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Delta Air to take payments via Alipay from Chinese travelers

An Alipay logo is seen at a train station in Shanghai, February 9, 2015. REUTERS/Aly Song

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Delta Air Lines Inc has become the first U.S. airline to accept payments via Alipay, the PayPal-like service run by an Alibaba Group Holding Ltd affiliate that is used by hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers.

The airline has started taking payment for flight tickets on delta.com from Alipay's 300 million-plus registered users, Alipay said in a statement on Wednesday.

As the largest online payments service in a country where consumer finance remains less-than-fully developed, supporting Alipay - run by Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial - should make it more convenient for would-be Chinese travelers to buy Delta tickets.

That decision underscores the attractiveness to the industry of China, now the world's largest source of outbound tourism after a decade of super-charged economic growth. The U.S. airline has said it wants to be the most Chinese-friendly American carrier.

Chinese tourists have emerged as a potent economic force, ranking among the world's biggest spenders.

They splashed out $165 billion on international travel in 2014, up 28 percent from 2013 - the biggest percentage increase in two years, according to data released by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange.

Much of that is spent in and around Asia, but governments are increasingly wooing the country's affluent jet-setters. In November, the United States signed a landmark deal with the country, extending one-year visas issued to Chinese travelers to up to a decade.

Delta itself has been adding non-stop U.S.-China flights since 2009. It flies direct between Beijing and Shanghai and Detroit and Seattle, and from July 9 will link Los Angeles and Shanghai.

(Reporting by Edwin Chan; Editing by Bernard Orr)