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Credit Card Applications » News » Travel » Olympic Games Attendees: Got Visa? If Not, You’re Out of Luck

Olympic Games Attendees: Got Visa? If Not, You’re Out of Luck

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Olympic Games to be Visa-Only Showcase

At the 2012 Olympics in London, Visa will not only be the preferred payment method, they will showcase new innovations in payment technology, including mobile payments, contactless payments, and mobile prepaid cards. Olympic Games attendees who don’t have Visa cards, however, may be stuck in the past, with cash their best payment option.

The 2012 Olympic Games are set to start this week in London, and those lucky enough to be attending them had better bring along a Visa card.

Visa is an official worldwide partner of the London Games, and not only are they planning to test our some of their newer payment technologies, they’ve taken over Olympic ATMS – machines which used to accept MasterCard and American Express will only accept Visa cards during the Games. That means people who don’t carry a Visa card will need to make sure they bring plenty of old-fashioned cash to the games.

Of course, withdrawing money from ATMs is usually not such a smart move anyway, since cash advance rates are almost always astronomical, and most begin to accrue interest immediately, with no grace period – unlike credit card purchases. Nevertheless, some people have been upset about Visa monopolizing the ATM action at the Olympics. As far back as March, when people were buying tickets for the Games, some were unhappy that Visa was the only payment method accepted for ticket purchases.

In a March Guardian article, Tom Wood – the managing partner of a “user experience agency,” said that “the Visa exclusivity aspect – especially the way it is communicated – seems to us a major mis-step.”

With Customers, You Win Some, You Lose Some

Visa has been an official sponsor of the Olympic Games for 25 years, and in previous years they have also shut off ATMs to other credit card networks, so none of this is new – that won’t stop people from grumbling about it, however.

Even the news that Visa will be showcasing new mobile and contactless payment technology at the Games – something that is potentially exciting and helpful – was criticized.

Ron Delnevo – who, it should be noted, operates a rival ATM network called Bank Machine – said in a more recent Guardian article that “The vast majority of people attending the Games, from over 200 countries, have no interest in becoming guinea pigs in product launches by sponsors.”

Moving Right Along – Mobile and Contactless Payments

For Games-goers who do have Visa cards, some of the payment innovation options they will enjoy include:

  • Wave and pay technology:  People will be able to wave their Visa cards at payment terminals to make a purchase, with so-called “contactless payments” that do not require a signature. In fact, purchases under £20 (that’s a little more than $30 in the US) won’t even require a PIN. Just wave your card, and you’re done. There are currently about 37 million Visa pay-Wave enable cards in circulation throughout Europe, and that number is expected to rise to over 50 million by the end of 2012.
  • Mobile payment trial: Select athletes and Visa customers will be given a limited edition Samsung Galaxy S III phone, which will feature a special Olympics-branded version of Visa payWave, letting them wave their phone, instead of their credit card, in front of the payment terminal to make a purchase.
  • Visa Mobile Prepaid: This newest Visa product will be showcased at the London Games and is the first mobile-based prepaid card aimed at giving consumers in developing countries access to prepaid accounts that they can use with their mobile phones. Customers would be able to send and receive money internationally, access Visa ATMs, and pay bills through their wireless devices and their prepaid Visa accounts.

Jim McCarthy, head of products at Visa, says that “electronic payments play a crucial role in . . . meeting the needs of consumers on the go during a world sporting event such as the Olympic Games, making this an unique opportunity to showcase how technology is changing the way people shop, pay and get paid around the world.”

Since 97 percent of all debit cards in the United Kingdom are Visa cards, many Olympics ticket-holders will be able to participate in these product launches. For those who can’t, or who aren’t interested, there’s always cash – the original wave-and-pay innovation.

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