In-Flight Commerce – What will $5 buy you on a flight?

May 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm

(Source:  Houston Chronicle)

I came across this piece by Houston Chronicle’s contributor, Amanda L. Grossman and felt compelled to share with you all.  Quite a bit of research has gone into answer this simple question – How much can you buy with $5 inside a plane? Below is a snap shot of Mr. Grossman’s analysis from her blog – Frugal Confessions – A Guide to Thrifty Living.

The chart below is based on flying economy class on a domestic flight (typically including Hawaii and Caribbean). My research shows that most airlines (excluding Southwest) offer an array of expensive and ‘inexpensive’ food offerings (remember you are thousands of feet in the air), and that American Airlines and Continental/United offer more expensive options than others. Wine and cocktails are most expensive on Delta, American Airlines, and Continental, while AirTran even charges for water, milk and premium juices (these are offered as complimentary on other airlines).

Airline Cost of Snacks or Meals Cost of Non-Complimentary Beverages
Delta $2.00-$8.50 $5.00 Beer, $7.00 wine/cocktails
American Airlines $3.29-$10.00 $6.00 Beer, $7.00 wine/cocktails
Southwest No food offered for purchase $3.00 energy drinks, $5.00 beer, liquor and wine
Continental/United $2.99-$9.49 $6.00-$9.00
AirTran (recently acquired by Southwest) $1.00-$6.00 $2.00 water, milk, premium juices, $5.00, $6.00 wine/cocktails
jetBlue $6.00 $6.00 cocktails

In order to compare the airline pricing further, I decided to see which airline would give me the most value for my $5 (please note that the products listed below are only offered on certain flights and at certain times of the day). What I found is that I certainly will not get full from any of the airline’s menus if I only want to spend $5. Also, for $5 there are very few healthy snack options (other than nuts, cheese, and dried fruit).

Airline Food $5 Will Buy
Delta 1 package of M&Ms ($2.00) or Bentley’s Popcorn ($2.00) and Pringles ($3.00), a Breakfast on the Fly ($3.50 for a granola bar and yogurt for Caribbean and Latin American flights only) or a kids PB&J Plate ($4.50)
American Airlines 1 chocolate chip cookie ($3.29), Lay’s potato crisps ($3.29), a cheese and cracker tray ($4.49), a fruit and nut blend ($4.49), Fisher’s nuts ($4.00) or trail mix ($4.00)
Continental/United 6 oz. can of Blue Diamond almonds $4.99, 2.6 oz. can of Pringles ($2.99), 4 oz. box of strawberry twizzlers ($2.99) or two-bite cinnamon rolls ($2.99)
Airtran Sky Bites(SM) offers a la carte items, which range from $1 to $4, or combo packages ranging from $4 to $6 in price. A la carte selections include Kraft Foods snacks, such as Oreo Cakesters, Chips Ahoy! cookies, Nilla Wafers, Cheese Nips crackers” (could not find menu and pricing)

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Note: Barring transatlantic-flights, my two top favorite American airlines are Virgin America and Southwest.  That said, I hate flying the American carriers during the transatlantic flights.  Many European, Middle Eastern and Asian carriers are far better in their service and connectivity than the American carriers, some of them are well known for their appalling service (the worst I have experienced is United, which got me stranded in Dubai for almost 24hrs).  What are your favorite domestic & international carriers?