Expedia takes bitcoin for hotel payments in hope that currency will appeal to travelers

Every week another company tries to make a splash by saying it accepts bitcoin but, most of time, the “news” feels more like a marketing stunt rather than a revolution in consumer payments. Is Expedia any different?

On Wednesday, the company said it will begin letting customers use bitcoins to make reservations at its more than 29,000 hotel partners around the world. In practice, this will mean that some consumers will use the virtual currency to pay Expedia, which will then forward the payment to the hotel in local currency.

As with any other “you can pay with bitcoin” story, the question is why someone would use the currency to pay Expedia. After all, it’s equally or more convenient to pay with a credit card and, in many cases, a traveler will receive a reward from the card that they wouldn’t receive if they used bitcoin.

Michael Gulmann, Expedia’s VP of Global Product, acknowledged in a phone interview that bitcoin payments are unlikely to take off anytime soon in many big cities where credit cards are the preferred way to book hotels.

But he added that payment preferences vary from country to country and that, for instance, Expedia offers “10 easy payment” plans to Brazilians who like to pay in installments. It seems possible, then, that hotel bookings with bitcoin could take off in some unforeseen market.

More broadly, travel is a field where virtual currency payments makes more sense than other consumer categories. Bitcoin, for instance, has the possibility of helping travelers avoid the nasty fees that can come with using Visa or Mastercard in other countries.

Expedia is using Coinbase, the popular San Francisco-based wallet service, to process its bitcoin transactions.

Expedia is just the latest in a list of major companies, including Overstock and Virgin Galactic, to accept bitcoin.