Delta Air Lines gate in Atlanta
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Buddy Pass Travel Now More Restrictive on Delta Air Lines

If you are 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 to travel the world, as each eligible employee of an airline is able to provide a limited number of buddy passes to family members and friends — but there are some disadvantages to using one despite the low cost, according to the 11 reasons why you may not want to use a buddy pass when traveling listed in this article.

Buddy Pass Travel Now More Restrictive on Delta Air Lines

One of the least-expensive ways to travel around the world by airplane is on a buddy pass, which is basically an airline ticket whose nominal cost is typically little more than the taxes and fees for a comparable revenue fare; and it can only be used for personal travel, leisure travel, or emergency travel.

Buddy passes are meant to be used by the relatives or friends — or buddies — of the airline employee who has an limited allotment of them as part of their perks and benefits of employment by the airline. Specifically to Delta Air Lines, this includes the employee, spouse, dependent children, and parents — as defined by the Internal Revenue Service of the United States — but Delta Air Lines also includes nondependent children, travel companions, domestic partners and their children, and buddy pass riders.

Effective as of Monday, January 1, 2018, buddy passes for use on Delta Air Lines have become more restrictive.

Payment Process Via Payroll Deduction

The minimal cost of a buddy pass can now only be paid by an employee of Delta Air Lines via a payroll deduction. This is required for the purchase of both buddy pass and non-dependent travel to significantly increase the difficulty for the very few people who currently abuse the buddy pass program for their own gain.

Prior to 2018, the fee for a buddy pass could be charged to the credit card of the rider who is using it.

Eligibility to Be Cleared Into a Premium Class Cabin

If you are traveling by yourself using a buddy pass and you are not an eligible employee of Delta Air Lines, you are out of luck in securing a seat in a premium class cabin. An eligible employee of Delta Air Lines — or one of the eligible pass riders listed in the Pass Record of the eligible employee — must accompany the passenger with the buddy pass in order for that passenger with the buddy pass to be cleared into the premium cabin, which includes the first class cabin or the Delta One cabin.

This change is to help protect the continuing substantial investment of Delta Air Lines in its Delta One product.

Prior to this year, the passenger with the buddy pass could be cleared into the premium cabin based on the seniority of the employee of Delta Air Lines who issued the buddy pass — but could be eligible for the premium cabin when flying by himself or herself; or without the employee.

Registration and Personal Identification

In an effort to improve the ability to identify and track people who use the buddy pass program and are not employees of Delta Air Lines, employees of Delta Air Lines are now required to pre-register buddy pass riders and “pass eligible dependents” with some form of personally identifiable information — such as a Social Security number or comparable government issued identification as two examples. This change is expected to provide a critical extra level of protection for the business of Delta Air Lines.


When these changes to the buddy pass program were first announced last year, Delta One was supposedly to be the only premium cabin which required accompaniment by an eligible employee; but the first class cabin has the same requirement. Delta Air Lines had already eliminated several fees which became effective as of Thursday, May 25, 2017.

The aforementioned changes are meant to reduce any abuse of the buddy pass program by tightening the restrictions while saving Delta Air Lines money, as a cost is associated using a Delta Air Lines buddy pass; but that cost is usually less expensive than the published fare for a specific city pair.

Delta Air Lines is attempting to ensure that its pass travel program “remains highly competitive across the industry and provides great convenience and flexibility” for its employees while simultaneously implementing proper safeguards to ensure lower susceptibility to the risks — wherever necessary — which can accompany such a program.

Delta Air Lines relaxed the dress code several years ago for passengers — including those who travel using buddy passes — but according to this document offered by Delta Air Lines back in 2011 which details the proper business etiquette when traveling while using a buddy pass:

Delta has a relaxed dress code for pass riders, including Buddies. The standard is based on respect — for our customers and for you. Delta trusts your good judgment when traveling on a Buddy Pass. Just remember, Delta has a relaxed dress code for pass riders, but that doesn’t mean a sloppy appearance is acceptable. You should never wear unclean, revealing or lewd garments, or swimwear or sleepwear on a flight. The relaxed dress code also applies for Buddy Pass travel on Delta Connection carriers.

Non-revenue pass travel is considered a privilege; but it is not without its problems and issues. For additional information about buddy pass travel, please refer to the following articles:

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Hard to believe that Delta would revert back to payroll deduction for buddy passes. Airlines have been moving away from that and having the fees paid up front.
    Not really sure I understand why they would need the social security number/card of the buddy pass rider either. They don’t get taxed on it. The employee pays the fare.

  2. Does anybody know if this means that if there are seats open in first ( but not in coach ) and I you are traveling by yourself using a buddy pass and you are not an eligible employee of Delta Air Lines … the plane will depart with open seats in first and leave you on the ground?

    Im just trying to understand if the chances of getting on board just got worse… I dont really care for travelling business or coach.
    Thank you!

  3. So for my family and friends this means that NO ONE can use the Buddy passes because I am a surviving spouse of a deceased Delta Employee!!!

    Thanks to whatever idiot messed this up for everyone else!

  4. I just purchased two buddy passes today and used a credit card.. No Payroll Deduction .. On 16 July 2018. I am the wife of the Retired employee

  5. I concur with Cindy. You can still use a credit card to purchase “Buddy” passes. The payroll deduction is for your designated “pass riders” only. They are two different types of passes. This article does not make the distinction.

  6. hi friends,

    I am a designated pass rider under a friend of mine who works at Delta. After I was recently added, a security review was conducted. My friend was asked a few questions regarding my relations with him and how we knew each other. Is this a common thing now? In addition, there is a temporary block to the travel benefits.

    Have you guys experienced this year ?

  7. All Buddy Pass/Pass Ride benefits are being scrapped in 2020. I never could understand why airlines offered this money losing benefit. If your partner works in a donut shop your friends or relatives don’t get free donuts.

    Thank goodness I will not be plagued with desperate cheap relatives and friends looking for a free ride!!!

  8. A retired Delta employee was able to provide Delta standby flights for myself and brother. Has Delta downgraged retired Delta employees benifit of designating two people to one person who can fly Delta

  9. Are mother-in-laws and father-in-laws included as mothers and dad’s of the Delta employees included in “buddy passes” or the “pass riders”?
    It seems they should- especially if they live at the same address.


  11. My cousin works for Delta, he would get buddy passes for my mom and her husband and then take money for the passes. They often would spend 4 or 5 days waiting to get a flight. By the time they paid for the buddy pass and gave my cousin money, they could have just bought a ticket. Does Delta approve of their employees selling their buddy passes for personal profit? Michael Foster Kramer is the employee who did this multiple times. He still works for Delta
    My mom would ask him if the flights looked open, he would always tell her yes, we live in Hawaii, so flights are always booked. He should have just told her the truth instead her told her flights looked open so he could profit from her using a buddy pass.

    1. FYI – I am a flight attendant for Delta. 1) buddy passes ARE expensive, I doubt the employee was making money – the payroll deductions are how they make you pay for them so he would have to be reimbursed (I paid $1000 for a buddy pass for a friend once), and 2) flights can look WIDE open until the day of. buddy passes have the lowest priority of all standby travelers (lower than regular passengers who miss their flights due to weather/being late/whatever, lower than retirees, lower than employees, lower than employee parents), so if there is any sort of flight canceled or late causing normal passengers to be bumped, all of a sudden there can be 40 people on a standby list 20 minutes before a flight. Standby travel is a risk, it’s much easier and (often) cheaper to fly on a regular ticket, so don’t blame the employee for trying to help out – that’s why most employees don’t even offer buddy passes and just let them expire each year, because people using them don’t understand that airline benefits are intended for the employee and a buddy traveling has a MUCH lower chance to get on a flight, no matter what flight it is or how open it LOOKS beforehand. I have free flights and still buy tickets for actual vacations because it’s the only way to guarantee you’ll get where you need to be and when. Ask any airline employee – none of us book hotels or buses or ANYTHING until we are literally ON a plane, and there’s a reason for it.

    2. Also – the employee risks his/her job when they allow someone to travel on a buddy pass. That’s why the employee has to pay, because he/she is acknowledging responsibility for the travelers, their attire and their behavior. So heads up, if you ever use a buddy pass, appreciate it, and DO NOT ever cause a scene over being stuck in the airport – you will likely get the employee’s personal travel benefits and potentially job taken away from them if you do. buddy passes are NOT the same price as the employee pays to travel, but the employee has to pay it (it’s a SLIGHT discount the employee can offer others, however, if the buddy isn’t traveling with the employee, they’re bound to become frustrated, it’s much easier when the employee is with them and they can rescout the flights as numbers shift throughout the travel dates vs. just going to the airport and hoping the flight you expected is available – it hardly ever is). Employees get a discount for working for the airline, and they get VERY SLIGHTLY discounted tickets (a small number each year) that they can give to others, but employees travel free or just pay taxes internationally. Work for an airline if you want employee benefits. And for international travel, the plane WILL leave without people and empty seats sometimes due to load balance, and that’s just how airplanes work. The plane has to be balanced or it can’t fly out of certain locations.

  12. I have seen people on buddy passes act up after being bumped all day in Atlanta and giving the agent a hard time they do not understand the employee
    Can loose not only the pass privileges but it is grounds for termination.
    I would never give any one a buddy pass the only time i did this was when my spouse and i took a friend to Hawaii in those days if you had a buddy with you at NWA they traveled under the employees seniority and again you had to be with them . If one is trying to use a buddy pass they are better off getting a cheap fare on southwest or jet blue or spirit. The seat is confirmed and you can not be bumped. I also feel that the dress code should return out of respect to our beloved Delta.

  13. My wife has me listed as a spouse to receive flight benefits. How can I be removed from this list? I never want to fly anywhere with her from this day forward. Delta is a great airline, but I no longer want to travel with my wife.

  14. For two days I’ve been trying to call my I haven’t used buddy pass in years.
    I need to know how much one is.. I have a couple questions actually. Can the ticket counter help me with information?

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