How to Score Free or Cheap Airline Tickets

Thousands of travelers take to the skies everyday. Some of those travelers are overpaying for airline tickets but you don’t have to be one of them.

Watch for the extra fees that airlines gouge travelers with. Checked bags, meals, and preferences for window seats may all be additional charges that negate any money you saved on the original ticket price.

With a little legwork, it’s possible to get cheap or even free airline tickets anytime for great destinations. Whether your travel is for work or vacation it’s possible to save a lot of money when you fly.

Book Early

Booking your ticket in advance is one of the sure-fire ways to get a low price. It doesn’t leave much flexibility, as fees may be incurred if you have to change your plans. But when you know dates won’t change, like for a holiday or a wedding, book as soon as you can. Try to save more money by booking midweek flights if your schedule allows it.

Fly at the Last Minute

Don’t rule out a last-minute trip because you assume it will be too expensive. It’s always worth searching for tickets. Some websites don’t allow you to purchase tickets less than 24 or 48 hours in advance, but they will allow you to buy them with short notice over the phone or in-person. Off-season flights are cheaper — but sometimes they’re cheap for a reason and you end up booking a beach vacation during a monsoon.

Use Low-Cost Airlines

Search low-frills airline like Southwest, Frontier, or Spirit. They have short flights that may make a cross-country trip take all day, and they don’t serve any food except light snacks, but the ticket price is often low enough to justify that. Southwest is one of the few airlines that still allows two checked bags for free, too.

Get Bumped

Get a free ticket or a voucher when you get bumped. Airlines often overbook, assuming one or two people will miss the flight or cancel at the last minute. But sometimes everyone checks in and then the airline asks for volunteers to switch to a different flight. Not only do they waive a flight-change fee, they’ll offer you a voucher to use for a future flight, generally within a year from the date of your original flight. If you book wisely that voucher will cover the entire ticket.

Sign Up for Frequent Flyer Miles

Anytime you take a flight, sign up for that airline’s miles or rewards program. If you’re loyal to one or two airlines, the points will rack up quickly and can be redeemed for upgrades or free flights. For international travel, travel with airlines that are grouped together, such as Star Alliance, which includes United, Brussels Airlines, and Lufthansa. Most American carriers are part of an international group that lets you move your miles between airlines.

Children are also eligible for frequent flyer accounts. Children’s tickets aren’t usually discounted so start them on collecting miles to take advantage of the programs.

Use a Credit Card with Rewards

Many credit cards offer rewards for airline tickets and hotels. Research them to find the one that suits your needs, and be sure to read the fine print on spending and points or miles usage. Many airlines are partnered with specific credit cards so if you’re signed up for their frequent flyer miles, using their credit card will help you collect miles even more quickly.

Ask for Miles or Travel Funds as Gifts

Technically someone is still paying for the tickets, but it’s not you. If someone asks what you’d like for your birthday or Christmas, tell them you want travel. Couples getting married may register for travel funds rather than traditional wedding gifts.

Giving experiences rather than physical items as gifts is on trend and sites like Travel Registry can help you organize your travel gifts. Maybe after you’ve done a bit of traveling yourself, you’ll have miles or points to gift to someone else in return.

Enter Travel Sweepstakes

Travel websites often have contests for free flights. Orbitz has an ongoing Free Flights Friday sweepstakes where all flights booked on a Friday are entered into a raffle. One winner each week is picked at random to get their flight for free.

Around the beginning of the year many airlines hold sweepstakes for a year’s worth of free flights, and they have contests for summer vacation or winter holiday airline tickets as well. Use a site like SweepsAdvantage or do a Google search for current sweepstakes.