How to travel for (basically) free

Stephan Rebernik / Creative Commons/File

It’s 2 p.m., and you’ve just arrived at the airport for your 4 p.m. domestic flight: plenty of time to check in, pay for your overpriced airport sandwich and buck up for your exciting vacation, right? Keep dreaming. Despite the existence of customer-service offices, which evidence the average traveler’s low-key infuriation by flight cancellations, airlines have the truly exceptional ability to overbook seats time and time again.

If your agenda and morale have both gone down the path to Mordor, we at the Clog tell you to fear not! One should shudder at organized agendas and decry things that actually go as planned. We have delineated a number of airtight strategies* on how to plan a vacation where you don’t book or pay for a single accommodation; where you manipulate the system to get free drinks; and where you really only have to pay half as much as an airline, hotel or restaurant tells you to. Spring break may be over for now, but we know you could sure use another one, right?

Connecting flights are the only flights for you.

In in the airline business, the first rule of dealing with a customer’s ruined itinerary is to financially compensate for the missed flight, the next flight and a hotel for the evening. Given that, you want to book as many connecting flights as possible in order to increase the mathematical probability that one of them will be delayed or overbooked.

You can then stage a seething dialogue about how the airline violated your fundamental civil rights to a holiday — throw in a line about how you booked a hotel at your destination that cost oh-so-very-much – and watch as you get booked a free hotel for the evening. It will likely be a three-star hotel two minutes away from the airport. But you get a free bed, dinner and breakfast. Yay for spontaneous adventures!

Never check in early.

Checking in at the suggested time is for people who actually want to make their flight on time (so overrated). Most airlines close their desks 30 minutes prior to take-off, so check in 40 minutes before take-off so that if a flight is overbooked, all the seats have already been taken. Stage your rage. Claim your spoils. Victory is yours.

Furthermore, we’ll put in a good word for airlines with dreadful reputations for overbooking — no one wants an airline that’s actually reliable. Such airlines notoriously include ExpressJet, United Airways and Turkmenistan Airlines.

Learn proper dining etiquette. 

Firstly, the wine glass should never be placed toward the center of the table, where it will neither spill nor shake. You position that tasty beverage on the very edge of the table, especially when the waiter is serving you, so it’s likely to be knocked over (but only after you’ve drunk seven-eighths of it). Result: a tipped drink, a traumatized patron and the promise of free drinks to compensate for that rather unfortunate spill. Secondly, one should not bring the spoon up to his or her mouth, but instead bring the whole head of hair to the level of the plate. Result: a surprise strand of hair in the dish and a positively disgusted eater, followed by you ordering a new, even bigger meal for free.

Lastly, the proper way to find restaurant recommendations on TripAdvisor is not to look for five stars in quality; look for one star for waiting time. Result: waiting so long for your meal that you can appropriately rave at the manager and threaten to storm out, followed by getting your whole meal on the house.

For all the students out there living with dreams of traveling like Gulliver but the budget of a part-time job at Domino’s Pizza, these are honest-to-goodness practices of free vacationing. In the case of failure, forage for food, or frequent abandoned buildings for suitable bedding.

*Disclaimer: Strategies not fool-proof. Apparently backfire on occasion.

Image source: Stephan Rebernik under Creative Commons

Contact Mariam El Magrissy at [email protected].