How To Fly For Free

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2012-02-1214

Who wouldn’t want to score free airline tickets or travel for free? I’d consider travel as a big ticket expense, especially because I deal with a 5 member family and have to figure out how to transport an entire household from one point to another. One way I save? I just don’t travel too often. But then those who do travel a lot turn out to become so savvy at cutting costs that I get pretty jealous of what they can do. One of our contributors, Millie Kay G., shares a few tips on how we can fly for free.

Getting to our favorite destinations by air can be expensive these days, but there’s little reason to pay full price. Using different tactics can lower the cost of some of your future flights or even get you down to $0 cost, so read on for ideas on how to get free flights.

7 Ways To Fly For Free

1. Volunteer To Get Bumped

Chances are, you’ve heard the gate agents at the airport asking for volunteers to take a later flight because the current flight’s overbooked. If you don’t have an immediate need to be at your destination and you don’t have checked baggage, raise your hand and profit.

When you’re bumped, you could earn round trip airfare to another destination, vouchers you can use later, and even upgrades or cash! Don’t forget to ask about covering your meals if you’re going to be waiting around the airport for more than a few hours. I read that each airline has its own policy regarding compensation, so you should ask before you commit to getting bumped.

Have a lot of incoming flights been delayed due to bad weather at other airports? The people who need to have their flights changed may end up thanking you in spirit later if you give up your seat.

2. Seek Out Overbooked Flights

If you’re willing to be flexible with your travel plans, you can attempt to take bumping to a higher level. For instance, if you’re traveling on the first flight of the day to a popular destination, you might have a higher chance of being bumped. Are you flying around a holiday or through a major airline hub? Then you have an increased chance of picking flights that can get you bumped.

When you arrive at the airport, you can assess the situation at the gate and decide if it’s worth it to speak to the gate agent about volunteering to be bumped. You may want to take the travel vouchers offered, if the fare offered to you isn’t appealing.

3. Complain To The Airline

If you have a bad experience on a flight, don’t keep your irritation bottled up. Instead, craft a well-worded letter detailing the nature of your complaint and your contact information, then contact the airline’s customer service. You may end up with a free flight or some other type of compensation. Caveat: if you’ve got a legitimate complaint, then you have a better shot at having your concerns acknowledged (or any requests honored); however, certain customers may be unscrupulous enough to fabricate stories or exaggerate their experiences in order to score freebies. It’s doubtful that such passengers will get far by going this route.

Tip: You can try checking in with the airlines via Facebook and Twitter. For example, American Airlines (@AAirwaves on Twitter) will respond to complaints and put you in contact with customer service.

4. Join A Frequent Flyer Program

The frequent traveler or frequent flyer industry has grown quite sophisticated, so if you travel a lot, you should certainly belong to a program. One essential tactic is to sign up for a frequent flyer program such as AAdvantage from American Airlines or Delta’s SkyMiles. When you purchase airfare, you gain miles or points that can be applied to future flights. So your flights for business throughout the year can end up paying for your vacation. If you’re willing to fly economy class, it may take as little as 12,500 points for travel between U.S. cities. A membership like this can also connect you with discounts for car rentals and hotel offers.

Tip: Start out by enrolling in a frequent flyer program but you can also boost your miles by checking out frequent flyer credit cards that offer miles as rewards. Once you’re in these programs, use tools like Yapta.com and Mileagemanager.com to find award tickets, organize your programs, track miles and balances, review your travel status and alert you to expiring miles.

5. Use Rewards From Travel, Hotel Or Airline Cards

Even if you don’t have a ton of flights on your itinerary, you can still make a frequent flyer program work for you in conjunction with travel rewards credit cards. These credit cards allow you to accumulate miles or points on your purchases at stores and at online shopping sites. You can then use your miles or points for flights or other great rewards. A lot of these cards offer bonus miles or points, so you can get to your destinations sooner.

frugal traveler
Get bonus miles, free flights or hotel and flight upgrades by using travel credit cards.
Tip: Look for travel cards from top card issuers that offer deals such as bonus mileage, free tickets or other great travel benefits when you sign up. The Digerati Life has a rundown of the most popular airline miles credit cards and hotel & travel rewards cards available.

6. Check The Travel Sites

Does your favorite travel site have its own rewards program? Expedia has three different ways to earn rewards, and it only takes 20,000 points for a $200 flight. Travelocity also has a rewards program that partners with American Express. Check out some of the best travel sites here.

Tip: For great travel deals, do check out Expedia.com and Travelocity.com. We highly encourage you to look at each deal carefully, since cheap deals and freebies may come with tradeoffs.

7. Check Out Other Loyalty Schemes

Financial companies and retailers alike are courting their customers with rewards, particularly along the lines of travel. This report from CNN goes into a few specifics and examples. For instance, Lending Tree offered their customers free flights (via miles) for securing loans — a customer who took out a $200,000 mortgage qualified for a domestic flight (while those who took out larger mortgages picked up 2 tickets). Other lenders would reward miles to those who refinanced. Such rewards were also given out by investment houses and brokerages like Fidelity and TD Ameritrade for customers who opened new accounts or who added to existing accounts. It’s also become much more common for retailers, stores and merchants to embrace loyalty programs that give away miles to their loyal customers and shoppers.

Tip: Reward programs and loyalty schemes change often so it’s a good idea to check out a site like Points.com to help you manage, compare and monitor these programs.

Parting Thoughts

In times past, people used to be able to fly for free as couriers. However, resources such as the International Association of Air Travel Couriers and Courier.org don’t appear to be around anymore, and Jupiter Air Oceania discontinued its courier service in 2006.

Nevertheless, if you want to fly for free, it’s not an impossible task. With a little preparation and some planning ahead, you can get to your favorite destinations without paying full price.

Created February 22, 2011. Updated February 12, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Savvy Young Money February 22, 2011 at 11:06 pm

I recently had a chance to get bumped for a $400 flight credit (the airline was practically begging), but couldn’t do it because I had to make the flight for a conference =( Thanks for posting this, though. I’ve been looking for ways to get free flights for several trips this year. I know that United’s Mileage Plus and American’s AAdvantage both offer a significant amount of bonus miles for signing up for financial services with companies like Fidelity and TD Ameritrade. Great for traveling and investing.

Craig February 23, 2011 at 1:00 pm

There are actually much better bonuses available right now.

Continental has a way to get 50,000 points for a credit card sign-up. American Airlines has a way to get 75,000 points for a credit card.

Silicon Valley Blogger February 23, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Thanks for the info! Credit card deals come and go so I do appreciate the information you’ve provided! I would also make sure that all other terms and features of a credit card are good. But all things equal, yes, those bonus points are tempting. If you want to check out some latest airline card deals though, you can visit this page.

jesus February 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm

How do those miles work? How much is 50,000 miles worth, money-wise??

krantcents February 23, 2011 at 5:15 pm

I try to take advantage of every airline rewards credit card I can. This is one of the benefits of maintaining good credit. I am using some of my miles for a mini vacation in New Orleans and Vancouver this year.

Silicon Valley Blogger March 2, 2011 at 9:58 am

Jesus, 50K miles can be equated to a roundtrip ticket or some set amount of cashback: some of these cards opt for $50 to $100 or even $200 cash back rewards in lieu of the miles. Card companies are busy outdoing themselves with all sorts of offers all the time. Shopping for a card is much like hunting around for the best bargain deal, so I’d take time to check out all the bonuses and terms before making a decision.

Margo March 5, 2011 at 8:59 am

^^^ the value depends on the airline and when you use them. For me, 50K miles would be enough to get me round trip from the US to Buenos Aires in Economy, if i book enough in advance…that same ticket was about $1200. Or, 50K gets me Business class one way. That one-way, biz class ticket is listed for about $4000.

Gabi March 29, 2011 at 7:01 am

Thanks for the comment! :) Just imagine a world without any costs for air travel?? My dream is to fly all over the world! I want to see so many beautiful places this huge world offers! So thanks for the information I will use!

cyd wright December 14, 2011 at 9:03 am

Truly frugal people arent frequent flyers. We either stay home, go on road trips or camping trips or we use someone else’s frequent flyer miles (ex : a family member pays for the ticket).

Silicon Valley Blogger December 14, 2011 at 9:53 am

@Cyd,
I agree, though I think that one way to save money on travel is to rack up the points through rewards and use that to get the biggest cost out of travel, out of the way. If you’re good at managing your rewards credit cards and are responsible with using credit in general, this is one way to save big on travel. I, for one, am a big user of rewards cards. As someone who does not carry a balance, a rewards card is one of my favorite tools in my personal finance arsenal.

My view on elective travel is rather peculiar, actually. If I don’t think I’m going to have a better experience elsewhere than I can have in my own home, then I won’t go there. Getting a flight upgrade is one of those things that make a trip worth taking, at least for me. One of my least favorite things is to fly in economy (and yes, unfortunately, it’s something I can’t really escape altogether….).

krantcents February 13, 2012 at 6:21 pm

I have used frequent flier miles for 20 years. Although it is not free, it is very inexpensive. My wife and I went on a cruise from Istanbul, Turkey. We flew first class (about $26K if purchased) for just $400 in taxes.

Silicon Valley Blogger February 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Being familiar with frequent flyer programs and reward systems is a sport in its own right! It must be quite the pastime for people who love to travel and who are also frugal at heart. Much like coupon hunting and collecting, accumulating miles and points is its own cottage industry. Nice to hear your story Krantcents!

Tyler S. February 13, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Frugal people can have jobs that require a lot of traveling too. I wouldn’t say that it’s not the “frugal” thing to do when your career depends on it. It’s always going to be tough to get anything for free nowadays, but this covers just about every way possible.

Another option for significant discounts is knowing someone who works for the airline that can get you set up just about anywhere for very cheap.

Silicon Valley Blogger February 14, 2012 at 12:37 am

@Tyler,
You make a good point — connections and contacts can get you the best rates anywhere. This point was also echoed in another discussion I had regarding concert tickets. A few commentators brought up the fact that you can get a great deal on event tickets if you know “someone on the inside”. So yes, I can see that this would also be the case with airline tickets or any other travel (or experience) related purchase. Thanks for sharing a great tip.

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