The Banality Of Inflight Credit Card Pitches

Kevin Williamson doesn’t like the American Airlines inflight credit card pitch.

The awfulness of this is multifaceted. For one thing, there is the Clockwork Orange sensation of being literally strapped into a seat while someone screams corporate banalities at you on a loudspeaker fifteen inches from your head. That is beyond bad manners — it is positively abusive…

It is a “limited-time” offer in the sense that the sun eventually will run out of gas and become a dying star, first engulfing the Earth in fire and then leaving the wreck of the solar system a sterile plane of interstellar cold and utter silence, which will be interrupted only by some addled flight attendant screeching about the limited-time Barclays card offer.

What Kevin forgets to mention is the announcement being used as a wake up call at 6 a.m after a redeye flight. Of course, according to American Airlines, only 14% of passengers on a given flight have an AAdvantage credit card. That’s a huge opportunity to grow the card portfolio. The people most likely to be interested in the American Airlines credit card are those already flying American Airlines.

And in fact since American has two card issuers, and customers can have both, the pool of potential applicants on board is even greater than American suggests (flight attendants used to regularly point out that even Citi AAdvantage customers could get a Barclays-issued card).

Inflight card pitches shouldn’t be done before 8 a.m., or on redeye flights. One good reason, by the way, for airline seat back entertainment is that the entertainment can be paused during flight attendant announcements. When people are using their own devices, they’re free to ignore card pitches. American Airlines should work with Barclays to sponsor a return of the screens.

I’ve even argued that American should increase the size of its lavatories and plaster them with credit card ads. That way a revenue stream would attach to the lavatory space, and American would no longer need to view the fact they have to provide lavs as a deadweight loss.

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 look at it as an intelligence test.
    Who is stupid enough to write down their SS# on a piece of paper and hand it to a stranger who does who knows what with it?
    A good side business for a FA is to collect the numbers and sell them earning a lot more money than the airline’s spiff:)

  2. Got a second pitch while deplaning today because “some folks were asleep when we made the first announcement”. Just when I thought I was out…

  3. My mom found out the hard way the inflight Aviator red card doesn’t even come with the companion cert,,, instead it gets 500 points one time. She had to fight to have it added to her card.

  4. Perhaps the best way to put an end to credit card pitches, obnoxious in-flight rules, and, perhaps, airlines thmselves, is to require at least a private pilots license to complete secondary school. Only a little tongue in cheek as I partially grew up in Alaska.

  5. American Airlines credit card issuers should consider printing their credit card application on the aircraft lavatory toilet paper rolls. I think passengers would enjoy not hearing another verbal credit card PA announcement. Also, many customers full of poop will appreciate a hygienic, biodegradable credit card application during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  6. “The people most likely to be interested in the American Airlines credit card are those already flying American Airlines.”

    Are you sure about that? Do you really think that people flying American Airlines are going to be interested in something that will motivate them to make the same mistake again?

  7. Every time they do their pitch, take an application, write “We hate in flight credit card pitches, please stop” in huge letters inside, and drop it in the mail. Maybe if they get enough of them they’ll get the message.

  8. Gary, it’s 7pm on the day before Thanksgiving. Do you ever take a break? Love your blog but you exhaust me!

  9. And another thing: with their focus on moving as many passengers as possible on cheap tickets are they really attracting a credit worthy crowd? I remember the 1990’s when you received a nice piece of Tupperware for filling out an application. Maybe they should try that?

  10. Just interrupted by an “important” announcement at the end of a redeye on UA, surrounded by mostly Europeans who weren’t even eligible for the card. Just added to the feeling that UA really doesn’t care about their customers, just about their money. And is incompetent at pursuing that.

  11. On one pitch this summer there was a code for an extra 2,000 miles if the application was made and could be linked to the in-flight promotion, either by turning it in to the FA or by using the code when applying later. My sister and I found the code worked more than once.

    I think it is frequent flyers like most of the readers here who are most annoyed by these pitches. A lot of people truly don’t know about the points and miles opportunities and I don’t really fault the airlines for publicizing them. I love the restroom idea!

    @Jorge, he pre-writes items to post over holidays. This is one of those. Unless there is really important breaking news, look for items on holidays to be of this sort.

  12. You do realize that the Flight Attendants are getting around a $40 bonus for every sign-up. (Wife is a former one)

  13. Negative Nellie’s, Free Card, Free flight and you can cancel it before a fee kicks in. And the hit to you credit is minimal. Oh and free bags on domestic. Don’t want it don’t listen.

  14. I work for another airline… and they are cracking down on us NOT making those announcements. We hate being forced shilling these products twice as much as the poor customer who has to listen to it. Yes, in the friendly skies, ghost riders abound watching and documenting if you don’t do it… oh, and as a Christmas surprise, Positive space (I.e. dead headers) will now get a survey if we did it. Do we get into trouble for not making the shill? Yes, it’s called a performance review. Please help us! No flight attendant wants you to go into more credit card debt.

  15. This feels like Wells Fargo. You did 14 last week? You need 16 this week. Why can’t you get more? We’ll talk about it in your next performance review. Why don’t you sign up your grandparents? They won’t notice.

    These airlines can go… You know what!


  16. Karl’s “don’t like it don’t listen” cracks me up. Not even the best noise reducing headphones can block the endless, long winded diatribe of the credit card sell. Seems the volume must be at 11. And you are a captive audience. There is NO WAY not to listen

  17. Exhibit one: AA used it’s loyalty program to secure funding to avoid bankruptcy during the pandemic. The same people who are outraged food wasn’t being offered for purchase in main cabin are the same ones who loved to mock how bad that food was. If an airline cuts service to your city because it loses an income stream like the credit cards, perhaps you’ll reconsider your mocking.
    Exhibit 2: The fact that tens of thousands of people still accept the applications means it’s offering value to to someone. Am I missing something here?

    Exhibit 3: You pay an arm and a leg for your cable t.v. service, but you still see an endless stream if commercials trying to sell you more “stuff”. Huh. I think that’s how capitalism works. Or am I missing something here?

  18. Hi Gary, I don’t think you completely did due diligence while researching this article. I currently work for a major airline, we do have set standards for when and how to announce these credit card scripts. We have exact verbiage as to what we are suppose to say along with cut off times in which we are allowed to announce. Your example provided is a perfect example of what we actually aren’t allowed to do. Anytime before 8am is off limits. We also have the same rules for late night flights. It sounds like you have not properly followed up with the airline or its policy. That would provide a more authentic and realistic understanding for specific topics like this.
    Further, we’re actually required to make these announcements, it’s not flight attendants pushing this CC, as some have mentioned. We do get kick backs but it does not add up to nearly as much as you would think. It’s actually part of our required announcements and a huge part of our overall airline profit.
    *All airlines have different rules so some of my input could vary from American Airlines.

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