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There’s an amazing new service for US air passengers who find themselves on a cancelled, delayed or misconnected itinerary. Freebird is a service which allows you to prepay $19 per domestic, one-way itinerary. In return, if something goes wrong with your trip, they will book you on the next flight to your destination — on any US airline and even in first class. I’ve taken a few trips this year and purchased the service when I wanted to take advantage of low airfare or if I needed to arrive for a meeting but was booked on an airline with infrequent flights to my destination. Fortunately, these trips went off without a hitch, and I hadn’t used the service. That changed this morning when my sister’s Southwest itinerary was delayed, and it looked like a missed connection was in her future.

Freebird Basics

To be eligible for Freebird protection, you must have an itinerary only within the continental United States, Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico. You must book the protection at least two days before your departure, so you can’t wait until the last minute and see that irregular operations (IRROPS) or weather is going to delay or cancel your flight. The cost is $19 one-way or $34 round-trip. To register your trip, all you have to do is go to GetFreebird.com, enter your already-purchased flight itinerary, then add your contact details and TSA-required traveler information so Freebird can rebook you in case of a flight disruption. There is no app to download, and you can even protect award flights as well.

If your itinerary is disrupted, Freebird will rebook you on the next one-stop or nonstop flight to your destination on any airline, not just the airline you were flying. That includes re-bookings to co-located airports and nearby destinations. A flight disruption is defined as a delay of more than four hours, a cancelled flight or a missed connection. Freebird monitors all flight data and knows as soon as you do if a flight disruption for your itinerary has occurred or is likely to occur. If you are going to have one of the defined disruptions, Freebird sends you a text with options on the next available flight and then rebooks you without needing any further information. They then send you a link which takes you to check-in for your new flight to your destination.

$1,220 First Class Delta Ticket for $19

As noted above, I haven’t had a flight problem to utilize Freebird, but the time came this morning to test out the service. I booked my sister on a Southwest-operated itinerary from Houston-Hobby (HOU) to Fort Myers (RSW) via Atlanta (ATL) to come with me, my wife and my kids and enjoy the beach for a long weekend. The connection time in Atlanta was only 35 minutes when we booked (an itinerary Southwest sold), and back-up Southwest flights from Atlanta to Fort Myers in case of a missed connection were nonexistent. I paid Freebird $19 for my sister’s itinerary and hoped for the best.

Early this morning I woke up to a text from Freebird that her Southwest flight from Houston was delayed and the connection time was now only 15 minutes. When you add in taxiing and deplaning, her chances of making the flight were slim. I requested a tentative booking on Delta:

They responded with a link to look at alternative bookings, and before I could say anything, Freebird had already located the first available flight from Atlanta: an afternoon departure on Delta. I verified that it wouldn’t be a problem if she made her Southwest flight and wound up not needing the Delta flight, and the agent working the text exchange confirmed. Within seven minutes of the start of the conversation, my sister was rebooked on the first available seat out of Atlanta to Fort Meyers, which happen to be first class seat on a Boeing 757. The price? A cool $1,220.30:

Since this is coded as a regular, revenue ticket (booked into J class) and since my sister doesn’t have Delta Medallion status, she’ll earn 5,609 SkyMiles, worth $67.31 based on TPG’s most recent valuations.

Bottom Line

Freebird is an ingenious solution for people that want to take advantage of low fares or are traveling on a route with limited service by a given airline. This adds a whole new level of value to flying low-cost carriers. In the past, I may have voided a $29 Frontier fare because the route was only flown once a week. Now I can pay $19 on top of the $29 and have the peace of mind that if the Frontier flight doesn’t happen — or is delayed more than four hours — I will be on the next nonstop Delta flight to my destination (which would’ve cost multiple times more than the Frontier flight). Count me among the travelers who hope that Freebird has built a sustainable business model, as I plan on using the service on a regular basis.

Featured image by Zach Honig / TPG

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