The psychological tactics American Airlines used to try to get me to buy trip insurance

I recently purchased a flight from American Airlines.

Right as you’re about to purchase, they offer trip insurance.

I noticed a few ways American Airlines is trying to persuade me to purchase this insurance for $22.75.

Social Proof

“91,017 American Airlines customers protected their trip in the last 7 days”

First off, it’s in green so it catches your eye because it’s different than the rest of the colors on the page.

They’re trying to use social proof by showing me that so many other customers have bought the travel insurance, so I should do it too.

Social proof works because if we see a lot of other people doing things, we tend to assume it’s good. If there’s a long line for a restaurant, that’s a form of social proof. If people are all standing in line to eat there, we figure it must be worthwhile.

91,000 customers is a lot of people in the last week, but I wonder how many other customers didn’t buy the insurance?

They say they service about 500,000 customers per day. It’s not exact math but let’s say there are that many people purchasing a ticket per day. That’s 3.5 million customers a week, and only 91,000 are buying the travel insurance? That’s 18% of customers.

American chose to say 91,017 instead of 18% because 91k sounds like way more people than saying “18% of customers bought travel insurance in the last week”.


“Yes, protect my trip for a total of $22.75 (recommended)

American gives me 2 options: Buy the insurance or don’t buy it. Of course they make the “yes” option the recommended one.

It’s another subtle hint that you should buy the insurance. Does this tactic work? Not on me.


I thought adding the Boston Globe quote in there was sneaky, I almost missed it.

“Purchase travel insurance” – The Boston Globe, September 2018

American is trying to use the authority of the Boston Globe to convince me to buy travel insurance. Obviously it doesn’t work on me, but I don’t know if many people see this quote and, trusting the authority of the Boston Globe, decide to purchase.

My first question after seeing the quote was “Where is this pulled from?”. I feel like this quote could be from any random article or be pulled out of context.

I googled “purchase travel insurance Boston Globe” and found this article How to navigate the choppy waters of travel during hurricane season from September 2018.

Ctrl + F “travel insurance” and I find “Purchase Travel Insurance” is a header within the article.

I would not say this article is an endorsement by The Boston Globe to purchase travel insurance. This article is about traveling during hurricane season and even mentions that once a storm is named you can’t buy travel insurance. The article is not really saying you should always buy travel insurance, it’s just mentioning you could do that to hedge against the risks of traveling during hurricane season.

This quote isn’t even a quote, it’s a header, and American is really just using the Boston Globe name to convince you to buy this extra, last-minute add on so American can increase its average order value.

Loss Aversion

“No, I choose not to protect my $230,00 purchase and I understand by declining coverage I am responsible for all cancellation fees and delay expenses.”

Using the principle of loss aversion, American tries to reiterate that I am spending $230 on my ticket and by choosing not to protect my purchase, I could lose that $230.

The sting of losing something is greater than the joy we feel in gaining. If I lose $10 that stings more than the joy I’d feel winning $10.

American is trying to make me feel like I’m losing out by not getting the insurance.

This is a powerful psychological principle. I’m sure this has worked to convince people to purchase the insurance.


A small tactic they’re using is showing the “yes-purchase” option with a smaller amount of $22.50 and the “no-don’t purchase” option with a larger amount of $230 (my ticket price). This makes it easily look like the yes option is cheaper, when in fact you are actually paying more because you’re purchasing for the additional cost of $22.50


Why is American doing all of this? To get you to buy this travel insurance you weren’t considering in the first place. Offering this insurance is a great way to increase the average order value of a ticket.

I bought the basic economy (AKA the cheapest ticket where I can’t pick a seat until I check in) ticket and I’m sure they’d love to get me to add a bag, pay to pick a seat, and add travel insurance.

This is just ONE section of American’s purchase path. I’ll look through the site and see if I can find more, I’m sure there are other sections like this.

Is this stuff right to do?

As long as it’s not lying, creating fake numbers/quotes/stats, or putting in defaults for the “yes” option I think it’s fine.

In an effort to convince me to purchase, look at how many things they likely A/B tested and added in here, and none of these were enough to convince me.

I’m more savvy about this stuff than most shoppers on the site, but none of these tactics are tricking people into purchasing.

The only one I don’t like is the Boston Globe quote because it seems like a stretch to say the Boston Globe is recommending travel insurance all the time when the article the quote seems to have come from was talking about hurricane season.

I wouldn’t test something like this because it seems a little sleazy to me. Using actual customer numbers (91,000 American Airlines customers…) or reiterating my ticket cost aren’t deceptive.

The problem comes when sites use these tactics to deceive, such as by showing “Only 1 left in stock” when there are in fact 3 items.

I’ll try to do some more of these articles to show some of the interesting ways websites are using psychology and design to influence us.

Update May 18, 2019 – Delta

Delta’s trip insurance offering

This screenshot is from Delta. I just bought two international tickets and saw similar tactics that American Airlines was using to try to get me to buy trip insurance.

  1. Color: The green “recommended” badge is supposed to signal that this is the right option. The red exclamation indicates a warning or error, something we want to avoid.
  2. Quote: The USA Today quote is just like the Boston Globe one American used.
  3. Bold numbers: They are bolding big numbers like 100% and $25,000 to get us to pay attention to them. $25,000 is a big cost compared to just $58.74 for the insurance.
  4. Anchoring: By repeating the cost of the tickets next to the cost of the insurance, it makes the insurance look like a steal. The sneaky thing is they’re showing the total cost of both tickets ($1,566.46) and the cost of trip insurance for 1 person ($58.74). The total cost for 2 trip insurance purchases would be $117.48 which doesn’t look nearly as cheap as $58.

I’ll have to see what the other big carriers do as well. So far it seems like Delta and American are pretty on par with their trip insurance call out box.

Update May 29, 2019 – Spirit Airlines

Update August 3, 2019 – Delta

May 18, 2019August 3, 2019

Update March 2020 – American Airlines

April 2019March 2020

Update April 28, 2020 – American Airlines

March 2020April 28, 2020