Monday, September 13, 2010

How to fly for free?

I never understood the importance of frequent flyer miles until I became an airline employee. I have missed opportunities for free airline tickets for myself and family. I want to share with you the mistakes that I have made in the past so that you may benefit.

My first  airline ticket overseas trip to Paris, France was a gift from a friend. He spent spent $600 for for an excursion ticket for me. He believed in my dream of living abroad and purchased the ticket to help me achieve my dream. I did not sign up for frequent flyer miles. For example, a roundtrip ticket From Chicago to Paris is about 8,000 miles.

After meeting my ex-husband in Paris we traveled on the international basketball circuit for about six years. Basketball teams paid for our airfare. We traveled from country to country with our babies in tow. We lived out of suitcases.
Sometimes we would live in a country for a month, four months, six months or a year. We never knew how long we would be in one place. We lived between the U.S. and Belgium (twice), Venezuela (twice), Argentina (once), and Turkey (twice).
We never signed up for any mileage programs. We logged thousands of miles over the six years of traveling and living abroad. Eventually we ran out of money and had to return home. We always thought the free tickets would keep coming.  If had we signed up for the frequent flyer programs we could have continued globetrotting the world.

Even if you don't think that you will ever use the miles, sign up anyway. The frequent flyer programs are free. Always, always get credit for your miles. For example, if you purchase your ticket through, you can receive frequent flyer miles. If you purchase your ticket through Priceline or another online booking engine you do not receive miles.

The value of frequent flyer miles struck me while I was working as a Customer Service Representative checking in passengers for Apple Vacations flights. I met a family with an infant. They wanted to verify that they were receiving their frequent flyer miles. You have to verify that your frequent flyer number is on your ticket or itinerary before flying your trip to get credit. It is harder to get the credit after you have flown. The couple shared with me that their infant had a million miles. Although the family traveled extensively, the infant had not actually flown a million miles. The father had gifted his baby frequent flyer miles. That baby was set for life; a life of free luxury travel with status. WOW! That was my ah moment. My children could have had the same thing, had I known to sign up for the miles.

Many passengers dismiss the value of miles. Cheap tickets are more important.

Frequent flyers learn the mileage game. There are websites for tips on how to accrue miles without flying. There are miles fairies that donate miles to others for free flights. There are frequent flyers who sell miles, although this is not legal.

There was another couple who used to accrue miles through the airline credit card. They made all their purchases with their airline credit card and paid in off in full every month. Even though the wife worked for an airline and had flight benefits. They played the mileage game to accrue free confirmed seats. They charged their mortgage payments, car notes, college tuition payments, utilities, dining out in restaurants, buying groceries, gas, etc. They were always traveling on vacations flying in first or business and staying in luxury hotels. Some hotel loyalty programs allow you to accrue airline miles and hotel points, so sign up for hotel points too.

Airlines offer special promotions such as double or triple miles for flying to certain destinations.

So if you are planning of life of travel, try learning to play the frequent flyer mileage game.  It could lead to a life of free airfare and upgrades to fly business or first instead of coach.

Insider Tips on Flying

As passengers board sometimes they ask if I can help them get seats next to each other.

There is a way that this can be done before booking the flight. Many passengers don't understand that the booking method determines their seat assignment choices when flying.

For example, if you book your tickets online at there is  a seat map with the option to choose your seat assignments. Also when you check-in at the airport kiosk you get a second chance to change your seat assignment.

Sometimes there may be an aircraft swap which changes your seat assignment. If you are not sitting together, you can always ask other passengers to switch with you. Sometimes this may work to get seats together.

Many passengers prefer to book online at Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity to save money. I recommend signing up for AA Net Saver Fares. Fares are competitive if you watch for the fare sales.
Also sign up for the American Airlines Advantage loyalty program even if you don't fly often. One can earn miles for shopping and dining besides flying.

Purchasing your tickets through the airline online website offers you more flexibility when delays or cancels occur beside the ability to choose your seats.

The biggest advantage to booking through the airline website is the ability of the agents to rebook you on another carrier if your flight misconnects, delays or cancel. It may prevent you from getting stuck in an airport for hours. Sometimes you have the option of getting out on the next available seat of another carrier. is now on iPhone which allows you to check flight status on your cell phone. You can check-in for a flight or see if your flight is on-time, delayed, cancelled. iPhone app helps you  view and store mobile boarding pass; set a parking reminder; track your elite status progress; monitor your place on the stand-by list; get your gate, seat, flight info at a glance. "Plus when you install and launch the app, you register for your chance to win ONE MILLION American Airlines AAdvantage miles. (If you've already installed the  app, download the latest version to register within the app.) Download now at"

 When you purchase your tickets from another online site other than the airline website your rebooking options maybe limited to waiting for an open seat on that airline.

Especially during the holidays when the flights are full and weather delays are common, I have seen families stuck in the airport with kids screaming and crying. Those cheap tickets aren't so cheap anymore when frayed parents have to shell out more money for meals and hotel rooms. Many times they have to take a bus or train or rent a car to drive to their final destination. Then the value of the cheap ticket goes out the window.

Those other online travel websites sometimes limit your connecting flight options. One should allow two to three hours for a connection during the holidays or allow for weather delays.

Also I recommend connecting through a southern city hub like Dallas or Houston during the winter months. Many frequent flyers  prefer to fly through the south to avoid winter weather delays.  Most of the time this works, sometimes the southern cities will have winter weather delays, but for the most part it should work.

I recommend keeping the airline contact numbers in your address book of your cell phone. These are listed in back of American Airlines In-flight magazine American Way under Contact Us. Use these numbers to call for rebooking of your flight.

Learn to use technology to fly smarter. See you in the air.