Buddy Pass Guide: Important to Know, Pros & Cons

couple buddy pass

In the world of aviation, not only do we as employees get to utilize flight benefits for ourselves, but we also get the opportunity to let our family and friends utilize these benefits as well.

There are differences in non-revenue travel (staff travel tickets), but today we are going to focus on the pros and cons of what we call a buddy pass.

In this article we will go over what exactly a buddy pass is, what standby means and the parameters that go with that, etiquette, and much more.

These passes can be utilized by family, friends, etc. but there are stipulations to these passes.

Don’t assume that these tickets will be free, or that you won’t have to follow rules and regulations. You do.

If you don’t, you will quickly lose your buddy pass privileges, but anything you do, the individual who gave you said buddy pass, will be held accountable for your actions.

💡 Key Takeaways

  • Buddy passes allow non-rev travel for friends/family of airline employees at a discounted rate
  • They are standby tickets, so seats are not guaranteed
  • Airline dress code and behavior rules must be followed
  • Could get stuck waiting days for an open seat on flights
  • Allows very cheap flights, often unaffordable destinations
  • Can be an adventurous way to travel but requires flexibility
  • Worth it for some people, but can be very frustrating for others

What is a Buddy Pass?

A buddy pass is a non-revenue ticket or staff travel ticket that provides flight privileges to family members or friends of an airline employee. It allows them to travel on the same airline as the employee who provided the pass at a reduced price.

It is a great way to get around, but there are stipulations to these passes that many are unwilling to have to follow.

They are not a guaranteed ticket.

Based solely on the flight having open seats and other non-revenue passengers ahead of you, not taking all of the available seats. What this means is you’ll be flying on standby, and there’s no certainty of securing a spot on a particular flight.

If you do not make the flight you are trying to get on, they will roll you over to the next available flight, to the destination you have listed for, but there is never a guarantee you will get a seat.

It’s based solely on availability and where you land on the standby list.

⚠️ Warning: you can only fly with one airline. If your friend/relative works for American Airlines, you will only be able to fly with American Airlines.

What Does Flying on Standby Mean?

When you are flying on standby, it means that you are essentially waiting to get on a flight.

There is a list of non-revenue passengers, all who have different priorities, and wherever you may fall on the list, you are hoping that there are enough open seats on the flight, for you to get on.

When you are on standby for a flight, you are utilizing a pass from an employee of the airline. These passes are at a reduced fare, thus paying customers will always go before you.

When you are on standby, you are not guaranteed a seat.

The only way you are going to get on is if there are enough open seats for you to do so

There is also a list of non-revs; and there is a very specific way they prioritize where individuals fall on the list.

If there are five other standby ahead of you, you have to wait until they get a seat on the flight, before you can get one. If there are no more seats available, you don’t get on that flight.

standby ticket explained
Example of a standby ticket

What is the Standby Priority and How is It Established?

The standby priority is established based on different levels of correlation to the airline.


You are flying standby on American Airlines, and you happen to be a parent of an active Flight Attendant. In this case, you are above a lot of other individuals who could be trying to get on the flight you are. However, you are also below active Flight Attendants and Pilots. You would want to ask your child, who is the active employee, to look at the flight load. To not only see how many seats are currently open, but how many people are on the standby list. Then you can gauge the odds of you getting on.

Priorities are as follows:

  1. Active Flight Attendants and Pilots
  2. Parents of the active Flight Attendant/Pilot
  3. Retired Flight Attendants/Pilots
  4. Buddy passes
  5. Other airline passes attempting to board

Each airline is in charge of how they establish how certain groups are prioritized. You will find that some airlines, retired Flight Attendants and Pilots go before the parent(s) of active Flight Attendants.

However, the list above is pretty standard.

You can always assume that other airline passes are going to be at the bottom of the list. Which, you would not have access to when you are on a buddy pass. Buddy passes are only applicable to the airline the employee works for.

How to Get an Airline Buddy Pass?

The only way to get an airline buddy pass is from an employee of the airline.

They are given these passes as an incentive for working for the airline.

However, there are a lot of rules and regulations that come with these passes.

It is up to the discretion of the employee to give you a pass. They are the ones who will have to book the travel, take your payment information, give you the rules and regulations of flying on a pass, what to expect, looking into the flight loads, etc.

They are also held accountable for your behavior while you are utilizing the buddy pass they give you. So much so, that individuals have had their own flight benefits revoked, and some have actually been fired for the behavior of the individual using a buddy pass.

These passes need to be taken extremely seriously. You are now a representative of the person who has given you the pass, as well as a representative of the airline.

Can You Buy it from the Airline or From a Flight Attendant?

You cannot buy it from the airline, or from a Flight Attendant. You may have heard of other people being able to buy, said buddy passes, from Flight Attendants, but they can get fired for this.

It is against company policy for a Flight Attendant to get money in exchange for a buddy pass.

The only payment can be exclusively towards the fees you have to pay for the buddy pass, towards the airline.

Giving you a pass is at their discretion, due to you having to follow all the policies and procedures put into place. Otherwise, they can get disciplined for your behavior.

They also only have a certain amount of buddy passes they can give per year. Unless they designate you as their primary pass holder, then you get all of the same benefits as the employee. Their passes are unlimited per year.

Is There a Buddy Pass Etiquette?

There is most definitely buddy pass etiquette and the individual giving you the pass will be going over all the rules. Each airline has their own rules and regulations, with some being very strict, I mean, really strict when it comes to following their policies and procedures.

You can assume that you will have to be:

  • Kind and courteous to anyone from the airline you are going to be flying on
  • Well behaved toward paying customers
  • Well behaved toward the other individuals who are flying standby
  • Listen very closely to the gate agents, and follow their rules and regulations
  • Dress appropriately. Each airline has specifications on attire
  • Follow all rules and regulations
  • If you don’t get on the flight, be nice and get rolled over to the next flight. Do not complain.
  • Again; do not complain

Remember, buddy passes are a privilege, they can be taken away from you at any time. Behave yourself and act in a capacity that doesn’t put the actual employee in a bad position. We all do talk to each other. If you act poorly, you better believe that the person who gave you the buddy pass will hear about it.

It only takes one time, and I can assure you, you will never get a pass from the employee again. You very well might ruin it for anyone else who could benefit from a buddy pass from that person.

How Much Does a Buddy Pass Cost?

How much you pay for a buddy pass depends on how many miles the flight is.

They are at a discounted rate, but they are far from free.

In many cases, it can actually be cheaper to just go ahead and buy a full fair ticket. Especially considering you are not guaranteed to get on the flight.

You also need to factor in if you will need to take multiple flights to get to your destination. You will be charged for each leg (each flight), to get to your destination.

Examples of Buddy Pass Prices to Various Destinations

  • DFW (Dallas) – LGA (New York): USD $120.89
  • LAX (Los Angeles) – MIA Miami): USD $179.15
  • DFW (Dallas) – MCO (Orlando): USD $96.70
  • DFW (Dallas) – CDG (Paris): USD $236.25
  • ORD (Chicago) – ATH (Athens): USD $278.60

These prices can fluctuate, especially on different airlines.

This will also change if you have to take multiple flights to get to the destination you want to get to.

How Does a Buddy Pass Work?

A buddy pass works like any normal ticket, besides the active employee being the designated person to input the details of your flight.

As well as them taking your payment information. After that piece, you will be the one to check into your flight, you will obtain a standby pass (it looks like a normal ticket) to be able to go through security, and then you literally standby to see if you are going to get on the flight.

You will only be charged after you actually get a seat on a flight. Remember, this might not be the original one you were trying to get on. It could take you multiple tries before you are on a flight, or you simply could not get on for days. It really is a guessing game sometimes.

When Will You Know If You Are Getting on The Flight?

Honestly, you won’t know you are getting on the flight until the gate agent gives you a ticket with your seat on it.

The employee who works for the airline will be able to see how many people are ahead of you, and how many seats are available at the time, to let you know how things are looking, but they call it standby because you are literally standing by to see if you are going to get a seat on the flight.

boarding counter

Can You Check the Flight Availability in Advance?

The employee will be available to look at the flight in advance, but they do change rapidly.

You could look the day before and think that everything is open, but get to the airport and the flight is now oversold.

You are always taking a chance of not getting on a flight when you utilize a buddy pass. However, the employee can give you a pretty good look into if you are going to get on the flight, or not.

As well as when you get to the airport, the screen will show you how many people are ahead of you on the standby list. The less people you have ahead of you, the better off you are going to be.

What Happens if You Don’t Get on the Flight?

If you don’t get on the flight, you will be rolled over to the next flight as a standby.

This will give you the opportunity to get on another flight and will keep happening until you either get on or decide you no longer want to try to fly standby.

The airline doesn’t charge you unless you get on a flight.

Usually, there are multiple flights a day, so you could just be waiting a few flights to get on, but if you are out of the country, sometimes you only have one flight a day.

You will want to look into how many flights a day there are and plan accordingly.

sleeping at the airport
Always prepare an alternative plan if you want to avoid spending days in an airport

You can also talk to the airline employees, mainly the gate agents, and see if there is a better route to get to your destination. They might change you to a flight that goes through another hub.

The Pros of Flying on a Buddy Pass

  • Cheaper airfare
  • Don’t have to pay for carry-on bags/checked bags
  • The crew can tell when you are a standby (most airlines at least) and most will treat you like family. It’s an unsaid rule to treat our standbys like they are one of us.
  • Can travel to places you could normally never afford
  • Ability to jump on an open flight out of the blue
  • It can be exciting
  • Can get placed into a section of the plane you might not have been able to afford if you were traveling on a normal ticket. First Class being an example.

The Cons of Flying on a Buddy Pass

  • Not making the flight
  • Have to have a very open travel itinerary, due to last-minute changes
  • Getting stuck in the airport for a long duration of time (this could be for days)
  • If you make it on the flight you may not get a seat together
  • Stress
  • Having to spend extra money for a hotel if you are unable to get on a flight
  • Being held to a very high standard
  • Having to dress in, typically, business attire

When Is a Buddy Pass Useful?

A buddy pass can be extremely useful if:

  • You have a flexible schedule
  • Want to save money
  • Need to get somewhere and can’t afford to pay for a normal fare
  • Want to travel to destinations you might not ever be able to afford
  • You want an adventure and don’t care where you go

Alternative Ways to Fly Cheap Besides Buddy Passes

There are many alternative ways to fly cheap, you just have to do your research. Look into each airline and how they do discounted fares. Sign up for their emails so you can get notified when they are having sales.

You can also look into working for an airline yourself. This would most definitely be one of the best ways to fly free, or extremely cheaply. Of course, you would be subjected to the standby sagas as well, but you would have a higher priority than the buddy pass.

There are also many websites you can look into that will do the searching for you, but beware. Many of these sites will not give you any type of compensation if anything goes wrong. The airlines won’t either. You take a huge risk when you purchase tickets through a third party.

Many airlines also have an option where you can sign up for a discounted type of pass. You pay a little more upfront but can be utilized for the duration of the year.

My Tips

  • Do not try to travel on these passes during high travel periods
    • Holidays
    • Summer Travel
    • Other countries holidays
  • Make sure you understand what the airline employee is telling you in regards to the policies and procedures you have to follow
    • They will treat you as a representative of the airline, if you act in a way you shouldn’t be, not only will you get banned from utilizing these privileges, but the employee can get reprimanded (including fired), and in many cases have their travel privileges revoked
  • Ensure that you are dressing appropriately
    • Most airlines expect you to travel in business casual attire
    • No ripped jeans
    • Offensive shirts
    • Covered up
    • Closed toed shoes
    • In no way looking disheveled
    • Etc.
  • Always allow yourself a few days to get to your destination, and to get back home. Just in case you don’t get on the flight you originally planned. This is especially important if you are flying out of the country.
  • Act as if you are an actual employee of the airline. You need to conduct yourself in a professional manner. If you do not get on a flight, know that this is part of the risk. They do not have to put you on that flight
  • Pay attention to the weather, this can drastically influence the flight loads, due to people trying to get back home before weather hits.
  • Look at hotel prices in the location you plan on traveling. Just in case you are unable to get on flights, and have to stay another night in said location.
  • Look at the price of the buddy pass and compare it to the price of a normal revenue ticket. In many cases, they can be very similar. It would be in your best interest to go with the revenue ticket if you need to get to where you want to go in a timely manner
  • It is always easier to travel alone, or with one other person on standby. Bigger groups have a higher likelihood of being split up, if the flights are full
  • Go in expecting you won’t get on the flight, and what you will do if this happens. Have backup plans. Not only one!


Can kids travel on a buddy pass?

Kids can travel on a buddy pass, but most airlines require that they are a certain age. Or, that they are accompanied by an adult who will be responsible for them.

Can I use a buddy pass for an international flight?

You can utilize a buddy pass for an international flight, if that airline goes to international destinations. You will want to talk to the active employee to see if there are extra rules/regulations that might apply to international flights.

Two Standby Travel Stories

1️⃣ I think one of my craziest standby stories was one I personally had to endure. A few years back, I went to Ireland for Saint Patrick’s Day (it was amazing), and I was bumped off the last flight of the day going back to the States. I had the option to either stay the night in Ireland again, or take my chances flying to another country, and finding a flight back to the U.S. that way.

The key factor was a huge storm was brewing on the east coast at home, so I made the decision to take a flight to Germany instead. Got on that flight thankfully, but didn’t realize when I got to Germany, that they were having a festival. Suffice to say, I couldn’t get a hotel, and literally had to crash out at the German airport that night. The next morning I got bumped off another flight, but finally got on a flight to Dallas. I was the last person to get a seat.

Once I got back home, I had tons of options to get back to Denver, but it took me two days to get back home. Thankfully I was able to get back the night before I had to start work again in the morning! Standby brings a lot of unexpected adventures.


2️⃣ Another great story was my ability to take a flight to Athens! Actually, all of the European countries I have been to, I have been utilizing my non-revenue benefits. I was able to catch a ride from Denver to Philadelphia, and then a flight from Philly to Athens. I was fortunate enough to get on both flights without having to stress and made it to my destination exactly when I wanted to. I was able to spend four days in Santorini, and a week in Athens. Sometimes you are fortunate enough to get on with no problem. Everything goes exactly as planned, but other times you have to just be flexible and figure it out.

Conclusion: Is Flying on a Buddy Pass Worth It?

Flying on a buddy pass can definitely be worth it, but it really depends on the person and your situation. 

If you have the chance of getting on a flight the day you are expecting to travel, a buddy pass is an amazing way to save money. It can also be an amazing option if you need to get to a certain destination cheaply, and would like to chance getting on a flight, before paying a full fare.

However, some people will find that they just aren’t cut out for flying standby. If you aren’t a patient person, or can’t handle when plans don’t go the way you want them to, then a buddy pass is not for you. You will quickly learn if it is for you when things don’t go as planned.

In many cases, I tell most of my friends/relatives that they are better off paying for a ticket. Save yourself the headache and fear of being left behind. Especially if you have to be somewhere at a specific time. Flying standby isn’t for the weak, you have to be prepared for worst-case scenarios at all times.

However, I wouldn’t change it for nothing. Utilizing my flight benefits has been one of the best parts of being in this career. Not only have I been to some truly phenomenal places, some I could have only dreamed of, but so have many of my friends and family. It is truly an amazing benefit. If you are one of the lucky few, who are chosen to get buddy passes, just know that in the moment it might be stressful, but it’s so worth it when you get to your destination, and at a fraction of the price.

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