These Gold Wings

Buddy Pass Travel: What 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.

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.

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.

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 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 their priority 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

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.

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.

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.

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

How is the Priority Established?

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

Priorities are as follows:

  1. Active flight attendants and pilots
  2. Retired flight attendants/pilots
  3. Parents of the flight attendant/pilot
  4. Buddy passes
  5. Other airline passes attempting to board

The Pros

  • Cheaper airfare
  • Don’t have to pay for carry-on bags/checked bags
  • The crew can tell when you are a standby and most will treat you like family and take care of you really well
  • Can travel to places you could normally never afford
  • Ability to jump on an open flight out of the blue
  • It can be exciting

The Cons

  • 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 are traveling in a group, a few of you could get on, and the rest could be left behind to try to get on another flight
  • Stress
  • Having to spend extra money for a hotel if you are unable to get on a flight

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 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
    • 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!

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.


Standby travel with buddy passes can be well worth it when you have the time to be flexible with your travels.

I have truly gone to so many amazing places, I would have never been able to afford. It’s a perk of the travel industry that is really hard to give up.

Some people will find that they just aren’t cut out to be waiting for a flight, and making changes to their travel plans. You quickly learn if it is for you, when things don’t go as planned.

You just have to look at all of the pros and cons, and go with whatever is going to be in your best interest.

In many cases, I tell most of my friends/relatives, that they are better off paying for a ticket.

For myself, this is a different scenario, but that is solely due to the fact that I get top priority over other non-rev travelers.

If you really want these benefits, you should really look into getting into the industry, so you can have the same benefits.

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