How to maximize Freebird, the service that protects your domestic flights
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Earlier this year, I utilized a service called Freebird that protects your domestic itineraries in case your flight is canceled, you miss a connection or your flight is delayed four hours or more. If you meet any of those wickets, you will be rebooked on the next nonstop flight to your destination on any carrier for $19 per leg, per person for your domestic itinerary.
In my case, my sister missed her connecting flight on a Southwest-operated Houston to Atlanta to Fort Meyers itinerary. The only seat left on the next flight from Atlanta to Fort Meyers was a first class seat on a Delta flight that cost almost $1,200. Freebird rebooked her without question onto the flight — the greatest return on any $19 I'll ever spend.
After recognizing the incredible value and peace of mind the service provides, I've continued to utilize the service this year in specific situations where $19 is a low price to pay compared to the alternatives of something happening with my flight. Here are a few situations when you should consider utilizing the Freebird service to maximize your potential return.
Low-cost carrier irregular operations
I can routinely score fantastic fares out of Atlanta on Spirit and Frontier, but the sticking point is the route may operate only a few times a week. If the flight is canceled, the low-cost carriers will offer to rebook you, but it might be a few days in the future. Best case scenario, you could find yourself in a similar situation to Senior TPG writer JT Genter who had to kill 11 hours in the Tampa airport a few months ago and wait until the next Spirit flight to his destination. (Note: Spirit actually has the highest on-time arrival percentage of any U.S. airline.)
$19 is a small price to pay on top of sub $100 fares to ensure you will reach your destination on the date of intended travel. I have booked a few Spirit flights recently for less than $40 and if my flight is canceled or delayed four hours or more, I would miss my meeting or have to kill a very long time in my home airport of Atlanta waiting for the next Spirit departure. The peace of mind I have the night before knowing that I'll be on the next Delta departure if my low-cost carrier flight is canceled is incredible, and all for the grand price of $19.
Large weather system looming
You have to book Freebird at least two days before departure, preventing passengers from gaming the business and buying the protection last minute when it is obvious there will be a delay. That said, during winter or hurricane season, it's often possible to see a large weather system possibly affecting your departure or arrival destination more than two days in advance.
While these systems may affect the entire airport operations, having the freedom to look at all airlines and co-located airports (which Freebird supports) is probably worth $19. The key to being successful with weather systems is being as proactive as possible and rearranging your schedule before fellow passengers take up any available seats.
You have to be there
Even if flying a legacy carrier, if you have to arrive at a destination at a specified time, then $19 is worth it to avoid the hassle of dealing directly with the airline or trying to use built in credit card trip cancellation/delay protection. Freebird will rebook you through text in about five minutes.
Airline computer systems crash, mechanical delays occur and you can easily miss a connection on a legacy carrier. Here in Atlanta, United is often a cheaper choice than Delta to reach Washington Dulles or Houston. If I book a United ticket and have to arrive at the specific time I have scheduled, but United has an IT systems crash, Freebird would put me on the next Delta flight out.
You booked separate tickets for an award booking
If you want to be an award travel pro, you'll often have to position from your home airport to an international gateway to fly where you want to go on points and miles. If you cannot tag a positioning flight to or from your home airport on the same ticket as your international leg, I always recommend arriving the day before your departure or planning your final leg home a day after you are supposed to arrive back in the U.S.
This isn't always possible for the working professional with limited vacation days or students who cannot miss class. If you are going to take a domestic hop on a separate ticket to get to your international flight, I'd highly recommend paying $19 to ensure you have every option available to get to your award booking in case of delay or cancellation on your positioning flight.
Freebird is an ingenious service with some smart people behind it. It has actually been around for several years but I only recently came across it. I hope the folks at Freebird have done the math correctly to see the likelihood of having to rebook passengers versus the income generated and I hope they have the model right allowing the service to stick around for years to come. It has already saved many of my friends and colleagues trips.