Your complete guide to Apple Pay

Mar 20, 2020

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Apple Pay launched in 2014 as the first of the mobile wallets – apps that enable people to connect credit cards, debit cards, and bank accounts to mobile devices to send and receive money. Of the major mobile wallet services – Google Pay (formerly Android Pay), Samsung Pay and Apple Pay — the Apple service remains the largest, claiming 34% of the market share.

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 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 sign.

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

In This Post

Which banks support Apple Pay?

Apple Pay can link to thousands of banks and credit unions across the world, with more being added every day. More than 30 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 and pay easily and securely through the platform:

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

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, Pentagon Federal Credit Union and Alliant Credit Union.

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+ 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.

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

Related reading: Want to become an Airbnb host? Here’s how.

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

MTA Metro-North and Long Island railroads
NJ Transit
Ventra (CTA, Pace, and Metra)

If you’re riding Ventra in the Chicago metro area or 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.

Related reading: Best travel credit cards for travel purchases

How many cards can I add to Apple Pay?

Users with an Apple iPhone 8, 8 Plus or later can add up to 12 cards on any one device. If you have more than one mobile device, you need to add the cards to each device separately. Apple Pay also works on Apple Watch; you can add up to 12 cards if you have a Series 3 or later Apple Watch.

Users with earlier versions of iPhone or Apple Watch can only add 8 cards to each device.

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 reading: The best credit cards for entertainment spending

Popular credit cards to 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 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 the most common cards to use with Apple Pay. Let’s look at a few of them here.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
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 an uncomplicated structure that lets you earn 1.5% cash back on purchases. Unlike the original Chase Freedom card (No longer open to new applicants), you don’t need to keep track of rotating categories.

It’s a great card to use as your default in Google Pay because you know wherever you shop and whatever you buy, you’ll net a neat 1.5% cash back.

There’s no annual fee, and you’ll enjoy benefits such as 120-day purchase protection and extended warranty protection to extend certain manufacturer’s warranties by up to a year.

Related reading: Best credit cards for extended warranties

The Freedom Unlimited also has a modest sign-up bonus of $200 after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. 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.

Related reading: How to maximize your Chase Ultimate Rewards points

The current sign-up bonus on the Chase Freedom Unlimited is $200 after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

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

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 place to start. With its $95 annual fee, Sapphire Preferred is a great card to load into your Apple Wallet for 2x points on dining and travel, 5x points on Lyft through March 2022 and 1x points on all other purchases.

As a nice bonus, new Sapphire Preferred customers enjoy a free DashPass subscription from DoorDash for a minimum of one year, as long as they activate the subscription by Dec. 31, 2021. Pay conveniently with your Chase card through Apple Pay to enjoy free delivery.

The sign-up bonus from Sapphire Preferred isn’t exactly small potatoes, either. Earn 80,000 in bonus points, worth $1,000 in travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 1,600 based on TPG valuations, when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Plus earn a $50 statement credit on grocery purchases in the first year of 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 premier card in this series. The card carries a $550 annual fee, plus $75 for each authorized user. But you’ll earn an up to $300 in annual travel credit, 3x points on travel and dining worldwide and 1x points on all other purchases.

Related reading: Which purchases count as dining with Chase Sapphire Reserve?

You’ll earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 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 60,000 bonus points are worth the same $900 in travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, based on current TPG valuations.

Like the Sapphire Preferred, the Reserve also delivers a complimentary DoorDash subscription plus $60 in DoorDash credits annually through 2021.

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.

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

Related reading: 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 each monthly statement) when you use Amex Gold at eateries such as The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and participating Shake Shack locations. The offer also applies with food services such as Boxed, Seamless and Grubhub.

Related reading: 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 rewards 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 rewards you are entitled to for using that credit card.

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

How to set up Apple Pay

Setting up Apple Pay is almost as easy as using it at your favorite stores or restaurants. In fact, 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 the 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.

You can store concert tickets, travel 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 33 countries across the globe. It can be used across the European Economic Area, and also in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kazakhstan, China, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Georgia, Belarus and Montenegro.

Is it secure?

Near Field Communications (NFC) technology has been deemed one of the safest ways to make payments, as it is immune to credit card skimming technology (where cyberthieves can collect your account number when you swipe your credit card) and uses sophisticated encryption to protect your account data.

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

Add 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 Phone” 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 other 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.

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 multiple choices in which credit cards you can link to your Apple Pay account, there’s a reason it’s the most widely-used mobile wallet app available today. iPhone and Apple Watch users may want to consider this payment method as we all seek not just more secure, but more sanitary, payment methods in this new era of social distancing.

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

Featured photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.

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