Contactless card technology makes travel easier – even across Siberia

As contactless cards become more common, travelers can use them to their advantage


Rewards points aren’t the only thing about our credit cards that make travel easier these days. You can now hop a train, catch a bus or even buy a beer in the one of the most sparsely populated places on the planet with the tap of a credit card.

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Six months ago, I took a trip I’d been dreaming about for years. I rode the Trans-Siberian Railway across the vast country of Russia.

As I expected, it was quite an adventure to cross two continents and 10 time zones by train. What did surprise me, however, was the fact that the dining car on the train was completely cashless and accepted only contactless credit cards.

I’d always imagined Siberia as a place that would feel frozen in time and reminiscent of the Cold War era. Babushkas brandishing contactless Mastercards was definitely something I’d never considered. When it came to buying a coffee on the Trans-Siberian, the transaction was more modern and expedient than the checkout at my home coffee shop in the U.S.

I didn’t have to worry about calculating the exchange rate of the ruble, running out of cash, the cost of the currency conversion, or even trying to figure out how to ask about the price of the coffee in my rusty Russian. It was a traveler’s dream.

Since I didn’t actually have a contactless card yet (and I really needed that coffee to survive five days in a tiny four-bed cabin), I uploaded my Chase Sapphire Reserve card to my iPhone’s Apple Pay at my next internet access point.

If you haven’t used a contactless card yet and aren’t familiar with the technology, here’s how it works: You don’t swipe your card or use the chip, you simply tap the card on the terminal at the point of sale and go. The technology of Apple and Google Pay work the same.

Beyond making it possible to buy beer on the railway en route to Lake Baikal, I’ve noticed lately that my credit cards have been making my travel easier in a few ways — especially when it comes to technology for transport. Here are a few ways I’m putting my cards to use on the road:

See related: Augmented reality: Welcome to the new way to pay

Bus travel

Many city buses and intercity coaches across Europe now take contactless as on-board payment. As long as you can decipher the bus schedule and get on the right bus (Google Maps is a great help with this), you don’t have to worry about figuring out the process of where to purchase your ticket before you board.

Rather than handing your ticket to the driver, you simply tap your credit card as you get on. Buses that take contactless usually have the contactless symbol on the side by the door — the same symbol that’s on the back of your contactless card.

Train and metro transit

Skip the lines at the station ticket machine and simply tap your credit card where you’d normally use your prepaid train or transport card before boarding. Contactless saves tons of time when you are running to catch a train.

If you’re in London, the Underground is completely contactless now. And New York City just launched a pilot tap-to-pay program for its subways this summer. Look for the symbol or check ahead if you’re traveling to a new city.

Ride-hailing services

While not directly connected to contactless card technology, ride-booking apps like Uber, Lyft and Gett make it easy to navigate the taxi process and pay with your credit card when you’re traveling.

I love using these services in places where it’s complicated to negotiate a taxi fare — like when I wanted to go to the mall in the suburbs of Moscow after riding the Trans-Siberian.

The monthly Uber credits I receive as a benefit on The Platinum Card® from American Express load right onto my connected credit card in the app. Technology lets me worry about where I’m going, not how I’m going to get there or if I’m going to be overcharged.

Go contactless before you travel

Many of the major credit cards in the U.S. – including many of the most popular travel credit cards – are starting to issue contactless cards. Just after I returned from Siberia, my first contactless card arrived in the mail as my American Express Platinum card was due for replacement.

Because my Chase Sapphire Reserve is the card I use the most when I’m traveling, I called and requested a contactless card and received it in a few days.

If you don’t have a contactless card yet, you’re likely to get an automatic contactless replacement for your cards this year. Alternatively, you can request a replacement contactless card at any time – a good idea if you’re headed to Siberia or anywhere abroad.

Test out your contactless card

Want to hit the Trans-Siberian and test out your contactless card in the dining car yourself?

You can get to Moscow by flying into either the Domodedovo (DME) or Sheremetyevo (SVO) airports with miles from almost any credit card points currency. Thanks to the 2018 World Cup, both international airports received an upgrade and have in-bound flights from around the world on all alliances.  From the airport, catch the Aeroexpress train direct to the city — you won’t even have to worry about getting cash because the train is, of course, contactless.

You can catch the Trans-Siberian in Moscow and take it all the way through to Vladivostok in six days, or you can shorten the adventure by hopping a domestic flight into Siberia on S7 (the Russian Oneworld airline partner). Flights to a hub like Krasnoyarsk can be booked on S7 through American Airlines using miles from the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. The Trans-Siberian itself isn’t contactless yet — you’ll need to purchase an actual ticket.

You’ll want to book a one-way award into Moscow and plan your return travel with another one-way award through Asia – since you’ll have crossed an entire continent on the journey. Once you’ve crossed all of Russia, it’s a nine-hour flight back to Moscow from Vladivostok (VVO) on Aeroflot if you need to return to Europe, or a 2.5-hour flight to Seoul, South Korea (ICN).

If I were going to ride the Trans-Siberian again, I’d use my Ultimate Rewards points from my Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card transferred to AirFrance to get myself to Moscow via Paris (CDG) or Amsterdam (AMS). To get home, I’d keep traveling east and catch an Asiana flight home via Seoul using my United miles.

I’d also pack more snacks and make sure all of my credit cards were contactless before I went!

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