on the way out on our first day and one in rural Maine were at other chains and used the traditional means.

As for food, it seems that a lot of quicker places offered NFC, either through newer customer-facing readers, or Square’s setup. More traditional restaurants seem to be married to the point-of-sale systems that have a magnetic card reader along the side of a touchscreen and that’s it. Finally, I needed coffee throughout the trip, along with funds for more Starbucks You Are Here mugs, so the Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks apps came in use to refill my cards for those chains.

Out of every category of spending, souvenirs and gifts surprised me the most. During a Connecticut Sun game, their store, along with the rest of Mohegan Sun’s stores were all set up for NFC. The Cape Cod National Seashore visitor’s center was also set up for it. The touristy gift shops in Bar Harbor, Maine, and Burlington, Vermont were, too. While in Boston, I attended a Red Sox game, and their official store was not, despite heavy pushes to accept NFC payments from MLB, MasterCard, and Bank of America over the last couple of years.

Finally, there were a few miscellaneous transactions, like reloading the balance on my I-Pass transponder for tolls, buying said Red Sox tickets through Stubhub, paying at a parking garage, or getting a few odds and ends at a grocery store. I could’ve lumped some in other categories, but there were few so I grouped them together.

For most NFC-based transactions, I used my iPhone and Discover card. Surprisingly, as Discover joined Apple Pay later and often had different growing pains, I didn’t run into any issues with failed transactions due to awkward quirks. My other card, a MasterCard, was used for gas (better reward), the apps that didn’t take Discover in-app (Starbucks was the only one I could recall), and the one or two places that advertised that they only took Visa/MasterCard.

When all was totaled up (only the gas transactions I paid were included), here’s the result:

Apple Pay Transactions

This post has been filed in Articles