Protocol | Fintech

Affirm is taking aim at ‘fly now, pay later’ as travel bounces back

The pandemic delayed the "buy now, pay later" company's expansion plans. But it now sees a big opportunity in travel.

A fly now, pay later boarding pass

Tickets are typically bought with credit cards. That makes travel ripe for "buy now, pay later" disruption.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

The pandemic derailed Affirm's big push into the next hot space in "buy now, pay later": travel.

"We spent 2019 really figuring out what it would take to bring Affirm to travel," Affirm CEO Max Levchin told Protocol in June. "2020 was supposed to be the year of travel. Of course, 2020 was not the year of travel for anyone. Travel basically fell off a cliff."

But travel has bounced back. Affirm has accelerated its "fly now, pay later" offensive, which took a big step forward Wednesday with a new partnership with American Airlines.

The move underlines how travel — which Levchin said was already "a standout" in Affirm's business — has grown in importance to the company. But some analysts say the company, which is a top player in the $100 billion "buy now, pay later" credit market, faces stiff competition in an arena where consumers now enjoy a broader range of payment options.

Affirm has formed partnerships with travel companies, including Expedia, Priceline and Delta Vacations. The American Airlines deal is the company's first pay-later partnership with a major airline, said Geoffrey Kott, Affirm's chief revenue officer.

Eligible travelers will be able to book airfares of $50 or more on American and have payment options from three to 12 months with fixed interest ranging from 10% to 30%, with no late payment penalties. "Consumers never owe a penny more than what they agree to at checkout, even if they're late missing payments," Kott told Protocol.

Geoffrey Kott, Affirm Chief Revenue Officer Geoffrey Kott said the American Airlines deal is the company's first pay-later partnership with a major airline.Photo: Affirm

Alex Johnson, fintech research director at Cornerstone Advisors, called the American Airlines deal a "good win for Affirm."

Affirm hasn't "done much in air travel before this," Johnson told Protocol. "I'd expect Affirm to try and expand its presence in the space now that it has this win."

He said "the airline industry has been a bit under-penetrated by the big BNPL providers so far."

Uplift, a smaller BNPL company, specializes in travel, with 17 airlines listed as partners on its website. Wall Street giants like American Express and Goldman Sachs, through its Marcus digital bank, have made big moves into pay-later travel.

Melody Brue, principal fintech analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said that while the American Airlines deal gives Affirm an edge over rivals like Klarna and Afterpay, it is also entering a space where major credit card companies are already "offering their version of BNPL" and where " consumers have so many choices with payment methods they may already be using," she told Protocol.

Johnson said BNPL financing in travel can also be complicated in one key area: cancellations and refunds. BNPL providers are typically able to work with merchants to facilitate returns and exchanges, he said, but those are typically for hard goods. Airlines have different policies around whether tickets can be refunded.

"Airlines present some unique challenges in this area," Johnson said. "You have standard cancelations, which are somewhat analogous to returns, but you also have flight changes, switching fees, rebookings, etc. How do BNPL providers handle all of these?"

Protocol | Workplace

Google contractor says she was fired for 'ungoogley' behavior

According to a charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board, "ungoogley" is Google's term for having a bad attitude.

A contractor at Google staffing firm Modis claims she was fired from her job after asking about pay.

Photo: Future Publishing/Getty Images

A contractor at Google staffing firm Modis claims she was fired from her job for "ungoogley" behavior after asking about holiday pay at a meeting with management, according to a charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board by a lawyer for the Alphabet Workers Union.

Tuesday Carne said in an interview with Protocol that she was fired after just nine days of working in the data contracting facility in South Carolina. Carne's termination letter (which Protocol reviewed) called her behavior at the meeting "unacceptable and 'ungoogley'" and claimed that her behavior was the reason for her firing.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email:, where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

The fintech developers who made mobile banking as routine as texting or online shopping aren't done. The next frontier for innovation is open banking – fintech builders are enabling consumers to be at the center of where and how their data is used to provide the services they want and need.

Most people don't even realize they're using open banking services today. If they connected their investment and banking accounts in a personal financial management solution or app, they're using open banking. Perhaps they've seen ads about how they can improve their credit score by uploading pay stubs or utility records to that same app – this is also powered by open banking.

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Bob Schukai
Bob Schukai is Executive Vice President of Technology Development, New Digital Infrastructure & Fintech at Mastercard, where he leads the technical design, execution and support of innovative open banking and fintech solutions, as well as next generation technologies to support global payment and data capabilities. Prior to Mastercard, Schukai’s work focused on cognitive computing, financial technology, blockchain, user experience and digital identity. He is also a member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Protocol | Policy

Biden FCC nominee Sohn is walking a tightrope with Republicans

Gigi Sohn faces plenty of GOP opposition, but the longtime net-neutrality advocate is hoping to pick up a little Republican support as she deals with Democrats’ narrow margins.

Gigi Sohn’s work for net neutrality has become an issue in her confirmation hearings for the FCC.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Gigi Sohn wouldn’t mind getting support from a Republican or two, and it’d certainly make her path back to the Federal Communications Commission easier.

During her Senate Commerce Committee confirmation on Wednesday, Sohn, a progressive favorite and longtime net-neutrality advocate, touted her commitment to ensuring a diversity of voices on the airwaves, her past fights for small conservative networks she personally disagrees with and her habit of socializing with those she battles on policy.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Protocol | Workplace

Microsoft Teams is going after small businesses

Microsoft Teams Essentials offers longer, bigger meetings for a relatively small price tag.

Companies can now buy a standalone version of Teams.

Photo: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

Microsoft announced Wednesday that companies can now buy a standalone version of Teams — one of its most important products and a major player in work messaging and video chat, alongside Slack and Zoom. The product, called Microsoft Teams Essentials, aims to give small or medium-sized businesses a communication hub that costs less than its competitors'.

Microsoft will charge small businesses $4 per user per month for Microsoft Teams Essentials, while Zoom’s cheapest paid plan is $14.99 per user per month and Slack’s is $6.67 per user each month, when billed annually. The free version of Microsoft Teams still exists, as do the various other Microsoft 365 plans that include Teams. Teams Essentials offers longer meeting times, larger group meetings and more cloud storage.

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at

Protocol | Policy

5 things to know about NTIA nominee Alan Davidson

If confirmed, the former Googler will play a key role in shaping the unprecedented expansion of broadband across the country.

Alan Davidson has been nominated to lead the NTIA.

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee is holding a hearing to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the National Telecommunications and Information Administration — a traditionally somewhat-sleepy role that is taking on new prominence in the wake of the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

That law gives the NTIA authority to write the rules and oversee the distribution of $42.5 billion in broadband infrastructure grants to states, a duty that will require it to massively scale its internal resources. To lead the charge, Biden has nominated Alan Davidson, a well-known figure in Washington who has spent his career cycling through government, industry and advocacy groups. If confirmed, Davidson would have perhaps the most important role in guiding an unprecedented expansion of internet access in America.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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