With Christmas Around The Corner, Should You Tip Your Flight Attendants?

Some people like to give out chocolates to their flight crew, or agents in the airline lounge. Others prefer to hand out small Starbucks gift cards. This isn’t expected. Most people do not do this. But for those considering it, is it a good idea? Is it appropriate?

Most airlines don’t permit flight attendants to accept tips, and flight attendants themselves have mixed feelings on the subject – some are in favor because they want more money (although a tipping nrom may ultimately mean lower salaries), while others worry the emphasis would then shift from safety to service.

At American Airlines airport customer service employees are allowed to accept “promotional items, complimentary tickets or perishable gifts (candy, fruit, etc)” that’s worth no more than $100. American tells employees to “share[..] with colleagues when practical.” However gifts worth over $100 must be returned.

Employees are not allowed to accept “cash, gift cards, and gift certificates” regardless of amount. So no Starbucks gift cards.

The airline’s concern of course is that a customer (or supplier) might give something to an employee and the employee would then do something that benefits the customer or supplier in return.

There is a fine line between a tip and a bribe (tipping at hotels for an upgrade is accepted in Las Vegas but elsewhere is usually thought of as a bribe).

At several airlines, customer tips, credit card signups, and duty free or meal purchases affect cabin crew compensation.

Your airline also may give you employee recognition certificates, if you have status with them, and those can entitle them to entries in a drawing for big prizes or other benefits.

Of course I find the best way to get ‘special treatment’ is to just be nice, and if you don’t get what you want or need to just ask someone else (“hang up, call back“).

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. Maybe it would be easier for all of us to know who we shouldn’t tip since that pool of people is very small.

  2. The “no gift card” policy is not universal. United allows its FAs to receive gift cards up to $19.99. And I’m sure that Timmy Dunn will chime in about how Delta has the most premium policy on this subject

  3. Tip, if moved to do so, for outstanding service with gift cards, chocolates, etc, but only as you leave. That’s a more genuine gesture and means a lot more than giving/receiving at boarding.

  4. Gary,

    I feel no compunction to be paying part of an employee’s wages. An employer hires and pays wages of employees, the employee provides the service, and customers receive the services.

    You are perpetuating an American problem. Spend your energies on supporting airline employees receiving livable wage/benefit packages.

  5. Nope, The days of getting any type of above normal treatment from any airline is well & truly gone.

    Why would anyone tip for getting normal service, which in this day & age can vary from “couldn’t care less” to “a “hello”

  6. Generally I would be against tipping cabin crew but if you had a carry-on that you couldn’t get in the overhead bin and a flight attendant helped you get it in, I suppose a small cash tip could be appropriate. After all, people commonly tip for someone handling luggage from the curb to the check in counter.

  7. The influencer Peter Shankman has long talked about handing the pursar a large bag of M&Ms and a kind thank you when boarding a flight. The theory is, anything that brightens a crew’s day is a good thing for passengers. I try to do it, too. I mean, why not be kind ?

  8. No one said anything about this being a new or common practice. The author clearly wanted debate on this subject. Don’t worry folks it is all hypothetical.

  9. @Dan I can be kind without giving cash or spiking someone’s A1C level with stupid M&Ms. Try again.

  10. Sure, I’ll tip after the airlines give back some of the legroom (seat pitch) distance they’ve taken from us, inch-by-inch!

  11. Flight attendants would prefer people just not be douchey. This to me would be a better focus than weather one should tip.

  12. Oh my. One of the last bastions of no tipping is being assailed. FA are professionals who earn a livable wage. Their main function is to ensure safety. Those who are advocating for tipping have no concept. Not everyone everywhere should have a hand out. Just stop.

  13. I’ve often wondered about things like chocolates. Are they allowed to have any during the flight, for fear they could be tainted?

  14. I have found a simple card communicating appreciation is the best way.

    Along with a dead president folded inside. 😉


  15. I often drink on planes but not on the ground because I don’t have to tip the flight attendant!

  16. David … Excellent observation ; also the dental problems . I decided moons ago , when flying internationally , to seal individual $50. bills in notecard envelopes , write “Thank you” on the outside , and if someone goes out of their way to assist my disabled self , hand them a sealed envelope . Not so much FAs , although there have been some really outstanding airline or airport workers , and even ordinary citizens . I’m especially worried about falling on stairs .

  17. I do not need to even read this to say NO NO NO NO NO

    Do we tip he mailman for doing his job?
    Do we tip the trash man for doing his job?
    Do we tip the cashier ?
    do we tip the self check outs?????

    What about the lawyers? Accountants? Politicians? Judges? Policeman? Firemen?


  18. @ TOMri. In order . . . Yes, Yes, No, No, No, No No, No, No, No (although the last two are definitely deserving of the highest degree of respect)

  19. I love all the knee-jerk “OMG NO tipping is the worst absolutely not how dare you even bring it up this is outrageous!!!” responses. Take a chill pill you lummoxes.

  20. @Sean M

    Depends. If you include the surcharges then 20% is fine; if on base fare only, then it should be 25-30%.

    And don’t forget to tip the check-in agent, security agent and boarding agent.

  21. I just recently took a European trip to Spain on Iberia tourist class. The service and plane(A 350 airbus was amazing. The crew was extremely friendly and helpful. I would gladly tip them. On the return it was American Airlines B777-200. The service was repugnant and the crew looked as if they all need to retire and did not like their jobs. My exit was lovely food poisoning when we land. American Airlines European service was awful. Never again! I would never tip such rudeness and awful service from a crew that has worked too long for American!

  22. Handing cash to a hotel employee asking for a free upgrade is a bribe in as Vegas too since Federal laws apply in Nevada.

    Please stop spreading bad information.

  23. No stop pushing this tipping garbage. FAs have unions for crying out loud. Tipping has run amuck in the US. The irony is that some places like NYC due to all the laws the food delivery people are making almost $30 an hour before any tips.

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