With spring and summer vacation times rapidly approaching, many people are eager to get out on the road or in the air. Air travel can be one of the most costly aspects of planning a trip, but fortunately you can lower those costs with these strategies. Here's how to get free flights or save on your airline tickets.
The top strategies for saving money on flights, and even getting free tickets, are to sign up for travel rewards programs and use a rewards credit card that especially benefits travelers. Travel hacking to earn free flights is going to require some planning and organization, though.
1. An airline loyalty program is one way to get free flights.
If you prefer a particular airline, signing up for their loyalty program is one of the first ways to try to save on flights and even earn free ones. Airlines will reward members with miles based on miles traveled or the amount spent on flights with them. This tip works best if you want to be loyal to one airline — if you fly various airlines, you won't earn rewards very quickly.
Here are a few of the airline loyalty programs:
- American Airlines AAdvantage
- Southwest Rapid Rewards
- United MileagePlus
- Alaska Airline Mileage Plan
- Delta SkyMiles
Be sure to check into how you earn points or miles, whether points ever expire, fees associated with flights, and whether blackout dates are a problem.
It's a good idea to sign up for an airline's loyalty program before flying, no matter what. Most of them are free and you have nothing to lose. Even if flights aren't free, you could get free checked baggage or other discounts.
2. Sign up for an airline credit card.
By signing up for an airline-branded credit card, you can earn miles on everyday purchases. Travel-related purchases might be rewarded at a higher level, but you can also earn miles when you buy groceries or dine out. For example, the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card pays double the miles for supermarket purchases.
Airline credit cards not only can earn you free flights, but other benefits like discounts on in-flight purchases or other perks. Be sure to look into credit cards that offer a free companion pass as well. Southwest Rapid Rewards is known for its companion pass, which allows one person to fly with you for just the cost of taxes and fees (around $5.60 each way). This is good for up to two years.
3. Sign-up bonuses on rewards credit cards can help you earn a free flight.
Whether you sign up for an airline-branded credit card or another strong rewards card, you can often get a significant amount of miles or points worth free travel. Welcome bonuses are the quickest way to earning free flights.
Here are some of the welcome bonuses available as of March 2023:
- Alaska Airlines Visa – 70,000 bonus miles, plus companion fare from $122
- Citi AAdvantage – Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard: 50,000 miles
- Delta Skymiles Gold American Express Card – 70,000 miles
- United Business Card – 75,000 bonus miles
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card – 30,000 bonus miles
4. Other general rewards credit cards offer flexibility and good travel rewards.
If you aren't particular about a certain airline or you want more flexibility in your credit card rewards, you can sign up for a credit card that earns you points. Chase, Citi, and other credit card companies allow you to redeem credit card points for flights. But they're also redeemable for hotel stays, discounts on travel bookings, cash back, and more flexible rewards.
Some of the best flexible travel credit cards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – 60,000 bonus points; earn 5x points on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Capital One Venture – 75,000 bonus miles; earn 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through their portal
- Bank of America Travel Rewards – 25,000 online bonus points; earn 3 percent on your category of choice
If you like to have flexible options when traveling, a general rewards card is best for earning benefits. This way you can earn discounted or free flights, but you can also receive statement credits and rewards in other forms. You aren't stuck to one airline or hotel, either.
What is travel hacking and is it safe?
Travel hacking has become popular over the past decade or so, with people talking about how many free flights or vacations they took. Be aware that "free" travel often means meeting large minimum spending goals on a rewards card first. Some people also use airline miles from work travel to rack up rewards, but not everyone has that option.
You can become a travel hacker by taking advantage of various rewards and loyalty programs and keeping track of your spending. Other ways to save on travel include being mindful of when you book flights, choosing flexible travel dates, and asking airlines and hotels for their best deals.
Be cautious about travel hacking: you need to keep careful records if you have multiple credit cards and pay them in full and on time. Watch your credit score as well.