What do grain, cardboard, and a piece of plastic have in common? They form the foundations of our business today

What’s the simplest way to pay for goods and services?
Join us as we set off in search of clues throughout human history.

The history of money starts long before money was ever actually invented. In the early days, people bartered with things that they made, gathered, or hunted themselves. A weaver might trade clothing for fish, a saddler might trade reins for clothing, and a fisherman might trade fish for reins. But that was the sticking point: if the fisherman didn’t need reins, the whole system fell apart. To deal with this problem, an intermediate form of barter such as grain, berries, or livestock was introduced. But that, too, turned out not to be very practical to handle.

The revolutionary idea ultimately emerged in the year 640 BC, in Lydia, in present-day Turkey, with the use of precious metals. That meant that before standardized currency was introduced, the economy ran on two main stores of value: livestock (pecus, in Latin), from which the Roman name for money, pecunia, is derived, and rough, irregularly shaped bronze pieces known as aes rude. It remains unclear to this day when, exactly, money came to be in common usage, but there are written records of soldiers in the Roman army already receiving their pay in aes rude as early as the siege of Veii in the year 406 BC. This made coins an important part of the Roman economy, especially in military camps and cities.

Buy now, pay later

At around the same time, nearly 7,000 km away, the Chinese were inventing paper and printing. Hence it is hardly surprising that China was where the first paper money emerged, in about 1300 AD. Venetian traveler Marco Polo regaled European readers with tales of the fascinating world of paper money production, but the audience’s responses were incredulous: A Chinese emperor who simply made paper into money was utterly unimaginable. Decades would pass before the Bank of Stockholm issued the first banknotes in Europe, in 1661.

But even more flexible than banknotes is money that you can’t hold in your hand, but still exists anyway. The idea of a credit card appeared in a science fiction novel published by Edward Bellamy in 1888. In the novel, the protagonist awakens in the year 2000, after sleeping for 113 years, to find a changed world where people use cardboard cards for payment instead of money. The idea caught on: In keeping with the principle of “Buy now, pay later,” hotels began issuing the first forerunners of what we now know as credit cards to loyal guests in 1894. Department stores, petroleum companies, restaurants, and airlines later followed the example set by the hotel industry.

Moving away from cardboard

The idea of a customer loyalty program, which first arose among American airlines, ultimately gave rise to the Air Travel Plan, which was launched in 1936. The idea was to offer a 15 percent discount on a balance of 500 dollars, securing the loyalty of corporate customers even in uncertain economic times and safeguarding sales. This was the cornerstone of the first payment system for business travel, which fit on a small cardboard card. Over the decades, the material changed to plastic and the cards became practically indispensable in the business travel market. So what started out as the Air Travel Plan in the U.S. some 80 years ago is considered the world’s first credit card – and, most of all, the first global payment system for business travel. Twelve years later, the Air Travel Plan went international and added a U to its name, becoming the Universal Air Travel Plan (UATP).

The AirPlus Company Account is the most successful billing account within the UATP

The UATP card is accepted today by nearly 250 airlines and thousands of travel agencies around the world as a form of payment for purchases of flight tickets, greatly facilitating travel management. This effective payment solution for flight tickets – which benefits companies and airlines alike – has become a versatile product for professionalizing travel management in the business sector. AirPlus has been instrumental in bringing more service providers in the mobility sector on board with the UATP system. By now, customers can no longer just pay for flight bookings, but also train tickets, rental cars, and travel agency service fees, all conveniently with just a single card.



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