10 Tips on How to Use Buddy Passes to Prevent Your Trip From Going Horribly Wrong

ravel by airplane using a buddy pass — which is defined in this article — can be one of the least-expensive ways to see the world; but you must know an employee of an airline to have access to one…

…and if you are indeed fortunate enough to have a friend or relative who is an employee of an airline, chances are that you could have access to a buddy pass — but despite the low cost, there are eleven reasons why you may not want to use one.

One of those aforementioned eleven reasons is that passengers who use buddy passes are often amongst the lowest priority in determining who gets to board the aircraft on the day of the flight. Typically, all paying customers have a higher priority than passengers using buddy passes; and in a situation where there are more passengers awaiting a seat on a stand-by basis for a flight than there are seats available, you can forget about being able to board that flight and will have to try your luck on the next flight.

Consider the experience of a family of four from Virginia which traveled using buddy passes on JetBlue Airways and wound up stranded in Salt Lake City International Airport for six days back in the summer of 2012 because flights to return home were constantly booked with customers.

Members of the family — which included a girl 13 years of age and a boy four years of age — were reportedly unable to shower the entire time they were in the airport; and they could only afford to eat one meal per day, supposedly resulting in the boy vomiting after several days of being hungry. Fortunately for the family, assistance arrived in the form of donations of a motel room and the purchase of airfare for transportation back home.

There was nothing which anyone at JetBlue Airways could do, as they were obligated to ensure that their customers receive the transportation for which they paid.

Because of their low priority during the busy summer travel season, the family of four was forced to wait until all passengers — including requests for last-minute stand-by status — had been accommodated and seated aboard the aircraft, as other customers are given higher priority.

Because buddy passes are amongst the least-expensive airline tickets you can purchase, they were irresistibly appealing to a family of four on a tight budget and still wanting to travel; but as with the FlyerTalk member mentioned in this article, they were not prepared for the potential pitfalls of using one.

Be fully prepared: if you have access to buddy passes and intend to use in on a future trip, here are 10 tips on how to use buddy passes to prevent your trip from going horribly wrong — aside from never purchasing them, of course — as well as to help prepare you for what to expect:

1. Be Flexible.

If you have to be at a destination at a certain time or day, you would be ill-advised to travel on a buddy pass. I just hope that no one in the aforementioned family of four missed any important appointments or meetings.

Flexibility is the most critical factor in ensuring that your travel experience with a buddy pass is successful — and the greater the flexibility is on your part, your chances of success using that buddy pass will increase.

Schedule is not the only factor in flexibility — so is what you are willing to experience and the amount of patience and effort you are willing to exert on your part. No seat reservation? Middle seat? Wait for three full flights before finally boarding an airplane several hours later? Denied passage onto an airplane at all on that day? All of those possibilities — and more — could await you with your experience of using a buddy pass; so be as flexible as possible and be prepared to roll with whatever curves balls are pitched in your direction.

2. Have a Back-up Plan or Two.

Having a back-up plan or two — or three or four or more, actually, as the more back-up plans you have, the better — means having extra cash or available credit on your charge card in case you unexpectedly need food or a hotel room for the night, as you are not eligible for amenities available to inconvenienced passengers if your desired flight is delayed or canceled.

Ensure that you are prepared with provisions, medications and toiletries available to you in your carry-on bag; and be certain that you have the telephone numbers of anyone you know in town, as they could potentially help you avoid the scenario endured by the aforementioned family of four.

As a last resort, know where are the best places to sleep in the airport if you have no other option available to you.

3. Travel During a Time of Year or Time of Day Which is Not So Busy.

Summer and holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas are usually the busiest time of year for travel, although travel on the actual day of those holidays can be less busy. Try booking your travel in early November or February as examples of slower times of the year.

Flights to Bismarck in the dead of winter stand to have more opportunities for available seats than flights to Orlando during winter break or in the summer, when children are off from school. The weather can be cold enough in the capital city of North Dakota where it does not matter whether the temperature is in Celsius or Fahrenheit; although I must admit that the one time I visited Bismarck was in the middle of January — and the high temperature in Fahrenheit was in the 40s.

I really lucked out there — but I digress, as usual.

Although overnight flights — also known as red-eyes — have become more popular in recent years, consider being a passenger on one. Flights which operate late at night or very early in the morning also have an increased chance for you to grab a seat using a buddy pass.

4. Travel on a Route Which is Not So Busy or Which Has More Frequency of Flights.

I once waited for several hours at LaGuardia Airport in New York for a flight to Atlanta — a very popular route which has flights approximately every hour every day — only to catch the flight on which I was originally booked; and I was a stand-by passenger who happened to arrive at the airport much earlier than expected. If I were using a buddy pass that day, I would have never been a passenger for any flight to Atlanta that day; and I would have had to first concern myself with food and lodging arrangements — amongst other things.

Ensure that you travel on a route between two airports which are not so busy. Hey — how does Bismarck in January sound to you?

Actually, availability of open seats may not be that bad — but remember the first item on this list: be flexible.

5. More Travelers on Buddy Passes Could Mean More Problems.

What if there were two seats available on one of the flights for the aforementioned family of four? Do two members of the family get to go home while the other two stay at the airport indefinitely? Also, the odds of getting seats together decrease dramatically — sometimes to almost impossible — on full flights; and definitely virtually impossible on oversold flights.

Every additional passenger in your group significantly decreases the opportunity of using buddy passes on a flight — unless there are many available seats open on the airplane at the time of departure.

6. Elite Level Status Means Nothing.

For a flight on which I used a buddy pass a few years ago, I was assigned to a middle seat in the last row aboard the airplane at the last minute even though I had elite level status on that particular airline. I could not upgrade. I could not take advantage of priority boarding. I was not even permitted to reserve a seat assignment. It was even worse than a Basic Economy airfare from Delta Air Lines.

Fortunately, it was a short flight; and the experience really was not all that bad despite preferring a seat closer to the front of the aircraft.

On the bright side: at least I had no one to kick my seat from behind…

7. Do Not Use Buddy Passes for Commercial Purposes.

Buddy passes are only good for personal leisure travel. Although highly unlikely, you could be penalized for using a buddy pass for business travel — perhaps by possibly being charged the full fare for that ticket — and you may potentially cause trouble for the airline employee who gave you the buddy pass.

8. Expect No Benefits or Amenities.

Regardless of whether or not you are an elite level status member of the frequent flier loyalty program of the airline, you will receive no benefits or amenities — so expect nothing from the start for the duration of your travel using a buddy pass. This usually means no priority boarding, no earning of frequent flier loyalty program miles, no upgrades, and no seat selection.

As I already mentioned on that flight which I traveled using a buddy pass, I would up sitting in a middle seat in the last row of the aircraft despite my elite level status. Fortunately, the duration of the flight was approximately an hour — and as much as I would have preferred a better seat, the experience was really not all that bad.

Airline employees may be sympathetic with you if you attempt to ask them for an upgrade or any other favor; but they are typically not allowed to do so and could suffer negative consequences if they bypass the rules for passengers with buddy passes.

If you embark on your travel experience with a buddy pass thinking that your elite level status will matter — or that the airline will owe you something in the case of irregular operations — you are merely setting yourself up for significant disappointment and a potentially bad experience. Maintain perspective and manage your expectations — and your attitude, if applicable — accordingly for better results of your travel experience.

9. Do Not Argue With Any Airline Employee at the Airport or Aboard the Aircraft at Any Time.

Never argue with any airline employee at any time or anywhere when traveling using a buddy pass. This includes questioning or disputing the seat assigned to you; demanding that you must be somewhere at a certain time and must therefore board the aircraft when no seats are available; or publicly posting a negative comment via social media.

Only voice your thoughts and concerns after the completion of your itinerary using an appropriate venue — and never to fellow passengers or to the media.

10. Consult With the Airline Employee From Whom You Received the Buddy Pass.

Chances are quite excellent that the airline employee from whom you received the buddy pass has already used at least one before giving one to you; so it stands to reason that that person has more experience than you. Ask about which flights have the best opportunities for passengers traveling with buddy passes — as well as at which times of day or year.

Moreover — more probable than not — the airline employee has access to a special internal reservation system of the airline on which he or she can look up availability. As with purchasing a ticket, however, nothing is guaranteed until the doors close and the airplane leaves the gate at the airport at the commencement of the flight.

Also, the airline employee has access to colleagues who can answer questions pertaining to using buddy passes based on their experiences about which they would likely be willing to impart.

Summary

As illustrated by the experiences of the aforementioned family of four people — or one of the two students who purchased buddy passes — your experience could potentially go horribly wrong.

Buddy passes can be a great way to travel very inexpensively; but with the significantly lower cost comes increased responsibility and risk. Plan your trip thoroughly, wisely and carefully while being prepared for the worst scenario to happen — as well as with the appropriate perspective and expectations — and be flexible.

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