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Traveling with a credit card is almost a requirement

Tyler Metzger

Traveling with a credit card is essential, especially in space.
It takes about 62 hours to get from New York to Los Angeles on an Amtrak train, but it will take only seconds to get your ticket under the company’s new plan to start taking credit cards onboard.

Amtrak’s move to buy 2,000 credit card readers is on track with a growing trend of transportation systems accepting credit cards for everything from tickets to tequila.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Amtrak’s onboard credit card sales are currently done manually and without online authorization. The new pilot program, which will begin in a few stations in Philadelphia and will spread throughout the Amtrak system by the end of the summer, will allow conductors to swipe passengers’ cards on the train for immediate authorization.

The rail line says onboard sales represent a small amount of total ticket sales, and the move seeks to appeal to customer convenience. However, according to spokesman Cliff Black, Amtrak has a goal of nationwide ticketless travel within two or three years by equipping conductors with scanners to read boarding passes that passengers can print from home.

Folks flying instead of cruising by train will also notice a switch to plastic. Southwest Airlines said in September 2008 that it will accept only credit cards for in-flight items such as beer and liquor.

The move paid off. According to The Dallas Morning News, drink sales on Southwest flights rose 8 percent, or about $4 million, in one month when they switched to plastic only.

Also, more than two years ago, discount airlines AirTran, Spirit and ATA began only accepting credit cards for onboard purchases in a move to speed up service and push their own branded cards.

Not everyone has taken the switch enthusiastically though. Prankster John Hargrave from the comedy Web site Zug was so annoyed by US Airways’ in-flight credit card pitch that he tracked down Travis Christ, the company’s vice president of marketing, to complain. Hargrave’s main complaint: “I want mandatory and enforced silence, particularly when I’m traveling with my children.”

For the prank, Hargrave received Christ’s home phone number and address from a disgruntled US Airways employee. He called the executive at 5 a.m. and demanded that all onboard credit card offers stop. Christ wasn’t amused and sicced the airway’s corporate security on Hargrave, who backed down after being threatened with a lawsuit.

So by the looks of it, we’re just going to have to get used to using plastic while we move around the crazy planet. But at least we can drink while doing it.

See related: Many airlines now accepting plastic for in-flight purchases, Credit card travel tips, Continental slashes baggage fees for some Chase cardholders

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