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What to do if your flight attendant offers you a credit card

A smiling woman stands in the aisle of a passenger aircraft.Image: A smiling woman stands in the aisle of a passenger aircraft.
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United Airlines passengers will soon be acquainted with in-flight credit card offers, and they could feel bombarded.

The Chicago-based carrier is implementing a new policy in September requiring flight attendants to pitch their co-branded credit cards, including the UnitedSM Explorer Card, to passengers aboard domestic and international flights.

Flight attendants must go through formal credit card training. Previously, flight attendants were incentivized, but not required, to pitch the credit cards. Now, the pitch will be required.

They will be rewarded with a $100 referral bonus for each passenger who is approved for the card.

What does this mean?

United isn’t the first airline to turn flight attendants into salespeople. Two other major U.S. airlines — American Airlines and Delta Air Lines — also promote their own credit cards aboard flights, but promoting the cards is optional. But United will require flight attendants to make credit card pitches.

This is another way that airlines are monetizing flights. Many carriers already charge fees for checked bags, carry-on bags, preferred seating, food, drinks and entertainment.

Awhile back Irish budget airline Ryanair floated the idea of charging a fee to passengers for using onboard toilets, though the carrier eventually flushed the proposal after considerable backlash.

Based on these trends, pitching airline credit cards may seem like a natural extension of flight attendants’ evolving role.

Why should you care?

United and other airlines are making the most of their captive audiences onboard.

Passengers already dedicated to flying on United may be more interested in one of the airline’s credit cards than other consumers would be. But some passengers who have heard in-flight credit card pitches have taken their frustrations online to complain.

Andy’s Travel Blog (@andystravelblog) posted on Twitter saying: “Another @americanair flight, another time being woken up with exactly 40 minutes left in the flight by the annoying @BarclaycardUS credit card pitch #pleasejustletmesleep #ialreadyhavethedangcard.”

From our understanding, flight attendants typically announce a credit card’s availability over the intercom and then walk up and down the aisle displaying applications. But this process can wake up passengers who would rather be sleeping or interrupt flyers watching movies.

But those disruptions could be the least of passengers’ worries.

A bigger concern could be the potential financial consequences of making a hasty decision about a credit card that you haven’t had a chance to properly vet. Passengers who don’t pay for in-flight internet access may be unable to read independent reviews about a credit card they’re being offered and may not be able to compare the card with similar credit cards from other airlines.

The accuracy of offers could also be an issue. What happens if flight attendants go off-script? They might inadvertently misrepresent important information about a credit card. Even if they stick to the bullet points they’re trained to discuss, passengers may have questions about other aspects of the card that members of the crew aren’t able to answer.

What can you do?

United’s new in-flight credit card sales push marks a change in the airline industry. Other airlines could follow suit with their own policies requiring flight attendants to pitch credit cards.

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for a credit card offer during your next flight:

Do your research before the flight. Don’t be caught off guard the next time your flight attendant offers you a credit card application. If you might be interested in applying for a new card, review the airline’s most popular credit cards before you get to the airport. Then you can formulate an opinion about the card before the flight attendant pitches it to you.

Take more time to consider the offer. If the in-flight pitch is the first time you’re hearing about the credit card and you think you might be interested in applying, ask if you can take an application and send it in later if you decide to apply.

Don’t be afraid to politely decline. There’s nothing wrong with telling flight attendants that you’re not interested in the credit card. They’ll understand. They might feel just as awkward about pitching it to you as you feel about hearing it.

About the author: Tim Devaney is a personal finance writer and credit card expert at Credit Karma. He’s a longtime journalist who prides himself on being a good storyteller who can explain complex information in an easily digestible wa… Read more.