Five air travel hacks that save you money in travel perks

We all know families can earn travel day perks with air mileage programs and airline-associated credit cards. But not all of us have tons of miles or platinum cards that get us upgrades. That’s ok. Here are five air travel hacks you can use to enjoy free or discounted perks on your next air travel day.


Park your car at the airport for free.

Plus get it washed and vacuumed. Plus make some cash. Here’s the catch: you need to make your car available for rental in your absence. FlightCar is a car sharing service now at many major US airports. Just sign up for free, then drop your car off at the FlightCar lot when you arrive at the airport. The check-in process is quick (most of the info is compiled ahead of time online) and after turning over your keys, you’re on your way to your gate, courtesy of a FlightCar shuttle. Parking for the duration of your trip is free whether your car is rented out or not, and if it is, you earn a marginal fee (to the tune of about 10 cents per mile). Your car is even washed before you arrive home. FlightCar insures all cars, but yeah, you have to be willing to let strangers drive your vehicle.

Don’t want to do this? If you’ll be staying the night near the airport before or after your trip, you can park your car for free using ParkSleepFly. We’ve used this perk many times. For no additional cost than the hotel room, you can park your car for up to 10 days, and get a free shuttle to the airport.


Get free checked luggage.

And free luggage, for that matter. The service Orion will send you two hardshell roller bags (one 21″ carry-on and one 29″ for check-in), each wrapped in advertising. You keep the bags, which are actually quite nice, with charging stations, GPS location, and a luggage tampering system, and you never pay checked bag fees again. Orion sends you a refillable gift card that starts with $50. Every time you check your bag, you get the card reloaded. Ads include KFC, GM, Verizon, and the like. The catch: you have to be a walking advertisement. The first million users sign up free, so get on it!

Want to carry your own luggage? Eight times out of ten, passengers are able to check bags for free at the gate. Simply volunteer to your gate agent. If you’re flight is full, you’ll get free checked luggage.

Gain discounted entry to airport lounges.

I love airport lounges. My favorite is Alaska’s Board Room, but I’m also a fan of United airline’s club. However, I very rarely fly first or business class, and I don’t have the air miles to achieve elite status. How do I get in? I buy passes in advance, or use guest passes. Check to see if the carrier you’re flying offers an airport lounge discount when booking your ticket. Often, you can save significantly by buying a day pass online, in advance. On United’s Web site, you can save $11 this way, and US Airways reduces its lounge price to $29 if you buy the pass when you book your ticket. Also ask friends and co-workers if they’d be willing to sell you their guest passes, if they’re elite fliers. Strike a deal that’s win-win. Often, these passes go unused.

Enjoy priority boarding.

It’s a myth that priority boarding is only available to high mileage flyers and business class or first class passengers. While most airlines used to reserve this perk for their most loyal customers, for better or for worse, this perk is now for sale…and it’s cheap. Look for the option to upgrade to priority boarding when you book your ticket online. You know, it will be on the page you usually click past immediately because it’s full of ways they’re looking to milk you for more cash. But give it a look before dismissing: this upgrade can be yours for as little as $9-$10. What does it do for you? In addition to allowing you to skip the headache of lining up with the masses, it ensures your carry on bag will make it into the bulkhead compartments before the plane fills.


Get free TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.

Ok, this one does involve a credit card. However, there’s a long list of cards offering this perk, and it’s very possible just about everyone qualifies (or already has) at least one of them. Of course, being an elite member of an airline loyalty program is also likely to earn you free TSA Pre. According to this article, here’s the list of cards that reimburse the fees to apply for Global Entry and TSA Pre, if you use the card to purchase. Skip the long security line and use our packing tips to breeze through security like a pro (or like the flight attendants).

•  Barclay AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard (Global Entry only)
•  Citi Prestige Card
•  Citi /AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
•  Platinum Card from American Express
•  Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN
•  Centurion Card from American Express
•  American Express Corporate Gold Card
•  American Express Corporate Platinum Card

Do you have tips for getting free or discounted travel perks? Share them with us!

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.




  1. I have to say, I get pretty annoyed by those people who wait until the last minute to gate check their bags so as to avoid baggage fees, especially after I’ve just paid full price. I wouldn’t be opposed to trying Orion, though. I can deal with some ads!

  2. Such fantastic tips here. If only these deals came to Canada!

  3. I got a US Airways credit card because I knew they’d be combining with American. So now all of my miles are with American = great. BUT, my credit card is no longer the preferred credit card so I no longer get the free first checked bag or early boarding. So now I gotta switch cards. Grr!

  4. Oh, that’s so frustrating! That’s what you get for being proactive! 🙂

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