Your credit card guide to the London Olympics

By Emma Lunn

If you're lucky enough to have tickets for the Olympic Games in London this summer, your wallet will probably get a work-out -- food, merchandise and celebratory beverages will all likely be at a premium. Here's your guide to paying for it all.

Be aware that the only brand of credit and debit card that will be accepted within Olympic venues is Visa, an official sponsor of the games. That means, if you want to buy goods with plastic at the London venues, you'll need a Visa-branded debit, credit or prepaid card, according to a guide from consumer advocacy group, Which?. Visa plans to install hundreds of point-of-sale devices at London venues, as well as an ATM network. olympics-2012

If you're going to an Olympic venue, such as Wembley, where there are currently ATMs that accept other cards, these ATMs will be switched to Visa machines or turned off for the games. It's a controversial move, and Visa and the Olympics have been roundly criticised, with critics pointing out that visitors could run out of cash but then find their credit or debit cards are not accepted.

Yet, because of Visa's sponsorship, the games will be a Visa-only zone. So check the branding on your card. If it's not a Visa, many banks issue Visa debit cards with current accounts, according to Which?, so getting a Visa card should be as simple as asking for one.

If your bank can't issue you a Visa-branded credit card or debit card tied to your account, another alternative for payments inside Olympic games venues is a Visa prepaid card. You can load these cards with money and use them wherever the Visa logo is displayed.

Cash will be accepted everywhere at the games -- just don't use your credit card to get it from an ATM. For one thing, ATM queues will likely be long. For another, using your credit card to get cash is known as a cash advance, which can get expensive.

"Don't use your credit card to withdraw cash ... as almost every card provider will charge you interest from the moment you make the withdrawal, and often at a higher interest rate than you'd usually pay," says a Which? spokesperson.

Contactless payment
With contactless and mobile payments slow to take off in the UK, Visa hopes the Olympics will help the technology go mainstream. To that end, there will be about 3,000 contactless payment terminals around Olympics venues that use Visa payWave technology. Credit and debit cards enabled with payWave (ask your issuer if it provides them) can simply be waved near or tapped on the payment terminal -- and there's no PIN necessary for purchases under £20. That could shave quite a bit of time off of small purchases like food and drink. Moreover, Visa estimates that about 5,000 taxis will be equipped with contactless technology at the time of the games -- and that there will be 140,000 contactless terminals at merchants throughout London.

Olympic VIPs will enjoy bigger contactless payment perks -- they'll be getting limited-edition Olympic Samsung Galaxy S III handsets loaded with Visa's new payWave mobile payment app. Although the regular Samsung Galaxy S III was just made available to the public, this limited-edition Olympic version of the phone and app are available only to Samsung- and Visa-sponsored athletes and showcase participants. Yet they will enable those competing in the games to leave cards and wallets behind and rely only on the phone for purchases at Olympic venues and with merchants throughout the city that accept contactless payments. And that, Visa hopes, will help get the word out about the technology at a time when all eyes are on London.

See related: McDonald's adopts contactless card technology, Is going contactless the way of the future?

Published: 26 June 2012