Two Very Different Ways Of Recognizing Elite Status In Economy

Filed Under: American, Travel

Upgrades across the board are tougher than they used to be, which is probably because airlines are doing a better job of selling their first class cabins at discounted rates, and are also reducing the size of first class cabins on many planes. So airlines have been putting some effort into making the economy experience a bit better for elite members, in recognition of decreased upgrades.

For example, American offers Executive Platinum members in economy a free snack and drink. It’s a gesture that goes beyond the dollar savings — it’s nice to be recognized for your business and feel appreciated (especially since the loyalty program as such isn’t doing much nowadays to encourage people to feel that way). I’m spending more time in economy lately, and that’s perfectly fine.

At the moment I’m on an American A319 with a power outlet and an empty middle seat (which is exceedingly rare nowadays), so I’m every bit as happy as I’d be in first class.

However, I can’t help but mention the different ways in which crews seem to handle this free snack and drink benefit. Flight attendants on American have company issued portable devices that show the names, status, etc., of each passenger. I’m consistently impressed by how well many of the flight attendants handle this benefit.

To me it’s such a great opportunity to make a frequent flyer feel appreciated. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about ego stroking or anything, but rather that proactively offering this benefit and thanking someone for their loyalty goes a long way, in my opinion. Damn right I fly this airline a lot, and often go out of my way and pay extra to do so. I’ve seen this benefit executed well in a few different ways:

  • Sometimes flight attendants come to Executive Platinum members in economy before even starting the service, to offer them drinks and snacks (this is over the top, nice, and rare, though also potentially awkward)
  • Sometimes flight attendants proactively acknowledge Executive Platinum members during the service — “thanks for your business, can I get you a snack and drink? (this is the easiest approach, and makes the situation less awkward)
  • Sometimes flight attendants don’t initially say anything, but if you ask for something that’s usually chargeable, they’ll say “thanks for you business” (this is both the least awkward and least proactive approach)

I think all of the above techniques are great, but then sometimes I just can’t help but feel like American flight attendants leave a lot of goodwill on the table. For example, this particular flight has two flight attendants in the main cabin who I assume are new hires (I find American’s new hires to be a mixed bag — some are exceptional, and some incredibly lazy). They’ve been rather unprofessional from the time we boarded.

During the service they arrived at my seat and said “drink or food for purchase?’

“A coffee with milk and a cheese plate, please.”

She said “we only accept credit” as she walked back towards the cart to make my drink and get the cheese plate, before I could say anything.

When she returned she sort of gave me a weird look, as if she was annoyed I didn’t have my credit card out yet. I quietly said “I’m Exec Plat, do you need to see my card or boarding pass?”

She looked at me and didn’t say anything, and then continued her service with the next passenger.


I know this is minor, but to me this is such a lost opportunity, and certainly impacts the impression with which I walk away from a flight. Presumably the flight attendants are given these portable devices so they can track who is sitting where, and proactively deliver on this benefit. When a flight attendant thanks you for your business and proactively offers you something, it makes you feel special and like you’re appreciated.

Meanwhile when you feel like you’re begging for something you’re “entitled” to, it takes a lot of the goodwill out of the situation.

Fortunately I find that more often than not American flight attendants are great about this, and that the above situation is the exception rather than the norm.

To fellow Executive Platinum members, what has been your experience with delivery of this benefit? What’s your preferred method for the crew to offer this?

  1. I just don’t get how and why American carriers do such a lousy job at hiring. I know the economy is good so maybe it’s tough to find good talent, but it’s like they go out of their way to take in employees who are lousy at customer service. Of course not all flight attendants are lousy, but is it that difficult to screen for this?

  2. The forgetting to check for status prior to starting the service is unfortunate but excusable. The walking away without saying anything is down right rude. 🙁

  3. I’m Exec Plat and was traveling last week with my wife and two kids on a JFK-LAX transcon in economy. Before service began, one of the FA’s came over to me, quietly confirmed my name, and said “We’ll be taking care of you today” — then offered each of us something from the menu free of charge. I thought that was both discreet and above and beyond.

  4. I should add – the FA did not say “Let me get you all something free of charge.” Instead, she said something along the lines of, “Can I offer you anything off the menu?” Then didn’t charge any of us for it.

  5. I was in a similar scenario a couple of months ago in Economy. The guy next to me was Concierge Key and the flight attendants were ensuring he got extra attention. When I asked for a sandwich, she asked me for a credit card and I politely let her know I was Executive Platinum and offered my boarding pass.

    She was very friendly and apologized for not noticing my status on her device. This always feels awkward because I’m not capable of being the guy who rudely reminds everyone of my status.

  6. As a lowly AA Gold, I’ve purchased beverages on flights from my home in PHL and while I do not get the drink for free, have even been thanked for my business and recognized for being Gold. I thought that was a nice touch

  7. I flew AS in economy last week for the first time ever(Status Matched from 1K). At baggage drop off, the attendant “thank me for flying AS”, then when she looked at my boarding pass and said “thank you flying AS MANY times”.

    When we reached our altitude, FA offered me a surface for movies. During beverage service, I declined a drink but the FA said “thank you for your business”.

    I liked the acknowledgement.

  8. Ben,
    As an EP member, my experience has been pretty good in Economy though I have to admit I’m upgraded more times than not. They sometimes address me by name, but always thank me for my business and then offer a snack and a beverage. Fortunately I have not experienced the poor, rude, service you received on today’s flight.

    I guess my time will come!

  9. I broke my finger a while ago and my left hand was in a cast. When I asked for a snack box on my flight from DFW to LAX (not surprisingly ending up in Y) the flight attendant stopped her service, happily grabbed a box without saying anything else, and opened every single packet inside the box for me. I was both beyond pleased and a bit embarrassed by that…but all in a good way.

  10. It’s a reason to carry your ExP card with you. You “pay” by handing that to them. It also helps with any awkwardness since to your seatmates it appears that you’re paying.

  11. Also, it’s a well-crafted benefit… as ExP, you’ll either be upgraded, or they’ll give you a small taste of an upgraded experience by offering a complementary snack and cocktail.

  12. I was recently impressed with Iberia, sitting in Y as OneWorld Emerald the head purser before the flight came by, introduced herself, thanked me for flying Iberia, and went about the rest of her pre-boarding routine. Later on during meal service, a different flight attendant also thanked me for choosing Iberia, handed me my choice of meals and instead of the regular mini bottle of cheap red wine, let me know the business class wine selection available and poured me a glass of delicious red from Ribera del Duero. It was a simple substitution but one I highly appreciated being a fan of Spanish wine. It was the first time I had been on Iberia with OWE status, not sure if this is normal or just a really great crew. I know BA does not give a damn who you are in Y.

  13. My bf & I flew last weekend on award tickets. We switched seats, I am EXP, he’s gold. During drink service, a pretty, young FA mistaken my bf as me & asked “thank you for flying with us. How are you doing, Mr. __?” I answered her and ordered a snack & alcoholic drink. She looked confused for a brief second, then made a small joke & laughed. She was great! Kudos to her for using my name. It felt good to know my loyalty is worth something.

  14. “The guy next to me was Concierge Key and the flight attendants were ensuring he got extra attention. ” oh ffs

  15. You know AA has done a great job of managing loyalty expectations when Exec Plats get excited about getting a free snack in Economy. Remember when everyone got a free snack in economy? LOL

  16. AA recognise my gold BA status and always give me the free food in Y on domestic flights. That really go’s a long way with me.

    And lately BA have done a good job at recognizing me in Y and offering me free champagne and nuts when i’m at the back.

  17. I usually get recognized. The times I don’t are when I’m flying LUS planes and crew or new LAA crew. When I fly with the older LAA crew, I get greeted during service and offered a drink and snack.

  18. Rarely ackniwleged in advance. Often, once I mention it, I get more than one free snack (if I’m hungry, I order two, expecting to be charged for one)

    The sandwiches have went back to being crappy though. It s been a long time since they were decent (when they were Boston Market brand)

  19. United gives free snack/drink to 1K now too. I agree, a nice touch if/when rolled out with sincerity.

  20. I have to say I’ve experienced much better treatment and recognition from CX and QR being a OW Emerald, than I have with AA being ExPlat. While the flight attendants do have those tablets, they often don’t utilize them. Only once have I been acknowledged as ExPlat and not asked to pay for the food and drink in economy. As opposed to flying Cathay in economy, I’m always greeted by name at the door, once even before I showed my boarding pass. Along the lines of “Welcome back Mr. B, my name is xxx, we’re so glad to have you flying with us again. If there’s anything we can help you with please don’t hesitate to ask.” Then at my seat it’s the same again from that lead cabin attendant and i’m handed a bottle of water. QR is along the same lines. AA? I don’t even get that flying F.

  21. I was on TPAC CX flight in Y last week, OWE status. Purser checked twice on me if i needed anything in addition to regular service and thanked me for flying with OW. Good luck getting this on AA

  22. United does a similarly mixed bag as AA it sounds like. It doesn’t seem to correlate with how full the flight is either (which is one factor I would assume would be related). I flew a red-eye in economy and the FA’s went around to the Y+ section as boarding was finishing to ask for 1K snack / beverage requests thanking us for loyalty. Very discreet (as it wasn’t during active service) while also above and beyond.

    The norm though is typically that I just order my food and they either don’t ask for payment but don’t mention 1K, or they ask how I would like to pay and I mention status. They usually at least say thank you rather than just walking away though… I don’t know why you find it awkward to mention your status though? I guarantee you 90% of people around you aren’t paying attention to when you paid (or didn’t) and of the folks that do, they likely either have no idea what 1K is or they have 1K (or know the benefit). Really doesn’t seem awkward to me at all.

  23. “I know this is minor…”

    Not really minor at all.

    “Rude” is what it was. It would have cost that flight attendant literally NOTHING to have been civil, make a quick apology, and then carry on with the next passenger.

    And now people are reading about how rude American staff are. So again, not minor at all. Mind you I am currently an American LoyAAlist (see what I did there?), but not EXP, so I’ll never encounter this issue.

  24. I was on a puddle jumper from ORF not long ago, and the turbulence was too rough to do a proper service on the 35 minute flight. I was seated in 1D, however, and got not only a can of soda, but also my snack. I felt mildly awkward for a 1/4 of a second being surrounded by my platinum coworkers who all got nothing, but then I remembered how many TATLs in coach I’d done to earn it….

  25. I’ve had flight attendants acknowledge and thank me for my loyalty and proactively offer a snack and drink. Another time I ordered a snack/drink and they didn’t say anything (so I was ready to pull out my EXP card), but they continued to move the snack and beverage cart along without saying anything.

    I was impressed, however, on a Cathay flight (I was re-booked on Cathay due to a cancelled DFW-HKG flight), one of the lead FAs approached me after boarding completed and greeted, welcomed, and thanked me by name as a One World Emerald. I was hoping for her to then say, “Would you like to sit up front?” but it pretty much ended there!

  26. I get “She looked at me and didn’t say anything, and then continued her service with the next passenger.” about 50% of the time. No acknowledgement or even an “ok”. maybe 10% of the time they proactively offer.

  27. I got the free snack as a BA gold member on American a couple of years a go. BA also is very inconsistent in reconizing status, sometimes they talk to me, sometimes they dont.
    I found Qatar quite impressive in that matter, flew with my BA gold status and on every flight the flight attendent came to my seat to thank me for being loyal.

  28. I had a great experience on ord-yyz last week in Y. Before taxiing, FA first greeted me by name, then thanked me for my business/status, and offered me snack/drinks and let him know at any time. This was a regional too.

    We had a delayed departure, so he brought out my request as sortof a PDB, and another during flight (early on). He also gave my mom the same offer/treatment since she was with me (not exp).

    Excellent execution. And above/beyond.

  29. Glad I read this post. I am loyal to Star Alliance (senator for quite sone time) and try to be loyal to Starwood (gold) and IHG (platinum). I had two odd experiences only last week.
    I booked an award family trip, using miles on TAP Portugal between BRU-FAO and two rooms at an SPG resort in Albufeira.
    I fly a LOT with *A, but never with TAP. Guess what, despite being in economy with my family (2 hour flight), I got a Star Alliance thank you for being gold card at my seat. This is the first time ever I received this recognition. And I fly weekly with e.g. Lufthansa or Brussels Airlines, they never gave me any recognition, not even when flying Business on long hauls. There where no perks attached to the card but it was just nice. I spend so much time away from home and unbelievable amounts on airfares yearly and it took until now on an airline I never use and being not on a revenue ticket in economy to get a token of appreciation. Very bizarre.
    I also used SPG points for a Luxury resort. Reconition was NADA! Very dissapointed. Not even a simple welcome letter.
    At IHG I get letters, upgrades, candy, fruit, whatever, there’s always something small.
    I complained via Twitter (spg assist) and they replied promptly that they will look into it. Next day an envelope from the hotel manager asking me if there was anything they could do. Nothing more, nothing less. I didn’t bother replying to this meaningless message, it’s not my job to pamper myself as loyal customer. I was very disappointed, i don’t expect much. An apple and a welcome letter would have been enough so to speak. I just feels good that your recognized as a very regular customer. Rant over.

  30. @Gary Leff, I guess the FA could’ve pointed at the packaging before turning around and walking away.

  31. Ben, do you know what the official policy on this for non- AA emerald members is? I am 50/50 as BA gold getting it. Thanks

  32. I fly domestically weekly as Executive Platinum on AA. I’ve only been acknowledged twice and offered one free snack out of around 20 flights so far this year. I don’t understand the purpose of the “perk” if there is no consistency and rare implementation. Takes all the “perkness” out of the perk if one needs to remind them to do their jobs.

  33. Fully agree with Ben’s comment! So annoying! AA has these lazy rude crews! It is not only in Economy cabin but in first as well! Seriously, how could they get a job in AA?

  34. All of which shows what a bunch of scoundrels BA are. I am BA Gold but now only fly BA domestically or J where there is no other option. On most flights the cabin services director will greet me by name and introduce themselves. However, since inclusive food was withdrawn in Y I have never received an offer of a comp item. They too have the onboard technology so It would have been so easy for them to replicate AA etc and offer a comp soft drink and snack to OWEs to maintain what was there before. As someone else commented it is more the gesture than anything else.

  35. @2KTrips
    I am Iberia Plus Platinum and it really depends on the crew. You got very lucky.
    There is no protocol on Iberia that forces FA to offer something for free to OWE (or at least IB+ Platinum) but many of them do it anyway. What you get then really depends on the crew: just a snack, just a soft drink, drink and snack, sandwich, wine, Cava… Most of the time they go get something from business class though.

  36. I love Alaska..usually get upgraded to first but the PLUS seating in economy is associated with the
    most underwhelming “snack box.” The FA always recognizes me, offers “THE BOX”, and I ask for the assume meat & cheese snack instead…..”$6 please!” I feel slighted 🙂

  37. One time an AA FA offered me food and drink, I politely declined (because I rather sleep). Someone in the row behind me piped up and said “How come he gets free food and drinks?” and the FA said “Because he flies millions and millions of miles with us”. It was pretty embarassing.

    When I fly CX and AY, in Y, both times the purser came by before the flight and introduced him/herself before takeoff. I did get some looks from other pax near by.

  38. Ben – I don’t know if it is still worth to continue to be the Exec members. AA had devaluated their miles, upgrade passes and lousy service. TPG decided to give up his AA status this year and I fully agree with that.

  39. I am Platinum with Qatar Airways (OneWorld Emerald). Most often the cabin crew makes a point of introducing themselves to me, thanking me for my loyalty and asking if there is anything they can do for me. I usually give them my drink order and they are fast! They leave me feeling valued and often have people beside me asking why I get special treatment. I tend to tell them extra special treatment takes a few miles in the air first 😉 On the flip side, British Airways don’t give a toss about Emerald’s flying in J. :p

  40. Your experience will probably get worse. The flight attendant group is rightfully pissed off because their lying theaving CEO is gready and shorted them of their promised 8% raise to be inline with other carriers. American FAs love their job, they just don’t love how they get treated by management. Prepare for more disappointment to come

  41. I’m Platinum with Air France. On most long haul flights someone comes to my seat and thanks me for my loyalty. Sometimes they bring some really good wine or champagne from business class. I’ve had a few upgrades to business class but they’re getting less frequent. I get a free seat plus or economy comfort with Delta and there’s a special Platinum helpline. Delta crew never acknowledges my Skyteam status onboard, though I have occasionally has upgraded, which are wonderful. For Dublin – Paris service Air France use Cityjet. They are very nice but since they separated from Air France, the crew almost never give me a special greeting or consideration. Aer Lingus used to have a good frequent flyer programme called TAB but they closed it under Willie Walsh’s orders in 2004 but kept an elite club called Gold Circle that seemed impossible to qualify for. I gave up using them except for regional flights. Now they’ve introduced Aer Club , since they’ve been bought by IAG, using avois like BA and Iberia. Aer Lingus used to be a classy airline with amazing friendly service but is more like Ryanair these days. At least there’s a chance to earn miles again but I’m sticking with Air France/KLM as they give better rewards and service and better value.

  42. I’m EP and I rarely get the proactive approach to acknowledge my status and offer the snack/drink. Then again, I’m lucky to get upgraded 8-9 times out of 10 flying domestically. I’ve also experienced a few times the “credit card only” approach, and then I show my boarding pass and I’m good, but I agree with the above comments that it doesn’t cost much to AA to have that little acknowledgement to their most loyal customers, and they are failing miserably at it.

  43. United made a lifetime fan after an attendant came to me personally (not just walking the aisle but actively seeking me out) and said Happy 1 year anniversary, Ms. Warren, we’d like to buy you a drink or a snack.” At that time, I had just made lowly silver status.

    I’ve been a United loyalist, warts and all, ever since.

  44. I have flown 2-4 flights a week on AA (US Airways) for years, and can only think of one time when service was less than exceptional. As an EP, I’m upgraded 19 out of 20 flights, but the times I do end up in coach, I’ve always been treated well, and with quiet, always proactive recognition.

    Of course, I go out of my way to be nice and respectful to the FAs myself. Their job isn’t easy: having to deal with so many often-frustrated and disgruntled (and from the sound of it entitled) passengers while maintaining a smile. They have bad days too, especially with some of the behavior I’ve witnessed from passengers, even frequent travelers and those in first class.

    I’ll admit to being spoiled. I like my upgrades. I like my free drink. But, I’m sure that my day’s not going to be ruined if/when a FA doesn’t come greet me personally for being an EP or asks me to pay for the snack/drink I requested.

  45. Hi Ben – do you know if this is definitely available to OW Emeralds? Have an upcoming AA flight and Main Cabin Extra was automatically available to me but wanted to save any embarrassment if it wasn’t meant to be for anyone except ExPlat! Also what is included in the deal?

  46. I recently had a trip MIami to Vegas. The flight attendant told me I was not entitled to both the snack and a drink. He then stated I will let you have this at this time. I let him know he needed to look up the policy. In addition the run out of snack options and I appreciate when it is offered to EP before gone. I typically get limited options even though I sit two rows behind first class. On my trip from Vegas back to Miami I boarded and asked the flight attendant if possible could I research the cheese plate. As usual told not my cabin area I will let them know. She did not but I was not surprised. They have no regard for EP.

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