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Here's how to book a flight via buy now, pay later

BNPL installment plans can help you book travel now and pay later -- just be aware of your interest rate and repayment schedule.

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With the holiday season fast approaching, booking travel is a top priority. While airlines traditionally accept payment in the form of debit or credit cards, this year there's a new payment method available at some checkouts: buy now, pay later. 

BNPL offers a convenient and flexible solution -- purchase travel now and pay it back over time -- and it's grown in popularity since the pandemic. Though each service works a little differently, this payment method allows you to stretch payments out in the form of installment plans with or without interest, depending on the service and your credit score. Popular BNPL providers include Affirm, AfterPay, Klarna and QuadPay, as well as many new players.

Using BNPL might make sense for you if you're on a tight budget but itching to get away or see friends and family before the start of the new year. "According to a recent Affirm survey, 74% of Americans say they'll spend more on travel this holiday season than ever before, while 60% are concerned that they can't afford to travel as they would like to," says Affirm Chief Commercial Officer Silvija Martincevic.  

How to book a flight with a BNPL service

Many airlines are incorporating BNPL services as a payment method at checkout. But there are also other ways to take advantage of BNPL services when booking flights. We'll run you through the four best strategies below.

1. Buy flights directly from airlines with BNPL options

Several airlines have direct partnerships with BNPL services. We recommend thoroughly reviewing the terms of each service before selecting one as your payment method. Some BNPL services have late fees, charge high interest rates or require your first payment at the time of purchase. Many services offer different installment plan options, like four payments every two weeks at 0% interest; a pay-in-30-days strategy (where the entire balance is due 30 days after making the purchase); or longer financing terms of three, six, 12 or even 36 months at a higher interest rate. It's important to review each installment plan closely to avoid high interest when possible and ensure you can make payments on schedule.

Airlines with BNPL partnerships (Uplift, Affirm and MarcusPay) currently include:

  • Aeromexico - Uplift
  • Air Canada - Uplift
  • Alaska Airlines - Uplift
  • Allegiant Air - Uplift 
  • American Airlines - Affirm
  • Frontier Airlines - Uplift 
  • JetBlue - MarcusPay
  • Lufthansa - Uplift
  • Southwest Airlines - Uplift
  • Spirit Airlines - Uplift
  • TAP Air Portugal - Uplift
  • United Airlines - Uplift

To buy tickets using a BNPL service, you'll visit the airline's website, select your tickets and click the BNPL option at checkout. You'll then be redirected to the BNPL website or app where you'll either enter your login or create an account. From there, the BNPL service may offer different options for splitting up your payments, explain the interest rate you qualify for (if applicable) and may require your first payment at the time of purchase.

2. Use PayPal Pay in 4

PayPal, an online payment service, can be used as a payment method for most airline tickets. And now you can select PayPal's Pay in 4 service, which lets you divide your payment into four biweekly (automatic) installments at 0% interest. While the first installment is due at the time of purchase, you'll have around 45 days to pay off the remaining balance.

3. Book via a third-party travel site

Some third-party flight booking services -- including Kayak, Priceline, Expedia and Travelocity -- offer BNPL options for any airline. If the airline you prefer to fly with is not offering a direct BNPL payment option, you can search for tickets on one of these third-party sites instead.

4. Obtain a virtual BNPL card

Do you already have a BNPL service you like to use? Many buy now, pay later companies offer virtual cards, which allow you to purchase items online at websites that don't offer BNPL payment options.

Services including Affirm, Afterpay, Klarna, QuadPay and most other major BNPL services offer this option. To get started, you'll need to know the final cost of your purchase, including tax. Log in to your BNPL account and apply for a virtual card, inputting the full purchase amount when prompted. It's helpful to round up to ensure the card is issued for an amount that fully covers your purchase. Once approved, you'll be given a virtual card number, expiration date and CVV (card verification value), which you can use as a payment method when ordering airline tickets online.

The amount you spend on the virtual card will then be applied to your BNPL account to be repaid in installments.

5. Consider a 0% APR credit card instead

If the BNPL methods you qualify for have high interest rates or if you need more time to repay your purchase, there is another option -- a 0% APR credit card. This type of credit card offers no interest for an introductory period, usually between 15 and 20 months. Just be sure you can repay the total balance within the introductory period, otherwise interest will begin accruing and piling on to your debt.