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For those planning to stay connected or get some work done in the air, in-flight Wi-Fi costs can really add up, with airlines charging by the hour or offering any number of paid packages. Needless to say, having to shell out more for Wi-Fi during a flight can be a real pain for leisure travelers and quickly become a major expense for frequent business travelers.
Thankfully, there are a few ways to get around those extra fees, with more airlines offering passengers access to free Wi-Fi than ever before. Delta Air Lines made news in November when it began offering complimentary in-flight Wi-Fi to all Delta SkyMiles loyalty program members, making it the first U.S. legacy carrier to do so. JetBlue, meanwhile, continues to be the only U.S.-based airline that offers free high-speed Wi-Fi (via its Fly-Fi service) to all customers.
It turns out that’s there are other ways to dodge pesky Wi-Fi fees. Below, Select breaks down the best ways to avoid in-flight Wi-Fi costs on your next trip, whether by traveling with certain airlines, signing up for travel rewards credit cards that include it as a benefit, maintaining elite status, flying in premium classes or by simply having the right cell phone provider.
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Fly with airlines that offer complimentary Wi-Fi
As mentioned above, Delta Air Lines now offers free in-flight Wi-Fi to all Delta SkyMiles members traveling on Viasat-equipped aircraft. All you need to do is sign up for a free account through the website — if you don’t have one already — then, once you’re on board, simply log in with your Skymiles number and password.
The move is part of an ongoing trial on the carrier’s Viasat-enabled aircraft — namely, Delta’s A321, 737-900ER and 757-200 planes — and comes on the heels of free Wi-Fi being offered to travelers with Delta Medallion status. If you don’t want to sign up for a Skymiles account, you’ll have to pay a $5 fee to access in-flight Wi-Fi, per device.
Otherwise, JetBlue remains the sole U.S. carrier to offer complimentary Wi-Fi to all passengers on all its flights, regardless of loyalty program membership, status or route, via its Fly-Fi service. Hawaiian Airlines is also planning to launch free in-flight Wi-Fi in 2023 thanks to its partnership with SpaceX’s SkyLink.
American Airlines also seems to be testing out free Wi-Fi on many of its aircraft that are equipped with Viasat — as part of an ongoing trial, passengers who opt to watch a sponsored video can access 30 minutes of Wi-Fi free of charge.
Other U.S.-based carriers, such as Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines let passengers send and receive messages for free via WhatsApp and iMessage — Alaska Airlines allows Facebook Messenger use as well — while free Wi-Fi is available on Southwest flights for A-List Preferred loyalty program members.
It’s also worth noting that United Airlines allows its MileagePlus loyalty program members to redeem 1,600 United miles instead of paying the usual $8 fee for in-flight Wi-Fi ($10 for non-members) on domestic and short-haul international routes to Canada and Mexico. If you’ve got some United miles to burn, that could be an easy way to get around paying extra fees to stay connected while you fly.
As far as international airlines, Air New Zealand and Qantas — on B737-800 and A330-200 aircraft thanks to a partnership with Viasat — each offer complimentary Wi-Fi on domestic flights within their respective countries (New Zealand and Australia). Nok Air, a low-cost carrier based in Thailand, also provides complimentary in-flight Wi-Fi aboard its Boeing 737 flights, while Japan Airlines lets its passengers redeem 2,000 miles for an in-flight Wi-Fi coupon to use on international flights.
Some international carriers offer free Wi-Fi, but with certain stipulations. On China Eastern Airlines and its subsidiary Shanghai Airlines, for instance, a free in-flight Wi-Fi trial is only available to the first 100 travelers who register up to 30 days ahead of the actual flight, while on short flights within Europe, aboard Norwegian Air’s 737-800 aircraft, passengers receive 15 minutes of Wi-Fi for free.
Wi-Fi offerings vary greatly by the airline, flight path and the type of technology currently being offered by the carrier, so remember to check their website for the latest information before you set off.
Consider your credit card perks
Other travel rewards cards offer annual travel credits or airline fee credits meant to cover in-flight expenses, such as Wi-Fi.
Two important things to note: For the American Express cards listed above, you must choose a preferred airline each year and register in advance. For Bank of America’s cards, only flights on U.S.-based carriers or trips that depart from the U.S. count when it comes to receiving airline fee credits.
If you happen to have elite status with carriers such as Southwest Airlines, Emirates, Icelandair, Singapore Airlines, Turkish Airlines or Scandinavian Airlines, among others, you can enjoy complimentary messaging or Wi-Fi access, though each airline has limits regarding time spent online, how much data you use and the number of devices, so check before you fly.
Alternatively, if you are able to book business or first class flights when you’re traveling internationally, that could be another way to avoid extra charges for in-flight Wi-Fi. Just be aware that how much free Wi-Fi you’ll actually get and how many devices you’re allowed to use varies greatly by airline, fare class, flight length and current internet capabilities onboard the aircraft, so double-check ahead of time just in case.
If T-Mobile or Sprint is your current mobile phone carrier, you’re in luck, especially if you’ve got an active Magenta MAX or Magenta plan. Those with Magenta MAX (or Sprint MAX, Unlimited Plus or Premium) plans can score unlimited in-flight text messaging, streaming and Wi-Fi on select Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines flights that offer Gogo in-flight internet service, and certain United Airlines aircraft equipped with Viasat or Thales technology.
Customers with Magenta, Simple Choice, Select Choice, ONE, T-Mobile pre-paid plans, as well as several Sprint plans — Sprint ONE, Unlimited Freedom, Everything Data Share, Sprint Unlimited, Affordable Choice and Unlimited Savings, among others — are eligible to receive complimentary in-flight texting as well as Wi-Fi and streaming on four flights per year, plus one hour of in-flight Wi-Fi and streaming on additional flights.
Either way, make sure your T-Mobile or Sprint phone is updated with the latest software, have an current e911 address listed on your account and make at least one Wi-Fi call with your SIM card before you go. Once onboard, ensure your phone is on airplane mode and that your Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi enabled calling functions are turned on. Then, choose the airline’s Wi-Fi network and login on the Wi-Fi homepage using your T-Mobile or Sprint phone number.
While it may sound tempting to just fork over the $8 or $10 necessary to get your in-flight Wi-Fi fix, keep in mind that there are several things you can do to avoid those fees altogether. By opting for airlines such as JetBlue or Delta Air Lines that already offer complimentary Wi-Fi, using certain credit cards or cell phone carriers, flying in premium classes or maintaining elite status, you can easily wipe these charges from your travel budget and put that money toward your trip instead.
Before applying for a new credit card, remember to check your credit score, make sure you’ll be able to use all the perks enough to justify paying the annual fee (especially if it’s a higher one) and ensure you’re able to meet any minimum-spending requirements for earning a welcome bonus responsibly.
Information about the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card, Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Elite Credit Card, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, Alaska Airlines® Credit Card, and CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.