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Your complete guide to Apple Pay

Aug. 02, 2021
13 min read
Contactless payment using a smart phone hand close up.
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Apple Pay launched in 2014 as the first of the mobile wallets that enabled people to connect credit cards, debit cards and bank accounts to their personal devices in order to send and receive money. Of the major mobile wallet servicesGoogle Pay (formerly Android Pay), Samsung Pay and Apple Pay – Apple's service remains the largest. In fact, 507 million iPhone users had Apple Pay as of 2020, according to Statista.

Apple Pay represents a secure and sanitary payment option, since the app uses Near Field Communications (NFC) to transmit an encrypted virtual account number to the point-of-sale (POS) payment terminal. When you use Apple Pay in stores, no money changes hands, and you don’t even have to touch the POS terminal to complete the transaction or sign for it.

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You can also use Apple Pay to send and receive money to and from family and friends, pay at thousands of brick-and-mortar stores as well as paying online and through many common app-based services. In this article, we will dig into everything you want to know about Apple Pay.

Related: Here’s how the pandemic is completely changing how we pay

Which banks support Apple Pay?

Apple Pay can link to thousands of banks and credit unions across the world, with more being added all the time. More than 60 countries now have access to Apple Pay, and all major U.S. credit card providers support the payment system.

That means you can link credit cards from the following providers to your Apple Pay account to pay easily and securely through the platform:

  • American Express
  • Bank of America
  • Barclaycard
  • Capital One
  • Chase
  • Citi
  • Discover
  • Synchrony Bank
  • U.S. Bank
  • Wells Fargo

Smaller banks and credit unions that issue credit cards also support the service, including USAA, PNC Bank, HSBC, Fifth Third Bank, Navy Federal Credit Union, Huntington Bank, Regions Bank, Beneficial Bank, Citizens Bank, KeyBank, SunTrust, PenFed Credit Union and Alliant Credit Union.

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Where can I use Apple Pay?

You can use Apple Pay for in-app purchases on your iPhone and to pay for Apple services from the App Store, the iTunes store, Apple Music, Books, Apple News+, Apple TV+ and iCloud.

Use Apple Pay in stores, restaurants, and even for food delivery services. (Photo courtesy of Apple)

In stores, you can use Apple Pay anywhere you see the NFC logo or the Apple Pay logo at a point-of-sale location. This includes millions of stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues worldwide, from ACE Hardware and Albertsons grocery stores to Walt Disney World and Whole Foods. Apple Pay is currently accepted at more than 85% of retailers in the U.S.

You can also use Apple Pay on popular apps and online services, including Lyft, Fandango, Airbnb, GrubHub and Groupon.

Related: Dirty money: Could ditching cash keep you healthier?

Finally, use Apple Pay with the following metropolitan area transit provider apps:

  • Caltrain
  • MBTA
  • Metrolink
  • MTA Metro-North and Long Island Railroads (LIRR)
  • NJ Transit
  • RTC
  • RTD
  • Ventra (CTA, Pace, and Metra)

If you’re riding Ventra in the Chicago metro area or are using the Hop Fastpass for TriMet, C-TRAN, and Portland Streetcar rides in the Portland and Vancouver metropolitan area, you don’t need to download the transit provider app. You can use Apple Pay to tap and pay with your mobile phone instead.

Related: Best travel credit cards for travel purchases

How many cards can I add to Apple Pay?

Load up your favorite cards, vaccination card, tickets and more on your Apple Wallet. (Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

Users with an Apple iPhone 8, 8 Plus or later, or an Apple Watch Series 3 or later can add up to 12 cards on any one device. Users with earlier versions of iPhone or Apple Watch can only add 8 cards to each device. If you have more than one mobile device, you need to add the cards to each device separately.

In certain countries, including the U.S., you can also add retail and restaurant loyalty cards, boarding passes, movie tickets, coupons and student ID cards to your Apple Wallet.

Related: The best credit cards for entertainment spending

What popular credit cards Can I use with Apple Pay?

With a limit of 12 credit cards, you can probably load all your cards into your Apple Wallet for easy access through your iPhone. But which one should you set as your default payment method? Which are the best credit cards to use with Apple Pay?

Since Apple Pay supports nearly every credit card in the U.S., you have plenty of choices. Some of the best cash-back credit cards and travel rewards cards are also some of the best cards to use with Apple Pay. Let’s look at a few of them, which also happen to be among the best contactless credit cards available, below.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Chase Freedom Unlimited is a straightforward cash-back credit card supported by Apple Pay. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

An unsung hero when it comes to cash-back rewards credit cards, the Chase Freedom Unlimited has a lucrative rewards structure. You'll earn 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining and drugstores (including takeout and eligible delivery service) and 1.5% on all other purchases. Unlike the Chase Freedom Flex card, you don’t need to keep track of rotating categories.

Related: Chase Freedom Unlimited review

It’s a great card to use as your default in Apple Pay because you know wherever you shop and whatever you buy, you’ll net a neat 1.5% cash back, at least. There’s no annual fee, and you’ll enjoy benefits such as 120-day purchase protection and extended warranty protection to extend certain manufacturers' warranties by up to a year.

The Freedom Unlimited also has a sign-up bonus of an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back! If you transfer those Freedom Unlimited rewards to a Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can effectively double their value, based on TPG’s latest valuations, since they become fully transferable Ultimate Rewards points.

Related: How to maximize your Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

If you’re interested in more than cash back and want to delve into the Chase Ultimate Rewards universe, the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is a great choice to load into your Apple Wallet so you can earn 5 points per dollar on Lyft (through March 2022), 5 points per dollar on all travel when book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, 3x points per dollar select streaming services, 3 points per dollar on online grocery purchases(excluding Walmart and Target, 3x points per dollar on dining, 2 points per dollar on travel and 1x point per dollar on all other purchases. The annual fee is $95.

Related: Chase Sapphire Preferred review

The sign-up bonus from Sapphire Preferred isn’t exactly small potatoes, either. Earn 60,000 in bonus points, worth $750 in travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards (or $1,200 in general based on TPG valuations), when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Big spenders may find they can make their rewards go even further with a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. The card carries a $550 annual fee, plus $75 for each authorized user. But, you get up to $300 in annual travel credit, and earn 10 points per dollar on Lyft (through March 2025), 3x points per dollar on travel and dining worldwide and 1x point per dollar on all other purchases.

Related: Chase Sapphire Reserve review

Under the card's current terms, you’ll earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening – as long as this is your only Sapphire card at the moment and you haven’t received a new cardmember bonus for holding a Sapphire card in the past 48 months. Those bonus points are worth $1,200, based on current TPG valuations.

If you’re opening a new card to link to Apple Pay, you’ll want to choose carefully. Chase’s 5/24 rule could prevent you from qualifying for any Chase credit card if you’ve opened more than five credit cards across all banks in the past 24 months.

American Express® Gold Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

If you’re looking outside the Chase family of credit cards for a great rewards card to use with Apple Pay, consider the classic American Express Gold Card.

Related: Amex Gold review

A favorite rewards card for many people, the Amex Gold offers a generous rewards program that includes 4x points per dollar on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases (then 1x), 3x points per dollar on flights booked through Amex Travel or directly with the airlines and 1x per dollar on other purchases.

Related: Choosing the best American Express credit card for you

With Apple Pay accepted at so many restaurants nationwide, it pays to load your Amex Gold in your Apple Wallet, because you’ll receive an up to $120 dining credit annually ($10 in monthly statement credits) when you use Amex Gold at eateries such as The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and participating Shake Shack locations. The offer applies to food services such as Grubhub, too. You'll also get up to $120 Uber Cash ($10 each month) for U.S. Uber rides and Uber Eats orders. Card must be added to Uber account before receiving the Uber Cash benefit. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Related: Best credit cards for food delivery services

The Amex Gold carries an annual fee of $250 (see rates and fees).

Do I earn rewards with Apple Pay?

Apple Pay itself does not deliver any rewards to users. However, you can load loyalty rewards cards from your favorite stores into the program, making it easier to earn extra points or cash back without fumbling for a key fob, hunting in your wallet, or providing your phone number or email address at the payment terminal.

Of course, when you use Apple Pay linked to a rewards credit card, you’ll earn whatever points, miles or cash back you are entitled to for using that credit card, just like with old-fashioned purchases.

Related: How do mobile wallets code for credit card bonus categories?

How do I set up Apple Pay?

Setting up Apple Pay is easy and intuitive. Most iPhone and Apple Watch users will find it pre-loaded on their device. Just click the “Wallet” icon, hit the plus sign in the right-hand corner and start adding your favorite credit cards by positioning your card in your camera's view frame. You can also add a card manually by entering the name, account number, expiration date and CVV code on the back of the card.

Along with credit cards, you can store concert tickets, travel documents, such as boarding passes, and more in your Apple Wallet by downloading the corresponding app through the App Store.

Which countries support Apple Pay?

Apple Pay is accepted in nearly 60 countries around the globe. It can be used throughout the European Economic Area, and also in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Singapore, and other countries and territories.

Is it secure?

Apple Pay utilizes Near Field Communications (NFC) to carry out transactions. NFC technology has been deemed one of the safest ways to make payments as it's immune to credit card skimming technology (where cyber thieves can collect your account number when you swipe your credit card) and uses sophisticated encryption to protect your account data.

Related: Are mobile wallets safe?

When you enter your credit card into Apple Pay, the data goes through a series of encryption steps, called tokenization. Ultimately, a virtual account number is stored on your phone within the most secure portion of the iPhone's memory banks. Only your phone has the capability to decrypt the number and process a transaction.

Add the touch ID, facial recognition and passcodes that protect your phone, and Apple Pay is probably safer than most other payment methods. Plus, Apple’s “Find my iPhone” service enables you to wipe your phone of all its data if it’s ever lost or stolen.

Is there a fee?

If you use Apple Pay at the register in stores or restaurants, Apple does not charge any fees. Since merchants consider this a “card present” sale, however, the merchant may charge additional fees, just like they would for physical credit card users. Merchants who offer “cash discounts” may not extend that discount to Apple Pay customers, so be sure to read the signage around the register carefully before you decide how you want to pay.

If you pay with Apple Pay using a debit card, there are no additional fees.

Finally, if you transfer money to another Apple Pay user from a debit card linked to Apple Pay, there is no fee. But you will pay a 3% fee if you transfer money to an individual using a credit card linked to Apple Pay.

Bottom line

With the ability to link to practically any credit card you're likely to carry, there’s a reason Apple Pay is the most widely used mobile wallet app available today. iPhone and Apple Watch, in particular, users may want to consider making Apple Pay their main payment method going forward since it can help maintain social distancing from cashiers and its contactless operation means it might be more sanitary than other payment options.

Additional reporting by Stella Shon.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold, please click here.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.