Should Airlines Offer Paid Wine Choices In First Class?

Airlines are finally starting to offer paid wine choices in first class, but the question of whether consumers should pay for these upgrades is still up in the air.

Airlines should offer paid wine choices in first class. They could offer a selection of good red wines that would be more expensive than the regular wines.

Should First-Class passengers be able to purchase wine?

on October 9, 2021 by Gary Leff

I don’t want to drink the swill that many airlines offer on board, and I’d appreciate the option of paying for something more pleasant. I’m not sure it would work as a commercial proposition, however, because of the expense of sourcing a specialized product and taking up valuable galley space, especially if the demand for it is small.

Airlines may also be concerned that a paid upgrade to a premium class would devalue the experience. They don’t seem to mind, on the other hand, that selling inexpensive wines devalues the experience! So maybe they could use it as a test to enhance the product while also earning more revenue?

Delta Air Lines arguably offers the finest paid wine program in its Sky Clubs, despite the fact that paying for such wines in SkyMiles was recently devalued. United and American both have a paid premium wine program in their clubs.

All three airlines provide paid upgrade choices for club members and those who have access via the class of service, but none of them provide paid upgrade options for premium class passengers in the air. And all of them serve shite in their domestic first-class cabins, and although the choices in international business class are a little better, they’re still not fantastic.

  • They don’t have a quality feel about them.
  • Also, don’t offer the same wines as your foreign rivals.

Even in international business class, Delta has been spotted selling $4 champagne.

Of course, not every airline serves terrible wine on board! I enjoyed a glass of Taittinger Compes de Champange in first class on Qatar Airways before returning to the business class bar for a glass of Krug.


But how wonderful would it be to have a glass of Penfolds RWT Shiraz on a trip out of Australia, similar to the one I experienced on Singapore Airlines, but in business or even economy? Perhaps a 2005 Pichon-Lalande or a Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estephe, which I’ve also loved from Singapore’s top cellars? I should mention that I like large, complex French Bordeaux blends and Burgundies, as well as wines from California and Australia in general, and am wary of acidic and excessively tannic wines. That informs my opinion of what works well in a lounge and on a plane.

According to God Save The Points, airlines should provide a paid upgrade option for customers in premium seats who want to drink better wines than those offered at the ticket price.

On narrowbodies, where galley space is limited, offering more than a bottle or two as an upsell would be tough, and airlines may not believe the juice is worth the squeeze. Widebodies, on the other hand, provide greater galley room, which may be a good choice for international long-haul travel. So why aren’t American airlines doing it?

  • The concept certainly exaggerates consumers’ desire to pay more for excellent wine, particularly at higher altitudes when taste perception alters (Singapore Airlines has a pressurized room for wine tasting on the ground to simulate the cabin experience).
  • To put it another way, the concept may underestimate passengers’ willingness to drink the swill served by airplanes nowadays. When confronted with a choice of poor wines, I’ll choose for a drink instead (or just a glass of water).
  • And this may exacerbate the hotel minibar issue, in which the service is costly and the choice is a money loss despite high pricing.
  • Given the limitations of space and the costs of sourcing and serving a restricted market item, the price may be greater than consumers anticipate or are prepared to pay.

I sat next to a woman on a Dallas Fort Worth – Austin aircraft around four years ago who had taken her free Admirals Club wine on board in a ‘to go’ cup. She got into an argument with the flight attendant, who told her she had to give it up before departure and that she could have a fresh glass of wine once we were in the air. A passenger inflight disturbance complaint was issued as a result of the incident.

At times, I have to remind myself that most of the wine provided is for this passenger, or that Cort McCown’s character Quint in 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love is attempting to impress a lady with his wine expertise.

Quint: The better things in life have taught me to appreciate them. I even bring my own wine when I go. You never know what kind of quality you’ll find at a party.

Fran: [coughs as she smells the wine] It’s really elegant.

Quint: [takes a sip of wine from the bottle] Mm-hmm. I’ve arrived at class. It’s a new thing for me.


Given this consumer, plus the fact that sourcing wines for an airport site and bringing them through security is costly enough, and storage is limited within an airport, these issues are further exacerbated in an aircraft cabin, the concept may be both difficult and poor value to an airline. However, I would still want to watch it!

For airlines having an international first class product, God Save The Points suggests offering bottles already sourced and loaded for first class to customers in other cabins for a charge. This addresses some logistical issues while generating others, such as the amount of wine to bring on board, whether to keep it all in first class and have staff shuttle between rooms, or just serve the wines you’re purchasing in other cabins.

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