Are you sick of flying high on cookies and pop while wedged into a space so small that it would make a battery chicken cringe? Anyone who has spent 4 hours or more in the coach class of most airlines can probably sympathize.

The topic of whether airline service has gotten better or worse seems to come up whenever I dare to make conversation with my fellow passengers (on some airlines the term "inmates" seems more appropriate).

Airlines do offer many services that were not a part of flying 20 years ago. Things like onboard WiFi, phone services and interactive TV sets are new additions that we are already beginning to take for granted.

But not all of the changes have been for the better. When listening to complaints, the negatives usually include tedious security procedures, tighter legroom and luggage restrictions. But there is one complaint that I hear more than any of these: "What happened to the food?"

In times past, enjoying a free meal up in the sky was something I looked forward to when flying. But those days were over all too soon, and almost overnight we were suddenly expected to pay for overpriced snack-type meals and in some cases even drinks.

Here is the fare you can now expect in coach from major US airlines:

  • United gives you a soft drink on North American flights, and you can buy snacks if you choose. International flights to other continents usually come with complimentary meals.

  • American Airlines offers individually packaged snacks (at a price) on flights that are two hours or longer. If your flight is more than 3 hours long, you can usually buy sandwiches and salads (but be prepared to pay dearly). Although juice, soda, coffee and other nonalcoholic beverages are complimentary. On most international flights you will get complimentary beer, wine and meals.

  • Delta offers complimentary soft drinks on all flights, and even gives complimentary meals on international flights (and Alaska or Hawaii flights) longer than six hours. Snacks and cold meals are available (at a price) on domestic flights of 900 miles or more. Complimentary nonalcoholic beverages are available on all flights.

  • JetBlue offers some snacks and drinks at no extra cost, but you will pay for alcoholic drinks. You can buy boxed meals at a reasonable price on longer flights.

  • Southwest isn't particularly generous. Although you do get snacks on select flights, you will need to pay for drinks other than coffee, juices and cold drinks. Sandwiches and meals aren't available, and they don't accept cash so you'll need a credit card.

Call me a spendthrift, but I could never bring myself to start paying good money for services that I had always received at no extra charge. But don't get me wrong. I don't spend my flying time ogling the sandwich the guy next to me is tearing into.

There is a way to enjoy complimentary food and it is built into several payment cards. These higher-end cards give you airline credit every year that you can use towards spending for things like in-flight meals, upgrades and checked luggage charges. Some even let you apply this credit towards tickets.

The Platinum Card® from American Express, a GET.com advertiser, gives you up to $200 of airline fee credit per calendar year that you can apply towards incidental fees like checked bags, in-flight refreshments or flight changes. To get this statement credit you need to select a qualifying airline and charge these incidental fees to this card.

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express now gives you up to $100 airline fee statement credit each calendar year that you can use towards incidental fees with your selected airline.

Both Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® and Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® let you receive 25% savings on inflight purchases of food and beverages (and headsets) on flights operated by American Airlines, as long as you make those purchases using your eligible card.

Here are our best rated credit cards for airline perks:

Credit CardFeaturesIntro APRRegular APRAnnual FeeWhy we like itWe least likeCredit RequiredRelated links
The Platinum Card<sup>®</sup> from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

APPLY NOWAt American Express' secure website
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
APPLY NOWAt American Express' secure website

N/A

N/A

$550

Why we like it
  • Rewards program.
  • Platinum benefits.
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
We least like
  • Annual fee.
Excellent/Good
Citi<sup>®</sup> / AAdvantage<sup>®</sup> Platinum Select<sup>®</sup> World Elite™ Mastercard<sup>®</sup>

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

APPLY NOWAt Citi's secure website
  • Earn up to 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles: 40,000 AAdvantage® miles after making $2,000 in purchases in first 3 months and 10,000 after making a total of $6,000 in purchases in first 12 months of account opening*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at restaurants*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases*
  • Earn a $100 American Airlines Flight Discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your cardmembership year and renew your card*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
  • Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights*
  • Receive 25% savings on inflight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights*
APPLY NOWAt Citi's secure website

N/A

17.99% - 25.99%* (Variable)

$99, waived for first 12 months*

Why we like it
  • Earn up to 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles: 40,000 AAdvantage® miles after making $2,000 in purchases in first 3 months and 10,000 after making a total of $6,000 in purchases in first 12 months of account opening*.
  • Receive 25% savings on inflight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights*.
Excellent, Good
Citi<sup>®</sup> / AAdvantage<sup>®</sup> Executive World Elite™ Mastercard<sup>®</sup>

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

APPLY NOWAt Citi's secure website
  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • Admirals Club® membership for you and access for guests traveling with you*
  • Complimentary Admirals Club® lounge access for authorized users
  • Earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
APPLY NOWAt Citi's secure website

N/A

17.74% - 25.74%* (Variable)

$450

Why we like it
  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*.
  • Admirals Club® membership for you and access for guests traveling with you*.
We least like
  • High annual fee.
Excellent

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