To achieve their retailing ambitions, airlines don't just want to control distribution. Optimizing payments is also critical, according to some observers. Alternative models, methods and technologies that could help are in development, but the rise of rivals to the card has been predicted before.

"Corporations seeking price breaks in markets where they influence load factors will concurrently offer direct settlement to airline vendors just as they currently settle direct with other major suppliers." That's from a 1996 Business Travel News column by industry pundit Richard Eastman. Yet cards dominate.

According to . . .

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