1. Sign-up for a new Frequent Flyer Credit Card
If you haven’t done this yet you need to because you are losing miles on every purchase you make without a travel rewards card. This is the easiest way to earn a free flight right away. Almost every airline has a partnership with a card. Delta offers 30,000 miles just for getting approved for their AmEx. United offers a MileagePlus card from chase that will earn you 40,000 miles when you sign-up. Just about every airline offers a card with bonus miles just like this and you can see a complete list on Daily Markets. Keep in mind some cards have minimum spending limits to meet in the first few months but often those can be met just by paying your bills. When you book your flight you will have to pay some taxes but they are often very low when compared to the flight cost. 30-40,000 miles is more than enough for one domestic flight and well on its way to a international flight.
2. Sign-up for a Non-specific Travel Rewards Card
Not loyal to one airline or can’t decide which airline’s card is right for you? No problem because there are plenty of travel rewards cards that will simply earn you points that you can convert to miles to fly for free. The Chase Sapphire will earn you 40,000 bonus points. There are plenty more to choose from such as American Express and Capital One. Cards with points are great alternative to miles. Check them out here.
3. Volunteer to Get Bumped and Use a Voucher
To use your travel voucher first you have to get bumped but if you are flexible that is not too hard. I have been offered them dozens of times and excepted them when I can. When flights are oversold, and they often are today, you can volunteer to give up your seat. These vouchers can range from a couple hundred dollars and up just depending on the airline and route. The best way to get offered these vouchers is to fly very popular routes. Usually these are valid for one year and can be used for a free ticket or towards a more expensive ticket. One thing I do not like about them is they often cannot be combined. I recently sat on the phone with Delta for a long time trying to just that for a flight to East Africa with no luck. But every dollar off helps and sometimes it covers the whole fare.
4. Seek Out Overbooked Flights
This goes along with volunteering to get bumped. Your odds of receiving a travel voucher go up when you are flying a route with a good chance of being oversold. Popular flights include the first fight of the day, popular destinations, flying on a holiday, and flying from a major airlines hub. Feel free to ask the agent at the gate if they think they will need volunteers to take the next flight. Keep in mind flexibility is the key to success here.
If you are planning to get bumped be sure to carry-on your bags. You want to have access to everything you need if you have to spend an extra night away from home.
5. Use Your Companion Ticket
This method allows you to take a friend/partner/boyfriend or just about anyone you can call your companion on a free flight that you are on. Many airline credit cards, such as Delta, will allow you to bring a companion along for free once a year for renewing their credit card. Your only cost the government taxes and fees ranging from $10.80-$27.60 (with Delta). Other airlines offer these as well so be sure to check the benefits of your travel rewards card before signing-up if this is something that would be useful for you.
6. Complain with Good Reason
This is not something you should take advantage of but if you experience a less than enjoyable flight you may receive compensation for it. Be honest and write a formal complaint to the airline. Don’t email the complaint to them but actually write this letter by hand with all your flight number, route, frequent flyer number and explain why you were dissatisfied. Explain to them that you want a free ticket because of what your negative experience was. Send carbon copy to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division so the airline will see that you are serious. The DOT site will also certify the letter so you know it has been received by the airline (source: elliot.org)
7. Do Your Shopping Through Airline Shopping Portals
All airlines have shopping portals where you will earn miles on almost everything you want to buy. They carry every major retailer and its is very simple to use. You can not earn a free flight quickly here but you can earn miles without even flying. They often have deals that will earn you a lot of miles on the dollar. If you need a couple more thousand miles to earn your free flight with miles this is a good way to bump them up a bit.
Air Canada- Aeroplan EStore
American Airlines- AAdvantageEshopping.com
American Express- Bonus Points Mall
Chase- Ultimate Rewards Shopping
US Airways- Dividend Miles Shopping Mall
8. Fly on Special Military ‘Space A’ Flights
This is limited to servicemembers, retirees, and their families. So if you have someone in your family who is or once was in the military you can fly for free. The Space A or military hops, is a program that provides free flights for those who serve and their families. The catch is you have to be very flexible with dates and times. While I have never used this method I do have family members who have. It has become harder to fly under the Space A program post 9/11 but it is still an option for those who are eligible. More info on Space A here.
9. Work for an Airline or Make a Friend Who Does
This takes some dedication or perhaps a career change but you can fly for free if you work for an airline. You don’t have to be a pilot or a flight attendant to enjoy these perks. Simply working for most airlines will provide you with access to free flights wherever that airline flies. You will be able to fly your immediate family and some airlines even allow you to fly a companion for free. So just making the right friends may get you access to a free flight.
10. Earning Miles the Old Fashioned Way
When you have applied for too many credit cards and have been declined or you are tired of churning them every year you can simply go back to the basics. Just earn the miles you need to fly for free with the basics. This starts with flying consistently with one airline when it is reasonable to do so. Loyalty pays off but don’t let it force you into buying a more expensive flight. Do all your shopping through airline portals online (see #7). And lastly, if you do have at least one airline credit card make sure you use it for all your regular expenses every month. In time you will earn free flight but they just won’t be as fast as some of the other methods.
Flying for free or a discount allows you to spend money on other things when you travel such as lodging or extended stays. Some methods are much easier than others and numbers 8 and 9 are not possible for everyone. The point is there are a lot of ways to earn free travel so be sure to always get those miles and points when they are available to you. Seek travel vouchers when they are available, never be afraid to complain about a bad experience, and don’t forget to use those companion tickets your airline offers you every year. Being flexible is the best way to get deals and earn free flights. Hopefully you can apply one of these methods soon and earn a free flight.