The relative costs and benefits of thermal acclimation for manipulating field performance of pest insects depend upon a number of factors including which traits are affected and how persistent any trait changes are in different environments. By assessing plastic trait responses of Ceratitis capitata (Mediterranean fruit fly) across three distinct operational environments (laboratory, semi-field, and field), we examined the influence of different thermal acclimation regimes (cool, intermediate [or handling control], and warm) on thermal tolerance traits (chill-coma recovery, heat-knockdown time, critical thermal minimum and critical thermal maximum) and flight performance (mark-release-recapture). Under laboratory conditions, thermal acclimation altered thermal limits in a relatively predictable manner and there was a generally positive effect across all traits assessed, although some traits responded more strongly. By contrast, dispersal-related performance yielded strongly contrasting results depending on the specific operational environment assessed. In semi-field conditions, warm- or cold-acclimated flies were recaptured more often than the control group at cooler ambient conditions suggesting an overall stimulatory influence of thermal variability on low-temperature dispersal. Under field conditions, a different pattern was identified: colder flies were recaptured more in warmer field conditions relative to other treatment groups. This study highlights the trait- and context-specific nature of how thermal acclimation influences traits of thermal performance and tolerance. Consequently, laboratory and semi-field assessments of dispersal may not provide results that extend into the field setting despite the apparent continuum of environmental complexity among them (laboratory < semi-field < field).