Are Buddy Passes Worth It? A Detailed Look At The Pros And Cons

With airfares skyrocketing, many travelers are looking for ways to save money on flights. One option is using buddy passes, which allow you to fly standby on airlines for cheap or even free. But are buddy passes really worth the hassle?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll examine the ins and outs of buddy passes so you can decide if they are right for you.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Using buddy passes can score you super cheap flights, but they come with major drawbacks like limited seat availability, lots of restrictions, and the risk of getting bumped off flights.

They can be worth it if you’re flexible, fly at off-peak times, and have a buddy at an airline who will give you passes regularly.

What Are Buddy Passes and How Do They Work?

Are you curious about buddy passes and how they work? Buddy passes, also known as companion tickets, are a type of flight benefit offered by airlines to their employees, retirees, or their friends and family members.

Essentially, these passes allow individuals to travel on standby for a significantly discounted rate or even for free.

Definition and basics of buddy passes

A buddy pass is essentially a ticket that allows a non-revenue passenger, known as the buddy, to fly standby on a flight. Standby means that the buddy can only board the flight if there are available seats after all revenue passengers have been accommodated.

It’s important to note that standby passengers have a lower priority than regular paying customers.

Typically, buddy passes are offered as a perk to airline employees or their friends and family members. However, some airlines also offer buddy passes as part of their loyalty programs or as incentives for credit card holders.

The availability and terms of buddy passes can vary between airlines, so it’s essential to check the specific rules and restrictions that apply.

How to get buddy passes

To obtain a buddy pass, you usually need to have a connection with an airline employee. If you have a friend or family member who works for an airline, they may be able to provide you with a buddy pass. Additionally, some credit cards or loyalty programs offer buddy pass benefits to their members.

It’s important to note that buddy passes are typically limited in number and are subject to availability. Therefore, it’s essential to plan your travel well in advance and be flexible with your dates and destinations.

The airline employee or the person providing the buddy pass will usually be able to guide you through the process and help you understand any additional requirements.

Rules and restrictions

While buddy passes can offer significant savings, it’s important to be aware of the rules and restrictions that come with them. Airlines impose certain limitations on buddy pass travel to manage their flights efficiently and prioritize revenue passengers.

Some common rules and restrictions include:

  • Standby status: Buddy pass travelers are always on standby and will only be able to board if there are available seats.
  • Prioritization: Revenue passengers and other standby passengers with higher priority, such as airline employees or their family members, will be given preference over buddy pass travelers.
  • Blackout dates: Airlines may restrict buddy pass usage during peak travel periods or holidays.
  • Travel companions: Buddy pass travelers may need to be accompanied by the airline employee or the person providing the pass.
  • Baggage restrictions: Buddy pass travelers may have stricter baggage restrictions compared to regular passengers.

It’s crucial to familiarize yourself with these rules and restrictions to avoid any surprises or disappointments during your travel. It’s also worth noting that policies can vary between airlines, so it’s a good idea to check with the specific airline for their guidelines.

The Potential Benefits of Using Buddy Passes

Very cheap or free flights

One of the most enticing benefits of using buddy passes is the opportunity to enjoy very cheap or even free flights. Buddy passes are typically offered to employees of airlines or their friends and family members, allowing them to travel at significantly discounted rates.

This can be an amazing way to save money on airfare, especially if you have a flexible travel schedule and can take advantage of last-minute deals.

For example, imagine being able to fly to your dream vacation destination for a fraction of the cost or even for free. With buddy passes, this becomes a possibility. Whether you’re visiting family or exploring a new city, the savings you can enjoy with buddy passes can make your travel experience even more enjoyable.

Last-minute travel flexibility

Another benefit of using buddy passes is the flexibility it provides for last-minute travel. While most airline tickets have strict booking requirements and penalties for changes, buddy passes often allow for more flexibility.

This means that if you suddenly have the urge to take a spontaneous trip, you can easily do so without breaking the bank.

With buddy passes, you can take advantage of standby travel, which means you can fly on a flight that has available seats even if you haven’t made a reservation in advance. This can be a great option for those who enjoy the thrill of spontaneous travel or for those who need to travel last-minute due to unexpected circumstances.

Standby upgrades to first class

One of the hidden gems of using buddy passes is the possibility of getting a standby upgrade to first class. While not guaranteed, there have been instances where passengers using buddy passes have been lucky enough to snag a seat in the luxurious first-class cabin.

Imagine the excitement of being able to experience the extra legroom, gourmet meals, and personalized service that come with flying first class. With buddy passes, you may have the chance to enjoy these perks without paying the hefty price tag that usually comes with it.

It’s important to note that the availability of these standby upgrades can vary depending on factors such as flight capacity and airline policies. However, the possibility of enjoying a first-class upgrade can add an element of excitement to your travel experience when using buddy passes.

The Downsides and Risks of Buddy Passes

Uncertainty about getting on flights

One of the biggest downsides of using buddy passes is the uncertainty surrounding getting on flights. Since buddy pass users are considered standby passengers, they are not guaranteed a seat on the plane.

This means that even if you have a buddy pass, you may not be able to board the flight if it is already full. This uncertainty can be frustrating, especially if you have important plans or time-sensitive commitments.

Blackout dates

Another drawback of buddy passes is the presence of blackout dates. Blackout dates are specific days or periods when buddy pass holders are not allowed to use their passes to travel. These blackout dates usually coincide with peak travel times, such as holidays and school vacations.

This limitation can restrict your ability to use the pass when you most want to, potentially diminishing its overall value.

Bumping risks

When flying on a buddy pass, there is a higher risk of being bumped from a flight. Airlines prioritize paying customers over standby passengers, which means that if a flight is overbooked, buddy pass holders may be asked to give up their seats.

While airlines usually compensate passengers who are involuntarily bumped, this can still be an inconvenience and disrupt travel plans.

Restricted fare classes and routes

Buddy passes often come with restrictions on fare classes and routes. This means that you may be limited in the type of ticket you can purchase and the destinations you can fly to. Certain fare classes may not be available for buddy pass holders, and popular routes may be excluded from the pass.

It’s important to check the specific terms and conditions of your buddy pass to ensure it aligns with your travel needs.


Another limitation of buddy passes is that they are typically non-transferable. This means that you cannot give or sell your buddy pass to someone else. The pass is usually tied to the employee or retiree who provided it, and their name will appear on the ticket.

This restriction can be inconvenient if you were hoping to share the pass with a friend or family member.

Expiration dates

Buddy passes often come with expiration dates. This means that you need to use the pass within a certain time frame, otherwise, it becomes invalid. Expiration dates can vary depending on the airline and the terms of the pass.

It’s important to be aware of these dates and plan your travel accordingly to avoid losing the value of your buddy pass.

Tips for Maximizing Your Chances of Success with Buddy Passes

Be flexible with dates, times, airports

When using buddy passes, it’s important to be flexible with your travel plans. Airlines often have limited availability for pass holders, so being open to different dates, times, and airports can greatly increase your chances of securing a seat.

Consider flying during off-peak times or on weekdays when there is less demand. This flexibility can make a big difference in your ability to successfully use a buddy pass.

Aim for off-peak travel periods

If your schedule allows, try to plan your trips during off-peak travel periods. This includes avoiding holidays, school breaks, and other popular vacation times. By choosing less crowded times to fly, you’ll have a better chance of finding available seats on flights.

This can help you avoid disappointment and maximize the value of your buddy pass.

Don’t plan tight connections

When flying on a buddy pass, it’s important to give yourself plenty of time between flights. Avoid planning tight connections as delays or cancellations can occur, which may result in you missing your connecting flight.

It’s better to have a longer layover and ensure you make it to your destination smoothly. Remember, buddy passes often come with lower priority, so it’s best to plan accordingly.

Check standby lists frequently

When using a buddy pass, it’s crucial to keep an eye on the standby lists. Standby lists show the order in which passengers will be given seats if there are any available. By checking these lists frequently, you can gauge your chances of getting on a flight.

If you notice that the flight you’re hoping to get on is filling up quickly, it may be wise to consider alternative options.

Use passes strategically

One way to maximize the value of your buddy pass is to use it strategically. For example, if you have a pass that allows for multiple flights, consider using it for longer trips or flights with higher ticket prices. This way, you can get the most out of your pass and save more money.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to prioritize using your buddy pass for destinations that are typically more expensive to fly to.

Read all rules and restrictions

Before using a buddy pass, it’s essential to thoroughly read and understand all the rules and restrictions associated with it. Each airline has its own set of guidelines, and failure to adhere to them can result in denied boarding or additional fees.

Take the time to familiarize yourself with any blackout dates, dress code requirements, and limitations on baggage. By being well-informed, you can ensure a smoother and more enjoyable travel experience.

Who Should (and Shouldn’t) Use Buddy Passes

Good for flexible travelers on a budget

Buddy passes can be a great option for those who have a flexible travel schedule and are looking to save money. These passes, often obtained through friends or family members who work for airlines, allow travelers to fly at a significantly discounted rate.

This can be especially beneficial for individuals who are willing to be spontaneous with their travel plans and are open to flying standby. By taking advantage of buddy passes, travelers can explore new destinations without breaking the bank.

Not ideal for those with rigid schedules

On the other hand, buddy passes may not be the best choice for individuals with rigid schedules or specific travel dates. Since buddy pass holders typically fly standby, they may have to wait for an available seat on a flight.

This unpredictability can be frustrating for those who have limited time and need to be at their destination on a certain date. If you have a strict itinerary or need to be somewhere at a specific time, it may be better to book a regular flight to ensure you arrive on schedule.

Better for short hops than long trips

Buddy passes are generally more suited for short domestic flights rather than long international trips. This is because there tends to be more availability and flexibility on shorter routes. If you’re planning a quick weekend getaway or a short business trip, using a buddy pass can be a cost-effective option.

However, if you’re looking to travel long distances or overseas, the limited availability of seats and the potential for multiple layovers may not make buddy passes the most convenient choice.

Probably not practical for families

While buddy passes can be a great way for individual travelers to save money, they may not be practical for families. Buddy passes are typically issued to employees or retirees of airlines, and the number of passes available may be limited.

This can make it difficult for families to secure multiple passes, especially during peak travel seasons. Additionally, if you’re traveling with children, the uncertainty of flying standby and the possibility of not getting seats together can make the experience more challenging.

In these cases, it may be better to book regular tickets to ensure a smoother and more convenient travel experience for the whole family.


Buddy passes can be an amazing deal, allowing you to take free or nearly free flights on major airlines. However, the downsides like uncertain seat availability, getting bumped, and strict rules mean they aren’t for everyone.

If you’re a flexible flyer who doesn’t mind the risks, buddy passes can unlock some incredible last-minute deals. But proceed with caution, and carefully weigh the pros and cons to decide if buddy passes are worth it for your situation.

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