(Credit: BigPay/AirAsia)

If you've got a cell phone, mobile payments can be a very handy way to pay for something at a store with a contactless system at the register. It takes less time, it's arguably more secure, and you can still use it if you misplace your physical card. It's also a booming business, because payment apps can charge merchants a fee to use the service.

Apple, Google, Samsung, and others have dived into this market, but their share varies from one region of the world to another. While these three are big in the United States, the Asian market is far more familiar with Alipay and GrabPay. However, there's still enough room in this town for another play, which is where BigPay comes in.

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Unlike the others, BigPay is the product of a regional airline company, AirAsia. In addition to the usual mobile payment app functions, BigPay provides travel perks for AirAsia, like travel discounts and airline points. However, it's not actually a contactless system.

Instead, the service mails you a BigPay-branded MasterCard prepaid card, and you use the app to transfer funds to it. It's not quite as convenient, but it's a lot more flexible; the card can be used wherever MasterCard is accepted, whereas services like Google Pay and Apple Pay need to be supported by the merchant, in addition to your card issuer.

Also, because a specific amount of funds are loaded onto the card, unauthorized use can't rack up thousands of dollars in purchases (unless you've put thousands onto the card).

Like these other two apps, though, BigPay will track your transactions and sort them into categories to help you monitor your spending. The app also supports direct and instant money transfers to other BigPay users.

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Speaking to CNBC in Tokyo today, AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes argued that his app would give AliPay and GrabPay "a run for their money." When the app soft-launched in January, Fernandes claimed on Twitter that it would become bigger than AirAsia itself, which in 2016 recorded an annual revenue of $1.12 billion USD.

Also in January, the airline boasted a passenger database of 63 million people that BigPay could be advertised to directly, potentially giving it the opportunity to scale up relatively fast.

Takeaways

  • A mobile payments app named BigPay is challenging Alipay and GrabPay in southeast Asia. The app loads prepaid funds onto a MasterCard that you put in your physical wallet.
  • You can also use the app to instantly transfer funds to other BigPay users.
  • BigPay is a product of AirAsia, a major airline in the region. AirAsia's CEO said in January that BigPay would become bigger than the airline, presumably in terms of revenue.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.