United Airlines Passenger Brings Cupcakes To Celebrate Earning Million Mile Status

I’ve written that the trick to traveling successfully and smoothly is to treat the people you deal with along the way like… people. Be nice. You rely on their kindness. But do you ever show that kindness proactively, when you aren’t even looking to get something in exchange transactionally, like help with rebooking or a better seat?

United Airlines has gotten really good about celebrating important customer milestones in-person and inflight, though they don’t execute on this every time. A two million miler might find themselves recognized by the captain and crew as they cross their milestone, and perhaps gifted a bottle of champagne.

But one United Airlines customer brought cupcakes for the airline’s employees to celebrate crossing the one million mile threshold, earning lifetime Gold status with the carrier (and extending his status to a partner). He wasn’t looking for the airline to do something for him, he did something for the people at the airline who have helped him along his journey.

Now, two things to note here.

  1. The TSA let him through security with frosting, which conforms to the shape of its container and is therefore a liquid.

  2. Though it wasn’t transactional, he’s creating lasting loyalty among employees, bringing them into his celebration and achievement. They’ll remember him more, and remember him positively, so it’s likely to pay off in future interactions anyway.

In general airlines do not permit their employees to accept tips. The American Airlines policy is that customer service employees can accept perishable items worth under $100 and should share them with colleagues when practical, but are forbidden from accepting “cash, gift cards, and gift certificates” regardless of amount.

Nonetheless, it’s not uncommon for passengers to give Starbucks gift cards as a thank you. Don’t be surprised if it’s declined, citing airline rules, though often insisting a second time it’ll be accepted (and appreciated). Not necessary or expected! But easier to bring through security than cupcakes with frosting.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Stories like this remind me that I was a sucker for flying all these years on NW/DL where all I got when I hit 1 million miles was lifetime Silver for one.

  2. Has American done away with Lifetime Platinum for reaching EXP? I dont see it in my profile any more. American still has the award certificates for staff; I still hand out when a flight attendant is especially good. I have never been sure whether they are worth anything to employees though.

  3. @Solucia – AA lifetime Platinum is 2 million base miles. Has nothing to do w hitting EXP although you likely would hit that a few times to get to 2 million miles.

  4. The $10 gift cards that I sprinkle among the staff at my home airport every Christmas has paid more % ROI than any stock I’ve ever owned.

  5. I achieved 1Million miles January 2022. We were upgraded to first class (trip to Punta Cana). When we were mostly boarded, the two attendants in first came over an congratulated me on reaching 1 million miles. After that, the captain came out and also congratulated me and asked how many miles I needed on this flight. I told him 284. After departure and some time had past, the pilot came on the loudspeaker and announced that we were 284 miles into the flight. He announced that while that wasn’t significant to them, he announced that I had just reached 1 million miles. Passengers all clapped and the first class cabin was served champagne. United went the extra mile on this one.

  6. Pretty soon, airlines will expect you to bring your own Jet-A.

    Come on, “that’s what the customers want to do, and we heard them loud and clear.” — Bobby Isn’tHome, CEO, America West..err…American Airlines.

  7. Frosting is not a liquid unless it is in a container. Just like peanut butter or jelly. If it’s used in a sandwich, it no longer meets the definition of a liquid and is therefore allowed. Additionally, in both cases, in a sandwich or on a cupcake, the amounts are less than what is restricted.

  8. I gave out my Executive Platinum employee recognition coupons to the business class FAs on a 3/26 LAX-JFK transcon, when they took good care of my wife and me, on our way back from our wedding. The girl who had spent the most time with us showed her appreciation of the gesture in turn by announcing & congratulating us as recently married to the whole plane. Building relationships and rapport with people pays dividends in life, and that’s for both directions in the customer service equation.

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