7 Airline Freebies

Despite being five years into the oppressive Fee Generation of Flying, there are still a few things that cost you zip. Let us count these blessings:

As travel expert Rick Seaney reminds editor Anne McDermott, not all freebies are equal:

Free Perks on Planes

1. Bags

Amazingly, two U.S. airlines still let you check bags for free, so thank you, JetBlue and Southwest. If you don’t fly them you can still save by using a free carry-on, except on Allegiant, Spirit and in some cases Frontier, which charge for hand-luggage.

The Airline Fee Chart

2. Miles

Signing up for your airline miles program is free. Amassing miles is free. And even though more and more charge some kind of transaction fee on awards tickets, it’s still something for nothing. Don’t fly enough miles to earn a vacation flight? Use them for upgrades, donate them to charity or buy some delicious Omaha steaks (just 41,000 miles on Delta).

3. Tickets

Once in a blue moon, a miracle happens and “mistake” airfares are issued like the snafu that occurred at United earlier this month when social media-attuned shoppers snapped up zero-priced fares (with a small government fee added). The real miracle, though, is that United agreed to honor these zany fares. Keep your eyes open: you never know when lightning will strike twice.

Best and worst airline snacks

4. Drinks and Treats

Soft drinks, coffee and water are still free and don’t say they’ve always been free. A few years back, US Airways started charging for soft drinks. It was a miserable failure but they kept it up for about six months. Allegiant and Spirit still charge for this over the summer, Frontier joined them. So who knows how long this little freebie will last.

Or the free snacks. Meals have gone the way of the dinosaurs but you can still find the excellent Biscoff cookies on Delta and American and they cost you nothing.

5. Entertainment

More airlines are offering more entertainment options like the many free channels long available on the seatback screens of JetBlue and Virgin America. Southwest now streams free live TV on many planes but you will need to bring a device to watch it on. Now all we need is more of this.

6. Roomier Seats

You might be surprised at how many ever-so-slightly roomier seats are available for free, and here are some strategies on snagging them.

7. The Great Intangibles

My main concern with any flight is that it gets me where I need to go, on time. That said, those intangible little extras can make a difference so next time you board, smile at your flight attendants and I bet they smile back. You might even see a difference in the service you get or maybe you’ll just feel better. Remember, a smile costs nothing.

All this talk of free stuff reminds me of something else: the freedom to fly, and that’s a very big deal because not so long ago it was only for the rich. In the mid-1960s, for example, a flight from the east coast to the Caribbean cost close to $1,000 (in today’s dollars), but a flight like that for this fall goes for under $300. Now that’s freedom.

More from Rick Seaney:

Who Says There are No More Freebies on Flights?

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Published: September 23, 2013