How To Thank Airline & Hotel Employees For Great Service

Filed Under: Advice

Reader TVH asked the following in the Ask Lucky forum:

So I’ve got a bunch of these AA employee recognition tickets that I always seem to carry with me but never actually use. What have others experienced that warranted an employee getting one of your recognition awards?

This question served as a good reminder which I think can often be forgotten. The airline and hotel industry consumes most of my life, and there are so many employees who go above and beyond to make it special. That’s part of what I love about it, actually. While there are of course some bad apples out there, I don’t think there are many industries with a more passionate “core” workforce.

If you’re an elite member with an airline or hotel chain, you probably get some certificates with your membership packet which you can give out to employees to thank them for providing exceptional service.


There are no “requirements” for giving these out, and it’s totally up to you as to which circumstances warrant them. Unlike some other people, I don’t use these for bribery, but rather to thank those who are going above and beyond because of their passion for the job, rather than as a one off.

As a matter of fact, I probably give them out most often for service I witness employees providing to others, rather than service I receive directly. For example, I often like to recognize employees who I see showing grace while dealing with especially difficult guests (which is surprisingly often in the airline & hotel industry).

But you don’t need these elite certificates to thank someone in the airline or hotel industry. Actually, I’d argue there are better ways to recognize them.

Obviously just saying “thanks for doing a great job” means a lot. But perhaps more significantly than anything else, giving an airline or hotel employee a shout out by name on social media can make the biggest difference — it makes the employee and brand both look good, and gives the brand some exposure as well. That’s a win-win-win.

For example, last I heard, Hyatt employees receive $25 if they’re mentioned by name online for providing great service. That’s a pretty nice bonus for an online mention!

Perhaps more important than the $25 is that they’ll get a pat on the back from their manager as well.

Of course you should always recognize employees with “pure” intentions, but I’d also note that employees remember who thanks them by name, and it has often lead to even better service in the future. I’ve found this to be more true in the hotel industry than the airline industry, given that frequent travelers probably deal with the same hotel employees more often than the same airline employees.

Bottom line

There are so many ways to thank those who go above and beyond in the airline & hotel industry, and it can make a big difference to them. I figured it was worth posting a reminder that there are so many ways to thank these people (a “thank you” in person, a recognition form, mentioning their name in a post-stay/flight survey, mentioning them on social media, sending an email to their manager, etc.), and it can make a meaningful difference to them.

Not only do they often get cash rewards for recognition, but they’ll also get a pat on the back from their manager, and it will certainly be considered for future promotion opportunities, or at a minimum offset any complaints they may get.

I truly think we can spread a bit more goodwill in the industry by positive reinforcement, and there are so many ways to easily do that nowadays in a meaningful way.

What’s your preferred method of recognizing employees in the airline and hotel industry?

  1. I’ve never used one of these and can’t imagine a situation where I would. The whole system of a paper voucher just seems so awkward and weird. And a little demeaning?

  2. Just out of curiosity, what happens with the elite certificates when the employee turns them in? Some sort of monetary gift? Other perks? I always forget that I have them but seem to remember someone from the cabin crew mentioning that it didn’t really make a difference if they received one. Perhaps it depends on the airline/company.

  3. I gave one to an AAgent at MIA yesterday for some helps during IRROPS. She told me it is more like a lottery ticket for them. She didn’t say what happens if she win one.

  4. I believe Delta employees get points for each certificate, and enough points gets cash. I’m sure someone else will add, or correct me.

  5. I heard that AA turns this ticket into a raffle for cash prizes. Most of the flight attendants that I give them out to mention that they appreciate the thought and some of them have won up to $5,000- $10,000 as the top prize.

  6. I am a great believer in that if you work in the tourism industry you do it for the love of serving people, the wages are rubbish(mostly) the hours are poor but you need to love your job. So many people want to be Air stewards but most cannot because so many poor staff are employed. If you don’t love your job move on, it isn’t hard.

  7. I have them from being a Delta elite and honestly I have “pretty good” service often enough on Delta that I have to ration them for truly exceptional cases. Or, in practice, the employees who happen to be working when I’m flying for vacation rather than for work, since I’m generally in a better mood then, and more open to chatting with employees, enjoying the in-flight meal, etc., rather than just working or sleeping.

    But the employees I’ve given them to have always been very warmly appreciative; I can understand the commenter who said it felt demeaning but I think employees really do appreciate it enough (perhaps both because it gives them some sort of cash reward, and maybe also some sort of acknowledgement by their manager or something) that it is worth doing.

    I believe at Delta, and perhaps at other airlines, if you write a customer feedback email thanking a specific employee for going above and beyond, that also gets them some sort of positive credit, so even if you don’t have elite vouchers to give out, you can still thank good employees.

  8. Lucky,

    I don’t work for a hotel or airline, but I do work in retail. Getting a customer compliment brings the biggest smile to your face. One of my jobs also sends them out company wide, and seeing my name on that list was awesome!

  9. I havn’t come across these certificates. Maybe they are largely a USA thing.

    I always have a dilemma with this kind of stuff. What usually happens to me, is that I get great service from some airline/hotel employee, and by the time I come to filling out a feedback form or whatever, I can’t remember their name, even if I did note it from their badge.

    Most recently we received exceptional service from nearly every employee at the Intercontinental Asiana in Ho Chi Minh City (allocated a room on early check in, and then transferred seamlessly to our suite when it was ready – allowed to stay way past closing time in the Club, and still served drinks and food even after happy hour was over, as we awaited our transfer to the airport for a post midnight flight). So I thought – what would I do ‘in real life’ – at departure, I went around to all the staff we had come across in the Club, and thanked them individually, with a handshake and a word or two about how their kindness/service had made this one of our most memorable stays in a hotel, ever. It wasn’t a tip or a monetary reward (sometimes considered rude in Asia) – but I hope that its sincerity was communicated to each staff member.

    IHG sent me a feedback form to complete – but because my surname is (anglecised) German – the feedback form defaulted to German – which unfortunately I don’t speak. Has that ever happened to you Ben?

  10. I gave an Alaska MVPG “thank you” certificate to an attendant a couple of years back who turned a typical SEA-SFO trip into a truly outstanding experience. He seemed genuinely grateful and remembered me and greeted me by name on another trip a few months later. I’m not sure if he received anything for the voucher but it sure made me feel pleased as a customer.

  11. Funny this thread comes up now. We just returned from a wonderful week at the Le Meridien in Barcelona. While filling out the SPG survey monkey review I was kicking myself for not catching the name of the server in the bar who spent at least 15 minutes with us each night helping us to pick out great places to eat. Going to be sure to catch peoples’ names in future situations like this!

  12. I randomly gave out my SPG ones and got huge smiles from the desk agent in Brussels. I hadn’t even interacted with him before. I just didn’t want them to go unused in case they had any value. I also gave one to the maid to share the wealth and I think the gesture caused some confusion due to lower level education perhaps. When I ordered them, I thought I was being rewarded. ….so a bit disappointing, but fun to see the guy smile a lot.

  13. ha, i just gave some of the SPG ones out to the front desk in le meridian in india and they kind of starred at me blankly….they had never seen them before and had no idea what to do with them!

  14. My wife and I get the AA ones every year and basically don’t use them all year except once. Every year we fly to NY from SFO on AA over the Xmas holiday. We hand out a bunch of them to the FA at the beginning of the flight and tell her/him that it’s for them and the rest of the crew. On the outbound we say “Merry Xmas” and on the return it’s “Happy New Year”. Not sure they’re actually worth much, but the FAs seem to appreciate the gesture.

  15. At American, those above and beyond certificates are entered into a “raffle.” Drawings are done on a quarterly basis. The Winners can receive anywhere from $500 to $10,000. It really is a big deal and is appreciated to receive the certificate.

  16. Noobie here…this is the first time I’ve heard about these recognition certificates. I would love to get my hands on some of these. I’m UA 1K but didn’t receive any of these so call certs. Does UA participate in this? Just curious.

  17. I work at a Starwood property, and for us, the elite recognition cards act as vouchers for 500 SPG points. Certainly not a HUGE deal, but it is a nice little perk, and the recognition is definitely always appreciated. I would say that mentioning employees by name on post-stay surveys seems to have a big impact at Starwood. I was able to print out guest reviews and use them to negotiate a higher wage during my performance review.

  18. Well, I give the Alaska ones out for great service, usually for the attention and friendliness expressed to everyone in the cabin. The recipient always appeared grateful usually with a big “oh, thank you” One was even tearful, saying that she had never gotten one before. Another said that it goes into their personnel folder and supervisors like seeing them. So, if AA attendants (as @tim has said) think their certificates are a joke, then that means there is a big corporate-cultural difference between Alaska and American. So, I guess it varies by airline.

  19. I’ve been getting (and handling out) the AA certificates for years, mostly to Flight Attendants since they’re the main employee that passengers are in contact with. Their response is generally over whelming like I’ve just given them a $100 bill. I think the mildest response was stopping to thank me again during the pre-landing checks and I personal goodbye as I left the plane. I think a lot of it is simply getting a sincere “thanks” gtom a passenger vs the standard saying “thank you” as we part ways.

    In a previous life, I was a Gate AAgent at DFW. I did remember the few pax who gave me a “thank you” certificate. In my days, Gold was the only Elite level and there was no “free upgrade” program. I did remember these passengers (or at least the ones who flew the same flight every week) if I was oversold in Coach and needed to bump some into First. It wasn’t in hopes of another certificate (I don’t recall ever getting any repeats), but rather I felt a personal connection. While frequent passengers at spoke cities often develope a relationship with theAgents, at a hub like DFW it’s rare.

    I eventually moved on to being a Computer Programmer with AA. SABRE was eventually separated as a different company and later on I was outsourced to EDS. Several years after leaving the gates, my EDS Manager called me in and asked it we could thin out my personnel file. It was 6 inches thick (25 years ago, everything was paper). In addition to many other things, there were the 3 “bad” letters I knew about that were sent in by passengers along with about 10 “good” ones I had never heard of. Many good letters from other employees and yes …. notes showing the count of “thank you” certificates I had turned in. Maybe no one ever paid attention, but they were there.

    As for the 3 “bad” letters from passengers, I think it’s on topic to note that none were “charged” to me. Each of them were noted as being placed in my file simply for being the closest name match. As in: let’s say my name is “Steve Miller”, I had a letter for “Scott Millsap”. Or “D Miller” for a flight that departed from a different terminal than the one I was working. The point is that the certificates allow you to recognize good work right then and there while it’s fresh on your mind. And it goes straight to the intended employee. A letter and/or social media call-out is probably more effective, but only if you follow through on your intent to do it AND provide enough accurate info to identify the correct employee.

  20. @paul, if the only people in the service industry were those who love their jobs, we’d all be in deep trouble. While I’m sure there are some who love it, I doubt it’s a majority. It’s work. It’s hard, and not a lot of fun. Telling those who don’t like their jobs to get another is callus. I don’t like my job, but I’m good at it and I do it for the money. I think that’s why the vast majority of people work.

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