What Is the Buddy Pass?

By Fred Decker

Do’s and don’ts for flying with a buddy pass

What is the Buddy Pass?

In the modern world of efficient, margin-squeezed airlines, the “good old days” of low-cost standby flights are mostly a thing of the past. One exception to that rule is the buddy pass, a voucher for free travel provided to airline employees as a perk. These passes can be shared with friends or family, giving access to air travel for people who might struggle to pay full price. A lot of misconceptions about buddy passes exist, so if you have the opportunity to use one, there are a few things you need to know first.

You’re not a VIP

This is the first and biggest misconception about buddy passes. It’s not like walking into a nightclub or restaurant, proudly distinguished as a friend or personal guest of the owner. It’s actually the exact opposite, because everybody else on that flight is a paying customer and legitimately has a better claim on the booking agent’s or flight attendant’s time. That especially holds true when you're waiting to get a standby flight. As long as there's a paying customer waiting for a seat, you'll be behind them on the waiting list.

It’s not free

Jetting into Maui for free might be your lifelong dream, but that isn't exactly how a buddy pass works. Have you ever clicked on a super-low airfare, only to find that after all the fees and taxes are added in, the price isn't that special any more? Well, you still have to pay all of those fees and taxes when you take your flight using a buddy pass. These can add up quickly, but there shouldn't be any real surprises in store if you do your homework. You can find the applicable fees and taxes pretty easily on most airlines' websites.

There are always some conditions

Traveling without paying a fare is a privilege, not a right, and in return, most airlines attach a few conditions to the use of their passes. The most obvious is that you're going to fill an empty seat, and if there are no empty seats, you won't get on the flight. If you get onto a flight that is then cancelled, you start over: The airline isn't responsible for getting you onto another plane. You may also be expected to adhere to the same dress code as company employees. This caused a public-relations firestorm for United in early 2017, when a pair of girls traveling on a pass were denied their flight because they wore leggings.

Travel responsibly

That brings us to another basic misconception about buddy passes: They're a "free pass" only in the airfare sense, and not when it comes to your behavior. Delta's guide for buddy pass users, for example, specifically requests polite, respectful behavior when you're dealing with the airline's staff or other passengers. If you have an issue with your flight, take it up with the friend or relative who gave you the pass – or directly with the airline – rather than going to social media. Remember: When you travel on a buddy pass, you're indirectly representing both the airline and your friend or family member. If it might reflect badly on your buddy at the next performance review, you probably shouldn't be doing it.

It’s still a great deal

You might spend a whole day at the airport waiting for a flight, and you'll still be out of pocket for a sometimes-sizeable figure in fees and taxes, but there's still a lot to be said for traveling on a buddy pass. It can get you to places on your bucket list on a relative shoestring budget, and if you need to travel for urgent personal reasons while cash is short, it can be the difference in going or not going. Traveling this way leaves you with hundreds of dollars to spend at your destination, instead of just getting there. That's still a pretty good deal.

About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.