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Uber’s canny deal with Alipay could bring big rewards

Uber on Monday announced a major deal with Alipay that could bring big rewards as it seeks to drive deeper into the Chinese market.

The ride-hailing company said it’s expanded its partnership with China’s leading online payment provider to allow Chinese travelers to more easily request and pay for Uber rides – using either of the company’s apps – in all of the worldwide markets where Uber operates.

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The deal should make Uber’s service a whole lot more attractive to Chinese international travelers as it removes the hassle of having to connect a dual-currency credit card to their account. It also means riders can pay directly in Chinese yuan using their connected Alipay accounts, ending Uber’s practice of charging in U.S. dollars.

Uber riders have been able to use Alipay for journeys on the Chinese mainland for the last two years, and in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau since early 2016. However, the new system will make for an altogether more seamless experience for China-based Uber riders traveling outside of their country.

Eric Alexander, Uber’s head of business in the Asia Pacific region, said the company was “excited…to bring this top-notch experience to the ever-growing number of Chinese travelers who choose to use Uber internationally.”

Uber says the new payment system is available to Alipay users traveling in more than 400 cities in 68 countries, including the U.S. Riders can request a car using the Uber app or by tapping on the new “Uber” icon on the home screen of the Alipay app. Once an Uber trip finishes, a direct payment in Chinese yuan will be charged to the customer’s Alipay account.

It could certainly make the app more attractive to China’s growing number of international travelers, and may turn out to be a shrewd move that helps Uber compete more effectively with its main ride-hailing rival in China, Didi Chuxing (formerly Didi Kuaidi). With the company currently losing a billion dollars a year in the massive Asian country, Uber is hoping the Alipay deal will mark the start of a major turnaround.