HomeAirlinesWhen Did US Carriers Make Inflight Wi-Fi So Expensive?

When Did US Carriers Make Inflight Wi-Fi So Expensive?

TravelingForMiles.com may receive commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on TravelingForMiles.com are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. TravelingForMiles.com does not include all card companies or all available card offers.

Some links to products and travel providers on this website will earn Traveling For Miles a commission that helps contribute to the running of the site. Traveling For Miles has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Traveling For Miles and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities. For more details please see the disclosures found at the bottom of every page.

This is a genuine question. I’ve taken very few domestic flights on which I’ve needed to use Wi-Fi in the past few years and I was mostly crossing the Atlantic with British Airways in the year leading up to the pandemic, so when I recently took flights with American and United and saw how much they were both charging for inflight wi-fi I was genuinely taken aback.

In the days when American Airlines was my transatlantic carrier of choice (up to the early part of 2019), an in-flight wi-fi pass for an 11-hour flight between Los Angeles and London was costing me $19.

a screenshot of a flight ticket
Cost of long-haul wi-fi on American Airlines in 2019

Back then, the cost of wi-fi on American Airlines made BA’s long-haul wi-fi look a bit expensive (even if BA’s offering was a little more reliable).

a screenshot of a web service
Cost of long-haul wi-fi on British Airways

Last month, however, when I took my first transatlantic American Airlines flight in approximately 2 years, it was hard not to notice that the cost of wi-fi had gone up…and gone up significantly!

a screenshot of a phone

The American Airlines wi-fi provider is still the same – Panasonic – so I presume flyers are still getting messages like this one when trying to get online:

a screenshot of a computer error

But the cost of a Flight Pass is now 84% higher than it was back in 2019. 84%!!!

I realize that American had kept the cost of wi-fi at $19 for a significant number of years so it’s only fair that the price should increase at some point, but an increase to $35 is ridiculous. It’s especially ridiculous when your major transatlantic alliance and joint venture partner is offering wi-fi for 25% less.

It’s also not only British Airways that’s offering noticeably cheaper transatlantic wi-fi options than American Airlines right now. Virgin Atlantic is cheaper too.

a screenshot of a phone

Not only is Virgin’s wi-fi significantly cheaper than American’s, but the airline also offers its customers more choice (being able to send and receive messages for just $3.95 on an 11-hour flight is a nice option to have).

After having not having had to use wi-fi on a US carrier for a while, I didn’t really know if American had gone rogue with its transatlantic wi-fi pricing or if the price gouging was going on elsewhere too, but I got to find out on a recent flight with United.a screenshot of a phone

It turns out that United’s Full Flight Pass is even more expensive than American’s…and who’s paying $16.99 for 1 hour of wi-fi?!

Worse still, while British Airways will happily let you stream when you pay $26 for a full transatlantic flight, United’s $38 package is as basic as it gets.

a white background with black text

Amazingly, it turns out that US airlines aren’t just charging high prices for wi-fi across the Atlantic. Domestic pricing can be ridiculous too.

While on short-haul flights, British Airways, for example, will offer customers a messaging-only service for £1.99/$2.80 or a streaming service for £6.99/$9.90…

a screenshot of a phone

…here’s what United was offering me on a 1-hour flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles…

a screen shot of a phone

…and here’s what United was charging when Matthew (LiveAndLetsFly) took a 2.5-hour flight between Los Angeles and Denver:

a screenshot of a computer

$11 for a 1-hour flight between San Francisco and LA and $20 for a 2.5-hour flight between LA and Dever are both ridiculously expensive…but they’re not quite as ridiculous as charging $16.99 for a single hour!

Access to the internet didn’t cost *this much* when we were all still using dial-up modems and when you had to wait for your parents to get off the phone before you could get at your emails. What’s going on?! When did wi-fi prices on US carriers get this expensive?

I know that the major US airlines sell monthly wi-fi passes which can make economical sense if you’re a road warrior, and I know that there will be people reading this who will be pleased that inflight wi-fi costs so much because it keeps the number of users down and the available bandwidth up (and they don’t care that it’s expensive because they can claim the cost back on expenses), but there has to be some kind of middle ground somewhere where those of us who only fly once or twice a month don’t feel like we have to take out a second mortgage if we want to get online.

When it comes to flying domestically in the US, I realize that there’s not much that an infrequent flyer can do about this (I don’t know what Delta charges for its inflight wi-fi but it’s probably safe to assume that it’s similar to what the other two legacy carriers charge), but now that I know that airlines like BA and Virgin Atlantic are offering inflight wi-fi for noticeably less than the US carriers, this now adds in another point of differentiation for me to consider when I’m booking future transatlantic flights.

Sure, I’m not going to book a noticeably more expensive BA or Virgin Atlantic flight just because their wi-fi costs less than the wi-fi the US carriers offer, but the cost of wi-fi will definitely be a consideration the next time most other things are equal.

Clearly, what I do or don’t do doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference to the US carriers, but as more and more people start to want to use wi-fi when they fly across the Pond (I’m referring to regular folk in Economy Class for whom every cost is important, not business people who can write their costs off to expenses), I can see the cost of wi-fi becoming an increasingly important point of differentiation. When that happens, the US carriers will probably need to rethink their pricing or they could be in trouble.

Our Favourite All-Round Travel Card


The card_name is Chase's incredibly popular entry-level Ultimate Rewards card which offers strong earnings on travel and dining and some great benefits too. Right now and in exchange for an annual fee of annual_fees, this card is offering all successful new applicants the following welcome bonus:


Our Favorite Benefits:

  • 5 points/dollar on most travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3 points/dollar for spending on dining worldwide
  • 3 points/dollar for spending on select streaming services
  • 2 points/dollar for spending on travel worldwide
  • Redeem points at 1.25 cents each when booking travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
  • Annual $50 credit for hotels booked through Chase
  • Primary auto rental cover

Click here for more details

Regarding Comments

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser or any other advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility or any other advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. I ended up just buying a wifi subscription for amonth when I have a couple of upcoming flights with the same airlines.

    Unfortunately, it appears that for AA it’s only valid for North American flights. UA is offering a worldwide plan for a small upcharge.

Comments are closed.

Credit Card News & Offers

Miles & Points On Sale

Air Fare Deals

Related Posts

Shop Briggs & Riley luggage today!

Discover more from Traveling For Miles

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading