Hero Discovers How to Score Airline Upgrades: Bribe Flight Attendants With Gift Cards

stewardess with a credit card
TikTok's Newest Travel Hack? Giving Out Gift CardsDeklofenak - Getty Images
  • A travel TikToker wanted a $12,000 business class seat, but didn't want to pay that exorbitant price.

  • Their plan to circumvent the cost? Hand out $120 in gift cards to flight attendants.

  • The gambit didn't result in the business class seat, but did get them other perks.

TikTok is full of videos demonstrating various "life hacks." Whether you're looking for affordable beauty product alternatives or a unique new way to repurpose an appliance, there are tons of TikTokers who have discovered cool tips to help you in your day-to-day life.

The latest new hack is a trick for getting travel upgrades and better service on flights. The strategy: Distribute gift cards or other monetary substitutes to employees of an establishment in order to induce them to provide improved service.

Yes, as Insider reports, a now-viral TikTok by 26-year-old user @x_travels shows that, in a way no one could have anticipated, the simple act of providing everyday hard-working people with financial incentives will result in improved service and upgrades.

flight attendant giving teddy bear to girl
Seen here: either a flight attendant gifting a child a teddy bear, or a child trying to barter a teddy bear in exchange for a business class seatGareth Brown - Getty Images

@x_travels, real name Jeremy Maclellan, is described by Insider as "...a former car salesman from Massachusetts who recently quit his job and sold his Tesla to move to Thailand," which he did in order "...to pursue his dreams of becoming a travel creator."

Part of that pursuit involved a 12.5-hour flight from New York to Abu Dhabi, "...and that's a long flight. I didn't want to deal with that," he says in the video. Now, some might say not wanting to deal with long flights might be an impediment to creating travel content. But where some of us see impediments, Maclellan sees opportunity:

"I looked up online, and there was still a business class seat available on this flight. And it was $12,000. I didn't want to pay that. So I went and I got eight $15 Starbucks gift cards."

When boarding the flight, Maclellan presented the gift cards to the two flight attendants greeting him. They were apparently touched, and Maclellan said, "I just thought I'd show the love. Spread the appreciation. You know, it's a long flight and I appreciate you guys." Which sounds super altruistic, as long as you forget about the whole "$12,000, I didn't want to pay that" part and all.

Maclellan then describes making their way to the seat they actually purchased "in the very back of the plane." And depending on how you feel about this "travel hack" strategy (or the way Maclellan chose to describe the person who "stole my seat" or choice of verbal affectation in doing so), you'll either be disappointed or relieved to discover that $120 in Starbucks gift cards did not merit an upgrade to a $12,000 business class seat.

However, a person believed to be the supervisor did pull Maclellan to the side and offer up an empty seat in the exit row, which had extra leg room. Later in the video, it's revealed that the plane's team also provided Maclellan with a goodie bag, which Insider says contained "...a toothbrush, toothpaste, hand lotion, and an upgraded pair of headphones."

The video concludes with in-flight footage of our intrepid traveler kicking their shoes off in their upgraded seat (a practice they didn't like when the person who "stole their seat" did it, but don't worry about that part. This story is about gift cards for perks).

air hostess 1930s
By what means did travelers, like these 1930s passengers, obtain upgraded service on flights before this new TikTok hack? One day, historians may find the answer.Mirrorpix - Getty Images

Of course, as Insider notes, this travel hack of providing gifts for staff in the hopes of better service "dates back to 2021," noting that Maclellan learned the hack from a TikTok video by @flyingrealtor915, and citing other videos of this new idea of "unsolicited currency offered to people in exchange for favorable treatment."

If only there was, like, a term for this brand-new travel hack. Some kind of combo word that expresses how these gift cards to employees "brighten the giftee's day" and also how the giftee's subsequent acts of gratitude like upgrades "benefits the giver." "Bri-ghtens" and "Be-nefits."


Eh, we'll workshop it.

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