How to get free upgrades, miles and other benefits from airlines

The days when we associated air travel with glamor are long gone, but that doesn’t mean the experience of flying is completely devoid of joy. Sometimes there are even free benefits.

From extra snacks and amenity kits to cash vouchers and bonus miles, there are a number of freebies travelers can receive from airlines. And there are ways to increase the frequency and quantity of such gains.

Below, travel experts share their tips for getting freebies from airlines.

Take advantage of checked baggage guarantees.

These days, when you check a bag, your best hope is probably just that it will make it to the baggage carousel at your destination. But did you know you may be entitled to a reward if it doesn’t show up on time?

“Alaska Airlines, for example, will give you bonus miles or a discount code for future travel if your checked bags don’t arrive within 20 minutes of your flight’s arrival,” said Melanie Lieberman, managing editor of global features at travel site The Points Lighthouse.

Although Alaska Airlines rolled out this customer-friendly guarantee in 2010, Delta Air Lines has had a similar policy since 2015. If your bag is not at the carousel within 20 minutes of your flight arrival time, all you have to do is file a quick claim and you can receive up to 2,500 miles in compensation.

And of course, if your bag doesn’t show up on the carousel at all, you may be entitled to compensation from your airline, credit card company or travel insurance provider.

Volunteer to be supported from overbooked flights.

“If a flight is overbooked, airlines usually ask volunteers to come forward to take a later flight in exchange for a flight voucher worth a few hundred dollars,” said savings expert Andrea Woroch. “As long as this won’t seriously affect your trip, it’s a great way to get free money for a future trip.”

Don’t forget that you can also negotiate compensation. If they’re looking for more volunteers, you can increase when it’s as low as $200, but stipulate to the agent that you want the compensation the final volunteer gets, as the amount could rise to a much higher figure in the interim.

“If you offer your seat on a full flight, you might get another flight later, but also a $500 voucher in your pocket,” said budget expert Jade Warshaw. “Take it a step further and ask to be rebooked the next day to get a free hotel and dinner on the airline’s dime.”

Tell them about a special occasion.

Some airlines love to help passengers celebrate special occasions. If you let them know in advance, you can get a tasty treat at your seat or special attention from the flight attendants.

“Always tell the attendants if it’s a birthday, anniversary or honeymoon,” Warshaw said. “It could result in an upgrade or at least a free drink on board a domestic flight.”

Sure, special-occasion seat upgrades may be rare, but it never hurts to share your joy, even if it just means getting an extra snack from the cart.

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wsfurlan via Getty Images

Friendly airline staff can help you celebrate your honeymoon or other special occasion in style.

Monitor your ticket prices.

Experienced travelers set up flight alerts on platforms such as Skyscanner, Kayak and Google so that they are notified when prices drop for specific itineraries. You can do this not only before you decide to buy the tickets, but also after.

“Always check the price of your ticket until you go to the airport,” Warshaw said. “If the price goes down, you can ask the airline to honor the new price and they will probably rebook your flight at the lower price.”

Be aware of promotional emails and other offers that may also affect the cost of your itinerary.

Request goods on the plane.

Long-haul flights are often filled with a variety of useful amenities. Although some items are only offered to certain cabin classes, you can always ask the flight attendant for a bottle of water or other items.

“When you’re on the plane, ask if you can have a sleeping mask, pillow and blanket,
Warshaw said. “I also like to ask for free slippers or slipper socks. I put the slippers in my bag and keep them when I get to the hotel.”

Laura Lindsay, a travel trends expert at Skyscanner, noted that airlines have facilities to help parents as well.

“Most airlines also offer children’s packages to keep young minds busy – just ask,” she said. “Other perks you can get for free during flights include seconds on meals or snacks, overnight kits, toiletries and cockpit visits – but wait until all passengers have disembarked before you ask.”

File a formal complaint.

When factors within the airline’s control lead to disruptions or other travel problems, you can submit a formal complaint to the airline. There’s usually a form you can fill out on the airline’s website to file your complaint, and you can receive miles or cash for your trouble.

“Whenever I have experienced dissatisfaction with a flight, whether the seats were uncomfortable, the TV or Wi-Fi did not work well or at all, the journey was delayed due to staff problems or my luggage did not make it to the final destination, I have received free vouchers that I can use to book future flights,” Woroch said. “I have received as much as $150.”

Of course, limit your complaint submissions to actual events rather than imaginary events or problems.

“You have to be a little nice to enjoy any of these benefits. Even if they are highly trained, no steward will go out of their way for a rude or annoying passenger.”

– Laura Lindsay, travel trends expert at Skyscanner

Join the loyalty program.

A classic way to get freebies and benefits from an airline is to join a loyalty program. Even at the lowest tier, you can get random free upgrades or earn extra frequent flyer miles.

For even more benefits, familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of different airline options and try to commit your loyalty to one.

“Know which airlines are offering more freebies,” suggested Woroch, pointing to differences in snack offerings, entertainment and checked bag options on different carriers. “Keep these freebies in mind when comparing airline options and costs because these extras can add up when you pay à la carte.”

Get a branded credit card.

“Get a travel rewards credit card to get free bags, flights and more,” Woroch said. “Many co-branded airline credit cards offer free checked bags for you and a companion when you use the card to book a flight with the airline. Some will also include free airport lounge access, free travel insurance, free travel credit, free memberships such as TSA PreCheck or Clear , as well as miles back for purchases, so you can earn free flights.”

Compare the rewards programs different airlines offer through their co-branded credit cards. You can get sign-up bonuses with even more miles for spending a certain amount of money in the first few months with the card. Access to the airline’s lounge can also be a redeemer at the airport, with free food and drink and other benefits.

Fly at quieter times.

“Getting a flight upgrade to business or first class isn’t always a bad idea,” Lindsay said. “It’s not exclusive to elite frequent flyers either. There are lots of simple things you can do to help yourself get bumped. You can increase your chances of getting an upgrade on your next flight by booking flights with more available seats. »

If you have time flexibility, it may pay to fly on less busy days and at quieter times. Consider choosing days when business travelers are less likely to book flights to reduce competition for flight upgrades.

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Flying at off-peak times increases your chances of being upgraded.

Be extra nice.

You should always strive to be polite and considerate to the workers you interact with at the airport – and anywhere, for that matter. But there are also selfish reasons to be extra cute on flights.

“When it comes to getting amenities and freebies from airlines, nice guys don’t come last,” Lindsay said. “If you’re looking to get some freebies on your next flight, you’ll have to be a little nice to enjoy some of these perks. Although highly trained, no steward will go out of their way for a rude or annoying passenger. If you can make their shift more bearable, you might score some brownie points with the flight crew, and your good behavior might just be rewarded with a first-class treat.”

Don’t be afraid to just ask.

“When in doubt, ask!” urged travel blogger Rocky Trifari. “Many airlines will go to great lengths to keep customers happy by offering free meals, gift cards, free accommodation or, in more extreme circumstances, flight vouchers for when things don’t go as promised.”

If your travel plans were disrupted through no fault of your own, it’s worth asking an airline representative if there’s anything they can do to make things right.

“You might be surprised at what they can offer!” Trifari said. “What’s the worst that could happen? They might say no, but you never had a chance to get anything if you didn’t ask in the first place. Why not try?”

Lindsay suggested asking for free seat upgrades when possible as well.

“Politely asking for a free upgrade may sound obvious, but since most people don’t think it’s an option, it’s likely you may be the only person to ask,” she said. “So, whether the gate agent is feeling extra generous that day, or they need to bump people because they oversold the bus, you’ll be the easy option.”

She recommended getting to the gate early so the agents don’t rush to prepare for boarding. Wait a bit if there is a line of people waiting to talk to them.

“Wait until the agents look like they have a moment to breathe,” she said. “Ask them simply and directly if a free upgrade might be an option. If you have a good reason – perhaps you’ve just had knee surgery – please mention it. Never underestimate simple human kindness.”

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