Want to travel, but don’t want to shell out hundreds for plane tickets? I don’t blame you. With rising airline rates, the plane ride to get to your destination could easily be the most expensive part of your trip. But if you’re smart about it, there are plenty of options for getting free flights.
In this article, I’ll share 10 different ways you can get a free plane ticket. They won’t always be the easiest or most convenient for you, and maybe you won’t get every flight you ever take for free, but these options can net you free travel for at least some of your trips.
1. Get Bumped
One of the easiest and quickest ways to get free flights is getting bumped (denied) from your flight. This happens when the flight is overbooked and there aren’t enough seats for everyone.
There are only two routes when you get bumped from a flight--voluntarily or involuntarily. If you give up your seat voluntarily, you’re doing this in exchange for something--usually a flight voucher. If you get bumped involuntarily (see the United scandal), however, it’s when the airline forces you to give up your seat because the flight was overbooked and not enough people volunteered to give up their spot.
Because of the PR nightmare an involuntary bump can cause, we’re seeing airlines do this less and less often, and instead offer voluntary options. According to Statista, most domestic airlines have already decreased their involuntary denied boardings from 2016 to 2017. Here’s an infographic they put together to show the data:
Getting bumped from a flight is a hit-and-miss option, but if you do manage to do it, you may receive anywhere from $100 to $1,000 in vouchers per ticket. And it may not be as difficult as it sounds, as most airlines are already operating at capacity. According to travel expert Johnny Jet, the airlines have cut capacity, which means that most flights are operating with a full house. This increases the chances of getting bumped, especially on peak travel days like Monday, Friday, Sunday, and around the holidays.
Just make sure you have schedule flexibility.
Johnny Jet advocates for getting bumped and does it so often that he put together a complete guide on how to get bumped from a flight. Some of the tips he gives are to check the current flight load, volunteer yourself to get bumped, and wait close to the gate for announcements.
Know that you’ll still have to pay for the original flight you get bumped from. If the agent asks for volunteers to be bumped to another flight, you won’t pay any extra for that flight, and you’ll get vouchers good for future airline tickets. Again, just make sure you have a flexible schedule or you have a backup plan if you’re going to try this hack.
2. Leverage Credit Card Sign-up Offers
These days, many travel credit cards are offering killer sign-up offers--some of which can even get you a free flight from the start. One word of caution, however, is that applying for new credit cards will show up as a hard pull on your credit report--thereby decreasing your FICO score. So be strategic about how and when you apply for these cards--don’t apply for a bunch of them at once. Here are two of my favorites for sign-up bonuses:
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
One of the best deals you can get right now is with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which gives you one-time bonus of 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. That’s equivalent to approximately $750 in travel credits.
I personally use this credit card as my everyday card, then pay it off in full at the end of the month. In the last couple of years, I’ve accumulated thousands of dollars in travel just based on the rewards structure--2 miles per dollar spent.
This card comes with a $95 annual fee, however, the one-time bonus will make the annual fee worth it.
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
If you like flying with Delta, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is another attractive option to look at. New cardholders will earn 40,000 Bonus Miles after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months. Plus, earn $100 Delta Flight Credit (for future travel) after you spend $10,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Terms Apply.
The key to hacking new credit card sign-up offers is to choose a credit card you haven’t had recently, so you’ll be eligible for the bonus offer. Then, track your spending so that you can meet the spending requirements to earn the bonus miles. Double miles per dollar spent are earned on all purchases made directly with Delta and single miles per dollar spent are earned on everything else.
Perhaps the coolest feature is that your first bag is checked for free for you and up to eight others on your travel reservation, a $225 value round trip every time! There is a $99 annual fee, waived for all first year cardholders.
3. Use Everyday Credit Card Rewards
Those sign-up offers are tempting, but the best way to keep earning free flights over time is to sign up for a credit card that offers great miles for everyday spending. When you find a credit card that offers good mileage bonuses, use it for your everyday spending, pay it off, and reap the rewards for free flights. If you do plan to use a credit card for your everyday spending like I do, I have a couple of great options for you to consider:
British Airways Visa Signature Card
One of my favorites for someone who a) puts all their purchases on one credit card and b) loves to travel with British Airways is the British Airways Visa Signature Card. This card is one of the best for everyday purchases because of the rewards structure (the sign-up bonus isn’t bad either!).
The current sign-up bonus for new cardholders is 100,000 bonus Avios after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Plus earn a Travel Together Ticket after you spend $30,000 total on purchases within your first year of account opening. For regular spending, you’ll get 5 Avios points for every dollar you spend with British Airways, 3 Avios points per dollar spent on hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel in the first 12 months of account opening, and 1 point for everything else.
As an added bonus, every year you spend $30,000 or more, you'll earn a Travel Together Ticket, good for up to 2 years!
The Platinum Card® from American Express
If you have excellent credit and travel a lot, The Platinum Card from American Express card might be for you. Know upfront, though, that it comes with a large annual fee ($695) and is considered a charge card, so you’ll have to pay it off every month. If you can handle that, read on.
To start, you’ll get 100,000 Membership Rewards points once you spend $6,000 in the first six months of having the card. After that, you’ll get 5x points when you book your flights directly through American Express or the airline itself and 5x points on prepaid hotels booked through American Express. All other purchases get 1 point per dollar spent. Terms Apply.
Then there are the bonuses. You’ll receive up to $200 in Uber rides each year ($15/month), up to a $200 airline fee credit (for checked bags, etc.), and access to the AMEX Global Lounge collection for you and your guests to utilize prior to your flight.
The Platinum Card® from American Express has also added one additional neat perk; a $100 statement credit to Saks Fifth Avenue annually (enrollment required)
4. Check Out Frequent Flier Programs
If you already fly frequently, frequent flier programs are your best friend. Once you join one or two frequent flyer programs, try to fly only with those airlines. Sure, you may pay a small premium for your tickets, but if all those frequent flier miles are consolidated with one airline, you’ll earn free flights more quickly. Here are some of the best to join:
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
You won’t find Alaska Airline hubs everywhere, but if you’re on the west coast you most likely have already flown with them. Alaska Airlines is big in the pacific northwest, but you’ll also find hubs in New York, Atlanta, and some other major cities. Their mileage plan allows you to earn miles by flying with Alaska Airlines, Virgin America, and 18 of their partner airlines, which include American Airlines and British Airways. Click here for more details on the program.
Another awesome mileage program if you want to fly with Delta, which operates more than 15,000 flights every day. Delta goes to over 330 destinations across more than 60 countries on a daily basis as well. So you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a flight. You’ll earn miles by flying with over 20 partner airlines, along with Delta, and you can use the miles on flights, seat upgrades, and hotels. Another great feature is that your miles will never expire with Delta. Plus, you can sign up for the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express I mentioned above to increase your earnings rate. Click here for more details on the program.
5. Consider Dining Rewards Programs
Many frequent flier programs let you earn miles when you dine at certain restaurants. And you don’t even have to charge the dinner out on a credit card to earn the miles. Most of these programs are pretty straightforward. You link your card and you’ll earn miles when you dine out at participating restaurants. Some programs will even give you a sign-up bonus like rewards credit cards do, giving you a lump sum of points or an accelerated earning rate for a short period of time. A word of advice--some programs have limitations, including days, times, and locations for earning points. Make sure you know these before you dine out if you want to earn the most points possible. Here are some programs that offer dining rewards:
With the Southwest dining program, you can earn 3 miles per dollar spent on dining out, and a bonus 10 miles for writing a review. You’ll get 750 bonus miles if you sign up and spend $25 within the first 30 days, and you’ll earn 300 milestone bonus miles each time your account hits another 1,000 miles. The first time your account hits 1,500 miles, you’ll get 500 bonus miles, too.
You can earn up to 5 miles per dollar on dining out at participating restaurants with the AAdvantage dining program. Your earning rates come in tiers, with the lowest being a measly 1 mile per $2 spent. To ease the pain, though, you’ll get 1,000 bonus miles if you sign up and spend $30 in the first 30 days.
With Deltas dining rewards program, you’ll earn up to 5 miles per dollar spent and a 3,000 SkyMile bonus for signing up. The lowest-earning tier gets 1 mile per $2 spent like American Airlines, but your rewards and bonuses increase the more often you dine out during the month. Don’t forget to accelerate your earnings with the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express.
JetBlue doesn’t give you a sign-up bonus for their dining rewards program, and gives you dining rewards based on your reward member status. If you’re a TrueBlue member, you’ll earn 1 point per dollar, whereas Mosaic members will get 2 points per dollar spent.
With Alaska Airlines dining rewards program, you can get up to 5 miles per dollar spent on dining out. Like other programs, you’ll be separated into tiers, based on how much you’ve spent, and the lowest tier gives 1 mile per $2 spent. Alaska Airlines will, however, give you 1,000 bonus miles for signing up and spending $30 within your first 30 days.
With United’s dining rewards, you can earn up to 5 miles per dollar spent (also a tiered program). United does give you a sign-up bonus, though. They give you 500 miles for signing up, and 500 miles for each dining visit you make, up to 5, within the first 30 days. That’s a total bonus of 3,000 miles if you eat out five times in 30 days. Like most other programs, the lowest tier earns 1 mile per $2 spent. Pair this program with a card like the United TravelBank Card and you’ll be earning rewards with United faster than ever.
6. Opt for Programs with Companion Tickets
One great way to earn free flights for family travel is to sign up for credit cards and programs that offer free companion tickets. You’ll have to pay for the first ticket, but the second one is free--except for some small taxes and fees. Fewer and fewer airlines are offering this perk, though, so if you find one, make sure to take full advantage of it.
The British Airways Visa Signature Card does this for its cardholders, for example. If you spend at least $30,000 in a calendar year--which isn’t hard for someone putting all of their expenses on a single card--you’ll get what’s called a Travel Together Ticket. This is essentially a free plane ticket for someone else to fly with you, and it expires two years after its issued. Keep in mind, this is just a bonus in addition to the other points you’re earning.
7. Look for Free Tickets from the Financial World
Free airline tickets are quite a popular item for financial firms to give away these days. American Airlines is probably the best example of this, offering miles for all kinds of financial products that you may have needed anyway. Here’s a list of financial companies they partner with:
- American HomeMiles - Register and earn bonus miles for buying and selling your home, as well as paying for movers. The more you sell your house for, or the more you buy one for, the more miles you’ll earn. Moving is a flat rate earned.
- BankDirect - Sign up with BankDirect, a division of Texas Capital Bank, and you’ll earn miles on pretty much all of your banking activity. This includes opening new accounts, monthly offers based on your activity, and bonus miles for opening a CD.
- Betterment - You get bonus miles based on the amount you invest with Betterment, in three tiers.
- e-Rewards - Earn bonus miles for doing online market research surveys and sharing your opinions about products and services.
- LendingClub - You’ll earn 1 bonus mile for every $1 you borrow with LendingClub.
- LifeLock - Earn up to 12,000 miles when you enroll in LifeLock ID Theft protection.
- Miles for Opinions - Take surveys that are geared toward your interests and earn free bonus miles.
- Miles From Home - Earn miles when you buy or sell your home through this realty service.
- PreFlight Airport Parking - You’re going to pay to park at the airport anyways, so why not earn miles for doing so? You’ll get 1 mile for every dollar you spend on parking.
American Airlines is just one example. In the past, United has offered miles for borrowing money through the P2P lender Prosper. If you’re in the market for a brokerage account or a mortgage, look for companies who are offering airline tickets as incentives.
The point here is that you should always do some research to see if your mileage program or credit card issuer is offering any bonus miles for signing up for financial products you were going to use anyway. For instance, I signed up for Betterment because I wanted to--but got no bonus. Knowing that I could have earned up to 30,000 AAdvantage miles for doing it would have just sweetened the pot a bit.
8. Ask for Frequent Flier Miles as a Gift
This year when mom asks what you want for Christmas, don’t ask for a Starbucks card. Instead, ask for some of her frequent flier miles. Most frequent flier and some credit card rewards programs will let an account holder transfer miles directly to another account holder. In fact, American Airlines, Delta, and Southwest all have information online about how to give--or gift--miles.
In other cases, the miles holder could just use miles to buy a ticket for a specific trip, putting it in your name. Sometimes, this is actually the smoothest way to get miles as a gift, since you don’t have to mess with transfer fees and such. For a new thought on wedding gift ideas, Lori Zaino of The Points Guy wrote a really nice article about giving miles as a wedding gift. It might not be a bad idea to put these on your registry if you’re getting married!
9. Check Social Media
Follow your favorite airlines on social media. Oftentimes, they’ll offer bonus miles for liking a post, or they’ll run contests that you can enter with the click of a button. We don’t recommend spending hours of your life entering contests you may never win, but if you’re already on Facebook, and the contest takes two seconds, why not?
Many airlines are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Twitter is an awesome spot to not only find deals but also work out issues that you’re having. Oddly, companies reply much faster on Twitter than traditional means of getting in touch like email or phone. Here’s a quick list of the Twitter handles of some of the biggest domestic airlines to get you started:
- Southwest Airlines - @SouthwestAir
- United - @United
- Alaska Airlines - @AlaskaAir
- Frontier Airlines - @FlyFrontier
- Virgin Atlantic - @VirginAtlantic
- Virgin America - @VirginAmerica
- Delta - @Delta
- American Airlines - @AmericanAir
- JetBlue - @JetBlue
10. Get a Job at the Airline
If you truly love travel, consider working for an airline. It’s an excellent way to fly for free, and you can get nearly anywhere if you fly on standby. TripSavvy put together a very helpful resource on how to land a job at one of the top 10 airlines in the United States. For example, here’s what they wrote about Frontier:
Not only is the Denver-based carrier hiring pilots and flight attendants, it’s also hiring interns, baggage representatives, financial analysts, maintenance workers and recruiters. Perks include flight benefits, medical/dental insurance, a 401(k) and paid sick leave and vacation time.
As you can see, there are all types of jobs you can get working for an airline. Plus you’ll get the perks of free or discounted flights. In fact, Cosmopolitan did an interview with an employee of Southwest Airlines, who talked about how she got a job with them and what it’s like. Finally, be sure to check out AirlineJobFinder which features jobs specific to the industry.
It’s not always the most exciting or convenient process, but there are some pretty simple ways to earn free flights. My advice is to start by getting a credit card that earns you miles at an accelerated pace, then look into some of the other options like dining rewards and frequent flier miles. With a little strategy and devotion, you may not have to pay for a flight ever again!