How to Fly for Free

You want to go from New York City to Los Angeles for a weekend trip, but you don’t want to spend tons of money on airfare, well in 2019, there are many ways to do so, and you can even do it for free! All you have to do is follow a few specific tips and you’ll be on your way! 

Let’s start with some basics on how airlines price their fares. Generally, airlines price their fares according to demand for the routes they fly. Business travelers are the number one group of flyers for airlines and are the ones who spend the most money. Due to this,  the airline's price fares on business travel days the highest, these days are Mondays and Fridays’. The next most expensive day to fly is Sunday, or as I like to call the “vacationer's day to pay” because people who have gone away for the weekend generally need to get home before Monday for work. Now that we got the three most expensive days to fly, let’s move on to the three cheapest. Tuesday’s, Wednesday’s and Saturday’s are almost always guaranteed to be the least expensive days to fly. Why is this, you may ask? This is because many flights have lighter load factors and fewer travelers on those days, so airlines lower their fares to fill up the seats. Now that we have talked about six days of the week, we must talk about the seventh being Thursday; this is the oddball day to travel in the aviation world as far as prices go. Some weeks and some routes will be just as inexpensive as the three cheapest days, but other weeks for the same routes might be spiked to mirror those Monday and Friday prices. The reason for this weird change in price day is because of demand; some Thursday's airlines predict more demand, and some weeks they predict less. 

The next thing to look for is connecting flights. Many times, airlines will price connecting flights much less than the nonstops. Yes, many people want to just fly nonstop, but if you are on a budget, a connection might be the key to your budget success story. A common misconception is that connections are a long, drawn-out process, but in fact, sometimes, you can have a small 30-minute connection that can save you hundreds of dollars. For example, if you are a loyal American Airlines flyer and live in Charlotte, NC, you will know American has extremely high nonstop fares out of CLT due to them being a hub. Let’s say you wanted to go to San Diego for a few days of sunshine, and you want to leave in the AM of that particular day. American does have a morning nonstop flight at 7:30 AM; however, it will cost you a whopping $643 for an economy seat! Whereas if you make a connection through Phoenix also leaving 7:30 that has a 1 hour and 6 minute connection time, the fare is only $217. To spend an extra 1 hour and 6 minutes you can save $426, now think about what you could do with that extra money saved while on your vacation! Not to mention that this is only one way, so if you were to do this round-trip, you would save a total of $852, which in itself could pay for your entire hotel stay in SD.  

Now that we're talking about prices, you have to look out for the airlines with the best deals. Many airlines try to mirror the prices of their competitors, but oftentimes some airlines are slightly less and offer different features. Let’s continue with the same Charlotte to San Diego route. If you are going away for a few days, there is a high chance you will want to check a bag on American that will run you $35 each way, but if you fly Southwest, you get not one but two checked bags for free! On the exact same day, Southwest is charging just $106 to fly from CLT to San Diego! Now, if you take the bag fee from flying AA and apply it, by flying Southwest, you will save another $146. One of the biggest mistakes travelers make is by not shopping around for the best prices. As you can see from this one single route, you can save nearly $1,000 to go to the exact same place.  

Another tip I always say is to book directly with the airline to avoid issues that may arise from third-party travel sites to guarantee the lowest fare. Use those sites to compare the different airline fares but make the purchase through the airline. You also have to watch out for the ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCC) such as Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant. Yes, they do offer fantastic prices, as low as $15 one way on some routes, but these airlines do not include anything with you purchase except a small personal item such as a backpack or a purse. Let’s take another route that we can compare a ULCC to a full-service carrier such as Southwest on the same route. If you want to travel between Denver, CO, and Orange County, CA you can either fly on ULCC Frontier for $49 nonstop or on Southwest for $121, now for an everyday person they might jump at the $49 fare and think they got a great deal but let’s put that idea to the test. On Southwest, you get two free checked bags, free snacks and drinks, and free seat selection, which means you can be close or next to whomever you may be traveling with, oh, and not to mention much better legroom and comfort. On Frontier, you do not have to pay for a seat in advance, but if you do not, you will not get to choose where you sit, so you might end up in a middle seat or away from the person you are traveling with. A seat on Frontier starts at $12; then, you want to bring two checked bags like you would on Southwest. The bags will cost a minimum of $82 when purchased online. Then while onboard, you want a snack and drink, that will cost around $10. So, in total, that $49 fare just went to $153, $32 more than it would have been on Southwest! This is the pitfall many inexperienced travelers fall into due to a lack of information about ULCC carriers like Frontier.  

Another way to save money is by booking in advance if you know when you want to take a trip, try to book at least a month before the day of departure to ensure the best fare prices. Airlines begin to increase fares for all flights when booked less than 30 days out. One of the best ways to save money is by flying on mileage tickets. After you fly for a while with an airline that has a mileage program and you create a FREE account with them, you will start racking up miles. Some airlines price mileage tickets as low as 2,000 miles, which you can attain very quickly by paying for flights. Unfortunately, many people do not create these free airline accounts and miss out on gaining miles from their flights! A great way to jumpstart a mileage account is to sign up for an airline credit card. Many airlines offer sign up bonuses where you can typically earn between 20,000 and 80,000 miles for just using the card to buy your everyday purchases. When you book a mileage ticket, you only have to pay the taxes, so any domestic ticket or outbound international ticket from the U.S. will only cost you $5.60 or $11.20 total out of pocket! 

The last and final way to fly for less or for free is to arrive at the gate early for your flight and ask the gate agent if your flight is oversold. Airlines oversell flights hoping that people will not show up. For example, if an airplane has 200 seats, the airline might sell 205 tickets banking on five people not showing up for the flight, but if only four people don’t show up, the flight will be in an oversold situation with too many passengers and not enough seats. When this occurs, the airline generally asks for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for a later flight and either an airline voucher or another form of compensation. These vouchers can range from $50 all the way up to $10,000, depending on the oversold situation. If you do offer to give up your seat I recommend taking the airline voucher if possible, many times the airline will not only give you more money in voucher form to fly on them again, but the voucher will also count towards your frequent flyer account, so theoretically vouchers can help you to gain airline status for free! More on different airline status’ to come in a future article.  

So, remember to look out for the cheapest days of the week, shop different airlines, and try to evaluate ULCC’s costs before purchasing their flights, for the best deals! We hope this guide will help you to fly for less or even for FREE!! 

-Brandon Aronoff

WorldTravelReport- Thoughts That Fly...