Buying a round of drinks in flight

Anyone ever tried to buy a round of drinks for an entire airplane? I did today and the logistics were surprisingly complicated. Maybe that’s because no one ever does this sort of thing. Or because it is ridiculous. But that mostly just describes me so I gave it a go.

American Express offers a $200 credit to platinum charge cardholders to offset the various fees airlines will hit you with these days. The catch is that it can only be used against one airline and once you choose the carrier you’re stuck with that choice for the whole year. Most of my flying is on airlines where I have status and I rarely check a bag, even when I don’t have status. Plus I get upgraded a fair amount so food and booze are often part of the deal. Nearly a year into the program’s existence I haven’t figured out a scenario where I could reasonably spend that $200.

IMG02128-20110910-1754Sitting a lunch with a friend in Anchorage I decided that today would be the day. I was going to commit my $200 in "fees" credit to Alaska Airlines and get my money’s worth. It is my first flight ever on Alaska and probably my last for the year so committing to spending the $200 on my own is too tall a task. But with a little help it shouldn’t be much of an issue. After all, it is a flight to Honolulu and folks should mostly be pretty happy about that, right? A free drink should make it even better.

After stowing my bag in the overhead bin I made my way back to the galley to explain my plan to the flight attendants.

Me: Hi there! I’ve got a strange situation here. I want to buy drinks. A lot of them.

FA: Huh?

Me: I want to buy the first round for the whole plane. That’s probably 40-50 drinks, right?

FA: Huh?

OK, so the quotes aren’t entirely verbatim, but the confusion expressed by the FAs was pretty close. We spent the next 10 minutes chatting about my scheme and trying to figure out the best way to handle the logistics. One option was for her to run the card 30+ times and have me hand the receipts to the lucky drinkers. We threw that one out pretty quickly as way too much work. Eventually we agreed that they’d just do a normal beverage service but rather than charge everyone they would just tally the total drinks consumed and I’d pay the bill at the end of the service.

Because the offer was only revealed after the drink was ordered the initial damage was actually rather limited. We didn’t quite get to the $200 threshold on the first pass. This, of course, raised another issue of trying to figure out how to spend the rest of the credit on board. I made a sign, figuring I’d walk through the cabin offering up the drinks that way.


Ultimately, however, that seemed less friendly. So I just started asking folks if they wanted a drink. I’m wearing a Hawaiian shirt that is similar in color to that of the flight attendants so A few people confused me for that; I even had one ask how to fill out the agricultural declaration form. But once I explained that I’m just a guy buying drinks for anyone who wanted one I did manage to get a few takers. Pretty soon my sales efforts were rewarded and the $200 credit (and a few dollars more) was over. I was willing to keep going (a bit) but the third beverage service is about to start and that means free mai tais for everyone!

I had entirely too much fun on this flight. I don’t know why but flights to Hawaii make me want to have more fun than most. Also, a special thanks to the crew from Alaska Airlines who were willing to help me out on this ridiculous bit of entertainment.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. 2 Things. I hope you first went online and selected the airline as the one you wanted for this year or you get NO credit for you 🙁

    Next, why not just buy yourself gift cards? I got 2 – $100 SouthWest e-gift cards for myself and got the GOES $100 credit as well. Plus 150k MR points (long story). Not bad for $250 fee for the year (started with gold-fee free then upgrade to plat so fee for 6 months 1/2 price)!

  2. Hey – Great idea. I may do this on a flight, too…as I’ll never use my $200 credit. Though, those gift cards are also a very good idea.

    Did you already make your carrier election with Amex? They advised me to make it a few days prior to my flight to make sure it was in the system when the charges hit.

    If you haven’t made the election, do so today. If the charges post before their system process it, I’m sure you could get Amex to make a one-time adjustment, if you ask nicely.

  3. Great idea! How come they didn’t just make an announcement to that effect? Sounds like it would’ve been easier on everyone involved. Just wondering . . .

    1. Yes, I made sure I was enrolled in the program correctly before the flight and I got assurances from the agent that I was covered.

      I didn’t have the FA make the announcement on the PA mostly because I didn’t want people to abuse it or buy drinks just because they were free. Plus it was fun to see the reactions of folks after they ordered when they found out they were comped.

      As for whether this was the best value for the $200 credit or not, I suppose that’s debatable. I don’t have a lot of use for Southwest vouchers so not much good would come to me from going down that path. At the end of the day I decided to go with what would bring me the most personal value and paying it forward in this way fit that bill.

      Finally, this made for a much more entertaining story to share.

  4. I designated AA and got 4 x $50 e gift cards last Dec and repeated it the first week of January for a total of $400. All of it was credited by Amex. AA allows up to 8 gift cards per online transaction so they can be used on flight purchase.

    While drinks are a nice gester I think it is a waste of financial resources that can be put to better use earning more redeamable miles.

    1. I’m not surprised that you took that tack, mrpickles, but I’d say that the suggestion that I’m “wasting financial resources” is a bit off-base. After all, aren’t you the one who spent money on new suits in Singapore instead of buying more plane tickets with that money? What’s the difference? You got utility from spending the money that way, just like I got utility spending the credit on drinks for others. It isn’t always about only buying/earning for yourself.

      I’m sot saying that it is the best way to spend the credit for everyone, but it certainly worked for me.

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