How to Fix the Problem of Inflight Credit Card Announcements

My Facebook feed is filled with complaints by frequent flyers about inflight credit card announcements.
I share credit card advice all the time, but I don’t have a captive audience. You can read the post or not. However even inflight entertainment pauses for flight attendants to make their pitches. Passengers especially don’t like having their naps interrupted on early or late flights. And sometimes the information is wrong (the card won’t give you a big enough initial bonus for two roundtrips to Hawaii usually).

However inflight credit card announcements aren’t going to go away no matter how much customers complain. However I do think the announcements could be done in a way that’s friendlier for passengers — and more effective for card issuers and their co-brand partners.

  • At American Airlines there are two co-brand credit card issuing banks offering personal cards in the U.S.: Citibank and Barclays. Barclays has only two channels under their agreement to acquire customers, inflight and in-airport (but not within 100 feet of an Admirals Club). They have ads in the airport, I think they need to do tabling too.

  • American’s President Scott Kirby became the President of United Airlines. He found that United’s credit card program was lagging and also shared that in his experience onboard is the single most effective acquisition channel. So United started making these announcements too.

These inflight announcements can be turned into a positive customer experience.

Late last year there were two in-airport events hosted by American Airlines and MasterCard with Barclays brand ambassadors.

  • Miami Culinary event chef cooking lessons and tastings every 30 minutes on the hour, each lasting half an hour. There were iPads and Barclays brand ambassadors to facilitate card applications and existing AAdvantage Aviator cardmembers received premium seating for the event and a branded cutting board as a gift.

  • Dallas Fort-Worth golf event golf instruction from PGA Teaching Professionals. There were two putting greens and iPads and Barclays brand ambassadors to facilitate card applications. Existing AAdvantage Aviator cardmembers received branded golf balls as a gift and an instructional video via email. On the first day of the event golf pro Mark O’Meara was on hand taking photos with passengers.

I love this. It’s value add, existing cardmembers are recognized and perhaps more importantly from the issuer’s perspective potential cardmembers see existing cardmembers recognized which makes prospects want to become customers.

Saying thank you to customers is most leveraged when it’s done in a way other customers can see, that sparks a conversation and turns your best customers into evangelists and salespeople. An inflight benefit that generates discussion with a seat opponent would be even better.

That’s why I think it would be effective to offer cardmember appreciation days inflight. Everyone with a co-brand card gets a free drink or a snack. Everyone who applies at the start of the flight gets a drink or snack when they turn in their application.

That creates challenges for catering but Southwest manages to give everyone free drinks for certain holidays so it is doable. Some people will fill out an application even though they have been rejected before. That is ok, dont focus on the few people who benefit more than they should focus on whether the approach works overall.

Flight attendants can recognize customers with the card through their mobile devices. Thanking a customer for bring a cardmember is appreciated it also shows other passengers being a cardmember is special. And many flight attendants will do it when it is explained to then this will drive applications, since they get paid for new card approvals.

This helps turn a negative into a positive inflight (not necessarily for first class or top elites who get fed anyway, recognize those cardmembers with extra miles). And it helps drive acquisitions. And it isn’t something that should be done before 8 a.m. or in the morning prior to arrival at the end of a redeye.

What do you think?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I have some solutions

    1) Avoid airlines that have multiple credit card partners

    2) Invest in some premium noise cancelling headphones

  2. 3) Stop pushing airline credit cards at every opportunity.

    This post is rather rich coming from Gary – even with that half-sincere disclaimer at the start.

  3. Good god, NO.

    Even if half the plane has the damn card everybody has to listen to the stupid pitch.

    Gary, you love this? For a shot at a branded cutting board?

    Wrong wrong wrong.

    The way to fix these damned an announcements is to not buy.

    I think the market is approaching the point where a quiet flight, with comfortable seating, without junk fees, is possible. But sadly I lack the $1B to prove myself wrong. 🙂

  4. @Bob

    No, it’s not rich. Other than the fraction of a second it takes to scan a headline, you can skip the pitches here if you want.

    TBH, the flight attendants talk too much as it is, and having to listen to the same pitch four times in a couple of days (eg, taking a connection on a weekend trip) is annoying as fck.

  5. The onboard CC pitches annoy me but they aren’t worse than the 1 in 8 of WN flights where the FA tries to sing a “funny” song (awfully) or even worse the “hey we found a wallet on the floor, did anyone lose their wallet”? “Okay now that we have your attention let us recite the procedure should we have a gentle water landing/evacuation and how to use your seat cushion as a flotation device which is relevant for .01% of crashes.”

  6. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    The onboard CC pitches annoy me but they aren’t worse than the 1 in 8 of WN flights where the FA tries to sing a “funny” song (awfully) or even worse the “hey we found a wallet on the floor, did anyone lose their wallet”? “Okay now that we have your attention let us recite the procedure should we have a gentle water landing/evacuation and how to use your seat cushion as a flotation device which is relevant for .01% of crashes.”

  7. We need to all start booing when the “we have a very special offer” BS begins and shame the FAs into stopping. I recently had a 6am TPA-CLT flight where they did it twice (at an insanely loud volume). It needs to stop.

  8. You should always shout SIXTEEN PERCENT INTEREST when the pitch starts, followed by AND TWENTYFIVE PERCENT INTEREST IF YOU MISS A PAYMENT

    Whether it’s the onboard pitch or some greaseball on the concourse

  9. I was on an Alaska flight, and while we all knew she was lying, the FA was pretty clever. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve had a lot of questions about the Alaska card on this flight so I wanted to share with you some info on the credit card…”. It did feel less annoying when presented this way.

  10. And here I thought you actually had a solution to putting a stop to this nonsense. I love having the last 10 minutes of a movie interrupted by FA’s prattling on and on about the damn credit card.

  11. I’d like to see the CFPB start paying attention to what is said by FAs, which is some cases is patently false or deceptive, and if said on terra firma by an agent of a financial institution would result in severe civil penalties.

    For instance, last week I was on AA flying CLT-SFO, and the FA announced that if we applied for the card, we would receive double miles on all flights flown on AA. She specified that if we applied for the card today, we’d receive 4,592 miles for our flight that day. Which, even before AAdvantage went revenue-based on earning, was simply incorrect. She even implied it would be retroactive to recent flights!

    This isn’t an isolated example. For some reason, FAs seem to be able to make announcements about financial products they’re hawking that bear no basis in reality.

  12. this is perhaps one of the most annoying announcements ever, unless they make the ticket free for applying for their card and even then it may not be totally worth it considering how much you paid for it!

  13. Good grief, these are the same people who don’t listen to any other announcements like, turn off your computer, put your devices into airplane mode, stay seated while the seatbelt sign is on, put one bag in the overhead and one under your seat…they also don’t watch the safety demonstration…but yeah, complain about this one. Get a life and a pair of noise canceling headsets.

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