United Airlines quietly made major changes to in-flight payment acceptance over the past 2 years, only allowing payments with cards preloaded into their United account and with no direct card payment options. Bankrate’s Ted Rossman shares his experience in detail:
“I recently flew on United Airlines and was shocked to learn that they no longer accept credit or debit cards on board.
They don’t take cash, either, but that’s not particularly surprising. Germ concerns—and other considerations such as speed, convenience, loss, theft and even a national coin shortage—have many businesses pushing their customers to use cards and mobile payments. Most major stadiums, for example, have gone cashless.
But United is taking the concept to the next level by refusing to accept cards or mobile payments for onboard purchases such as drinks and snacks. The only way to buy these items on most United flights is to preload a credit or debit card into your account. There’s also a trial program involving a PayPal QR code on select United flights.”
Rossman notes that the policy may act as a disincentive to purchase anything on board, due to the lack of communication and preparation of customers.
“When I checked in for my flight online, I noticed a disclaimer about this policy which encouraged me to preload a card. But the issue didn’t fully register with me until I saw a customer turned down on my flight from Newark to Phoenix because she hadn’t loaded a card in advance. In fact, I didn’t see anyone buy anything as the flight attendants made their way down the aisle. I suspect the preloading policy served as a deterrent.”
Competitors continue to have changing service levels as travel ramps up to pre-pandemic levels, with some like American Airlines still not offering in-flight purchases and other such as JetBlue and Delta resuming card-only policies.
Overview by Jordan Hirschfield, Director, Prepaid Advisory Service at Mercator Advisory Group