How to Fly for Free: The Art Science of Getting Free Flights

So you want to fly for free.

What many people actually want to know when they ask how can I travel for free? is how can i get free flights on airlines? Well, I’m sure there are many different answers, from rewards programs to knowing someone who knows someone who works for the airline, but here is my all time favorite method of getting free flights, and anybody can use it. Here goes.

Get bumped.

Remember all those times when you were waiting to board your flight, and the attendants announced that the flight was overbooked? They ask if there is anyone willing to take a later flight well, be that person. In exchange for waiting a few extra hours at the airport, you’ll get a voucher for a free flight.

What do you have to do to get bumped?

To get your free flight, you’ll need to be prepared and flexible. Here are some things to take into account.

1) Pack only a carry on.

You can fit more than you think. If you need a checked bag, you’ve probably over-packed anyway. The airline wont let you get on a separate flight from your checked bag for security reasons, so if you go with only a carry on, you can avoid this problem.

2) Be early.

Your chances of getting picked to be bumped increase if you get there before other people who might want a free flight.

3) Be flexible.

If you need to be in San Diego in 3 hours for a wedding, its probably the wrong time to get bumped. But if you’re taking a long trip and your arrival time is less important, its a perfect time to get bumped. Flight attendants will put you on the next available flight- so if you are flying between major cities your wait time may only be a few hours. But in some cases you may end up spending the night, especially for international flights.

4) Fly on busy days.

This may seem counter-intuitive and may actually make the tickets a bit more expensive, but busy flight days are the times when airlines are most likely to overbook flights, and will desperately need volunteers to get bumped to later flights.

What do you get in return?

The airline will compensate you for your time, and the reward will vary with airlines. I tried to get together a list of specific compensation from each airline, but of course all of the terms and conditions are very vauge adequate compensation, a dollar amount, etc. But generally speaking, you will receive a seat on the next available flight and a voucher good towards a flight of at least the same value. You wont get additional frequent flyer miles from vouchers.

If you must spend the night, you should receive a free airport hotel room and transportation. Make sure to ask if it is not given. Also it never hurts to ask for other perks, such as a seat upgrade on the rescheduled flight, or use of the club lounge at the airport while you wait.

When I had to spend the night in Japan because of an overbooked flight, I was given a $400 voucher for a future flight and a free hotel room for the night, with breakfast and transportation to and from the airport included in the deal.