A buddy pass is essentially a voucher that allows people an airline’s employee knows to fly for “free”.

This means that the airline’s employee family and friends, including their partner, spouse, and parents, can essentially fly for “free”.

What is a Buddy Pass?

As mentioned, a buddy pass allows an airline’s employee friends and family to fly for “free”.

We put “free” in quotation marks because any taxes and fees associated with the flight still need to be paid.

It’s important to note is that when someone uses a buddy pass, it only means that they are flying on standby, which means that a seat is by no means guaranteed.

If there are empty seats on a plane, though, the person or people who are using the buddy pass will be able to fly.

There’s a Process to Booking Buddy Pass Flights

While it can vary by airline, to book a flight using a buddy pass, the person may have to call a reservation agent and quote a code that is given to them by the airline employee who owns the buddy pass.

It’s often simpler for the airline employee to just book the flight for you, though.

The person’s name will be put on the standby list for the flight – and if there are available seats, they will be able to fly.

Typically, there is priority for standby passengers:

  • Pilots and flight attendants going to work
  • Full-fare passengers who were bumped from their flight
  • Full-fare passengers who are on standby
  • Off-duty pilots
  • All other airline employees and family members
  • Buddy pass travelers according to the time of check-in

Buddy Pass Flights Aren’t Completely Free

As anyone who uses a buddy pass still needs to pay for the taxes and fees associated with the flight, payment can be made through a debit or credit card.

In some instances, these taxes and fees can be deducted from the airline employee’s paycheck.

As the person or people using the buddy pass are on standby, if they are not able to take the flight, they will not be charged.

You Can Fly Internationally With a Buddy Pass

Typically, if the airline flies to international destinations, a buddy pass can be used for international travel.

Some airlines also account for how many miles are flown with the buddy passes they give out, which can affect their usage.

Airline Employees Get 10-15 Buddy Passes

While it can vary by airline, a flight attendant may get up to 10-15 buddy passes a year, so they should be used wisely.

American Airlines, for example, give out 16 buddy passes a year (or 8 round trip tickets).

It can be hard to say no to friends and family who want to take advantage of cheap air travel, so buddy passes should be used wisely!

All Airlines in the U.S. Offer Buddy Passes, But Not Worldwide

At least in the U.S., all airlines offer their flight attendants buddy passes, including Delta, Southwest, United, American Airlines, JetBlue etc.

This may also extend to all of the airline’s employees and not just flight attendants.

Not all airlines worldwide offer their employees buddy passes, with some offering discounts on flight tickets.

Some airlines also offer additional benefits when a buddy pass is used, such as being able to check in two bags for free instead of just one.

Buddy Passes Aren’t Meant to Be Sold

Airline employees are not allowed to sell their buddy passes, as it is against airline policy. If an airline employee is caught trying to sell a buddy pass, they may be fired.

Airline employees get a set number of buddy passes a year that can vary by airline.

These buddy passes are good for a year and don’t accumulate.

Buddy Passes Do Have Some Downsides

The main downside to a buddy pass is that the person using the buddy pass will be flying on standby.

So, if there are no empty seats on the plane, they won’t be able to fly.

If flying with others, this could even mean that some people get on the flight while others will be stuck at the airport.

Additionally, there is no guarantee that you will be able to sit with your traveling companion, you can’t build up air miles or points, and you are not eligible for compensation in case your flight is affected.

When airline employees have buddy passes, it’s inevitable that virtually all their friends and family will want to take advantage of it. So if they say no, it could lead to some resentment, too.

Buddy Passes Can Be Used By Anyone

Buddy passes are given to flight attendants, who can then give them out to their friends and family, or anyone else they choose to.

While the flight won’t be completely free, as taxes and fees associated with the flight still need to be paid, the price of travel will be drastically cheaper.

The distance of the flight may also be taken into account.

So while all airline employees may receive buddy passes, it makes no difference if the employee is a flight attendant or other employee – i.e. there are no special privileges.

Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.

Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.

Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).