My Secret Eight-Dollar Guaranteed Flight Upgrade Trick

peter-planeSo it’s time I shared the single greatest travel hack in the history of air travel. I’ve been using this hack on every single flight I’ve taken for the past five years, and when done right, it guarantees that every single person on the airplane with me gets to enjoy an upgrade to a better travel experience, as well.

It costs me about eight to ten bucks per flight, but guarantees a great flight for me and my fellow passengers. It usually also guarantees fewer complaints about any delays, and more often than not results in positive comment cards being sent to the airline about the crew.

This miracle? This top-secret travel hack? Ready? Be sure to write this down…

A large bag of M&Ms.

I take somewhere between 200 and 250 flights per year. And no matter what airport I’m in, no matter whether I’m flying 200 miles to Boston or 12,000 miles to Singapore, I won’t get on the plane without stopping at the convenience store in the airport and buying a big bag of M&Ms. Sometimes they don’t have M&Ms, so I buy a big bag of Jelly Beans. I’m not talking about the small “one-person” pack that you get in your bag lunch at a trade show conference, I’m talking about the “family size” bag of M&Ms, the ones you physically have to lift with two hands. That bag.

I walk onto the plane and find the lead flight attendant. I hand him or her the bag, and simply say “These are for you, but you have to share with your coworkers, ok?”

Then I smile at the lead flight attendant and walk to my seat. That’s it.

Understand, I’m not doing this to get a better seat (I usually get an upgrade automatically because of how much I fly,) or to get free drinks (they’re free in business class and I don’t drink anymore, anyway.) I do this  on every single flight I take for one simple reason:

M&Ms make the flight better for everyone, from the pilot to the entire crew, to every single passenger, and I like making the flight better for everyone. Here’s why:

When we think about air travel, we probably don’t equate it to “great experience.” Rather, the whole industry has been so messed up in the past twenty years, that getting on an airplane has become an ordeal to just “get done,” as opposed to an experience to be enjoyed. So you’ve got 200 people boarding a plane, all of whom are in a bad mood to begin with.

Who do you think gets the brunt of the bad mood of 200 people? Yup. The flight attendants. They know they’re going to be dealing with difficult people, so they mentally prepare themselves before the passengers board. Most of the time, they try really hard to be as nice as possible, but they do so knowing they’re only one person’s bag having to be checked away from having 200 people making snide comments and raising tensions for as long as they’re all trapped together in a pressurized tube.

So when you walk on, no matter how much the flight attendants smile, there’s a subconscious wall of protection that goes up, and it’s subconsciously noticeable by everyone else. It’s not intentional, it’s just what it is, from years of FAs having to put up with abuse, and years of passengers feeling abused. It’s a vicious cycle, that won’t ever stop.

All it takes.

You see candy, I see an upgrade to happiness.

Until I walk on the plane with a big-ass bag of M&Ms. 

You can literally watch the reaction of the lead FA. When I board and ask him or her if they’re the lead, you can see them tighten up. I mean, who asks them if they’re the lead FA, unless they’re a pissed off customer? (Think “may I speak to your manager, please?”)

I then hand them the M&Ms and tell them they have to share. Their reaction always follows the same path: Confusion, disbelief, acceptance, happiness, and then finally, a HUGE smile. By this point, I’m in my seat, ready to enjoy a much nicer flight from a flight crew that’s essentially been dosed with happiness. (And I’m not talking about the sugar in the M&Ms.)

Essentially, the FAs get an upgrade, as well!

It cost what, eight bucks? Maybe ten, depending on the airport. But the payoff is huge. The flight attendants are happily munching on candy for the entire flight, they’re smiling, and their good mood is infectious! They’re joking with the passengers, they’re cheerful, for possibly the first time in a while, they don’t feel like every passenger is out to get them! Again: It costs me somewhere between eight and ten dollars per flight to significantly improve the flight for everyone on the plane.

I don’t care if you’re sitting in first class, coach, or baggage. You will feel the upgrade effect of a cabin crew that just received free candy and a smile. You might feel it and not even recognize that you did, but subconsciously, you’ll notice. And that’ll set you up for a great rest of your trip, or, if you’re coming home, make you forget some of the bad parts of your trip, if you had any. I’ve done the research. I’ve proven this, over and over, for the past several years.

Understand: I think that almost every flight attendant working today does so because they truly love people, truly love to fly, and truly love customer service. Unfortunately, the industry as a whole has conspired against them (and passengers by default,) in an effort to increase profits. So it’s totally understandable that FAs are constantly on guard, and as I said, passengers can tell. If I can afford to help make the FAs lives better, which in turn, will make the passengers a little bit happier, even for just one flight, why wouldn’t I? I’ve said it before: Any modicum of success comes with the responsibility to make the world a better place. (Tweet this!) I’ve had a small bit of success in my life, and I choose to make the world better by, amongst other things, buying a flight crew some candy. The payoff for everyone on the plane is worth it.

So the next time you’re thinking about that flight you have to take, and you’re sure that it’s going to be miserable long before you board, why not stop and pick up a bag of M&Ms? You’d be amazed how a little bit of candy can turn a potentially miserable six hours into the quickest and best trip of your life.

Join the discussion 82 Comments

  • Honoree Corder says:

    I love this! Thanks, Peter!

  • I am definitely going to try this- what a great idea!

  • Vickie Smith says:

    one smart cookie! I admire you more every post!

  • ladaha1 says:

    I am traveling next month with my sisters, one of whom is a travel agent and the supposed know it all about the travel industry. I am excited to do this and see what her reaction is!

  • Being thoughtful. Brilliant.

  • Mike Allton says:

    Every flyer needs to read this. Thanks Peter!

  • paramitch says:

    Kudos as always, Peter. It takes so little to show appreciation like this, and you’re guaranteed to get so much appreciation in return.

  • Kevin Lee says:

    Great idea. This will catch on, so I’ll probably use the mega KitKats or those mixed Hershey mini-chocolates as an alternative to give the crew some variety, since the way you travel Peter any flight I take will probably have served you at some time. I’ll stay away from the peanut stuff though. Last thing you need in a plane is peanuts given the allergies these days.

  • RivkaK says:

    This is the best thing I have read in such a long time. I admit, I was skeptical when I read the title and was thinking “oh no, not another article about how to make your own personal life better by finding a way to screw people over or manipulate them” and it was just the opposite!! Thank you for making the world a better place!

  • dotcalm says:

    Great idea! I have to go to Germany with dad for one last visit with his family and friends… anything to make the trip easier would be worth the price. Thanks for sharing.

  • hahahhaha I am envisioning FA being given multiple bags of M&Ms and them screaming stop!

  • riki says:

    A great idea. Thanks Peter.
    I used to take a large bowl of jelly beans to parties when I had to turn up after midnight (due to work). They helped to introduce me to people who had been partying for hours.
    I have regularly taken a box of fancy donuts to my lawyer’s office for his secretary to share with the paralegals. The turnaround on my work is amazing, prompting my lawyer to suggest that I have an improper relationship with his secretary!
    A large box of donuts on a production manager’s desk to share with their team has made life so smooth for my crew getting things in and out of the venue for the rest of the event.

  • Julesv says:

    What a fabulous and totally lovely, play it forward idea! You sound like a great guy! I hope I run into on a future flight. I will most definitely do this on all my future flights. Thanks!

  • Great idea! It’s the little things that make a big difference!!

  • gail gaspar says:

    This is a great post! Chocolate rules: Share the sweets and a smile. Simple. Spreads goodness. Genius. Thanks, Peter!

  • Carol JansenD'Agnese says:

    Such a cute idea Peter!

  • Carl says:

    The last thing you need on a flight is sugar. Airplanes are a confined space which everyone beaths everyone else’s germs. Sugar lowers your immune system and boom, now your on holiday with some bug/flu. Great.

  • Jim Banks says:

    I’m flying to LA tomorrow, going to try that out!

  • Matt Hilton says:

    I read this post earlier in the day, knowing I was going to soon get on a flight. I made up my mind that I was going to do the M&M exercise just as you had suggested. As the universe would have it, our flight was delayed due to a plane malfunction, and they had to bring a crew from Dallas to Houston in order to get us home. The crew thought they were finished for the day before being told they had one more trip to take. Upon walking aboard the plane, I asked for the head FA and the one I asked turned out to be her. After her initial reaction of uncertainty, I handed her the bag of of M&M’s and a big smile quickly came upon her face. I told her that the bag was for her and that she had to share with the rest of her crew. She said with the same smile, “I think sharing one piece with each of them is sharing enough.” She laughed a little and I proceeded to my seat. After a couple of minutes, I heard another flight attendant say to another passenger (while motioning to me), “He’s the one that’s going to get free drinks for bringing us the M&M’s!” I did not take them up on the free drinks. I did, however, enjoy seeing the crew’s smiles and hearing their gratitude as I exited the plane. AWESOME IDEA!!

    • mshenna says:

      A few years back we were returning from New Orleans on JetBlue, after parading with the Krewe of Barkus (dogs & people in costume — don’t judge!), & as we were still feeling quite festive (sober, but silly), we had multiple strings of fancy beads around our necks. By takeoff, all the flight attendants were wearing beads, & kept them on for the whole flight (I think when we were getting off, we saw beads on the co-pilot, too). Most cheerful flight I’ve ever been on. Must remember to bring extras next year.

  • healthyhelper says:

    I LOVE THIS.

  • BMG4ME says:

    This is a nice idea. I doubt it would get a free upgrade these days anyway.

  • hostile_17 says:

    Hack. There’s no hacking here.

  • Goob says:

    I love the idea and general principle, but 250 * $8 per year is crazy 😀

  • alex says:

    If I were the flight attendant, I would be afraid that you injected a toxin into the bag or something. Scary world we live in .. airplanes seem to amplify the fear.

  • Mr B says:

    My wife does something similar at the supermarket. When going through the checkout she’ll grab something from the inevitable confectionery stand. After she’s paid for the shopping, she gives it to the checkout person. Always gets a great reaction. Unfortunately, self-service aisles mean that I sometimes have to eat that Snickers bar. 🙂

  • Arun Sathiya says:

    I was hoping that I could bag an upgrade on my seating on the flight with this trick. But, a must-try in my list now.

  • Amanda Schmoldt says:

    Love this! On my last flight, I said please and thank you to the flight attendant when she asked me if I wanted a drink. As she walked away, I could hear her murmur “I love working in first class.” I was taken aback. I say please and thank you regardless of which class I’m sitting in, but until that moment I hadn’t realized that most people don’t. Something so simple can make a person’s day.

    • David Dunworth says:

      I always say please and thank you because that is the way I was raised, but I think everyone (or nearly so) was raised that way. What astounds me is that so few people actually take the time and courteousness to say those three little words in a transaction between two or more people.
      I watch for reactions, and most of the time I’m ignored. Sales clerks, cashiers, all tell us how much out purchase is, not ask for the payment nicely. It’s automatic. that’ll be 3 dollars or just -3 dollars. It’s a shame really.
      That’s why it is so important to try to make someone’s day. Peter does it with M&M’s, others use something else. Three little words can make a difference.
      I lived in the UK for a few years, and was initially surprised how courteous the people were. Always Please and Thank You. I learned to try even harder to use the three little words.

  • Daria Welch Wilber says:

    This is the best travel trip I’ve ever read!

  • William Goddard says:

    When my wife had our child, I bought the staff pizza…not the entire hospital staff…just the ones in the maternity ward. Every single nurse and doctor was stunned. I will say that the experience at the hospital could not have been better. I now tell anyone and everyone what I did and I just hope our tired hospital staff smiles a bit more.

  • Matt says:

    This works in hospitals as well. When I was sick and had to stay for an extended bit of time, my wife brought tasty homemade baked goods for the floor nurse station every few days. The nurses were definitely in a better mood, and that translated to a generally better experience for everyone involved!

  • Dominik Nitsch says:

    Quick question: does it have to be the lead flight attendant and if so, why? Other than that I love the idea – definitely gonna give this a shot on my next transatlantic flight! 🙂

  • flutiefan says:

    I love this!
    And please don’t forget your gate agents. Especially when there are delays, they get the brunt of the passengers’ anger. And they can’t leave their desk until the flight is on its way. Some treats would go a long way to help them through the chaos.

  • Gitel Hesselberg says:

    Similar idea I learned when a friend was in the hospital: Have a basket filled with M&Ms, a plastic spoon, and several small paper cups stacked next to the basket. Put a sign that people can help themselves to the M&Ms. Not only did the nursing staff come quickly when he pressed the nurse call button, but they checked up on him regularly (each time taking some M&Ms).

  • Craig List says:

    Yes, it can be quite easy to make somebody’s day. It just does not happen often enough.

    I recently saw two women standing in front of a Walmart collecting donations for Veterans. It was a 90+ degree day, the sun was shining and they did not even have an umbrella. I got them two large ice creams and hope that besides the small donation I made, it helped them being personally appreciated for what they were doing.

  • Guys Gab says:

    Epic idea, I’m definitely going to try this on my next flight.. (Though I might pick up a bag of M&Ms beforehand, since airport prices are freaking ridiculous!)

  • Katgirl says:

    On behalf of flight attendants every where, Thank You!!! I can a test to everything this post says is true. It’s especially true for short haul domestic flights. Many times we work 3 or 4 flights a day with very little time in between. An extra treat that shows you care about can make our day just as the guy who comes on and complains surely puts a damper on it. I have received a variety if things from passengers. One Christmas Eve, 2 gentleman came on and gave us each a $5 Starbucks card, another lady who made jewelry offered us hand made bracelets. For those of you wanting to try this be creative, any treat, small or large will definitely make our day!

  • On my last American Airlines flight from London to LAX, I bought a box of Lindt thin chocolates (box of 100, I think) which is a step up from M & Ms. I handed them to the first attendant I saw and said the same as you, ” To share with the rest of the crew”. Barely a thank you. When I had an issue with the guy behind me putting his knees into my back, they didn’t do anything except tell him to put them down, once. He kept doing it and when I asked to move, they said they’d check, but never came back. When we landed, the guy behind me had MY bag from the overhead compartment on his seat, and I almost lost it! Had no idea how long he’d had it, if he’d gone through it. After the flight, I regretted giving that lovely box of Lindt to those attendants. Some are appreciative, and obviously others are not; so although this is a nice gesture, an upgrade is NOT guaranteed as seen in my case. 🙁 I didn’t even expect an upgrade, I was just being nice.

  • Darren Rowse says:

    I have a friend who always takes a fancy box of chocolates on flights that he takes and he does the same thing. He does it usually with the hope of a free drink from First Class but tells me that he notices the flow on impact on the flight like you’ve described too. He’s also had a few upgrades, particularly on longer flights which is a nice pay off on those 14 hour Australia/US legs 🙂

  • Joelle says:

    THAT is SO SWEET!! <3 Never thought of that! True, they have a hard job, too <3

  • Big D Live says:

    I am always pleasant to the FA’s upon boarding and exiting. The FA’s make eye contact and smile as they pass. I usually receive a compliment as well, on shoes, hat, etc. It is a thankless job and a smile goes a long way.

  • A 46 - year FA says:

    Thoughtfulness and good behavior is always appreciated, esp. in this new world of ours. I’d be curious to know with which airlines you travel.

  • Dan Nainan says:

    This is great, but, how much does the bag of M&M’s cost?

  • “Confusion, disbelief, acceptance, happiness, and then finally, a HUGE smile.” That happened to me when I went to the hospital after my appendectomy. I dropped off chocolate and $2 coffee cards to thank the nurses, surgical team & ER crew, etc. When I got to the nurse’s station at B4 ward In St. Boniface Hospital, I was greeted with fear/concern about why I was there. I explained they’d taken such good care of me (and really, they all had…WOW!) that I wanted everyone involved to “have coffee on me”. I’ll know next time to bring them with me BEFORE the surgery…though good luck planning that one. 😉 What a great tip!

  • Johnny says:

    I sent this link to a flight attendant friend of mine and she confirmed it’s all true. I forgot to ask her if it’s better to give it to them while boarding or after the plane has taken off. Any thoughts?

  • A lot of doors open up when you’re nice to people. A smile (or chocolate!) really goes a long way. 🙂

  • Alyssa says:

    You’re awesome. That is all.

  • Julie@ChooseBetterLife says:

    Fantastic idea! I’m trying to come up with something healthy that will elicit the same happy feelings but am having trouble. Any ideas?

  • Dividend Diplomats says:

    Shankman –

    Pretty damn cool of you. I don’t fly nearly as much, maybe around 15-25 times per year, and I just may have to incorporate this. They go through hell for us, the least we can do is try to make them smile, for once!

    -Lanny

  • Matt Spillar says:

    Love this idea, will definitely be sharing this!

  • […] Costco or BJ’s Wholesale Club before you leave, and buy several bags of M&Ms. Then read this article to learn what to do with them, and apply it to your own situation during your […]

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  • Robson Filho Colodeti says:

    this is a good thing, but can they actually eat it? I hope they don’t because of security reasons, especially the pilots, what if some1 with bad intentions does the same as you and poisons the candies? but anyway it’s a good thing to do, maybe next time attach a note to the candies warning them that they shouldn’t eat it and just accept it as a gift.

  • Matthew Jonathan says:

    Great post Peter. The only miss calculation I noticed is how do you know which seat is going to be empty in First class before you sit down? Or do you wait specifically until the last person has gotten on the plane to start the shenanigans?

    • shankman says:

      I don’t understand the question – I don’t do this for the seat upgrade. I’m usually upgraded automatically because of how much I fly. I sit wherever I’m assigned.

  • Menny Grossman says:

    I did this the last few times I flew. I am not such a flyer, but when I fly, it’s long-haul. So, my travel agent told me about it and I decided to try it. My wife thought I was nuts and rolled her eyes on me, but hell, did this work. We were flying with 2 kids, and I had personal helpers the entire flight.

    The second time I did this, an interesting thing happened. Usually the lead FA is in business during boarding. When I ask for him/her I’m usually directed to business. So I went in there, and handed her the skittles. Immediately all the other business FAs started asking me why I did it etc etc. I answered, “Y’know, FAs put up with a lot of crap. And most people don’t realize they’re stuck in the same tin can in the air. So I decided to show that I realize that”
    At the end of the flight, I waited until everyone deplaned and then I gathered everything up with my family. At that point, an FA from business came and told us “I want to tell you something. After you left, there was a passenger in business that wanted to know how many kids you have and where you’re sitting. He said he wanted to buy you, your wife and your kids something from Duty Free. We told him that unfortunately, Delta doesn’t sell Duty Free on the plane. But, I just wanted you to know what your gesture meant. Not only to us, but to others on the plane as well. Thank you again”
    I turned to my wife and said “Next time, don’t roll your eyes” 🙂

    Since then, I’ve gotten free amenity kits from business class, FAs coming over saying thank you, I once went to the back of the plane and saw my bag of skittles in the galley with a piece of masking tape on it “Thank the passenger in 32C”!

  • Jonathan Ezor says:

    I’ve done this on every flight I’ve been on since Peter published it (and always credited Peter with the idea, of course!). Always appreciated, and only once was I *not* asked in what seat I was sitting. Also, only once did that seem to matter (in a recent Delta flight, the crew kept bringing me unasked-for snacks), but all seemed happy, as I was I to bring a little chocolate to their lives. Thanks again, Peter! {Jonathan}

    P.S. Buy your big bags in Costco before you go. Much cheaper and bigger besides!

  • Gary Baker says:

    Just did this round trip to SF. Worked like a charm. The flight crew were clearly very, very grateful, and had the bag out all through the flight in the back. Got comped for a beer and chips. But regardless, I’ll certainly try this again. Great to make folks happy.

  • Will be doing this on my #48hourpowerjaunt

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