Mark Danger Powers

drummer • educator • author

Fly for free! Travel Hacking tip #1

. . . or, at least, more cheaply.

This concept is not a new one to some travelers. But I am continually meeting others that have never thought to try it.

It’s a well known fact that airlines regularly overbook flights. Their reasoning is that many passengers, believe it or not, won’t show for their scheduled departure- due to changes in their travel plans, missed connections, etc. Overbooking ensures that they will have a full plane, and make a greater profit in the process.

Why not take advantage of that fact?

It has become a habit of mine to check, before leaving for the airport, if there are still seats available on the flight I’m about to take. Finding your gate plumb full of waiting passengers can also be a pretty good indicator!

Chances are good that no seats are available, the flight is overbooked and even more hopeful passengers are waiting on ‘stand-by.’ At this point, I approach the service counter and very nicely inform them that I might be interested in giving up my seat, if they are in need of the extra room. This offer is often met with much gratitude by the airline reps, who are used to dealing with loads of agitated and angry customers.

Giving up your seat usually means that they will book you on the next available flight headed your intended direction (be sure to get a ‘confirmed’ seat) AND that they will offer you a perk or two for your trouble and generosity!

Numerous times in the past, that has meant that I’ve waited around the airport for an extra hour or so and, in exchange, been rewarded a meal voucher and $200-300 travel voucher, good for future travel. Each on different occasions, I’ve been given a telephone calling card, a wi-fi access card and a pass to the airline’s lounge!

But my biggest jackpot yet happened over this past winter’s holiday season. Snowstorms in the Midwest had delayed and/or grounded hundreds of flights, creating gates full of travelers anxious to get home after Christmas. Returning home myself, I volunteered my seat on an evening flight headed west out of Kansas City International Airport (MCI). The elated service rep said that, if I would consider spending the night in KC, she could offer me a free night’s stay at the Hilton (where several grounded airline workers were also going to be, partying in the hotel bar!), three meal vouchers and a $600 Delta voucher! Knowing that I’d only have to sub-out a $50 jam session gig back in Oregon, I figured I’d be coming out way ahead on the deal, and took her up on it. She punched in a few things on the computer, told me where to catch the hotel shuttle, invited me to the crew party, handed me a stack of vouchers and said, “oh yeah- and I put you in First Class on tomorrow’s flight!” Score!

All for the hassle of staying over one night in Kansas City. That little deal is covering over half of the cost for this month’s round-trip flight to Bangkok, Thailand . . . well worth it, in my opinion!

Not every attempt will yield quite those kinds of results. I’ve been politely turned down probably 50% of the time. But what’s to lose in trying? I have a good friend who has been pulling this off almost every single weekend the last couple of months, on business travel between Salt Lake City and Portland! He regularly books himself onto a morning flight, knowing darn well that he will most likely negotiate for a later departure. He essentially flies for free– and lands a couple of free drink coupons to boot!

Keep in mind that this is much easier to do if: A) you have some flexibility in regards to the time you need to arrive at your destination; and B) you are traveling with only a carry-on.

Next time you’re off jet-setting, give this a shot. And be sure to post a comment about your experience below!

Wishing you happy, safe travels and much travel hacking success . . .