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3 ways to get in-flight Wi-Fi for free

Stephanie Zito
3 ways to get free in-flight Wi-Fi

Frequent flyers want their Wi-Fi free and fast. With some credit cards, a few airlines and maybe even your cellphone carrier you can get free Wi-Fi while you fly, and faster Wi-Fi is on its way (more on that later).

If you like to surf while in the skies or do business in the air (including writing blog posts such as this one), here are three ways you can get free Wi-Fi now:

1. Travel rewards credit cards.
A few premium travel rewards cards offering free in-flight Wi-Fi include*:

U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve, introduced in May, includes 12 complimentary Gogo passes per year.

American Express Business Platinum cardholders can get 10 Gogo in-flight internet service complimentary passes each calendar year.

UBS Visa Infinite card, released in late May, includes complimentary Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi on 12 flight segments per year.  At the current cost of $19 for an all-day Gogo in-flight pass, that’s an annual benefit worth $190-$220.

2. Some airlines offer free Wi-Fi.
While most airlines operate their onboard internet on a pay-to-surf model, a few offer free Wi-Fi. Here are a few to keep in mind:

– JetBlue offers free Fly-Fi on all its domestic flights, through a sponsorship by Amazon. In addition to no-cost connectivity from ground to sky, you can earn 3x TrueBlue bonus points for anything you purchase on Amazon while you’re flying. Add that to the points you’re earning on your JetBlue credit card.

– Alaska Airlines passengers can chat for free and watch free movies or TV shows from the airline’s in-flight library on Gogo Wi-Fi. If you want to email friends or co-workers, though, an all-day pass costs $16.

Icelandair’s premium-class passengers get free Wi-Fi by logging in with their reservation information. Other international carriers, such as Emirates, allow flyers one free session per device with a small data limit – usually just enough for you to download email or send a Snapchat from the sky.

3. Check for Wi-Fi deals before you fly.
If you know you’re going to want to connect from the sky, you can save money if you do a little bit of research ahead of takeoff. Check to see if that airline’s internet provider is offering any specials.

– At Gogo, for example, all-day Wi-Fi passes cost $19.

– If you’re a T-Mobile subscriber, you can use your phone number to access free Wi-Fi for an hour on Gogo-equipped flights, plus you’ll get unlimited in-flight texting, picture messaging and access to your digital voicemail.

Now about that faster Wi-Fi that’s on its way…

In-flight internet is getting an upgrade, and several domestic and international carriers are already in the process of implementing onboard Wi-Fi that delivers speeds that match the connections you’re used to on the ground.

While I personally don’t need streaming access to “Orange is the New Black” from my airline seat, I do like to keep up on my work when I fly and finalize last-minute plans for what I’m going to do on the ground when I land.

In June, I had the chance to fly in an experimental test aircraft with Honeywell aeronautic experts to test the internet speeds of JetWave, Honeywell’s new Wi-Fi-in-the-sky system.

What’s changing: The ground-to-air internet connection currently used on most aircraft is being replaced with a direct connection to satellites overhead. This switch means faster connections, broader coverage (no drops along your flight path), and service from takeoff to landing (no more waiting until you reach 10,000 feet to log on or tune in).

On the Honeywell plane, I was so busy streaming an Instagram live from the jump-seat of the cockpit over San Francisco that I forgot to do an actual speed test. But if you can livestream from the sky without seeing a spinning wheel, the speed, in my opinion, certainly rates “fast enough.”

I was also surprised to see Mary Beth, one of the viewers of my livestream, was watching from a Lufthansa flight from Germany to Chicago. Coincidentally, Lufthansa is one of the first commercial airlines to roll out Honeywell’s JetWave on its fleet.

That same improved satellite-to-flight connection that lets your neighbor in 27B Facetime with his dog also allows for improved weather monitoring in the cockpit, information sharing between aircraft, and data streamed from the air to flight control centers. This means flights with less turbulence and fewer delays from mechanical failure and weather.

To sum up and save on in-flight Wi-Fi: Before you head to the airport, check your credit card benefits and cellphone service provider to see if free Wi-Fi is included as a perk. If not, check with your airline’s internet provider for Wi-Fi discounts.

And stay tuned. Faster in-flight Wi-Fi is ready for takeoff.

* The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see bank websites for the most current version of the offer.

See related: 5 money-saving credit card tips for savvy family travelers, 4 easy ways to stack your credit card rewards, The real value of a round-the-world plane ticket, How card travel insurance can save you bucks, headaches

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