Fly for Free: 9 Insider Tips You Can't Miss

Nov 23, 2023 By Susan Kelly

Air travel is now part of our lives, whether for work, pleasure, or simply to learn about other cultures. Flights are too expensive for many people to take vacations, so many ask themselves, "What if you could fly for free?" Certainly possible! The nine best free airline ticket strategies are explained in simple terms.

Airline Credit Cards

Credit cards from airlines are great for quickly accumulating miles. Airlines offer credit cards that convert everyday spending into miles deposited into your loyalty program account through financial institutions. This setup lets you earn miles for a free flight without buying a ticket.

Choose a credit card that fits your spending habits. If you shop for groceries often and fly American Airlines, consider the American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp®, which offers 2x miles per dollar at U.S. supermarkets.

If you frequently fly with United Airlines and enjoy dining out, consider the United℠ Explorer Card, which offers 2 miles per dollar on dining and eligible delivery services. A good option for frequent diners and supermarket shoppers is the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, which offers 2 SkyMiles per dollar in these categories.

Airline Loyalty Programs

Frequent travelers seeking free flights should join an airline loyalty program. Membership is usually free, and every flight you take on that airline earns miles or points that can be exchanged for a free flight. United Airlines' MileagePlus program gives members 5 miles per dollar spent on eligible tickets. Bonus miles come with Premier status.

Miles are awarded differently by airlines. A 2,397-mile flight from San Francisco to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines earns 2,397 Hawaiian miles. Partner airlines also offer miles. JetBlue lets you make HawaiianMiles by entering your member number when booking.

A free flight requires different miles depending on the airline, destination, and travel dates. Check your airline's website often to learn how to use your miles and estimate the miles needed for your destinations.

Welcome Bonuses for Free Flights

Taking advantage of credit card, welcome bonuses can gain a substantial number of miles quickly. Take the Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card, for instance. It offers a lucrative welcome bonus: earn 60,000 bonus miles plus the opportunity for a companion fare at a discounted rate of $99 plus applicable taxes and fees starting from $23.

To qualify, you must spend at least $3,000 within the first 90 days of account opening. This approach not only sets you on course for a flight for free but often includes additional perks like companion fares, enhancing the value of your travel experience.

Non-Airline Credit Cards for Flexible Points

Choose non-airline credit cards from Chase, American Express, Capital One, and Citi to diversify your free-flight strategy. These cards earn points on purchases that can be redeemed for flights on the card issuer's travel booking platform or airline miles. Some cards allow point redemption for flight or hotel statement credits.

For instance, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card gives 1.5 points per dollar. These points can be used as statement credits or to book a free flight through Bank of America's travel portal.

Airline Companion Pass

A companion pass is an excellent way to get a free flight for a travel partner. Southwest offers the Companion Pass, which lets you fly with a friend for $5.60 each way, including taxes and fees.

To get this pass, fly 100 one-way flights or earn 135,000 qualifying points on a Southwest credit card or flight purchases. This pass lasts the rest of the year and the year after. Southwest allows you to change your companion three times a year, making it flexible for different travel companions.

Alaska Airlines Visa® cardholders receive a one-time companion fare annually. Your companion can fly for $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) with this feature. Such offers make free flights a real benefit, especially for frequent travelers or strategic spenders. These companion passes are a game-changer for saving money and traveling with a friend.

Benefits of Airline Credit Cards

Airline credit cards are a practical solution for earning free flights without altering your daily spending habits. For example, the American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp® card offers a notable benefit of 2 miles for every dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets.

This system directly links your regular expenses to potential free flights. It's essential to select a card that suits your spending pattern. This alignment ensures that every purchase you make brings you closer to a flight for free.

General Travel Rewards Cards

General travel rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire or the Bank of America® Travel Rewards card are ideal for those who don't stick to one airline. These cards earn points on all purchases, which can be redeemed for flights across various airlines or converted into airline miles.

This flexibility is crucial for travelers who value a broader range of flight options. The Chase Sapphire, for instance, not only rewards users with points but also offers redemption flexibility, making booking a flight for free on multiple airlines easier.

Working for an Airline

Starting a career with an airline or making industry connections can lead to free flights. Most airlines allow employees to fly free with immediate family and, in some cases, a companion. This benefit covers many airline workers, not just flight attendants and pilots.

Thus, free flights become a feasible perk for leisure and family travel, saving money. It may require a career change, but free flights are an incentive.

Effective Complaints

Legitimate flight complaints can result in free flights, but exploiting this approach is not advised. Communicating concerns honestly and formally is critical. A letter with the flight number, route, frequent flyer number, and reasons for your dissatisfaction is more effective than an email.

Your complaint is serious when you request a free ticket and send a copy to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection Division. This process validates your concerns and increases the airline's likelihood of providing compensation.

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