For this week’s tip, we consulted with Rhyse of Rhyse Roams, an airline retiree, to give us the deets on the buddy pass situation. Check out her detailed insights!
Whether it’s an electronics store, car dealership, or clothing store, many companies offer a friends-and-family discount. You’ve heard or seen the ads when these companies have sales going on or perhaps you have a friend that offers you the hookup for a much-coveted discount from their employer. Most airlines do this as well. They come in the form of what is commonly called a buddy pass.
Buddy passes are extremely discounted tickets that airline employees are allowed to dole out to some very lucky recipients. But, are recipients really lucky to get these? Here is some information, tips, and rules to maximizing the benefit of these perks.
Buddy Passes 101: Things to Know
Buddy passes allow you to travel standby based upon available open seats. Standby passengers flying on benefits are called “non-revs.” Keep in mind, buddy passes are usually the last to get on a plane. This is after employees, parents, companions, children of employees, and in some cases even other airline employees. Paying passengers, or revenue passengers, even if they show up last minute, also have priority over buddy passes. This even includes standby revenue passengers.
Sounding even less like a benefit? Some airlines base standby priority on seniority of the actual employee’s hire date. So let’s say the employee whose buddy pass you’re using has a hire date of 12/31/15, you probably should have purchased a ticket. Just kidding… not really. Your place on the standby list against other passes may depend on when you were listed or checked-in on the flight. Ultimately, your place is always subject to change.
There will be times there are seats open but, even after not getting on the first 50-leven flights, you still cannot get on. Most, if not all, airlines earn additional revenue through cargo (mail, human remains, animals, kitchen sinks). Every plane, without exception, has weight limits. If the plane meets their maximum weight after all paying passengers and cargo have been calculated, some non-revs may be left behind. You never want to be on an overweight plan. Trust me on this.
If you are stuck due to weather, overbooking, or lack of availability, be prepared. The airline owes you nothing. You are not eligible for amenities or protection, not even those free peanuts they give out because you are traveling on a buddy pass.
Another reason you may not even be able to use a buddy pass is some dates, cities, and/or countries are embargoed and buddy passes cannot be used when these restrictions are in place. Embargoes can happen at any time for any reason even after you’ve been ticketed. Again, be prepared to find another way home.
Are you #TeamCheckedBag? If you check your bags and your bags are lost, you may be SOL. The airline, as part of the terms and conditions for traveling on their buddy pass, may exclude you from being compensated for lost bags.
Employees are given a limited number of passes. If you’re lucky enough to get one, use it wisely. Most don’t allow name changes, so make sure if you get one, you provide your government name and complete all travel prior to its’ expiration.
The Best Option?
Buddy passes are not always the most economical flight option. A spot check for flights from Atlanta to Los Angeles with advance purchase of 1, 7, & 14 days yielded fares of $761, $359, and $207. To fly on a Delta Air Lines buddy pass, the passenger will pay $328.20 roundtrip. With a bit of planning, purchasing an advance ticket for $207 guarantees you passage, and for less than you would have to pay for the buddy pass to fly on standby. But note that some airlines have cheaper buddy pass fares, so don’t be totally discouraged.
Here is an example of roundtrip buddy pass fares on Delta Air Lines.
|London (Return in Business class)
But check out some recent discount fares I found (includes all taxes) for confirmed tickets
When you’ve been cleared and you have a seat, get excited, but not a moment before! There could be one last obstacle. As you board, you’re stopped by the gate agent and given the once-over. Though many airlines no longer require non-revs to dress casket-fresh, please refrain from looking as if you are a street walker, homeless, or wearing anything that has writing that might even be slightly offensive. No sagging pants that show your tighty-whiteys or clothing that looks as if you’re falling out or it’s painted on. Don’t let this be the reason you don’t get on your flight.
There is no generic best time to travel.
Choosing the best flight option depends on many factors. Getting to New York on a Monday morning may have you getting to know random airport employees instead. These peak travel time are packed like biscuits in a can with for business travelers. These same flight times may have a large percentage of unsold seats on a Sunday morning…right as you’re getting home from a night of partying.
It also depends on the carrier and the market. You may have an easier time getting a cat to care about anything than trying to get on the one flight a carrier offers per day to your destination. For example, American Airlines vs Delta Air Lines in the Atlanta to Los Angeles market: Atlanta is Delta’s main hub and will always offer a gazillion more flights than American.
Understand all the rules of the airline associated with flying on the buddy pass.
Listen to the employee and do exactly as they advise. Period. For example, some airlines:
- Require buddy pass travelers to travel with the employee. I would never use mine if this were the case. Rarely do I travel with my buddy pass riders.
- Waive bag fees for the first or second bag, some don’t.
- Many charge no fee to change your ticket, though an additional collection in fare or taxes may apply.
- Require the employee to register the passenger at least 72 hours prior to departure of the preferred flight. If you want to use a buddy pass for a last minute flight, this may not be possible depending on the airline.
Oh, and by the way, your elite status means nothing. NOTHING! And, you don’t earn miles.
Avoid peak travel.
Trying to travel any of the below?
- Trinidad during Carnival – Buy a ticket
- Anywhere for Christmas (Or, any holiday for that matter) – Buy a ticket
- Rio for the Olympics – Actually, with all the issues, you might be able to get there…
- Europe for the summer – Try it if you want to. I personally don’t allow buddy passes to travel out of Paris in the summer. If could take up to never for buddy passes to get on flights.
- Funeral – Buy a ticket. Ok, I get this may be cost prohibitive, so go ahead and try it but be prepared to miss the funeral. Your reason for traveling does not improve your chances of getting on.
If you’re traveling with a mate, spouse, sig/other, bae, or child
Be prepared to split up to improve your chances of getting to your destination. Clearly, if you’re traveling with small children, this is not an option. When I traveled with my family of four (then husband and two kids), we had no problem letting one of the parents travel first or splitting up and each taking a kid.
If you and your bae break-up or have a falling out prior to returning, make nice while at the airport.
Be Flexible & Patient
Be ready to travel one day before or one day after your desired date. If this is not an option, you may need to purchase a ticket. Be prepared to depart out of a nearby city if you get stuck out of your preferred city. If you can’t get out of JFK or LaGuardia, consider going out of Newark if the airline has that as an option. Stuck in Paris? Try hopping the train to Amsterdam or checking for flights on sites such as ITA, Momondo, and other low-cost carrier sites.
Tuck away $300-500 in case you must purchase a secondary ticket to a second city out of which you can travel or you need to pay for extra nights in a hotel. I cannot urge this enough! If Sydney or South Africa is your destination of choice, $500 may not be enough, so be prepared to sleep in the airport.
Be prepared to be seated away from your flight companions. Even your 3-year-old child. If this is a problem, buy a ticket. And, don’t have an attitude if you’re separated by one seat or even 30 rows. Seating is space available. Don’t expect a revenue passenger, even if they may have paid less than you, to be moved to accommodate you. The gate agent, and sometimes flight attendants, will do their very best to put you next to any minor you may travel with, but it should not be expected and is not a guaranteed. Also, the carriers often frown upon asking another passenger to switch seats to accommodate you when you nonrev.
Do’s and Dont’s
- Do NOT EVER talk back to, argue with, or engage an employee in any sort of debate. I don’t care how much in the right you are, how badly you are treated or what they say! You can cost the employee who gave you the buddy pass their job if the employee reports you. People, in general, can be a hot mess and are not above lying. I once knew a coworker who was fired because her pastor cussed out a gate agent after being unable to get on a flight when the all the seats were taken.
- Do NOT embarrass the employee by acting a fool
- Do NOT ask for special treatment aka anything
- Do NOT ask for first class. This awesome perk is not allowed by all airlines but, it’s been known to happen. Play the lottery if this happens.
- Do NOT ask if you’ll get on; always assume you won’t.
- Do NOT call Reservations for ANYTHING unless you have been directed by the employee to do so.
- Do NOT get drunk or make the flight attendants work more than they normally do. They will clown you and your actions could get the employee who gave you the buddy pass fired.
- Do NOT pay to use the pass. This is unequivocally against all airline policy. This will often get the employ fired, even if they didn’t know their pass was sold. I once knew an employee who gave a coworker a buddy pass for a friend. That coworker then sold the buddy pass to someone. Long story short, when discovered, they were both fired despite the fact that the employee thought they were helping a friend out and never knew their pass was being sold. They had worked at the airline for almost 30 years. SMH.
- Do not bug the employee about whether or not you’ll get on. Load factors change and even though a flight may historically be a non-rev special, anything can happen. One canceled flight on another airline can ruin your chances of getting on the flight that is “always open.”
- Do not get on the plane smelling as if you are allergic to deodorant or soap.
- Enjoy yourself. Remember, crap haps! Roll with the punches and you’ll have a great time!
Rhyse Woodward is World Traveler, Travel Industry Expert, IT professional, Photographer, and future Time Lord. Rhyse is usually chasing summer around the world but when she isn’t, she’s enjoying good food and better friends. Contact Rhyse at on IG (@RhyseRoams) & or on Facebook (Focused Roaming)