Flight attendants aren’t just keeping us all safe and passing out refreshments: They’re also often soliciting credit card applications.
If you’ve flown recently, you may have heard a special offer over the intercom system as you approached your destination: Apply for a new airline credit card on the flight, and you’ll earn an extra sign-up bonus. That kind of incentive can add pressure to travelers who are already stressed out, causing them to make poor decisions, warns consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow.
“Anything where you have a limited period of time to make a decision is putting you at risk,” says Yarrow, author of “Decoding the New Consumer Mind.” Unlike when you’re sitting at home and easily able to evaluate offers side by side, you can’t easily comparison-shop for credit cards at 30,000 feet, she adds. “When you’re considering any decision like opening a new credit card, it’s best to be as clear-minded and as analytical as possible. Neither of those things are happening when you’re on a plane.”
People also are likely to be tired and stressed out while traveling, Yarrow says, factors that can further contribute to poor financial decision making. “There’s anxiety about getting your bag, getting off the plane, catching your next flight, and getting to your new destination. Even if you have no fear of flying, you’re emotionally distracted,” she says.
Yarrow suggests making all of your financial decisions — including whether you’ll make food and entertainment purchases, as well as whether to apply for a credit card — before you board the plane. That way, you can research all of your choices and make the best one for you.
The one time it might make sense to submit a credit card application on a plane: If you’ve already researched offers in advance and can tell that this particular one stands out as a good choice for you.
Yarrow also suggests reading the terms and conditions carefully to determine whether you’re even eligible for the sign-up bonus, because sometimes other restrictions apply, such as if you’re already a member of a related rewards program. You might go through all the trouble of filling out an application only to find the bonus doesn’t apply to you.
“Just wait until you’re in your normal, fully oxygenated, calm state of mind to make any financial decisions,” Yarrow says.
Your in-flight quiz
So before applying for a credit card on an airplane in the hopes of snagging an extra sign-up bonus to help you afford your next dream vacation, ask yourself these three questions:
- Have I researched competing credit card offers and found this one to be superior for my particular financial situation, including my spending habits?
- Am I eligible for the extra sign-up bonus based on what I’ve read in the fine print?
- Am I calm and relaxed enough to fill out a credit card application in-flight without feeling additional stress?
Only if the answer is “yes” to all three does it make sense to consider submitting an application during the flight.
Of course, you might hear grumbling around you: Midair credit card offers tend to incur the wrath of social media users who may not appreciate such promotions and aren’t shy about taking to Twitter
to complain: “How much commission do @AmericanAir flight attendants get on each credit card sign-up?” asked a user with the handle @Beaker on Dec. 14. “Asking for the entire annoyed LATE flight,” he continued. (The American Airlines
Twitter account responded with an apology, adding, “We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to benefit from the great offers.”)
Disgruntled passengers aside, the bottom line is that most financial decisions are best made when you have two feet on solid ground, your computer and Wi-Fi are at your fingertips to conduct the necessary comparisons, and you aren’t worried about missing your next connection. While in the air, stick with simpler choices, like which movie to watch.