How can I get a free or cheap drone? 7 tricks to getting a drone deal for non-profits, students and more

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about getting a free or cheap drone. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

We are a volunteer-based animal rescue. We are rural and have a very low budget, but we would like to start a YouTube channel to help raise awareness. Would you have any ideas on how/who might have a drone they could give us (or sell very cheaply) so that we can start our story telling journey?

This is a question I get a lot! There are tons of schools, non-profits or research projects that are looking to get a free or cheap drone donated to their cause. And while every cause has its merits, the harsh reality is, not everyone can pull the strings needed to get a free drone. I wish I knew the secret to getting free drones myself!!

That being said, here’s my guide to finding free or cheap drones! These 7 tips will get you a drone at way less than you would pay at full retail price:

  1. Use the DJI Education discount to save 10%! The DJI Educational Discount allows customers with a “.edu” email address and who successfully fill out DJI’s online form to get a coupon code (typically a 10% discount) on a select group of items from its online site.  The items available for purchase include everything from drones like the Mavic Pro, accessories like DJI Goggles and –for those who prefer shooting from the ground — the Osmo Mobile.
  2. Use the DJI Better-With-Drones discount for non-profits to save 10%. Don’t have a .edu address, but you’re a non-profit? DJI offers a similar program to its DJI Education discount called its Better With Drones Discount program. Fill out the form on DJI’s website here, and when your application has been approved, DJI will send you a discount code, typically 10% off as well.
  3. Look for contests and promotions with free drones involved. Plenty of groups are offering free drones as prizes for taking surveys, submitting feedback, winning photo contests, etc. One of the best places to remain privy to drone-related contests! This site itself, right here at TheDroneGirl.com! For example, right now, Skylogic Research is giving away one free DJI Spark as a raffle prize if you take their survey. Other promotions, frequently offered by DJI themselves, give you a chance to “try” out the drone before you buy it, such as this deal a few months ago promoting the DJI Mavic Pro, where you could get one for two whole weeks, completely free.
  4. Rent a drone! Why pay $1,000 for a drone you really only want to use a handful of times, when you can pay closer to $50 to rent it for a day? Sites like Up Sonder offer drone rental services. It’s a similar model to Airbnb, where owners can post their drone up for rent, meet the customer, and the customer gets to use the drone for a certain amount of hours.

Here’s a pretty common example of the types of deals you’ll find on UpSonder:UpSonder drone rental

This one is a Phantom 3 Pro with 4K video in San Francisco, going for $50 a day ($62 including fees).

5. Buy refurbished drones: Electronics stores and Amazon sell all sorts of refurbished gear, including drones. I recommend buying refurbished drones directly through DJI. Why? Every DJI Refurbished product is tested by DJI themselves and includes the DJI standard warranty (you can also get enhanced coverage through DJI Care).

DJI Certified Refurbished Products are pre-owned DJI drones that were returned. But that doesn’t necessarily indicate a faulty drone! DJI promises that each refurbished product has undergone full functionality testing, where any defective modules are replaced,  is put through a thorough cleaning and inspection process, is repackaged and placed into a Final Quality Assurance inspection before being offered for sale. The only real downside to buying a refurbished drone? It likely will have slight signs of wear, such as scratches.

Among the deals you can find right now on a refurbished product? The refurbished Spark is going for $279, vs. $399 for a brand-new one (that’s a 30% savings), while the refurbished DJI Mavic Pro is going for $799, vs. $999 for a new one (a 20% savings).

If you don’t mind not having the DJI warranty, Amazon often offers even better deals on refurbished products, including the DJI Mavic Pro for $737.

drone deal DJI Mavic Pro free cheap sally french the drone girl quark arctic watch wilderness lodge

If money is a big factor, then buying a refurbished Mavic Pro is typically a much wiser decision than buying new.

6. Seek out smaller drone companies for donations. While the major players like DJI get inundated with drone donation requests — thus you likely won’t have much luck with them — seek out smaller drone companies to help you with your drone-related request.

Related read: Meet DroneDeploy’s head of “Flylanthrophy” Samantha Salis

For example, drone mapping software provider DroneDeploy won’t be able to hook you up with a free drone, but they may be able to help you on the software side of things. The San Francisco-based drone software provider has done volunteer projects such as working with first responders after Hurricane Harvey to assist with disaster relief efforts in Texas, through its Flylanthropy program, which connects nonprofit organizations with its software free of charge so they can put drones to work for good. You can get more information, including contact info, about DroneDeploy’s Flylanthropy program here.

7. Become a  DJI developer for 40% off! To be eligible for this discount you’ll need to put in a bit more work, but you’ll also get a lot bigger of a deal. DJI’s Research discount program offers people with a .edu email address AND who are registered as a SDK developer on developer.dji.com the chance to get as much as 40% off on SDK products. Get more information and apply for that program here.

Do you have any tricks for getting free or cheap drones? Leave a comment below!

Leave a Reply