Planning a budget vacation can become much more expensive once airfare gets added in, especially if you book your preferred travel dates without comparing rates. Although shopping for the best flights and discounts can be time consuming, your efforts will pay off when you score a nearly-free flight. Here’s how to get free airline tickets or fly for (nearly) free every time.
Shop for Coupon Codes
Sign up for emails and “like” the Facebook pages of airlines that fly to your destination. Doing so gives you the chance to receive coupons you’ll use when you book directly through each airline’s website rather than through a third party site.
You can also do a web search for “airline + promo code” to quickly locate coupons. Additionally, check sites like RetailMeNot, CouponFollow and Groupon for coupon codes for flights.
Join an Airline Rewards Program
If you fly a certain airline frequently, you could earn miles and redeem free flights by joining the airline’s rewards program. These programs are free and are separate from earning points or welcome bonuses on a co-branded airline credit card.
U.S. News & World Report ranks Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus the best programs based on ease of earning miles and redeeming free flights for basic members. However, other airlines also offer rewards programs, including American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines.
If you have children who fly with you frequently, make sure they are also earning rewards. As long as your child is traveling with a ticket bought for a seat on the airline, the child is eligible to earn rewards. However, be prepared to open the child’s own frequent flyer account.
Sign Up for a Travel Credit Card That Offers a Huge Welcome Bonus
Travel credit cards often offer attractive welcome bonuses to entice travelers to apply. So if you’re wondering how to get free plane tickets, look for lists of the best travel cards to compare offers on the spot and score the best bonus offer for your travel needs. But don’t limit your search to standard travel cards. Instead, look for co-branded cards — especially those that are offered in connection with your favorite airline.
For example, the Alaska Airlines Visa credit card is offering a buy one, get one and bonus mile offer upon approval. Buy one airline ticket and get one for just the taxes and fees — plus, you’ll be credited 40,000 bonus miles which will put you well on your way to your next free airline ticket.
Other notable welcome bonus offers include the following examples:
- Capital One Venture Rewards: Earn 75,000 bonus miles — or $750 toward an airline ticket — once you spend $4,000 within the first three months
- Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express: Earn 40,000 bonus miles — or about $564 toward an airline ticket — after you spend $2,000 within the first six months
- United Explorer Card MileagePlus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles — or $780 toward an airline ticket — after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
Note that these offers are only examples of what’s possible and may or may not be available at any given time.
Rack Up Points By Using Your Travel Credit Card
A reward-focused travel credit card isn’t only good for the welcome bonus — it can also help you rack up points by using it to pay for your everyday purchases. Nearly every airline has a co-branded credit card to earn miles in the sky, whether you spend money on flights or groceries. And if you’re wondering how to get free airfare, this could be your answer.
Some cards offer more points per dollar spent than others, so read all the fine print before you apply. Also, choose a card that will reward you the most according to your spending habits. For example, if you eat out frequently, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers 3x points on dining purchases.
You’ll need a good to exceptional credit score — 670 or above — to qualify for an airline card, according to Experian, and they usually come with an annual fee. Keep in mind, however, that multiple credit inquiries can make you look like a high risk and might reduce your credit score.
Be a Volunteer
Sometimes, airlines to overbook their flights to account for a certain percentage of possible no-shows. If it appears the flight will be overbooked, airline employees will ask for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for compensation.
According to the Department of Transportation, “Most bumped passengers who experience short delays on flights will receive compensation equal to double the one-way price of the flight they were bumped from, but airlines may limit this amount to up to $775. Passengers experiencing longer delays on flights will receive payments of four times the one-way value of the flight they were bumped from, but airlines may limit this amount to up to $1,550.” This could be the answer to the question, “How can I get a free flight?”
Delta Airlines recently made headlines for offering passengers $1,600 to volunteer to leave a flight they already boarded. The best part is that, unlike airline vouchers, you don’t have to use the money you’re compensated for a flight purchase or other services offered by the airline — you can use it for anything.
Jodi Thornton-O’Connell contributed to the reporting for this article.
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- U.S. News Travel. "Best Airline Rewards Programs for 2023-2024."
- Million Mile Secrets. "Where to Sign Up For Frequent Flyer Programs."
- Washington Post. 2022. "You asked: Should I get my kid a frequent-flier account?"
- Experian. 2023. "What Credit Score Is Needed for a Travel Credit Card?"
- Newsweek. 2023. "Reason Delta Is Offering $1600 to Any Passengers Who Leave Flight Explained."
- U.S. Department of Transportation. "Bumping & Oversales."
- Travelers United. 2023. "Bumped from a flight? Get cash, not airline funny money."