The Travel Guru’s Buddy Pass Travel Guide

by Roni

Have you ever considered using a buddy pass?

Buddy pass travel is a perk that airline employees can share with those they choose. Almost every employee who works for an airline gets several buddy passes each year, it’s one of the perks of working for an airline (click here for 5 tips on using buddy passes).

Buddy passes (or pass riders) are standby tickets that can be used by family and friends in order to travel at a very reduced rate. You can’t buy a buddy pass from an airline, you can only get them from an airline employee. Buddy passes are not supposed to be sold for profit, you are only supposed to pay the taxes on the flight you want to take and nothing more.

For instance, if the taxes on a buddy pass are $150.00, that is all you should pay. You shouldn’t be asked to give the employee anything more, but there are many employees that do expect to be given cash in order for you to use their pass.  People have misconceptions about flying with a buddy pass, and the ones listed below are the ones I hear most often.

1. A Buddy Pass gives you a guaranteed seat

I have seen the look of surprise on people’s faces when they don’t get on the flight they thought they were going to get on.

A buddy pass does not guarantee that you will get on the flight. It is only a guarantee that if there is enough open space, you will be able to fly. When you fly on a buddy pass, you are at the bottom of the priority list. If you are traveling with the employee who gave you the pass, then you get to fly with their priority.

2. You can wear whatever you want 

No. There are dress codes for every airline when it comes to pass riders (buddy passes/companion passes). Make sure you know the standards before you try to board. I have been told I couldn’t board a flight if I didn’t change my clothing because I didn’t adhere to the standards of the airline. It wasn’t a big deal, I simply went into my carry-on bag (which had packing cubes, of course) and got an appropriate outfit.

Here are 7 ways you won’t ever get a buddy pass from anyone else ever. Not dresing properly is one of them. 

Contrary to popular belief, the standards are set in place and must be followed. If not, you can be denied boarding. It is better to know and follow the rules than not know them and not be able to fly.

3. Buddy passes are great when you are planning a trip in advance

No. This is not true at all. Buddy passes are great for last-minute trips. There is a substantial difference between buying a last minute ticket and paying the taxes with a buddy pass. For instance, if someone lets you have a buddy pass, you only pay for the taxes. The taxes are the same if you buy the pass a year in advance or an hour in advance.

So if you want to go to Europe at the last minute, your taxes can be around $500 (of course taxes will vary from airline to airline) but that price is the same whether you decide to pay for your buddy pass a couple of days in advance or an hour in advance.

Have you ever priced a last minute trip to Europe? It’s several thousand dollars. Isn’t paying around $500 instead of $5,000 worth standing by? However, if you have exact dates you need to stick to, or you are planning your trip months in advance, you are better off buying a ticket because there is always a chance when you fly standby that you won’t get on the flight you want to be on.

4. You don’t have to abide by the same rules as everyone else when it comes to luggage

Yes, yes you do. While we do sometimes get perks like not getting charged for an extra bag, or maybe not having to pay for heavy bags, we still have to follow all the rules just like everyone else. A friend of mine told me that one of his family members asked if they could take a piece of checked luggage as a carry-on. Um no. You cannot. We are still under all the rules and regulations of TSA and we can’t carry anything in our bags that isn’t allowed.

5. Flying standby is hard

No, it is not. I have flown standby for the past 12 years and I can count on one hand the times I wasn’t able to get on the flight I wanted. Flying standby is pretty easy once you understand how to work the system. Trust me, the earliest flight is best because that is the easiest time to get on the plane. Even though I am not a morning person and I hardly want to fly in the early hours of the morning, but I am almost always on.

I don’t mind checking flights when I am on vacation. I realize I may have to leave a day or two earlier than I originally thought because the flight I wanted to go on is getting full. It shouldn’t bother you at all. Instead of focusing on the fact that you have to leave early, realize that without the buddy pass, you may not have been able to travel to the destination at all.

I have literally traveled all over the globe with standby status, it isn’t hard. You sometimes have to have a bit more patience but isn’t the reward of traveling at such a reduced rate worth it?

6. You can fly any time of the day you want to

No, you cannot.  I always put buddy pass riders on the earliest flight out. Those are the flights that have the most open seats. I have had buddy pass riders tell me, “I really want to be on the afternoon flight and not the early morning one. That’s so early!” Well yes, that’s true. But if you want to take advantage of a buddy pass, you must do what the airline employee tells you, ok?

It is always better to fly out on the earliest possible flight when you have a buddy pass.  Early flights are the best chance to fly out. Many people oversleep and don’t make it to the airport on time. When you get a buddy pass, you give up the right to choose what time is best for you to fly. You have to fly when you have the best chance to get on the plane.

I told this to one of my girlfriends who was flying to Los Angeles. She decided to try for a later flight. Well, she eventually got to her destination but it literally took her all day. Had she listened to me she could have flown direct.  Instead, she had to connect in Philadelphia, have a long layover and she didn’t get into Los Angeles until late that night.

One of the things I do if I happen to not get on a flight is head to a lounge. I have Priority Pass thanks to my American Express Platinum card. However, you don’t need Amex to get this perk. You can use the link below and get Priority Pass and enjoy lounges all over the world!

Travel Smarter with instant airport lounge access – up to 10% Priority Pass membership

7. You can act however you like

Well, you can but you will likely never get another buddy pass from your friend. You see, employees who give buddy passes can get in trouble if the people they give them to behave poorly. I’ve covered the things you MUST NOT do in my posts about how to never get another buddy pass. Just don’t do it.

Have you flown standby? Did you have any trouble?


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Leave a Comment


Victor Huggard May 3, 2013 - 6:18 am

I wanted to add to #4. There may also be additional rules to flying on a buddy pass. For example, there may be a dress code.

There’s a discrimination case unfolding against a major airline because two men were told they could not fly first class in sweat pants. When they boarded there were 2 others dressed similarly to how they had been. They claim they were told to change because off their race and are now looking for money and an apology. The fact looked over it’s that they were on a buddy pass while the other two men payed full price.

Which leads me to another point. On a buddy pass you are a guest of the company, a NON REVENUE traveler. The company is treating you special. So don’t cause a huge fuss over inconveniences. You may cause major problems for the person who gave you the pass. Chances are these two men will cause the travel privileges to be revoked from the person who helped them out.

Roni May 3, 2013 - 12:34 pm

Excellent point, I should have had that as one of the misconceptions. Thanks for this!

andesi November 20, 2014 - 5:27 pm

Employee travel priviledges might be revoke, but most likely the employee who sold or gave a buddy pass would be FIRED. I have seen it happen.

Jessica jobes February 19, 2019 - 8:51 pm

That’s not true I was dressed very nice but I had sneakers on and they told me to change my shoes and I wasn’t using a buddy pass. But I was on first class and African American . So once I got on I notice a caucasian man looking homeless in first class and no one told him to change .

Holly December 28, 2013 - 2:02 pm

These are great tips! Do you have any advice about flying with a child? I’m using a buddy pass with my 4 year old and I’m a little nervous about waiting in an airport all day with her.

Roni December 28, 2013 - 8:40 pm

Thanks! Yes, I do. Because of your question I’m writing a blog post about this. It will be up next week. Thanks!

mike February 9, 2014 - 2:11 am

How to get buddy pass? What if an employee resigns or get fired?

unkle randy July 8, 2014 - 4:04 am

The pass will cancle /void when the employee is terminated or resigns, may also be void if employee remains employeed but has his/her flight benefits suspended or revoked for violations. ie; listing false dependants / spouse or domestic partner for free travel, selling
their companion positions et.

jess April 1, 2014 - 2:19 pm

i have used a family members buddy pass for all my major traveling for the pass 6 years, and I’ve had next to no worries, flying out of New York can be a hassle for many people but the like the writer said you have to know how to work the system, dress professionally, book an early flight, and you should have too much worries. only time i actually missed a flight is because i showed up at JFK too late to check a bag. That being said, i know if I’m only trying to go somewhere fairly close and domestic i will just use a travel website, but if i want to travel to Heathrow, paris ect. id much rather take my chances on a buddy pass, it feels good as well if you get bumped to first, you must always act as if you are a guest. be polite, it is a privilege to fly , not a right

Margaret Zeuner February 29, 2020 - 5:40 pm

In the last 6 years, my husband and I have flown to 10 countries on his flight benefits. Yes we are retired. We fly early, take our tablets to the airport, and go with the flow! U visit my children whom live on the other side of the country frequently. The key, fly early and off season. Be courteous and be prepared to not sit together. Travel light and check bags at the gate. And don’t bug the gate agents!

dan mcgarity September 27, 2014 - 8:28 pm

Be prepared to stay overnight if you do not get on a flight.

Real IronDAD October 17, 2014 - 11:38 am

Thanks so much for the great info. I was thinking about doing a buddy pass, but read this and realized that I need to buy a ticket to confirm my arrival time. (which still due to weather or something else could not be accurate) Thanks!

sarah October 31, 2014 - 5:41 pm

Can you cancel your buddy pass. My cousin doesnt let me use mine ever, and If he does let me he charges me 400 to travel to florida. So its pointless, I found out hes using my name so he can make money off of it. Can I call and remove my name?

April November 4, 2014 - 12:35 am

It’s great to know this information especially for me who loves to travel. Thanks so much!

Jennipher Williams March 6, 2015 - 1:53 pm

Thanks for all the great info and advice. One of my daughters (in NC) and her hubby are expecting their first child (due 4/9/15), and want me to fly from AZ to be there for the actual birthing. Because I have no way of knowing when my granddaughter will actually make her debut into the world, or if my daughter might wind up having an unexpected C-section needing me to stay longer while she recuperates, I opted for a buddy pass instead of buying a ticket which should afford me more traveling flexibility. A fellow church member works at a major airline and is giving me a buddy pass for the trip. I’ve never used one and pray everything goes smoothly. Thanks again!

Roni March 17, 2015 - 12:34 am

I’m sure all will go well, the morning flights are usually the best and easiest to get on.

roni April 3, 2015 - 9:44 am

Hi, I am ex-Kf employee, thanks for reminding me my good old days. During those days we used to get 20 buddy tickets per year. I used to enjoy by seeing my friends & relatives flying at such lower fares. Though I was under misconception 2 or 3 airlines has this privilege. Anyway please connect me to someone who can give me buddy pass now for Indian domestic airlines, since I left airline Industry 4 years back. Unfortunately, most of my colleagues have either moved to International airlines or corporate sectors. Please help

Roni April 12, 2015 - 8:52 pm

Don’t know anyone for you but thanks for reading!

Marsbeny April 26, 2015 - 6:01 pm

Hi there! Great post! Wanted to add that the taxes-only cost applies only to some airlines. My airline also charges a nominal flat fee based on segment length for buddy passes only (not for those traveling directly under my benefits). Love the iteration in flying out early mornings, my husband just made a 6:30 am flight out of Vegas because of a no show; so important to stick with the super early flights, especially in party towns!

iFly May 7, 2015 - 1:14 am

With all the limits needing to take a trip non-revenue is by all accounts a test. I was traveling before and the standby rundown has a couple of names with no weather problems. That said, I would even utilize a buddy pass on the off chance that I had one.

libikki May 12, 2015 - 2:38 am

I’m engaged and am listed as a companion to a UA employee. Is my child qualified under UA employee family if they’re not adopted by the UA employee?

Roni May 12, 2015 - 8:15 am

Afraid not! Your child is free if 2 and under and unless your fiance adds your child on his benefits after 2 your child can’t fly without a buddy pass or confirmed seat. Congrats on your engagemen!

Kaley June 2, 2015 - 1:23 pm

Thanks for the tips, very helpful. Do you have any advice on using a buddy pass for flights where a connection is required (ie no direct flight is available)? Do I improve my chances by not having checked luggage? Do I only get added to the wait list of the second flight when I arrive at the connecting destination? Thank you!

Phil June 3, 2015 - 12:14 pm

I would add to the “you can fly whenever you want” that not only is showing up early in the morning better, but you can save major headaches by being aware of busy travel days and avoiding them altogether. Wednesdays tend to be popular weekdays for flying because prices are often lower, but it could mean that if you’re flying standby on a Wednesday from Tokyo to San Francisco and then on to Houston, you might be stuck in SF for 24 hours because the only flight going between the two cities all day is totally full and none of the connecting routes are any friendlier. And I would imagine the same applies to certain weekend times and most every holiday.

Africa June 6, 2015 - 1:53 pm

How much are the fees and taxes for a flight from ft lauderdale to nyc on a buddy pass

Roni June 8, 2015 - 4:48 pm

Depends on who you are flying on. You’d have to check with the person who gave you the pass.

Camille June 12, 2015 - 9:38 am

Can you tell me if buddies are allowed to travel in Business class when there is only a Business First cabin available in the flight? Thank you.

Roni June 12, 2015 - 10:16 am

Hi! You have to check with the employee that is giving you the pass as rules vary from carrier to carrier.

Chelsea June 16, 2015 - 9:28 am

My boyfriend works for US/American. I’ve flown standby as the registered companion plenty of times and it’s great! This week I’m flying to Michigan for my grandpas funeral, my sister is using a buddy pass and going with, she will be bringing her 3 month old baby as a lap child- any advice on what to do? I can’t find anywhere online if she needs anything ahead of time or if we just bring her and don’t need any paperwork. Leaving Thursday!

Roni June 18, 2015 - 5:58 pm

Sorry just seeing this! All she needs is her baby and all the things she is bringing with her to make the baby comfortable.

travel sleeping tips June 24, 2015 - 2:38 am

Amazing blog! Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?
I’m hoping to start my own blog soon but I’m
a little lost on everything. Would you advise starting with a free platform
like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are
so many options out there that I’m totally confused ..

Any tips? Kudos!

Roni June 27, 2015 - 5:36 pm

WordPress is the best!

Kaylin C June 30, 2015 - 12:38 am

Hey! I really loved this post! Does anyone know where I could get a buddy pass? I need to get to Hawaii from Michigan July 7th-12th

Roni July 2, 2015 - 6:54 pm

That would have to come from someone you know, people rarely give strangers a buddy pass 🙂

Jada July 2, 2015 - 1:20 pm

Hi. I have a buddy pass from Atlanta to Madrid and all of the flights have stops. I would like to know how that works as far as me waiting and my luggage.

Roni July 2, 2015 - 6:53 pm

Hi! Not sure I know what you mean but you wait for your luggage along with everyone else in baggage claim.

Jada July 2, 2015 - 7:21 pm

For example If my flight stops in Chicago and then goes to Madrid am I guaranteed a spot on both flights or will I have to wait

Roni July 2, 2015 - 9:04 pm

If you are flying buddy pass you do not have a guaranteed seat, which is why I always recommend people to only take a carryon bag. You only get on the flight if there is an empty seat. Your bags will be checked to your final destination.

Cat July 9, 2017 - 8:19 pm

Just an FYI, on international routes, your bags only fly if you do.

Chanel July 24, 2015 - 8:19 am

These is great information Roni, I was not completely sure about how the whole system worked 😀 Thanks!

Roni July 24, 2015 - 5:56 pm

Thank you!!!

Naomi June 13, 2016 - 11:37 pm

Thanks for re-sharing this post as there was a lot I didn’t know about the buddy pass. I tried it once many years ago and couldn’t get on the plane at JFK in NY so I went home (didn’t live too far) and came back the next day: I was able to fly out at that time. I didn’t enjoy the experience but once I retire, I will do it again ✈️✈️

JW October 21, 2016 - 2:46 pm

Good post. I recently attempted to fly with a buddy pass (first time ever). It was horrible!

I got their early. I am able to board a plane, however due to a full flight I’m asked to check my carryon. I did not worry, because I am on the flight and the gate has closed.

Well a flight attendant, decided to get out of her jump seat and take the seat I was in. I get rushed off the plane 2 minutes before and my bag with my keys and passport are taken to the destination. In the rush (flight attendants rushing me) my shoe bag was left in the overhead and I had to file a lost and found claim for a $300 pair of shoes (fingers crossed, after the stories I’ve read about missing items in airports).

The gate staff were shocked and confused I did not get my seat, however by the time they realize what’s going on it was too late and subsequently I was bumped to the bottom of every list (6) at LAX.

Mandy December 27, 2019 - 1:34 am

I also used my first buddy pass. The taxes were $300 / $350 for the return.
$650 round trip to São Paulo-

I went to the airport and wasn’t able to board all day. I decided to go home. I also decided that good apps like Hopper/Skyscanner/ Groupon can beat the price of some taxes. So- you live and learn. I would rather pay and get treated like a paying customer.

Roni February 6, 2020 - 2:39 am

You definitely can’t use a buddy pass the same way as a paying customer. But once you learn the system, it’s super easy and I can’t imagine traveling any other way.

TheFisayo May 4, 2020 - 12:16 pm

This is a great article roni, well done!