Fare Game: How to Fly for Free

How to fly for free: Learn how one man found a way to fly the friendly skies without paying for an airline ticket.

| March/April 1971

  • Learn how to fly for free using these helpful travel tips.
    Learn how to fly for free using these helpful travel tips.
    Photo by Fotolia/dell

  • Learn how to fly for free using these helpful travel tips.

Discover how to fly for free using this traveler's tried and true tips.

Fare Game: How to Fly for Free

It was Friday night, six days before Christmas, when my wife and I suddenly realized we could leave Oregon for the midwest four days sooner than we had planned if we could get our flight reservations changed. We called the airline. The only opening they had between then and Christmas was Saturday morning at eight. We started packing.

After a restful three hours of sleep we headed for the bus depot to catch the 4:30 a.m. service from Eugene to Portland. The bus was late and we reached downtown Portland an hour behind schedule with only thirty minutes to catch our plane. We grabbed a cab, arrived at the airport five minutes before takeoff . . . and ran right into another delay because of a mix-up with our reservations! We got that squared away and dashed down the corridor to our gate. The last few passengers were being checked in. We had made it.

We handed the agent our tickets . . . and he told us there was no more room on the plane! Of all the . . . "But", he went on, "you will receive confirmed reservations on the next scheduled flight plus a pair of free meals while you are waiting plus a FULL REFUND of your fares to Kansas City." Now you're talking. We got paid over one hundred and fifty dollars for waiting six hours in the Portland airport . . . and that's how we stumbled onto one of the little-known facts of traveling. It is possible to fly across the country free. How? I'll get to that — but first I have to explain a little about airline reservations and how they work.

As you probably know, it's possible to make a reservation on any major airline without paying a penny. In fact, almost all reservations are made by phone and paid for later, either through the mail or at the check-in desk shortly before takeoff. The reservation itself costs absolutely nothing and, as a result, John Q. Customer has nothing to lose by failing to claim his reserved seat on a flight. The airline, on the other hand, does lose something if John doesn't show: His money. Since every no-show means less profit (or more loss) for the airlines and since John Q. fails to claim his reserved seat exasperatingly often, the lines have devised a clever scheme to compensate for Mr. Customer's unscrupulous behavior. They simply reserve more seats (sometimes) than they actually have available on a plane. Then, when old John doesn't appear to pay for and claim his seat, they still have a full plane and a full pocket.

This is a wonderous plan indeed but (and here's the part you've been waiting for) sometimes it backfires. If everybody who has a reservation shows up for a flight that was oversold . . . somebody, quite obviously, will have to stay behind. And that somebody could get pretty angry at the airline. The lines, therefore, are most pleased to soothe Mr. Leftover's temper by paying his way on the next scheduled flight. That means he flies free.

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