Traveling is one of the most popular options for leisure in the world, and many people also use air travel for personal needs and business reasons. The air travel industry is built around the idea of frequent flyer programs and rewards, but not everyone flies enough to take advantage of these programs, or passengers simply don't want to deal with the complexity of the system for what they deem to be subpar rewards. There are, however, many different ways to fly for free, both with and without accumulating frequent flyer credits.
1. Overbooked Bumps
Most airlines will purposefully overbook flights that they expect to be crowded under the assumption that some passengers won't make the flight. However, if everyone arrives for the flight and there aren't enough seats, airlines must offer compensation to any volunteers who give up their seat. These vouchers can be used on any later flight, and they are often worth hundreds of dollars, regardless of the cost of the original flight.
2. Promotional Offers
Be on the lookout for events that are sponsored by airlines since they tend to give away gift cards and other perks like free flyer miles or points. These can be used to purchase full trips if you also take advantage of low-cost fare promotions that many airlines offer. A good way to know when your favorite airline is about to offer such promotions is to sign up for their newsletter.
3. Express Civilized Dissatisfaction
Complaining about subpar customer service or an issue with individual staff members on a particular flight can result in free flights or heavy discounts in order to keep the customer happy. The trick is to remain civilized, respectful, specific, and level-headed. Going over the top won't trigger any desire to make you happy as a customer, but if you are polite in your complaint, most airlines won't let it go unnoticed.
4. Companion Certificates
Depending on the airline, you might be able to receive a free flight for a companion just by taking advantage of their in-house rewards program. This is a great way to get free flights for your friends and family, and many of the programs don't require any additional commitment. Some require that you sign up for an airline credit card, so be careful when dealing with the fine print in such situations.
5. Sign-Up Credit Card Bonuses
While spending money on the appropriate credit card can earn miles quickly for those who spend a lot, it is much easier to gain benefits from credit cards by looking for sign-up bonuses. Just by getting approved for a card, you can instantly receive a free flight's worth of miles. Be sure that if you do sign up for a card just for that purpose that you don't overuse the card and carry a balance, because interest paid would negate the sign-up bonus.
6. Reward Card Use
If you do use your credit card often, an airline rewards card is a good idea for accumulating free flights. This is especially useful if you use your card for daily purchases, which will help increase your rewards faster. There are a number of ways to take full advantage of this, like paying bills with the card instead of directly through your bank account.
7. Fly To Earn Miles
When the idea of a frequent flyer program was first introduced, traveling was the easiest method of earning a free flight, and while that may not be the case any longer, flying is still a good way to earn miles. Those who have to travel for work and receive comped flights should definitely take advantage of this. All it takes is your frequent flyer account number.
8. Purchase Frequent Flyer Miles
In general, it isn't a great value to buy miles directly, but airlines are constantly offering miles at discounted rates to encourage their customers to buy them. Some airlines have been known to offer miles at only half-price, which is a good way to get an upgrade for a single flight without any additional cost.
9. Take Long Routes
If you have spare time built into your travel schedule, it doesn't hurt to orchestrate your flight such that it has a connecting flight that is far out of the way. This will allow you to earn more miles for the same cost.
10. Use Few Rewards Programs
It might be tempting to sign up for every airline rewards program you can find, but that will cause you to progress slowly through each individual program, thus slowing the rate at which you can benefit from rewards. Choose a few rewards systems and stick with them.
These are some of the most efficient strategies for getting either free flights or flights at a greatly reduced cost. Stay vigilante for other methods that can be used to help you save every dollar possible while traveling.