Getting Your Drink On at 30k Feet

No matter where I am flying, I won’t lie, I like to have a drink. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoiled with 1st class since before I was 21 or because I just enjoy how much easier it is to get a buzz in the air, but when flying I enjoy a drink or two. However, when drink prices in Economy being as much or more than a drink at a bar, drinking on an airplane can get very expensive very quickly, even if only buying 1 or 2 drinks. So how do you drink for free when flying?

Other than stating the obvious and flying business class or 1st class, there are very few ways to get a free drink on a domestic flight, or even a flight within North America or Central America and the Caribbean anymore. However, there are a few airlines still offering a free drink or two to those of us in Economy.


Hawaiian Airline is still one of the few airlines that serves FREE food! In fact, on all flights that departs from mainland to the islands (vice versa) offer free meals at meal time!  If the free meal is not enough, Hawaiian airlines recently announced enhancements to their inflight menu and now offer free Red or White wine  at Lunch and Dinner time. Don’t worry, if you’re flying at breakfast time you’ll still be offered a Koloa Rum Mai Tai!  Other enhancements to their menu include more “local” meals—all on the house



Drinks in Economy on Alaska Airline are never free on Alaska Airline unless you’re flying to Hawaii! On all flights to Hawaii that depart from the United States, Alaska offers a complimentary Mai Tai about 2 hours before landing! Alaska’s Mai Tai are available throughout the flight in 1st class cabin, but are available to everyone for free who’s over the age of 21! Although the selection of free drinks is extremely limited, a potent drink like a Mai Tai for free is always welcomed!

Alaska’s sister carrier, Horizon, is also known for being the only regional airline in the United States that provide customers with free beer and wine! That’s right! Any flight that Horizon air operates that is long enough to offer drink service (~50 mins+) gives you the option of free Beer and Wine!


This friendly and funky discount airline isn’t known for their 1st class service, but they are known for treating customers well and being a little different. Although the days of the drink coupons are gone, Southwest still gives out free Beer on select days of the year. Fly on St. Patricks Day enjoy a Heineken (or 2) on the house!

Jet Blue:

Jet Blue is not one to give you free drinks, however during special events, Jet Blue is known for discounting drinks! This year, on SuperBowl Sunday, Jet Blue offered beers for just $1 on all flights during game time! Not Free, but when a drink on a flight is normally between $5-$8, a buck is nothing!


Flying Domestically? You can forget a free drink unless you find yourself holding onto a “Have One On Us coupon”. Delta typically sends 4 or more of these coupons to Elite members in the send yearly Elite Qualification packets. I have also received these from gate agents, red coats, and other Delta employees during service interruptions when I’ve offered to give up my seat or when other things have gone array when flying. My policy is just ask for one, I’ve never been turned down by a gate agent when I’ve asked for one if something has gone wrong.

2012-04-29-11.13.40Also, if you’re a Delta Elite member: Whenever you check in online at home and print out your boarding pass, on the bottom of the pass you’ll find a “Have One on Us” coupon. Delta places these on all boarding passes printed at home for Elite Members. It’s their way of saying thanks for checking in online and at home, instead of congesting the check-in area at the airport.

Finally, if you’re flying Delta on an international flight (not including Canada or most of the Caribbean/Central America) Delta offers free beer and wine to ALL passengers in economy! And if you’re sitting in Economy Plus (Free for Platinum and Diamond Elite, Discounted for Silver and Gold) you have access to all the drinks you can handle including spirits! It’s like first class without the dedicated service, the same uncomfortable seat,  and regular meal. Okay, Okay, It’s just economy with more leg room and booze!


I personally have never had a free drink on American, but like most airlines I’m sure if you kiss up to the right flight attendant, they will hook you up. Despite this, on International flights to/from Europe, Asia, and Southern South America, American has started serving Beer and Wine to customers in the Economy cabin.


2012-08-23-11.27.58United, like American, is not known for the free drinks. In fact, I would say United is the stingiest when it comes to free alcohol. Free drink coupons are available to Elite members each year, provided in their Elite Qualification packets, and I’ve been told from friends they’ve received them in rare occasion as a “service recovery” reason. However, unlike American or Delta, United does not offer free alcoholic beverages of any kind in the economy class cabin or their economy preferred cabin on any flight, including international flights!

US Airways:

us-airways-premium-meal-optionUS Airways follows the United policy. NO free drinks for you! Flying International, NOPE, Flying Domestically, NOPE! Want a drink, Pay for it! However, if you do want a “free” drink you can pay $19.99 and upgrade your meal option on international flight and also enjoy a glass of red or white wine.  Not only will you get a glass of wine, you’ll also get to enjoy a meal, such as citrus-marinated chicken skewers on Mediterranean orzo topped with mango chutney, served with lavosh crackers, shrimp cocktail, marinated grilled vegetables and crème brûlée cheesecake with fresh berries. Or if you’re a vegetarian, you can order portobello tortellini marinated in sun-dried tomato pesto, served with caprese salad, lavosh crackers, hummus, baba ganoush and turtle cheesecake with fresh berries. Although I am not one to pay an extra $20 for a meal when I’ve already paid hundreds of dollars for a flight, if you want a “Free” drink, consider upgrading your meal from the typical bland pasta, beef stroganoff or chipotle chicken



HA HA Ya right! You pay to carry your bag on the plane, do you really think they are going to give you anything for free?!

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Other Options?

Sure, there are LOTS of airlines that fly that offer you free drinks, in fact, just about EVERY international airline flying to the US offers at minimum free beer and wine in the economy class cabin. Many international airlines offer spirits and liquors as well. Consider flying JAL and enjoying their complimentary Sake, or Copa on Aeromexico and enjoy your choice of Rum, Beer, and more. Flying to Europe? Air France gives you free wine, the Lufthansa group offers you a full line-up of Alcohol. Some international airlines even offer walk up snack areas in coach and leave beer and wine out for your taking (BA specifically).

Point is, US airlines tend to be frugal. If you enjoy a free drink, consider an international carrier! I think $7 for a drink is too much, but then again that’s still cheaper than some bars. How much are you willing to pay for a drink while flying? I’m not willing to pay a cent! Do you have any insider knowledge on how to score a free drink at 30k feet?


Robert September 14, 2012 at 03:35 pm

Nice summary, Rocky. Two points of clarification:

• EXP’s on AA receive one alcoholic beverage and one snack/food item.

• US Airways Shuttle flights (DCA--->LGA/BOS) offer complimentary beer and wine all day (Source:

Frank September 17, 2012 at 09:40 pm

I've had some success with this. TIP the flight attendant like you would tip a bartender. Some will take it, most will refuse but if you push back nicely they will take it and remember you for kindness (saying something like "You deserve it just as much as a bartender on the ground" helps). Next drink service, ask for the same thing and you might just get it free.

And yes, this is post CC-only plane rides.

ptahcha September 18, 2012 at 09:53 am

WOW.. lots of errors on UA: Only 1K members get 10 drink chits in the renewal packet. Also, FAs do comp drinks at times. Lastly, UA still offers free drinks (until October 1, rumor has it) in coach for trans-Pacific flights. After October 1, it's only beer and wine.

rocky September 18, 2012 at 03:10 pm

@ptahcha my sister just flew lax-nrt and back again in economy plus on united on UA metal (not co) with an old ua crew on our trip to Malaysia. Her out bound trip was 8/22 her return, 9/11. She assured me on her UA flight they charged her for all alcohol both trips, including. Beer and wine. Her boyfriend flew Sfo-nrt on the reconfigured ua 77w w/ Old UA crew and again only water coffee, tea, and soda was free. On my trip I flew lax-hnl-gum-mnl on all co metal/crew except hnl-gum which was UA metal and crew and again, no complimentary alcohol on all legs of this trip. Also please see: "International United Economy: A selection of red, white and sparkling wines are available for purchase."

Also in my review I did say elite do receive drink coupons :) I received 4 when I made United Silver (aug 2012) this year.

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