Monday, August 25, 2008

Buddy Passes for Standby Travel May Be Risky

A-a-a-h-h yes, those tempting buddy passes, the gift of stand-by, almost free flights from a friend or relative who works for the airlines. Many of us have jumped at the chance to take advantage of next-to-nothing travel stateside or overseas. But wait a minute. Often those complimentary passes could end up costing you an arm and a leg, if your planning is not realistic.

Did you know that buddy pass travelers are lowest on the priority totem pole when it comes to non-revenue passengers? As a buddy pass flyer, you are competing not only with travelers who have paid for their tickets (called revenue passengers), but also with airline employees who are standing by to hitch a cheap flight to your destination. And in these days of often jam-packed aircraft and cutbacks on flight frequency, your gamble might not pay off.

No problem at all with space on the flight to Paris, or so my friend thought, when she checked how full the flight was 24 hours before her trip. But in just matter of hours, that supposedly open space could disappear in a heartbeat. You could be left stranded on the way back home, or worse, trapped into buying a costly no-advance purchase fare just to meet up in time with your tour, your cruise, or your wedding party.

You could also get socked with a hefty last-minute fee for cancelling hotel reservations or other land arrangements. And there go your air ticket savings as they slip and slide away, straight down the drain. Then there's the possibility of the added annoyance of camping out in the airport for days while you wait for that elusive seat to open up, a technique advised for only the most intrepid of travelers with plenty of time to spare. Ask Ann about her wild escapades in the Frankfurt and Seoul airports for days on end several years back...

A good rule of thumb is unless you've got up to a week's leeway on either end of your travel dates, never plan on using a buddy pass to get to your destination during any major holiday season or on peak travel days, i.e. Friday morning through Monday morning. In addition, dress for success before you try to get on your preferred flights, and by all means don't hassle any airline personnel as you wait to board.

So, a word to the wise: consider flying stand-by only during the low season period to your destination. Always be cheerfully polite to the carrier's employees, in whose hands may rest the decision whether or not you ultimately get a seat on that waiting plane bound for San Francisco or London. Happy travels!

Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell

The Trip Chicks

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