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United is bringing back inflight food and beverage sales — with a twist

Oct. 28, 2020
4 min read
United is bringing back inflight food and beverage sales — with a twist
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Early in the pandemic, airlines quickly suspended most inflight service offerings. On some of the shortest flights, you wouldn't receive anything — not even water.

With the holidays approaching and more people taking to the skies, carriers are slowly resuming pre-pandemic service, with an increased focus on crew and passenger safety. On Oct. 1, United boosted its complimentary offerings.

Beginning the week of Nov. 17, the Chicago-based carrier will resume onboard snack, beer and wine sales on a few select flights.

For now, these extras will only be available for purchase on departures from Denver to one of the following nine cities — Boston (BOS), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Honolulu (HNL), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO), Washington-Dulles (IAD) and Washington-National (DCA). You can head to united.com or check the menu in the United mobile app to see what's available on your flight.

United plans to expand these offerings to more flights "in the coming months." When buy-on-board resumes, top-tier Premier 1K and invite-only Global Services members seated in coach will once again receive a complimentary snack box and alcoholic drink, subject to availability.

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If you aren't a top-tier elite, the options include $10 snack boxes, an assortment of $4 to $5 individually wrapped snacks (think Haribo gummy bears or Pringles), $8 beers and $9 half-bottles of wines.

A United snack box (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Though buy-on-board is (slowly) resuming, the purchase process is going to look a lot different than before the pandemic. That's because United is piloting a new touchless, digital payment system.

When the flight attendant passes by your row, you'll be asked if you want to purchase a snack or drink. If you do, the crew will pull up your profile on a mobile tablet and charge your stored payment method. Receipts will be emailed, keeping the purchase process completely touchless — in line with guidance from the Cleveland Clinic.

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MileagePlus frequent flyers can store a debit or credit card in their traveler profile, and it will automatically be available for all future trips where contactless payment is available.

If you're not a MileagePlus member or choose not to save a payment method to your profile, you'll be prompted to temporarily store a card during online and in-app check-in.

If you decline to add a payment method during check-in, you can still try adding one while inflight, assuming that the inflight Wi-Fi is working. United won't accept physical cards or touchless mobile payments like Apple Pay or Google Pay while onboard.

The resumption of buy-on-board food and drinks is in addition to the carrier's complimentary offerings, some of which restarted on Oct. 1.

In coach, flyers can enjoy coffee and tea, as well as sealed beverages, on any flight with beverage service. Cups of water will be available as well, in addition to the small bottles provided in the airline’s all-in-one snack bags.

A United all-in-one snack bag (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Food and drink service for premium-cabin passengers varies by route. On long-haul international flights, all flyers are served a full meal in all cabins. On domestic routes, service depends on your origin and destination, with more details available here.

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  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
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Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
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  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
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  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees