Let me state right off that I am not an expert on this topic. That said, I have had a decent amount of success earning free flights because of rewards programs. If you’re planning to fly to Walt Disney World, or if you are flying somewhere else, it is always worth looking into.
There are plenty of ways to earn points with most rewards programs. The most obvious is by flying on the airline. Make sure you book your flight directly through the airline’s website, you won’t earn points if you book it through a third party site. (I’ve found that the best deals are usually available on the website anyway.) Many of the airlines offer a credit card that you can use to earn points. Some of these will have annual fees, but if you earn a couple of free trips it could in theory pay the fee plus some. Some airlines will have other ways to earn points as well. You can take surveys, order a ride through Lyft, or send someone flowers. These are just a few of the activities that might earn you points. There could also be special offers while you’re in the air.
One problem when using points is that it seems to be an either/or activity. Either you book by using your points, or you book and pay for the flight. I don’t know of any airlines that offer you the ability to do both in one booking. That would be a lot easier when trying to book for more than one person.
Remember that even after you earn a free flight, it isn’t really free. There is always a small charge associated with booking. For JetBlue (where I’ve gotten most of my free flights) it’s around $5.90. Frontier has a slightly higher fee, I think it was close to $20. It’s still a lot less than you’d pay if you bought the ticket outright.
Make sure that you sign up for the airline’s email newsletter, so that you can find deals. When the price goes down, so does the number of points that you will need to pay for a free flight. The Frontier flight that I mentioned above originally cost 20,000 points, but then they had a sale and the price dropped a few dollars, which cut the number of points needed in half. (Frontier’s point system is weird.)
With some (but not all) airlines, the points will eventually expire, so keep that in mind. You’ll want to know how many points you have before you start looking at flights. You can also usually search flights by points instead of dollars.
You might not think that points are all that important, but they do add up. I was surprised by how quickly I was able to earn free flights on JetBlue. Who knows, you might soon have enough points for a weekend getaway to Walt Disney World….