Wednesday, February 8, 2017

a Year of Free Flights

With the husband and I being in a long distance marriage, every time we see each other, it requires a flight. Add in the fact that we love to travel together and the flights really add up. In fact, I did the math and Tom and I took $5000 worth of flights in 2016. But that's not what we spent.
how to get cheap flights
Here's a quick breakdown of where we went. Tom had a conference that required a round-trip flight from Boston to San Francisco. Then together we flew to the West Coast twice for to Utah and another to Washington. We also flew to Chicago together, as well as Mexico. On top of that...yes there's more, Tom took 4 flights to see me (that long distance thing coming into play) and I took 6 flights to see him. When I really think about it, it's a wonder that it only added up to $5k, well $5,003.71 to be exact. But in reality, we spent....drum roll please, only $672 out of pocket! This is a big deal for us poor grad students and it really made the difference for us. Now, I have to admit, this was the best year we've ever had with getting free flights. The travel gods were shining down on us I suppose. Also, this was a light flight year for us, considering that I was able to live with husband for half of the year. But I'll take it! And I thought I'd share some of our success with our tips for getting a year of free flights. 

Date an Airline...then Cheat
If you're taking more than a few flights a year, I recommend dating an airline to earn frequent flyer miles with. Earning enough miles to get a free flight will require that you take a few flights with the same airline. So pick your main squeeze (mine is JetBlue) and date them. Whenever possible, fly with that's the new bae. This will allow you to accumulate points towards a free flight. But always compare prices and be willing to cheat on your airline if someone offers you a significantly better price. It's not worth it to earn a free flight simply because you overpaid for your previous flights.

Credit Card Rewards Points
I'm a big advocate of travel credit cards. If you've seen any of our travel budgets, then you already know this is how we manage to go on entire trips without having to pay for flights (and hotels for that matter:) I won't lie and say this an easy process, but if you can manage everything well, you can earn yourself a year's worth of free flights. Our tips for getting started with travel credit cards are here.

Get Bumped
Some airlines are notorious for overbooking flights...I'm looking at you Delta! But why would an airline overbook a flight? If a passenger misses their flight or cancels it ahead of time, the airline has a back-up person to fill the seat. But the thing is, if I miss my flight or even try to cancel well in advance, it's not like I'm getting my money, now back am I? I've flown with every major airline (in the states) and the answer to that is a big fat NO! Meanwhile, the airline gets to make double off my seat by filling it with one of their back-up overbooked passengers. Well, I say if the airlines are willing to overbook for the small potential of making more money, then as passengers, let's benefit from their greed. There's two ways to go with getting booked from a flight. 
Option 1: Assuming everyone shows up, the airline will be scrambling to get everyone on board and may ask for volunteers to be bumped. This is a guaranteed way to not only receive a new flight (free of charge of course), but also to get an airline voucher for your next flight. This is the safe bet.  
Option 2: If you're willing to live on the edge a little, then I will point out that you shouldn't necessarily rush to volunteer to be bumped. This version is a little riskier, but gives you even more compensation than a voucher if it works out in your favor. Pay attention to whether or not others are volunteering to be bumped. If the airline doesn't get enough volunteers, they will have to bump someone forcefully. And let's just say you so happen to hang back during the boarding process and make sure that you were the last to board, well you would be the most likely candidate to get involuntarily bumped. This probably sounds crazy and maybe even a little shady, but it works. And if your airline bumps you without you volunteering, then federal regulations state that they owe much much more than the compensation of a meager voucher for a couple hundred dollars. Basically what I'm saying is to take advantage of the airline's greed with overbooking. Because the airlines are certainly taking advantage of the fact that all their passengers may not show.

Ask for What you Deserve
Once you pay for a flight, you are owed a certain level of service. And if you don't get that, don't be afraid to ask for your money back. Now, I'm not telling you to go out and be the person that constanlty complains about everything in order to get something. But when you get delayed and trapped in New York for 19 hours and miss a whole freakin day of your Europe trip American Airlines, you're owed a bit of compensation for that.

Don't Pay for the Extras
We've all done it. You're running late for your flight so you pay a little extra for the fast lane at security. And while, you're at it, you spend another $5 to board early, $8 extra a day for the closest parking. Why not? It's all so tempting and makes the process of going through the airport feel a lot more stress-free. But it adds up quickly. A lot of avoiding paying for the extras has to do with planning ahead. Really plan out your outfits for each day and I assure you, you can fit a couple weeks worth in a carry-on. No need to pay a $50 luggage check fee. And if you want to go through the fast security line, take the time to get TSA approved. Not only is the line 5x shorter, but you don't have to take off your shoes or your. It's such as easy trap to fall into overspending at the airport, but it's also easy enough NOT to be the person spending extra. Buy the flight and draw the line at that. 

Travel Off Season
Reasonably, I'm not saying you have to fly on a Tuesday in the middle of November. If you can, that's great and you should do it. But what I am saying is consider traveling during an off season. Forget about a summer vacation, travel during the Fall instead. The weather is perfect and the prices are low because airlines just ended their busy summer season and are thankful for your business. A flight that costs $400 in August, may only cost you $150 two weeks later in September. Total game changer. 

Discount Sites
I'm a huge fan of discount sites. I've compared a lot of the biggies (Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline) to the airlines themselves and it's a win no matter how you look at it to book indirectly through one of these third party sites. One thing, I will point out is that discount sites tend to show their competitors prices as well. But these are often inaccurate. So check each site for the best deal. Bonus Tip: Book your flight through the discount website, but pay for it with your travel credit card. This way, you earn travel points with the website and on your travel credit card with a single purchase. 

Take Advantage of Airline Sales 
Just like your favorite department stores, airlines have sales too. And if you're dating your airline, then you'll be the first to know exactly when that is. Airline sales are completely spontaneous and short-lived, so you don't know they are coming. But if a sale pops up for a destination that's on your list, well there's no sense in waiting. Be a bit spontaneous and book it. 

Book Early 
This is the one that surprises me most. You would think that as an airline approached their departure date, it would want to lower prices to fill the seats. But not the case, which is probably why I've taken flights with several empty rows and the current cost was still being listed at several hundred dollars. But booking early can make a difference of hundreds of dollars. If you can, plan out your travel schedule ahead to time. 

The husband and I kicked off 2017 with over $1k in free flights between us. So here's to having (with lots of prayer and careful planning) another year of {nearly} free flights! And hopefully, sharing our tips helps others have a year of free flights too. 
linking up with thinkingoutloud//


  1. These are all really great tips! I have taken advantage of being compensated for overbooked flights many, many times. It is so nice when you only get bumped to a flight a few hours later and still walk away with free tickets and cash. The one thing I have noticed is when there is a problem with a flight it is so much better to have booked directly through the airline because oftentimes Orbitz and Expedia can't really do much to help you out.

    1. Hmm, if I've ever had trouble, I still call/talk to the airlines directly bc it normally has something to do with being delayed. I don't know if I've ever contacted one of the sites directly, but that's good to know and definitely keep in mind