United goes cash-free in their airport lounges

United Airlines is cutting cash transactions completely at their airport lounges effective August 1, 2012. The company offers both complimentary and paid beverages at all lounges and is making the move to only accept credit cards for the premium beverages on very short notice. From an email sent to club members today:

We want to inform you that effective August 1, 2012, United ClubSM will accept only credit and debit cards as forms of payment for premium liquors and fine wines. Visa®, MasterCard®, American Express® and Discover® cards will all be accepted for these purchases.

Dealing with cash in the clubs is apparently enough of a pain that the company is willing to accept the credit card company hit rather than deal with keeping bills in the tills.

I’m not so sure I can really blame them. The bartenders aren’t company employees anyways in nearly every case so it isn’t like making tipping them harder really affects the company. And getting cash out of the process is a very good thing for the company. Plus it probably doesn’t affect all that many customers adversely.

Probably a smart move in the long run and not completely a surprise (rumors on this topic have been around a few months now). But still a change to be aware of.

Update: Yes, I screwed up the post title. Get enough Ukrainian vodka in you and then try to be coherent. It is harder than it looks. Surprised smile

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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. There were signs announcing this change at the SFO UC this morning. In other news (at least, news to me) MP Club Card and PP card holders get a $3 discount on premium wines (but not spirits.) The offer does not extend to other flavors of the MP card.

    1. The $3 discount used to apply on the CO side and it took them a while to get it migrated into the shared clubs after the merger. It is a very nice benefit, though one that many of the bartenders are unaware of. Hopefully that changes quickly.

      And, yes, I screwed up the post title initially.

  2. I’m glad you pointed out the fact that the bartenders are not UA employees. I am definitely concerned that they’ll lose out on some tips, but the policy is much more understandable (from a bottom-line perspective) this way.

  3. I like the reference to “fine” wines as if the fact that complimentary ones are cheap wines needed a bit of an emphasis

  4. Ummm. Swell. Force customers to spread around their credit/debit card numbers in this age of ID theft. Guess we can tell who United cares about.

    I prefer cash; keeps the incidence of fraud down.
    I think they are doing it to automate accounting AND because people spend ~12-17% more when they use plastic. That there is why McDonald’s started accepting plastic, from what I understand. Profit.

    1. Yes, forcing a CC increases the chances of a fraudulent transaction. But jumping from that to identity theft is quite a leap.

      As for the fact that people spend more on CCs on average than cash transactions that is true, but in this case I’m betting that it is more about cutting down the costs of managing cash – even more than shrinkage – than anything else.

      And, yes, the company is trying to improve their profits. Shouldn’t they?? I’m glad that in this case they’re doing it in a way which minimally affects passengers.

  5. How does giving someone a credit card to swipe (especially in a scenario where you can typically see what they are doing with it) the ability to steal your identity? At the most, they can put unauthorized charges on your card, but that really should be it.

  6. @TheQueen – I hope United is doing this to increase their profits. They are a business, and making profits is what they’re supposed to do. They’re not a charity.

  7. One of the biggest misconceptions is that accepting credit cards in a retail establishment is expensive and accepting cash is essentially free, which is absolutely not true. There is a cost to handling cash, which includes the storing of cash, movement of cash and shrinkage due to loss. When compared against the blended ~2.5% credit card rates, the additional cost of taking only cards is not tremendously significant.

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