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Flying For Free


That didn’t take long. Just a few days into the new year, in fact.

Delta Air Lines launched the first higher air fares. So it will cost you even more to get where you’re going.

Ho, hum.

Others followed.

Lightning fast, in fact.

When it comes to price hikes, US airlines are like dominoes. If one raises the price, all others strike a match.

This makes an immediate impression on theme park-goers coming to Orlando…Walt Disney World Resort and other places.

Most of you, unlike visitors to Disneyland in California who are more inclined to get there by auto, come to Orlando by airplane.

Air travel comfort like sleeping on bed of nails

Let’s face it: air travel these days still gets you there quickly.

But it’s about as grueling an experience as it must have been for the pioneers in the wild west days who crossed America via wagon trains.

Not really…and a little exaggeration.

Maybe.

Now we are far from experts on the subject…which when discussed, usually asks this question, first and foremost:

What is the cheapest flight?

No, we are not experts but we have friends who know the subject well.

They are people who either work for the airlines or have relatives there. They fly what is known as non-rev.

That is otherwise known as non-revenue passengers.

You know it under a different name: flying for free.

Advice from free travelers

Airline policies differ somewhat but this perk allows some employees and even former ones to fly for free. Or practically so.

Now maybe you read the headline of this story:

Flying for free.

Here’s how:

Work for an airline or have a partner or wife or husband who works there.

It might surprise you to find out just how many airline employees are working at jobs that pay less than they could earn elsewhere for this perk: free flights.

If you don’t work these yourself, you can sometimes get what used to be called a spouse card.

They are no longer necessary but the principle is the same: fly for free.

Or sometimes, almost free or a slight $10-20 or so fee.

Obviously, this is not a suggestion that works for everyone.

An alternative

But you are certainly interested in flying for the least possible cost. And perhaps with the most possible comfort…

…or at least with as much comfort and as little discomfort as possible, anyway.

So while we are not hosting a singles site for the marriage-minded who want free airline travel among the perks, we did ask our free flying friends about their advice.

Before we get into that, however, let’s look at what may be an easier option: some of the free fliers have access to what are sometimes known as “buddy passes” or go by other names.

These are also free or at greatly reduced prices. But the potential complications are the same as with employees: space available.

That means your planned flight has to have some empty or non-paying or available empty seats for you to also board it.

This happens less often than it used to for many reasons but mostly because of the success of airlines in recent times.

Flying is more fun when it costs less

Airlines today are like the fable of the “little old woman who lived in a shoe, and had so many children she didn’t know what to do.”
Life is scary enough when you are crammed like sardines and look out the window and there are many miles…or 30,000 feet…to get to the ground. But with crowded planes (and of course crowded lines for security), flying is worse than ever.


But sure, why not cozy up to your airline friends who may have these passes?

So an easier solution to getting lower-priced airline tickets: get friends to give you a couple of their limited discounted passes (sure, they have limited supplies but what are friends for?).

Ask a friend

But something even easier: turn to our friends, the experts, for advice on getting that cheap flight?

Their hacks apply not only to theme park visitors but to anyone who flies anywhere. They make for really friendly skies.

In fact, there are so many suggestions we could compile a book in just one area: getting the cheapest (or let’s put it in a more friendly tone) the most inexpensive flight.

The many and varied suggestions for cheap airlines range from questions such as best day of the week to buy tickets…to using travel sites…to issues such as when exactly to buy tickets: the answer to that last question is both well in advance or at the last minute.

Lots of questions. And lots of answers, too.

Before we tell you our suggestions, please keep in mind that we are keeping these simple. Not because you are simple or some other insult but because you are probably like us:

You want to save money, but don’t want to spend an endless amount of time or effort to do it.

A completely understandable attitude

But even more…you are more like us than any airline friends.

By that, we mean airline friends who fly for free but take risky strategies that may leave them stranded (they, airline employees, are more daring than the rest of us).

Those kinds of strategies bring up the idea of being stuck at, say, the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York on a cold and rainy day via JetBlue, which flies there fairly frequently.

Other than marriage or leaning on a friend, here are ten hacks from non-revs on getting the cheapest flights.

We think they all may work. You can choose which ones are for you, or course.

1.   Let’s start real simple. Never ever expect to usually get the best deal from buying your ticket via airlines. If you want to insist on buying direct, book via the Internet rather than by telephone or ticket counter. That can save you some money through airline discounts. Airlines have sales, of course. So what you do is simply sign up for email alerts from not only airlines but also booking sites. What could be easier? You may know already that airlines do target loyalty program members. So you’re not a member? You can still sign up for word on when the best deals come about. You can always create a filter for deals to avoid those excessive offers for Preparation H and other unwanted mail. Nothing to lose, and you may get an offer you like.

Spread a wider net

2.   Don’t always rely on alerts from air providers. Look for deals at other sites such as Google Flights. It is far from the only one offering tickets on multiple departures and arrival days. You can also check flights there for whatever day has the best deal. That site and others provide prices from many airline sites. But at the same time, consider convenience. The best price may be a flight at 3 a.m. Are you ready to save $15 by getting up in the middle of the night? Only you can answer that one.

3.   When you should buy your ticket is a common question. CheapAir, a good and recommended site, says get it 47 days prior to when you leave. Gee, that’s really specific. But the site says that is based on five million flights. So it sounds pretty convincing. No matter what day you look at, the surest simple way to get a good deal is to book as early as possible, whatever day you do it, non-revs agree. Ticket prices tend to go up in price as given travel days move closer. If you don’t like the 47-day timetable, book three to six months ahead of time. Try not to book a ticket less than one month in advance unless you are generally willing to pay a higher fare.

4.   At for day of the week…everyone knows and just about all of them want to travel on Fridays and Sundays. That’s what fits most weekend traveler’s schedules. So no surprise: the airlines charge more during those times. So midweek, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays should be on your lookout list. Is that inconvenient for you? If so, see our prior suggestion and take into consideration your willingness to save money…or hesitation at it when it does not fit your comfort zone.

Flexibility pays off sometimes

5.   So now we’ll contradict ourselves. Non-revs say: Buying tickets ahead of time is smart but so is waiting till the last minute. You have to be more flexible, of course. But airlines offer discounts on flights that have yet to fill up. Discount hunting at the last minute does cause some anxiety (What about last minute packing…or can we tell our cousin Sam whether and when to meet us at the airport and biggest question of all: will we even get there?). OK. This is a little more complicated and not easy on the gut for most of us. But worth a try.

6.Which brings us to the best time of the day to fly. Off peak. If you generally don’t get up till noon, you’ll want an afternoon flight. But our non-rev friends remember Poor Richard’s Almanac about the early bird getting the worm. Worms and fliers like it best at 5 a.m. until, say 7 a.m. Or after 8 p.m. That night flight is not as good as the wee hours of the early morning because some people have learned how to sleep on an airplane (yes, 8 o’clock is a little early to crash for the night and later is letter). As for those morning hours, as someone who has gotten up in the dark and cold of soon after midnight, long before sunset, to make the quiet but lonely drive to the airport, it is unpleasant, to say the least. But it’s also far easier to get through security lines as well. So call it a trade-off.

Don’t go where you want to go

7.Yes, going somewhere else may be a good strategy for some trips. Have you considered alternate airports? No, they’re not like major highways or six-lane interstates where you can find alternate two-lane country roads. Alternate airports are less common than automotive speed traps. But like unwary motorists, you can find them. Sometimes. Consider flying from your home airport to a destination that is not exactly where you want to go. Major cities like Chicago, New York and particularly Los Angeles have surrounding airports. In Orlando, many air travelers are unaware of the Sanford International Airport instead of the far busier Orlando International. It’s in the tiny town of Sanford but is less than an hour’s drive to downtown Orlando. Sure, not nearly as many flights, but you can get there and it’s a far easier place to navigate than bustling Orlando. Similarly, you probably don’t want to fly into Miami when visiting Orlando. It’s about a four-hour drive from there, but taxi drivers will tell you they get passengers all the time who think they can take a taxi from Miami. Sure, you can. But check the price. One internet site that will help you avoid that is called AlternateAirports.com.

8.Consider making a stopover before your final destination. Often, making a connection can save money. That’s the case because fliers almost always want to go non-stop. It’s human nature. And the airlines know it so they price it higher.

Travel agents still give you options

9.Check with a travel agent. Yes, those guys used to sell airline tickets, but they still do it (the difference is that now they don’t get paid for it). They often buy at discounted prices and pass on the savings to you (they often then turn around and attempt to charge you in other ways…after all, they also have to find ways of earning their keep).

10.Finally, here’s an easy way to save money that does not directly involve your airline ticket, though it does involve your price. Bring carry-on baggage only (yes, try to get by with less clothing). As you know by now: almost all airlines charge for that extra luggage (upwards of $15). Why pay for it? At the same time, bring some of your own favorite food to eat on the airplane (don’t overly worry if it give off a heady smell like fried chicken…others are doing it too). Why pay inflated airline prices?

As we said before, none of this advice is particularly complicated. But all of it shouts loudly “common sense.” Perhaps an overused term, but it still applies to the hardest part of most trips: just getting there. ###