Ever since I boarded a plane for the first time as a sixteen year old foreign exchange student headed to Burgos, Spain I have been in love with flying. Perhaps it is because there is nothing else to do once you board the cabin but to sleep, read, write, or relax. I get to turn my cell phone off for several hours, power down the laptop, and since I always choose the window seat I need only look to my left or right for one of the most splendid, majestic views in the world.

My flight to Spain was about 12 years ago, and since then, airlines have severely cut back on in-flight services. While you can still find the occasional blanket and pillow (though the H1N1 virus nixed many of those), flight-brand magazine, soda and a small packet of peanuts, finding anything else is going to cost you money.  Continental is the most recent airline to drop even the complimentary token snack with beverage, something American and US Airways have already cut (to be honest I usually do not eat the peanuts and/or cardboard-like crackers).

I fly several times a year, and have never once purchased anything from inside of an airplane. I’ll pack a granola bar, purchase a slice of pizza, or raid the convenience-type store snack aisle at the airport, but I avoid purchasing food and drinks inside of the airplane at all costs. Because of this, I thought it would be interesting to see how much it would actually cost for me to purchase drinks and food onboard, and also what quality and quantity of food I could purchase for $5.

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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)


Do you purchase in-flight food and drinks?

Part of the Yakezie Carnival: Goals Edition.

6 replies
  1. Jeff @ Sustainable life blog
    Jeff @ Sustainable life blog says:

    I have never purchased an in-flight food or beverage, but I do typically eat the peanuts – It gives me something to do (usually I read on the flights) and it’s a nice reading break. When I have flights around meal times, what I do is stop at the store on the way down to the airport (not the MOST frugal option, I know) and grab a sandwich and a salad from there. It has worked well so far.

  2. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    If you have a Continental credit card you get $2 off of in-flight Direct TV and beverages.

  3. krantcents
    krantcents says:

    Very rarely, we usually bring a sandwich or something. Recently, we went to New Orleans and purchased a couple lunches which totaled $15-16. Actually tasted pretty well, but it is a little expensive. The part that bothered me was they ran out of my choice. Of course, you have to pay more for another item.

  4. Kimberley
    Kimberley says:

    Hi Amanda,
    I used fly quite regularly to US from Australia and I can tell you that I never looked forward to the meals on the domestic flights. Which is why I am like you and always pack my own snacks for the domestic flights.
    Regarding the international leg from Sydney to LA you get breakfast/lunch/dinner and snacks all for free.

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