Want cheap airfares? Buddy up
Airline employee 'buddy passes' offer travel for up to 90% off. Got any friends in high places?
Next week I'll fly to Alaska to house-sit, paying about $120 round-trip. Normally that ticket would cost almost $800.
How'd I get such a cheap fare? Friends in high places.
Specifically, a friend who works for an airline. Each year he gets "buddy passes," vouchers for drastically reduced airfares, and each year he's kind enough to offer some to me.
While I wouldn't be so crass as to say "make friends with an airline employee to get buddy passes," I will say this: If you know anyone who works in that industry, ask politely whether he ever has unused passes. You might be surprised.
It's important to note that buddy-pass travel is strictly standby. You shouldn't attempt it unless your travel plans are negotiable.
Best man at a wedding? Look for the best deal you can get on a regular ticket. Retired, self-employed or otherwise easygoing? A buddy pass might be just the ticket, so to speak, if you don't mind the possibility of being bumped in favor of a full-fare customer.
Restrictions DO apply
Last year I was displaced twice. The first time they put me on the next plane. The second time I was rebooked to the first morning flight. (I went back to my daughter's.)
Flexibility is key. If I'd needed to be back at work the next day I would have had to buy a full-fare ticket, negating some or all of the money I'd saved. And if I hadn't had family close by, I'd have had to sleep in an airport chair or pay for a hotel -- again, making the voucher less of a bargain.
This eHow article suggests booking the earliest flight of the day because "people sometimes oversleep and miss flights."
Since I take public transit to the airport, an "early" flight for me is 8:30 a.m. I bring enough food for both breakfast and lunch -- bagel, fruit, a sandwich, nuts -- in case I don't take off until early afternoon.
I don't check a bag, lest it take off without me. Policies vary, but on at least one airline the "non-revenue" customers aren't eligible for free delivery of separated suitcases. Instead, the airline will hold the bag at your destination or forward it to the most convenient airport. (Post continues below.)
Obviously this kind of travel isn't for everyone. If you have time constraints, e.g., you get only one week off and don't want to waste an hour of it, get yourself a regular ticket.
So why deal with the uncertainty? Especially since you're likely to wind up in a middle seat? See "$120 round-trip to Alaska, above."
And keep these tips in mind:
Never buy a buddy pass. Selling passes is a violation of airline policy. If you're found out, your ticket will be confiscated. (You can't claim you didn't know, since the policy is printed on the voucher.)
Don't presume. An airline employee's humorous rant, "The buddy pass bank," takes out after moochers who request vouchers mere moments after meeting him. Don't be that guy.
Behave yourself. Don't brag about how little you paid. Don't get cranky if you're bumped. In short, don't be a jerk. Doing so will not only cause trouble for the friend who gave you the pass but may also get you eighty-sixed from future voucher travel.
Seriously: Behave yourself. Gate agents can refuse to let you on the plane if you act inappropriately.
More on MSN Money:
Recently I was chatting with the neighbor at one of my rental houses. He shared that his wife was overseas visiting family in the Orient and because he was an airline employee the air fare was REALLY cheap. He's a great guy and was very grateful that his company offered these perks which allowed his DW to visit friends and family more often. Just as you mentioned his wife was basically on "standby" but he considered that a small price to pay.
Alaska...round trip...for $120?.....WOW!
I'm aware that I could get bumped, but saving almost $600 is worth the inconvenience.
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