Delta Air Lines bankruptcy emergence ship 638
Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Warning: Never Purchase “Buddy Passes”

One of the least-expensive ways to travel by airplane is on a “buddy pass” — usually where you pay little more than the taxes and fees for an airline ticket — but the experience of the travel companion of FlyerTalk member LashondaO should demonstrate to you on how not to procure and use a “buddy pass.”

Warning: Never Purchase “Buddy Passes”

Although LashondaO and the travel companion — both of whom are students in the United States — successfully flew as passengers on Delta Air Lines to Chile, return flights were canceled due to weather. LashondaO “ended up buying a one way ticket the day before which was uber expensive but I had to get back”; but the friend was “not able to do so” and wound up being stranded in Chile.

This situation regarding the friend left LashondaO pleading to fellow FlyerTalk members for assistance — and one bit of information which was revealed was that LashondaO and the travel companion each paid a “ticket fee” and a separate “commission fee” for their “buddy passes” which totaled approximately $1,000.00.

This should have been a “red flag” for LashondaO and the travel companion — and hopefully, a lesson was learned: never purchase “buddy passes.” Airline employees are not permitted to sell their “buddy passes” — of which they receive a limited quantity — under any circumstances; and if an unscrupulous person acquires a “buddy pass” and sells it, the airline employee to whom that “buddy pass” was assigned may find themselves in serious trouble, which could include termination of employment from the airline.

Meanwhile, another lesson which was hopefully learned by LashondaO and the travel companion is that “buddy passes” often are amongst the lowest priority in determining which stand-by passengers get 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.

In this particular situation, Delta Air Lines only operates one flight per day between Chile and the United States — which meant that the friend of LashondaO would have to wait until the next day before possibly scoring an opportunity to leave Chile; and repeat as necessary until a seat was finally available on a flight on a given day…

…and although it is not unusual for an airline which has a flight that is experiencing irregular operations to ensure that a paying customer is booked on a different airline so that that customer gets to his or her destination as quickly as possible, it goes without saying that a “buddy pass” issued by one airline would not be considered valid for travel on another airline under virtually any circumstance.

As students, LashondaO and the travel companion had the opportunity to purchase airfare discounted especially for students from Internet web sites such as Student Universe or STA Travel — but the discounts are admittedly nowhere near as significant as a “buddy pass”, which is technically a lower-end version of stand-by flights usually used by the friends or families of airline employees and are only good when there is space available…

…but then again, there is also not nearly as much of a risk using a ticket purchased with a student discount — usually approximately 80 percent of the typical airfares available commercially — as there is when using a “buddy pass”, as evidenced by a family of four from Virginia which traveled on “buddy passes” on jetBlue Airways in August of 2012. The family — which included a 13-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy — wound up stranded in Salt Lake City International Airport for six days recently because flights to go back home were constantly booked with customers. Members of the family were reportedly unable to shower the entire time they were in the airport and could only afford to eat one meal per day, resulting in the boy vomiting after several days of being hungry. Fortunately for that family, assistance arrived in the form of donations of a motel room and the purchase of airfare for transportation back home.

In the article linked above, I outlined some advice about traveling on a “buddy pass” which bears repeating here:

  • Travel during a time of year which is not so busy. Summer and holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas are usually the busiest time of year for travel. Try booking your travel in early November or February as examples of slower times of the year.
  • 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 back to Atlanta, 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 made any flight to Atlanta that day.
  • 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.
  • Elite status means nothing on a “buddy pass.” On a flight from Raleigh-Durham to Atlanta last year, I sat in a middle seat in the last row even though I had elite status on that particular airline. Oh well — looking at the bright side, at least I had no one to kick my seat from behind.
  • 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.
  • Have a back-up plan or two. This 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. Have provisions, medications and toiletries available in your carry-on bag. Ensure you have the telephone numbers of anyone you know in town, as they could potentially help you avoid the scenario endured by the 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.
  • 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 possibly being charged the full fare for that ticket.
  • You do not benefit from your frequent flier loyalty program elite level status. This usually means no priority boarding, no earning for frequent flier loyalty program miles, no upgrades, and no seat selection. I traveled using a “buddy pass” a couple of years ago; and despite my elite level status, I would up sitting in a middle seat in the last row of the aircraft. 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.
  • Do not argue with any airline employee at the airport or aboard the aircraft. This includes questioning or disputing the seat assigned to you or publicly posting a negative comment via social media. Only voice your concerns after the completion of your trip — and never to fellow passengers or the media.


Unlike being a paying customer where you can dress in jeans and a T-shirt when you travel, there are certain standards of business etiquette you must follow when traveling using a “buddy pass” as a matter of good judgment and respect. Here is a document offered by Delta Air Lines which details the proper business etiquette when traveling while using a “buddy pass.”

As I said, “buddy passes” can be a great way to travel very inexpensively, but you must plan your trip wisely and carefully while being prepared for the worst scenario to happen…

…and — as with the aforementioned family of four — it appears that LashondaO and the travel companion were not prepared for the pitfalls of airline travel using a “buddy pass”, as they both eventually had to pay for their respective flights back to the United States in addition to the approximately $1,000.00 they each paid for the “buddy passes.”

I would venture to say that the “buddy passes” turned out not to be quite a bargain after all for LashondaO and the travel companion — and lessons were hopefully learned from this experience.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!