Amex Stay Lifted, Southwest Eager To Steer To New Payment Platform

An appeals court this week denied American Express' motion to wait until the end of its appeal before amending merchant provisions deemed unlawful. Instead, a previously issued court order to alter those agreements will go into effect next month, freeing merchants to steer customers from Amex to preferred forms of payment.

"We are disappointed the request for a stay was denied," Amex wrote in a statement to The Beat. "We will move forward to modify the Non-Discrimination Provisions in our merchant contracts, per the trial court's remedy. We expect that the trial court's order will become effective on July 20."

It's a moment Southwest Airlines has been waiting for. The airline, which prides itself on low costs, is among dozens of merchants that has backed the yet-to-be launched mobile payment platform and would-be Apple Pay competitor, CurrentC.

Additionally, once free of Amex's merchant agreements, Southwest "can offer Rapid Rewards frequent flier points to encourage customers to use lower cost forms of payment," according a filing this month that urged the appeals court to lift Amex's stay.

Southwest in a filing talked up its participation in the Merchant Customer Exchange, or MCX, a collective of merchants established in 2012 to develop a mobile wallet solution.

The now-live Apple Pay has generated plenty of buzz, even intriguing some in the corporate travel space, but CurrentC continues to operate in invite-only beta mode and its corporate travel implications are less clear. The company has targeted 2015 for a national rollout but did not immediately reply on its status.

"CurrentC competes with other mobile payment systems like Apple Pay that are supported by Amex and the other major credit card networks (and that have not committed to lowering costs or allowing merchant steering)," noted the court filing by Southwest, which declined an interview to discuss its plans to promote CurrentC or other steering plans.

While Southwest is the only airline participant in MCX, dozens of major merchants have backed the CurrentC mobile wallet, including 7-Eleven, CVS, Dunkin' Donuts, ExxonMobil, Gap, Rite Aid, Sunoco, Target, Wal-Mart and Wendy's. The app is compatible with Apple and Google mobile devices.

Still, the payment option appears angled at a consumer, not a corporate audience. The "variety of financial accounts" to which CurrentC links include "personal checking accounts, merchant gift cards and select merchant branded credit and debit accounts" but not corporate travel and expense cards. Even so, on its website, the company indicated "plans to add additional forms of payment, including credit cards."

CurrentC bills itself as a merchant-friendly alternative to mobile wallet offerings from Apple or Google. Its noncredit payment options provide cheaper transactions, the QR code-scanning technology "works with most existing point-of-sale and payment terminals" and the app links closely with merchant programs, integrating "coupons, loyalty and payment into one seamless transaction," according to the firm.

Yet, even ahead of its official launch, the tech press has pounced on CurrentC, seizing on a data breach last year; poor app store ratings, presumably from beta users; PayPal's acquisition of its underlying mobile wallet technology; the recent resignation of its CEO; and some founding MCX merchants that have embraced Apple Pay. On its website, CurrentC promises more functionality, but some reviewers and tech writers have said its checkout process, which requires the user to enter a pin and other key strokes, takes longer than an Apple Pay tap-and-go transaction.