How to Get United In-Flight DIRECTV For Less

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If you fly with kids you know how essential it is for them to have something to do on the flight to keep them happy (and quiet).  I’m all for story books, small toys, activity books, etc, but honestly electronics are a very easy way to keep them settled, too.  Whether you have limits with “screen time” on the ground or not, I say all bets are off at 36,000 feet.  If it works without causing permanent damage, it works.  That’s why I love it when I see that our United operated flights have DIRECTV, as it allows my daughter to watch channels like Nick Jr, Disney Jr, and even movie channels that show kid friendly movies such as Lego Movie all without me having to set anything up.  She just plugs in her headphones, I pay for the DIRECTV, and we are good to go.


Plugged into DIRECTV and ready to chill on the flight

The only real downside to this is the cost of the DIRECTV on the flights.  With United it is complimentary in United First, but in coach costs $5.99 for flights two hours and less and $7.99 for flights over two hours.  I’ll happily pay $7.99 for hours of peace and quiet on the airplane, but it does add up when you are buying it for a couple of kids on a couple of different flight segments.  I have seen a discount when you are buying it for three or more on the same flight, but there is a way to get it for less even if you are just buying it for just one or two people.

If you purchase some credits in advance, you pay just $4.99 per DIRECTV viewing session, regardless of the flight length.  You then just swipe the same card you used to purchase the credits and you won’t be charged again (even though the screen makes it look like you will).


Wasn’t charged again when using credits

I bought two discounted prepaid sessions for my daughter and I when we were coming home from New York this week via my smart phone as I was sitting on the plane during boarding.  That means I paid a total of $9.98 instead of the regular $15.98 for DIRECTV.  Warning: the online message when I bought said “error”, but the purchase had gone through and confirmation was in my email.  That savings is not life changing, but every little bit helps.  I also got to marathon old Sex and the City episodes, so money well spent!

Remember that not every United aircraft has DIRECTV, so don’t load up in advance unless you know you will use the credits.  That’s why I waited to purchase them once I was on-board via my smart phon,e since I knew for sure at that point that the plane had functional DIRECTV.  The credits are valid for 6 months.

Here are some terms:

  • Non-refundable, except for when DIRECTV is unavailable or inoperable on your flight.
  • Credits are valid for up to 6 months from the date of purchase.
  • Not all aircraft are equipped with DIRECTV. For more information, click here.
  • You can use multiple credits per flight if you have credits remaining, otherwise your card will be charged the full price.
  • Discount program may be discontinued at any time, but previous purchases will be honored through expiration.

Of course if you are flying Southwest you can potentially get a few channels of DISH Network for free streaming on your own device or on JetBlue you get 36 channels of DIRECTV free via the seatback TV.  Apparently airlines that like free checked bags, also like free entertainment!



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  1. Thanks for the tip! I just wish I would have known this last week before dropping $16 for DTV (x2) on an ORD-SFO trip on Saturday. I just wish more UA flights offered DTV. I’ve been on too many long UA flights recently that had absolutely no in flight entertainment whatsoever.

    Although I didn’t use it this time, I noticed that they are also offering a pay by the hour wi-fi option which is much more reasonable than the fixed fee, especially given how flaky the wi-fi service is on some flights.

  2. Thanks for the heads up. On a longish flight, for 5 bucks, I’d probably buy it as a treat for the kids. It’s always annoyed me when UA moved from free coach entertainment to DirecTV. I’ve always thought in-flight entertainment should be free: an entertained passenger is a happy (repeat) customer. Few people want to pay for it, especially for 8 bucks. I’ve always been amazed how few takers they get. If it were free, everybody would be watching, and they’d all be happier!

  3. Kind of ridiculous that current Directv customers (home customers) can’t sign in and use the United Directv for free since they are Directv paying customers!

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