The UK online travel industry’s market share increased by 15.4% in 2023. With further increases forecasted for 2024, the travel industry is thriving as customers rediscover their love for travel.
To support the increase in customer demand, a payment gateway will connect your website to your bank, securely and quickly processing your customers’ payments. But there’s a catch.
Due to revenue vulnerabilities and fluctuations, travel businesses are considered high-risk merchants, and many payment processors won’t handle this type of business.
In this article, I will look at the best merchant services suitable for travel businesses, covering a range of factors.
Why do Travel Businesses Need a High-Risk Merchant Services Provider?
Not every payment gateway provider will offer accounts for travel businesses as it’s considered a high-risk sector. But why is this? Some of the reasons include:
- High Chargeback Risk: Travel transactions are prone to chargebacks due to cancellations, plan changes, or service dissatisfaction. High-risk gateways help mitigate the financial impact of chargebacks by offering specialised fraud prevention tools and chargeback management services.
- International Transactions: Travel businesses often deal with customers from various countries, which can increase the risk of fraudulent transactions and payment disputes.
- Seasonal and Variable Revenue: Travel businesses may experience fluctuations in revenue due to customer demand and market trends.
- Non-Traditional Business Models: Some travel businesses may operate unconventional business models, such as online marketplaces or tour booking platforms, which can increase their risk profile.
- Complex Booking Processes: Travel bookings can involve multiple components such as flights, accommodation, car rentals, and activities, leading to complex transaction structures. High-risk payment gateways support complex billing arrangements, split payments, and dynamic pricing models standard in the travel industry.
Best Merchant Services for Travel Agencies: My Verdict
Total Processing’s payment gateway is our top recommendation. They are the UK’s top specialist high-risk payment processing company, and their gateway is secure and reliable, with an impressive 99.99% uptime. However, you will need a monthly turnover of at least £40,000.
Cashflows offers multiple integration options, including pre-built integrations that are quick and easy to install. However, they don’t support PayPal, which could be inconvenient.
Small travel businesses will find Retail Merchant Services worth considering. Offering rates up to 30% cheaper than other providers (so they claim!), they provide a great range of essential features. However, there is no eCommerce plugin integration, and PCI DSS compliance isn’t included as standard.
Clover’s payment gateway is good for travel businesses who want to process small transaction volumes, but they won’t accept every type of travel business. With no monthly fees or set-up costs, you simply pay a transaction fee per payment. However, there is limited international card acceptance, which could be an issue.
For international businesses, Worldpay is an excellent choice. The payment gateway supports 126 currencies in over 50 countries and is used by companies like Emirates. However, like Retail Merchant Services, PCI DSS compliance isn’t included as standard and customer support is tailored towards developers.
Comparison of the Best Merchant Services for Travel Agencies
|Packages from £19.95/monthTransaction rates from 1.5%
|Retail Merchant Services
|Bespoke packagesTransaction rates from 0.79% + 10p
Total Processing: Overall Best Merchant Services for Travel
Total Processing is our recommended payment gateway for large travel businesses that need a bespoke solution.
With a remarkable 99.99% processing uptime and responsive 24/7 support, it’s a reliable choice for businesses seeking secure payments. Their experience in higher-risk sectors is unmatched, as is their customer service.
Through Total Processing, you can accept many payment methods, including 198+ options globally, catering to diverse customer preferences.
With its advanced virtual terminal, you can securely process card-not-present transactions, ideal for phone or online bookings.
Total Processing’s recurring payment feature lets you set up flexible billing cycles for customers who want to pay for their holiday in instalments.
Integrating with popular platforms like WordPress, Magento, and Shopify is effortless with Total Processing’s range of plug-ins.
Its compatibility with various programming languages makes it accessible to developers across platforms.
Total Processing prioritises fraud and risk management, offering tools like Total Control to defend against chargebacks and customisable fraud suites for proactive risk mitigation.
Detailed reporting and insights provide real-time transaction analysis, helping you to optimise your strategy.
As mentioned earlier, Total Processing is only suitable for large travel businesses. You’ll need an annual turnover of at least £50,000 to open an account.
It’s also highly customisable, making it too complex for smaller businesses.
Small and medium-sized travel businesses should look at alternative providers such as Clover or Retail Merchant Services.
✅ Reliable 99.99% uptime, minimising interrupted booking processes
✅ Supports 198+ payment methods for international transactions
✅ Secure processing of card-not-present transactions
✅ Total Control for chargeback dense and customisable fraud suites
✅ Create flexible payments for recurring billing cycles.
✅ Merchant account comparison from multiple banks to help you find the best rates
❌ Need an annual turnover of at least £50,000
❌ Too complex for small travel businesses
❌ Technical support can only be contacted by e-mail.
Founded in 2010, Cashflows is one of the largest high-risk payment processors in the UK.
Offering bespoke solutions for high-risk businesses, you can customise your package to suit your travel business’s needs.
The gateway supports all major currencies and payment methods like Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and more, ensuring you never miss a sale, no matter where your customers are.
You’ll also have access to major payment options, including Apple Pay and Google Pay, catering to diverse customer preferences.
For repeat customers, the one-click payment option enhances conversion rates, while implementing 3D Secure Version 2.2 ensures transaction security without frequent system updates.
Other supported payment methods include secure payment links for better cash flow management, allowing you to send links to customers for secure card payments via email or invoices.
Cashflows go beyond online transactions with its Virtual Terminal, enabling secure phone payments without needing local data storage, ensuring compliance and security.
The pre-built integration capabilities mean you can easily set your payment gateway up, giving you greater control over customer experience.
The hosted checkout can be customised using your branding to enhance customer trust and boost sales conversion rates.
Seamlessly integrated into leading eCommerce platforms like Magento, BigCommerce, Opencart, and WooCommerce, it ensures a hassle-free experience for you and your customers.
With Cashflows Portal, you gain real-time access to transaction data, empowering informed decision-making and optimisation of payment processes.
✅ Flexible integration with popular eCommerce platforms to streamline online booking
✅ Advanced security measures, including 3D Secure Version 2.2, to protect customer details
✅ Virtual terminal letting you handle reservations and books over the phone
✅ Real-time reporting and data insights through the Cashflows Portal
✅ Supports multi-currency payments, perfect for international customers
❌ Doesn’t support PayPal, which may be inconvenient for your customers
❌ Many customers complain about transactions regularly being flagged as suspicious
Formerly known as RBS WorldPay, Worldpay is one of the most popular payment gateways.
Used by brands such as Emirates, it’s best suited to travel businesses that want to process international payments and supports 126 currencies in over 50 markets.
Worldpay provides travel businesses with comprehensive payment options, allowing them to accept Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Diners, Discover cards, and over 300 alternative payment methods.
Built-in features like Pay by Link and Virtual Terminal streamline payments across various channels, such as online, over the phone, or in person.
Transparent pricing structures ensure cost-effectiveness for travel businesses, with competitive rates and no hidden fees.
There’s a range of plans to choose from, with monthly fees starting at £19.95, for up to 350 monthly transactions.
It’s worth noting that you will need an Advanced package, priced at £45 per month, to accept international payments or additional alternative payment methods such as Apple Pay.
Although Worldpay publicly states its transaction rate is 1.5%. In reality, high-risk businesses such as travel agencies require a bespoke quote, making the actual rate much higher.
Next business day settlement without extra charges ensures swift access to funds, a crucial factor for managing cash flow efficiently in the travel industry.
Worldpay does offer fraud protection through advanced fraud and risk management tools, but PCI DSS compliance isn’t included as a standard, priced at £29.99 per month.
The intuitive Worldpay Dashboard provides detailed insights into sales trends, transaction history, and customer spending patterns.
With real-time data accessible, travel agencies can track performance, forecast cash flow, and make informed business decisions, optimising efficiency and profitability.
Dedicated customer support is available 24/7, ensuring prompt assistance for travel agencies, addressing queries, and resolving issues efficiently.
Comprehensive support resources, including explanatory guides, product videos, and FAQs, empower businesses to navigate the platform effectively and maximise its capabilities.
✅ International payment support with over 300 alternative payment methods and 126 currencies in more than 50 markets
✅ Accept major credit cards like Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners and Discover, as well as Pay by Link and Virtual Terminal
✅ Next business day settlement to improve managing cash flow
✅ Worldpay Dashboard for detailed insights into sales trends, transaction history and customer spending patterns
✅ 24/7 customer support and expert guidance on PCI DSS compliance
❌ PCI DSS Compliance is not included as standard
❌ Need to upgrade to the advanced or Enterprise plan to be able to accept International or Alternative Payment Methods
❌ Customer support is more for developers than those less tech-savvy
Previously known as Fiserv, the Clover payment gateway offers travel businesses a seamless solution to accept payments online on a case-by-case basis.
A great all-rounder, there are no monthly fees or upfront costs. You’ll just be charged a transaction fee for every payment you process, making it an excellent option for travel businesses that don’t process regular payments.
Transaction fees are bespoke and are based on various factors, including the nature of your business and annual transaction volume.
Clover provides versatile options to set up card payments through your website, email campaigns, or social channels.
The Connect solution seamlessly integrates payment pages with websites, offering major payment types, including credit cards and PayPal.
The Virtual Terminal allows you to take payments instantly over the phone without requiring setup.
You can integrate customisable hosted payment pages or APIs directly into your website and app, ensuring a smooth customer experience. However, this may be an issue if you have limited experience.
Clover’s APIs offer complete control over customer payment journeys, with additional services like digital wallets for Google Pay and Apple Pay, tokenisation, and automated recurring payments.
The gateway is compatible with popular shopping carts and optimised for mobile devices, ensuring a smooth and secure payment experience.
Beyond payments, Clover offers a range of functionalities, including receipts, notifications, and refunds, catering to various business needs.
With EMV 3D Secure and fraud prevention features, all payments are PCI DSS compliant, offering peace of mind for both businesses and customers.
You can start taking payments in just three days with no setup fees or monthly charges.
Clover provides customer support at no extra cost, ensuring assistance whenever needed.
✅ No monthly fees or set-up costs
✅ Integrates seamlessly with websites, shopping carts and mobile devices
✅ Supports popular payment methods, including Visa, Mastercard, Maestro, American Express, Discover, Apple Pay and Google Pay
✅ PCI DSS compliant and has fraud prevention features
✅ Additional functionality, including receipts, recurring payments and refunds
❌ Limited international card acceptance
❌ Customer support isn’t 24/7
❌ API integration requires tech-knowledge
Founded in 2001, Instabill offers specialised payment gateways for high-risk businesses such as the travel industry.
Like Total Processing, they don’t own their payment gateway solutions.
Instead, a merchant account manager will match your business with one of Instabill’s banking partners. With various banking options, you’re more likely to be accepted, even if previously refused.
Supporting multiple currencies, Clover connects seamlessly with your website, eCommerce platforms and existing software for fast and secure card payments.
The free virtual terminal simplifies credit card processing for telephone orders, giving you greater flexibility in processing payments.
For businesses with high transaction volumes, Instabill allows you to consolidate multiple merchant accounts, simplifying management and improving efficiency.
Although Instabill offers generous monthly processing caps to accommodate large-ticket transactions, it’s not the most feature-rich payment gateway and is best suited to smaller travel businesses.
The merchant panel provides a user-friendly interface for managing transactions, helping you stay in control of your finances.
With features like the transaction page, businesses can easily monitor and track customer transactions, whilst the statistics page provides insightful analysis to help with decision-making.
Managing online payment gateways has never been easier with Instabill’s user management interface, enabling businesses to delegate tasks and streamline operations effectively.
Instabill offers a free hosted payment page to reduce the burden of PCI DSS compliance. With comprehensive fraud prevention systems, businesses can be confident that transactions are secure.
✅ Reduce PCI requirements and enhance security with a free hosted payment page
✅ Consolidate multiple merchant accounts to streamline transaction management
✅ Large monthly processing caps suitable for high-value travel bookings
✅ Support for multiple currencies, ideal for international transactions
✅ Integration with websites, shopping carts and software
❌ Not as feature-rich as other payment gateways
❌ May require a rolling reserve where a percentage of your money is held in your account
❌ Average Trustpilot rating of 3.5 out of 5
❌ Most contracts are for a long term and have a high early termination fee, giving you less flexibility
Retail Merchant Services
Used by travel businesses such as Ember Camping, Retail Merchant Services (RMS) offers various payment processing services, including a payment gateway.
Best suited to new and small travel businesses, you can accept all major payment types, including over 140 currencies and popular digital wallets like Google Pay and Apple Pay, giving your global clientele more flexibility.
For those without a website or technical integration, the “Pay by Link” feature offers a hassle-free way to accept payments via email, SMS, or social media, eliminating the need for a website while expanding your sales funnel.
The Virtual Terminal simplifies over-the-phone payments, providing PCI-DSS-compliant solutions without needing a website or coding skills.
However, PCI DSS compliance isn’t included as standard, costing approximately £100 per year.
Offer your customers greater flexibility by setting up automatic recurring payments for bookings and reservations.
RMS claims their fees are up to 30% cheaper than alternative payment gateways, charging 0.79% + 10p per transaction.
However, as travel businesses are considered high-risk, you’ll likely need to get a bespoke rate, which is often much higher.
Next-day settlement is available at an additional charge.
Encryption, tokenisation, and 3D Secure 2.0 authentication protect your data and customers’ information from potential breaches.
There are no integration plugins with popular eCommerce platforms.
Instead, you can choose from a hosted payment page for quick setup or a fully customised integration through the API for seamless brand integration and design control.
For businesses who want to expand their online presence, you can use the AI website builder, which creates a professional website, including content, saving you hours of coding and designing.
To help you streamline your sales process, you can monitor payments in real-time, enabling you to make more informed business decisions.
✅ Claims to be up to 30% cheaper than alternative payment gateways
✅ Acceptable of all major payment types, including digital wallets like Apple Pay and over 140 currencies
✅ Pay by Link feature is perfect for booking confirmations and follow-up e-mails
✅ Offers both Hosted Payment Page and Fully Customised Integration
✅ Simplifies recurring payments to give your customers flexibility
❌ Next-day settlement is available for an additional charge
❌ Long contracts usually for 36 months
❌ PCI DSS compliance isn’t included as standard
❌ No integration with eCommerce platforms
How to Find the Best Merchant Services for Your Travel Business
Finding the best payment gateway for a travel business involves considering several key factors to ensure it meets the specific requirements and challenges of the travel industry.
Here’s a guide to help you find the right payment gateway:
- Industry Experience: Your payment gateway should understand the travel industry’s unique dynamics, transaction patterns, and challenges.
- Global Reach: Ensure the payment gateway supports international transactions and accepts multiple currencies to facilitate customers from different regions.
- Security and Compliance: Check your payment gateway complies with industry standards such as PCI DSS and offers encryption, fraud prevention tools, and tokenisation to safeguard sensitive payment information.
- Integration: Consider the ease of integration options, including APIs, SDKs, plugins, and hosted payment pages.
- Cost and Pricing Structure: Compare pricing plans from different providers to ensure you get competitive rates and transparent pricing.
- Customer Support and Service: Look for responsive customer service channels, documentation, training resources, and dedicated account management to address any issues or queries promptly.
- Features: Consider the capabilities of your payment gateway, such as recurring billing, tokenisation, virtual terminals, and support for alternative payment methods.
- Customisation: Choose a payment gateway that offers options to tailor the payment experience to your brand and customer preferences, including branded payment pages and checkout flows.
- Multi-channel Support: If you make sales on multiple channels, including online, offline, mobile, and call centres, choose a payment gateway that can integrate and support all these cohesively.
- Analytics: Look for payment gateways that offer reporting tools to track transaction metrics, monitor payment trends, and gain insights into customer behaviour.
FAQs about Merchant Services for Travel
How do payment gateways work in the travel industry?
A payment gateway acts as a connection between your website and your bank. It helps your customers pay securely online by encrypting their payment information and sending it to the bank for approval. Once approved, it confirms the transaction so you can finalise the booking and give your customers their travel plans.
Are there any restrictions or limitations on the types of transactions travel businesses can process through payment gateways?
Yes, travel businesses may encounter limitations on the types of transactions they can process through payment gateways, typically due to regulatory requirements and risk management considerations. Some gateways may restrict high-risk transactions, such as bookings involving specific destinations, travel insurance, or services with potential legal or compliance issues. Travel businesses need to review the terms and conditions of their chosen payment gateway to ensure compliance with applicable regulations and avoid any possible restrictions on transaction types.
What are the typical fees associated with using a payment gateway for travel bookings?
The typical fees for using a payment gateway for travel bookings include setup fees, which are charged when you first integrate the gateway with your website. Transaction fees are incurred for each booking made through the gateway, usually a percentage of the transaction amount. Additionally, there might be monthly or annual subscription fees for using the service, depending on the provider. Some gateways may also charge extra for features like currency conversion or fraud protection.
Can travel agencies easily switch between different payment gateways?
Yes, but the process might not always be straightforward. It involves reconfiguring the payment system on your website, which could require technical expertise and time. Factors such as integration complexity, data migration, and contractual obligations with existing providers may influence the ease of switching. However, with proper planning and coordination with the new payment gateway provider, the transition can be managed effectively to minimise disruptions to the booking process.
Are there any industry-specific compliance requirements that travel agencies must consider when selecting a payment gateway?
Yes, travel agencies must consider PCI DSS compliance to ensure the security of handling payment card data. Additionally, they may need to comply with regulations related to international transactions, currency conversion, and anti-money laundering laws. Travel agencies must also ensure that the chosen payment gateway supports their specific booking processes, including handling refunds, cancellations, and chargebacks effectively within industry guidelines.
What are the implications of using a hosted payment page versus an integrated payment solution for travel businesses?
Using a hosted payment page for travel businesses means directing customers to a separate page provided by the payment gateway to complete their transactions, which can simplify PCI compliance and reduce security risks. However, it may lead to a disjointed user experience. On the other hand, integrated payment solutions allow customers to stay on the business’s website throughout the payment process, offering a seamless experience but requiring more effort to maintain PCI compliance and security standards.