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We’ve upgraded our “Sunday Reader Question” series! Our new “Reader Questions” are answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.
No one likes to be disconnected from the rest of the world while on a plane, but no one likes paying an arm and a leg for inflight Wi-Fi either. So TPG reader Fernando wonders if there are any other options…
“I find myself needing onboard internet more and more during flights. Are there any tricks to get Wi-Fi for free?”TPG Reader Fernando
In today’s modern world, it’s not easy to go several hours without the ability to send a snarky tweet or watch funny animal videos on Facebook. I’ve even been informed that some people use the internet to do work, though I can’t speak to what that experience must be like. But as a result, in-air Wi-Fi access is more popular than ever, and airlines have responded to the demand by expanding and improving service across their fleets.
Most in-flight Wi-Fi providers offer a number of different service plans at various price points, but of course the price point everyone really wants is free. And you might be surprised to learn there are actually a number of different ways to get no-cost Wi-Fi service.
Keep in mind that while Gogo is the largest Wi-Fi provider, there are actually four different companies — Gogo, Panasonic, ViaSat and Row44 — specializing in in-flight Wi-Fi. Different airlines and even different aircraft can use a variety of these companies, especially for international flights, so you can end up on a flight in which one or more of these options aren’t available to you.
If your cell phone service is through T-Mobile, guess what? You already have one free hour of Gogo Wi-Fi on every flight you take just for being a T-Mobile customer, plus unlimited texting through internet-based messaging services such as iMessage or WhatsApp and unlimited access to Visual Voicemail. Note that you must have a valid E911 address and you must make at least one Wi-Fi call with your SIM card installed before you fly. Then once you’re in the air, launch your browser and click the T-Mobile banner on the start page, and you’ll be online!
JetBlue (or Qantas)
The easiest way to get free Wi-Fi is to fly the one US airline that always provides it for free. As of last year, JetBlue now provides complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi to all passengers on its planes from gate-to-gate. The service, which JetBlue calls “Fly-Fi,” is provided by ViaSat and should offer plenty of bandwidth for various internet tasks, including streaming video.
Unfortunately the other US airline that previously offered free Wi-Fi, Virgin America, has since begun charging a fee for access commensurate with the length of the flight. But if your travels bring you to Australia, you’ll find free ViaSat Wi-Fi on Qantas’ domestic fleet of 737s and A330s by the middle of 2017.
Keep your eyes peeled and you might run into more than a few promotions for free Wi-Fi at any given time. While it was much more common a few years ago to find companies sponsoring entire months of free Wi-Fi or Gogo added as a perk to other products, it still happens from time to time. In fact, just this past November, T-Mobile offered an hour of free Gogo to everyone — not just its own customers — for the holiday weekend.
Finally, there are three different credit cards that provide complimentary Gogo passes as part of their package of benefits. The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN offers 10 free Gogo passes annually, while the U.S. Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards Visa Signature card provides 12 annual passes. A third lesser-known card, the City National Bank Crystal Visa Infinite also gives cardmembers 12 free Gogo flight segments per year, but the card can only be applied for in-branch in select states.
Hope this info helps during your next flight, Fernando, and thanks for the question. We’re answering questions three times a week here now at The Points Guy, so tweet questions at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or send an email to email@example.com.
Featured image courtesy of James Leynse via Getty Images.
This post has been updated to note that as of January 2017, high-speed Wi-Fi is available free of charge to all JetBlue customers.