Airfare comparison site AirfareWatchdog conducted an interesting survey recently, asking 900 frequent flyers if they had ever tipped a flight attendant. In all, 27% said they had done so at least once, either to thank a flight attendant for a job well done or to reward one for going above and beyond the call of duty.
The numbers should be taken with a couple of grains of salt. One grain: The survey only asked travelers if they'd ever tipped, not if they do so on a regular basis. Another grain: These are frequent flyers, who we imagine might be more inclined to take care of flight attendants they see on a regular basis.
Still: 27 percent is a pretty striking figure. Is it really a common practice?
"It's not common, but it's more common than you would think," says AirfareWatchdog's George Hobica.
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Hobica emphasizes, though, that you shouldn't feel obligated to leave a tip. In fact, in some circumstances, a tip might be both unwelcome and a problem for the intended recipient: He notes that many airlines have policies that forbid their flight attendants from accepting gratuities.
Corey Caldwell, spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants, went a step further.
"Flight attendants do not accept tips," she said in an email exchange. "As first responders and safety professionals, a flight attendant's first priority is to maintain the safety and security of the passengers in the cabin."
In other words: They're trained safety professionals, not bartenders. That's a view echoed by Leah Ingram, author of "The Everything Etiquette Book."
"I think too many people associate flight attendants with waitresses, which is where this notion of tipping comes from," she says. "But I'd never put them in same category -- that is not his or her primary function. They're there to keep us safe and informed."
AirfareWatchdog's Hobica disagrees with the notion that a flight attendant would be offended by a cash tip. In fact, he says the extra cash could be welcome: Wages for the profession are tighter than you might think.
Still, if you want to reward a flight attendant for a job well done, but don't feel comfortable giving cash, there are alternatives. Caldwell and Ingram both recommend a letter to the airline praising the attendant for a job well done. And Hobica says that cookies and sweets are always welcome, as he found on a recent flight where he gave the flight crew a box of shortbread cookies.
"Sometimes they don't have time to eat," he says. "I think I bought [the cookies] at Trader Joe's for $3.99, but I got so many thank yous."
How to Outwit the Airlines
1 in 4 Frequent Flyers Have Tipped a Flight Attendant. Should You?
The shortest path between two points may be a straight line, but rarely does that seem to apply to airline routes. You might not be surprised by a layover in Chicago if you're flying from Boston to Seattle, but rarely will you find so obvious a route, especially on discounted and last-minute tickets.
Flying from New York to Dallas? JetBlue (JBLU) will make you lay over in Boston. Taking a short hop across the Adriatic Sea from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Venice, Italy on Iberia? Expect to lay over in Barcelona, Spain. That's because most airlines have hubs that they operate many more flights through, which make them cheaper. For example, American Airlines (AAL) has its largest hub in Dallas-Fort Worth, while United Continental (UAL) now has its largest hub in Houston (United's top hub was Chicago O'Hare before the merger).
If the 2005 Wes Craven thriller Red Eye has led you to pass on booking overnight flights, you might be missing out on some bargains.
A round-trip flight on British Airways from New York City to London on an afternoon in early July can cost approximately $1,500. An evening flight (after 6 p.m., although it varies by airline), however, can cost less than $1,000. And it's not just the transatlantic route. Red-eye flights are traditionally less expensive, not as full, and offer shorter lines at check-in and through security. And after all, time is money.
Travel newsletters like Johnny Jet, websites like Airfare Watchdog, or airline-specific social media feeds often provide flash and last-minute deals. Some sites, like Kayak, will automatically prompt you to set up an alert for a particular destination once you've done a couple of searches with the same departure and destination locations.
While many blogs and websites theorize on the best time or day to buy an airfare, there is no magic formula. Only by regularly comparing fares against other dates and airlines will you know when to make your purchase.
A good indicator of how easy an airline is to fly is its policies on changes and cancellations. While the policies are as varied as the quality of the in-flight meals, the information is easier to quantify. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics publishes an annual list of fees generated by each airline. In 2011, Delta (DAL) charged a whopping $766 million in change and cancellation fees. Alaska Airlines (ALK) charged a mere $10 million (And lest you attribute the big difference to the relative sizes of the carriers, Delta only carried nine times as many passengers as Alaska Airlines.)
While the cost of flying may be increasing, airfare deals can always be had with a little patience, persistence, and research. Whether you're traveling alone, with colleagues, or with your family, you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your flights this summer. Maybe even enough for another trip.