8 Freebies You Didn’t Know You Could Get When Flying Economy, According to a Flight Attendant
You can still find plenty of free perks when flying—if you know where to look
As you probably know all too well, flying can be expensive. And beyond the ever-increasing price of your ticket, airlines seem to keep finding new ways to charge customers for just about everything. Gone are the days when every airline ticket included a meal, snacks and endless soft drinks. But savvy travelers on a budget can still get a surprising number of amenities for free, even in economy class—if you know where to look and who to ask.
One of the best people to ask? Bobby Laurie, a former flight attendant and the current co-host of the travel show The Jet Set, who knows a thing or two about where to find the best airline freebies. Keep reading to find out how to get free stuff the next time you fly to get a lot more bang for your buck, and while you’re at it, learn how to get more legroom on your flight as well—free of charge!
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1. Free checked bags
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Nope, you don’t have to pay those pesky checked-bag fees—if you know this trick. “If you want to check your bag but avoid paying the fee, bring your bag to the gate and ask them to gate-check it,” says Laurie. “It will go to baggage claim in your arrival airport, but it’ll be checked for free. Gate agents are happy to take the bag free of charge to avoid having the bins fill up during boarding and possibly delay the flight.”
Another option? Fly Southwest and you’ll get two checked bags for free with every seat. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons this airline was just rated No. 1 for customer satisfaction.
2. Free snacks
If you’ve been flying ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant, you might think that free snacks are a thing of the past. But while you won’t find them on these airlines, they’re still usually available on the legacy carriers (think: American, United and Delta). “Most airlines still have free snacks available in the main cabin,” Laurie explains. “Whether it be pretzels, chips, cookies or stroopwafels, those on an economy ticket on a major airline will receive a free snack with their complimentary beverage.”
And it’s not just the big airlines—you’ll find this amenity on some of the best budget airlines too. Jet Blue offers unlimited snacks and even encourages passengers to take as many as they’d like from a self-serve station near the center of the aircraft. Southwest also has a reputation for having an abundance of free snacks.
3. Free dinner
Traveling internationally? You’ll get more food perks than if you fly domestically. And thank goodness, says Laurie, because if you decide to fly internationally in the main cabin to save money, you still have to eat! “The major international airlines still provide hot meals to those in the main cabin—and generally, these meals are also served with free beer and wine to those of age,” he notes. While you may not necessarily get your favorite meal, you’ll always receive a salad, main course and dessert. You’ll also be treated to snacks to keep you happy and satiated during your flight.
4. Free upgrades
It pays to sign up for free airline membership programs. “If you’re a member of an airline’s frequent-flier program and you’re on an economy ticket, you can receive free flight upgrades,” says Laurie. “Flight attendants see this all the time. Either you fly so much that you’ve earned enough status to be on the upgrade list for free, or you could cash in some of your earned miles for a confirmed, free upgrade to first class.”
5. Free food during delays
If you fly enough, you will inevitably experience delays. But if your tummy is rumbling, don’t worry: The airline will likely feed you. (Really, who wants an extra-grumpy bunch of passengers?) “When flights are delayed for reasons within the airline’s control, you are entitled to receive a meal voucher even when you’re on an economy ticket,” says Laurie. “Every airline in the United States, even the super-low-cost carriers, has committed to providing all passengers with a meal voucher if their delay extends beyond three hours.”
6. Free changes and cancellations
It used to cost a small fortune when you needed to change your itinerary or cancel your trip, but not anymore. “The pandemic got rid of most change and cancellation fees,” explains Laurie. “On an economy/main cabin ticket, you can cancel your reservation on most airlines before checking in and have a credit to use for up to one year.” One caveat? “Economy ‘Basic’ tickets usually don’t qualify,” he says. “This also doesn’t usually apply to the ultra-low-cost carriers.”
Be sure to read the fine print or contact customer support about free changes or cancellations before purchasing your airline ticket.
7. Free headphones
If you are traveling and forgot to pack headphones, most airlines have got you covered. “Airlines that offer seat-back in-flight entertainment usually also provide free headphones so you can enjoy the television entertainment offered,” says Laurie. In the past, headphones were available for a fee, so getting them for free feels just a little bit sweeter these days.
8. Free Wi-Fi
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Free Wi-Fi is one of the most valuable freebies available to air travelers—and also one of the hardest to come by. But it is possible to find on a few airlines. JetBlue offers guests free Wi-Fi on most, if not all, of its flights, and Delta has quietly been rolling out free Wi-Fi on certain routes. “United offers it at a deep discount to their Mileage Plus members (and membership is free),” says Laurie. If Wi-Fi is a must for you, consider checking in advance to see if your flight will offer free Wi-Fi before booking your ticket. And while we’re on the topic, here’s how to get free Wi-Fi wherever you go.