“Genius Hack” or “Working The System” to Get Free Flights?

by SharonKurheg

“Hacking” has been around for a long time. The first I ever heard the terms was when War Games came out, back in 1983. Starring a very young Matthew Broderick, the movie is about a young man who finds a back door into a military central computer in which reality is confused with game-playing, possibly starting World War III (thank-you IMDb).

For years, “hacking” generally had to do with computers and communication. It was just like War Games: breaking into computer systems, telephone networks, and other vulnerable technology. But over time the term has grown, and now includes, “a clever tip or technique for doing or improving something.”

We’ve shared some of these so-called travel hacks over time:

Anyway, several online entities have recently written about a woman’s “ingenious airport hack” that got her bonus miles. The woman, known as “Janelle – travel expert,” posted her “ingenious hack” on TikTok a little more than a week ago and it already has over 3 million views.

In it, she explains how she checks an empty tote bag when she flies on Delta, “…so I can get my 2,500 SkyMiles when my bag takes more than 20 minutes to get to baggage claim.” Here’s the video:


sky priority babyyyyyy

♬ original sound – Matt Taylor

Janelle is referring to, of course, Delta’s “Bags on Time” guarantee. Delta is one of the airlines that offers you free frequent flyer miles if it takes them more than 20 minutes to get your bag to the carousel.

There are, of course, certain terms and conditions to this guarantee, but as long as Janelle follows them, she will indeed earn 2,500 points every time her empty tote bag is late to the baggage carousel.

A few of the replies on her video mentioned that you have to pay to check a bag. But Janelle reminded them that you get checked bags through certain airline credit cards. Says Janelle:

1. you get a free checked bag with delta’s gold card, which is $0 the first year and $99/year after that. The price of a checked bag is $30 *each way*
2. So if you take TWO round trip Delta flights a year where you’re checking one bag, it would actually be cheaper to have the credit card instead.

(Of course, that’s the only reason to get a specific credit card, but if you travel on Delta enough, it’s one thing to take into consideration)

Janelle also said that if her bag is lost or never makes it onto the flight, she submits that and then also asks for additional compensation.

She also mentioned that the agent who checked her bag told her that she had made his day. One of her commenters also said, “I worked for Delta for 9 years & this is brilliant – it’s REALLY, REALLY hard to get the bags to baggage claim within 20 minutes in larger airports.”

So is this really an “ingenious travel hack” or just a way to work the system? Personally, I think it’s the latter. Delta didn’t start this guarantee as an invitation for people to check empty, worthless bags with the sole intention of collecting 2,500 SkyMiles when they don’t deliver.

As one of the other commenters said, I’d be concerned that if enough people played this game, Delta would remove the guarantee. But until they do, I guess if they’re late with Janelle’s empty tote bag 2 or 3 times, she can get a (cheap) Delta flight for free.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Gene May 17, 2023 - 4:28 pm

While I wouldn’t waste my time doing this, if one has nothing better to do and they want to do this, I say good. Take revenge on the dishonest airlines.

Christian May 17, 2023 - 5:34 pm

Seems a lot of work for small return but to each their own. I think that if a company treats you fairly (in the case of airlines, no no-notice devaluations, saver space on every flight, etc.) then it’s incumbent on you to not play games like this.

GW August 16, 2023 - 3:14 pm

2500 Skypesos won’t get you very far.

Daviator August 16, 2023 - 7:07 pm

Why wouldn’t you just check your actual bag? If you’re going to spend the time to wait at baggage claim, why check an empty bag instead of checking a bag containing your actual belongings? This makes no sense.

I have been flying for 40 years and have something like 5 million miles flown, and I check a bag every single time, because it’s just a more civilized way to travel. It’s been a decade or so since I’ve had a bag go astray, and even that showed up a couple of hours later on the next flight. The idea that checking bags is somehow risky might have been true in the 70s but hasn’t been reality for a long time. (Of course, all bets are off on discount carriers like Spirit, but I don’t fly those.)

So I repeat myself: what’s the point of checking an empty bag and lugging your real bag on and off the plane? Ludicrous. If your (real) checked bag doesn’t arrive within 20 minutes you’d still be eligible to claim the Delta miles.


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