How to Pay for Snacks and Drinks on Your Airline

If you like to settle back with a nice glass of wine when you fly, better bring a credit card. A recent court decision effectively OK’d the no cash policy which is standard for most airlines.

Court Upholds Cash Only Policy

The three-judge panel tossed out a New Jersey man’s lawsuit that claimed the man’s inability to purchase headphones and an alcoholic drink with cash on a flight amounted to “discrimination against low income individuals” since they might not qualify for credit cards (his own cards were packed away in checked-baggage). In rejecting the suit, the court noted that the 1978 landmark federal deregulation law superseded any state consumer protection regulations (and on the plus-side, deregulation did lead to cheaper flights).

Meals worth whipping your credit card out for

Which Airlines Take Cash, Which Don’t

The days of harried flight attendants hunting for change from passengers are mostly long gone. Cash is no longer an option on any of the legacy carriers, including Alaska, Delta, United and US Airways, which accept only credit cards (and most accept debit cards as well). It’s a similar story for most of the smaller carriers, too, but not all:

  • Allegiant – Credit cards only
  • Frontier – Credit cards only
  • JetBlue – Credit cards only
  • SkyWest – A spokesperson told us SkyWest follows the policies of its partner airlines which include Alaska, American, Delta, United and US Airways (but see exceptions below)
  • Southwest – Credit cards only
  • Spirit – Credit cards only
  • Sun Country – Accepts both cash and credit cards
  • Virgin America – Credit cards only

Safe flight guide for kids traveling alone (with no credit cards)

Exceptions to Cash Only Policy

On a recent Delta Express flight operated by SkyWest, FareCompare saw a passenger order an alcoholic beverage and pay for it in cash, so clearly exceptions are sometimes made. However, unless you’re flying Sun Country, it would be wise to assume that credit cards will not be accepted.

Or, save money by taking advantage of free drinks and bringing your own food from home. This is especially important advice if a child is traveling alone – make sure you pack a lunch for them. However, FareCompare has heard from numerous flight attendants who say they would never let a solo child traveler go hungry for lack of funds, or a credit card.


Updated: August 29, 2017