Screw the airplane man. Ticket prices are too high. Competitive consumer choices are pretty much nonexistent. And need I go into the pain of being crammed into those tiny seats, elbow-to-elbow, thigh-to-thigh with a perfect stranger? Even your average Richie Rich winces at the astronomically high prices for a First Class seat.
Luckily, the system is hackable. You can get free flights and upgrades— all it takes is a little frequent flyer know-how. Below, Evan "Rabble" Hanshaw-Plath delivers an Ignite talk at OSCON 2010 on the secrets of gaming frequent flyer programs.
In case you weren't taking notes, here's how it works:
Step 1 Choose Your Airline.
Stick with one airline to raise in the ranks. You want to earn the highest status in the frequent flyer program available by—duh—flying. When you get to the top elite status, you're gold. Upgrades. First class. Private Cabins. Lounges. No more long lines.
NOTE: When choosing an airline, check if your airline is within an "alliance" of many different airlines. This may enable you to carry your status over to a different airline when necessary.
Step 2 Go on "Mile Runs".
What if you don't fly often enough to elevate your status? According to Evan, the key to easy status upgrade is a system hack called "Mile Runs". Mile Runs are quick trips for the sole purpose of racking up miles in order to achieve your elite status sooner. A raw deal for the airline, a savvy member can greatly benefit. It works like this: find the cheapest route possible with the most miles. If you're crafty enough, you can get the valuable top elite status for about $2,000.
From InsideFlyer, "Early Mile Runners learned to slice and dice the data of airfares and create scenarios whereby they could piece together a three-day overnight trip to Singapore earning 40,000 miles for only $463. These 40,000 miles would turn into an upgrade to Europe for the frequent flyer and their companion against an economy ticket, thus saving approximately $10,000 in the process."
Step 3 Go on "Crazy Routes".
Crazy Routes are similar in concept to Mile Runs, just a bit more complicated in planning. You can easily rack up miles by going on extraneously complex routes. Multiple layovers and stops along the way can multiply your mileage by three.
Step 4 Intentionally Get Bumped.
It happens all the time. Airlines oversell and are forced to beg passengers to give up their seats in exchange for free travel vouchers. If you don't mind boozing around the airport, this option is gold. Plan ahead. Book your seat during bad weather or a holiday season. Then accept bump-after-bump-after-bump and rack 'em up!
Step 5 Sign Up for a New Credit Card... or 10.
Some credit card companies offer 30,000 free miles just for signing up. So sign up for one card after another and cancel. Sign up. Cancel. Sign up. Cancel. 30,000 free miles + 30,000 free miles + 30,000 free miles… You get the idea.
Step 6 The "Segment" Method.
Lastly, try a method Evan calls "Segments". You can rack up mileage by the number of flights you go on, rather than the overall mileage count. This is only worth it if the flights are cheap enough—like commuter routes, such as LA to San Fransisco.