If you’re fortunate enough to be friends or family with an airline employee, you may be able to snag a coveted buddy pass. This pass allows travelers to fly for free on a specific airline if there is extra space on the flight.
While a buddy pass is a fantastic way to cut down on travel costs, there are many rules associated with how and when you can use this nearly-free voucher. Read on to get all of the details from a veteran buddy pass user.
What is a Buddy Pass?
Buddy passes are non-revenue, standby tickets provided as a benefit to all airline employees. The employees then share those passes with friends and family. While there is no fee to fly (non-revenue), the passenger who uses the buddy pass must pay any taxes, fees and charges for each leg of the flight.
Don’t assume the “free” buddy pass is the way to go. Do your research.
One buddy pass user related this story: A buddy pass for some family members would have cost $160 round trip in fees and taxes. The passengers found full fare confirmed seats for $170 round trip. The comfort of knowing they had a guaranteed seat on the flight was well worth the extra $10.
Read More: How to Successfully Fly Standby During the Holidays
How Is a Buddy Pass Issued?
Typically, a buddy pass comes in the form of a credit that is adjusted every time the employee books a flight for a friend or family member. An employee may get up to 10 buddy passes per year that expire annually. A Qatar Airways buddy pass could be completely different from a Jetblue buddy pass. Each airline’s program is unique.
How Do I Book a Flight Using a Buddy Pass?
This will vary from airline to airline and may involve calling a reservation agent to “list” yourself on a flight using a confirmation code the employee will give you. Or the employee can do it for you online.
Since you are flying standby, you are not guaranteed a seat. Either the reservation agent or the employee can check flight loads for the dates and times you wish to travel. That will tell how likely you are to get on that flight. A flight that often flies with empty seats is a better bet than a flight that’s usually full.
Once you choose the flight, your name will be added to the flight’s standby list. You can change your listing up until the time of travel. Experts advise that you check the flight load daily to see if you need to adjust your plans.
Keep in mind, the busiest days of travel are weekends and holidays. The busiest time of travel is afternoon. If you can be flexible and are willing to take a 6am or 10pm flight, then flying on a buddy pass will work well for you.
What Do I Do at the Airport When Flying with a Buddy Pass?
Present your confirmation code to the ticket agent or enter into the kiosk for self-check-in to be issued a standby ticket. Should you need to check bags, the ticket agent will attach a special “standby” tag so that if you don’t make the flight, your bags won’t take off without you. I prefer to bring all bags with me to the gate and gate-check them after I’ve been cleared for the flight.
Depending on the airline, you may be able to check in online like on a normal flight. If this is the case, you can skip the ticket counter altogether unless you are checking bags. Just be prepared to show your ticket and head straight to the gate.
Buddy Pass Flights: At the Gate
If the ticket agent has checked you in, there is no need to approach the gate agent. The computer will show all standby passengers who have checked in. You simply wait for the flight to finish boarding and the gate agent to call standby passengers to the podium to be issued a boarding pass.
If you checked in online, notify the gate agent that you are there and on the standby list, then take a seat.
Have a Buddy Pass Back-Up Plan
It’s important to always have a backup plan. You may end up needing to fly to another city to connect to your final destination, which can mean paying for that extra leg, too. Or you may not be able to get on the flight at all and have to pay for a hotel room for the night.
One buddy pass user said she and her husband used buddy passes to come home from Copenhagen on a flight that connected in New York. Bad weather at JFK delayed their flight, and they missed their connection. They had to spend the night and because bad weather had backed up lots of flights, there were no seats available to Atlanta. They checked 27 cities before finding a plane with two available seats. In the end, they flew NY-Indianapolis-Atlanta.
In addition, if you’re traveling with children, you’ll probably be separated since buddy pass users are the last to board. That probably means everyone will be assigned a middle seat. Flight attendants are not supposed to ask a full fare passenger to move to accommodate a pass rider. Pass riders also may not ask a passenger to change seats. If a kindly passenger offers to change seats to help you, that’s OK.
Finally, there is something called “payload optimum.” That means cargo goes on before pass riders in some cities. If the cargo brings the plane to proper weight and balance, the pass rider doesn’t get to board even if there are empty seats on the plane.
Standby Passenger Rules & Etiquette
Although it may feel outdated, some airlines still advertise a dress code, particularly for standby passengers. Alaskan Airlines, for example, suggests that standby passengers wear business casual attire. According to the dress code, passengers should look neat and clean. Short shorts, halter tops, bare feet and exercise clothing are considered inappropriate.
Most airlines, however, have a more relaxed dress code. Passengers on a Southwest flight are expected to have a “clean, well groomed, and tasteful appearance,” though the airline considers its dress code casual. According to its Contract of Carriage Document, United Airlines prohibits passengers “not properly clothed” or “whose clothing is lewd, obscene or offensive.”
As a representative of the airline, you are also expected to be polite and courteous to the airline employees. Do not pester the gate agent. Remember – they have the power to decide whether you board or not.
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