“I didn’t get on the flight!” my sister said crying hysterically.

It was 4am EST which translated to 11am in Frankfurt Germany. My sister was flying on a guest pass and had just missed her flight back to the US. My previous warning about a full flight had fallen on deaf ears. Not only did I tell her that the flight was full, I also warned her that there was only one flight a day and to plan accordingly. It shouldn’t have come as a shock when the plane left without her. For whatever reason, it warranted cutting my REM cycle short.

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I don’t want to sound bitter because I’m not. Don’t get my wrong, buddy passes can be a great tool and a wonder experience. Problems arise when people don’t understand them. These misunderstandings often create a gap between expectation and reality. Oftentimes this gap is between the employee and the person using the pass. Hopefully this article will clear up these misconceptions and help more people understand. I’m also going to show you a polite way to ask for a guest pass and how to have proper etiquette if you end up using one.

Asking for a buddy pass

I’ve had people who I haven’t talked to in 5 years demand 4 buddy passes from me in one text.

Definitely the wrong approach. 

You have to use your discretion but if you want to ask for a buddy pass go ahead and ask but first there are some things you need to understand:

  • It’s an inconvenience for the employee (no matter what they say)
  • Guest passes are not unlimited (Typically an employee gets 8 roundtrips a year)
  • They are designed to be a perk for the employee not you.

If you’re friends with an employee, they most likely won’t mind you asking for one. However, understand it’s one of their benefits like healthcare or employee parking. Some employees highly value their passes while others may let theirs waste away every year in their travel page.

If you ask for a buddy pass do so with some gratitude and humility. For whatever reason some people seem to ask for them like they are borrowing paperclips. If you end up getting a pass and it works out for you, send them a thank you card. I’ve saved people thousands of dollars on flights to Europe (often first class) and sometimes didn’t even get a verbal thank you when it was all said and done.

It’s against policy to accept payment for a guest pass but there is nothing wrong with a Starbucks gift card. You know, for being a great friend. The effort alone it takes the employee to set you up with a pass should at the very least, make you reach for the check next time you’re at dinner. If you can’t show a little appreciation don’t count on getting another one.

3 Simple questions 

If a friend wants a buddy pass I ask them 3 questions to see if it’s even worth discussing further.

  1. How badly do you need to be there?

    Are you going to your brothers wedding? Unless you plan on leaving a month early a buddy pass is probably a bad idea. On the other hand, are you going to backpack through Europe and don’t really care where you start? Now that’s starting to make more sense.

  2. How flexible are you?

    Do you have 48 hours to catch that wedding or do you have three months to wander around Europe? Are you going to a place that only has one flight a day or twenty? Those are obviously two extremes but flexibility is an important thing to keep in mind. As I’ll get to in a second, there is no guarantee you’ll get on any flight.

  3. Have you checked the price of a normal fare ticket?

    It might surprise you but with the exception of a few airlines, most guest passes are not free. You still have to pay a base fare and taxes. It’s rare, but I’ve actually seen normal fare tickets that are cheaper than the actual buddy pass itself. More often, buying a normal ticket may only be slightly more expensive than a buddy pass and you have a guaranteed seat.

Proper Non-Rev educate

So a buddy pass makes sense and your friend was nice enough to give you one? Congratulations! There are a few more things you need to know before you head to the airport.

Prepare

Most likely you be emailed a copy of the airline travel policy. Read the whole thing. Reduce the burden on the employee as much as possible. Don’t be lazy. Look up the flights you want to take before you ask him or her to list you. Know the dates, times and flight numbers of your desired flights. If you’re flying airline “X” look up their route map and see where they fly. Don’t wonder over to Eastern Europe on a trip and then call the employee perplexed why their airline doesn’t fly out of Budapest. Most airlines have an 800 number you can call that will enable you to change flights and check their loads (Seats available). Try calling the number or asking customer service before you bother the employee with an easy question.

Be polite

Flying on a guest pass means you are a reflection of the airline and that employee. An employee’s biggest fear with with regards to a guess pass is you acting up. Depending on your actions, you can actually get the employee in trouble and get all their travel privileges revoked. As I mentioned before they are not making money on you. You have absolutely no right to act like one of those “adults” that throw temper-tantrums like a 4 year old in a crowded terminal. Airline crew and especially gate agents often get treated terrible by other human beings. Unfortunately some of that may boil over to your interaction with them. Makes no difference how the employee treats you. No matter their attitude, you need to smile and say please and thank you.

 There are no guarantees 

Non-Rev is short for Non Revenue which means the airline is not making money on you. Whatever fee you paid for the pass will get burned in fuel just from the weight of your body. Not to mention the extra work of employees etc. The way guest passes work is they allow non-revs to fly if there are open seats. After all the paying passengers have boarded that is. If there are open seats to give away, they are done so in a certain priority. All airlines vary but typically order is:

  • Revenue standbys ( Paying customers that changed their original flight)
  • Airline employees, employee’s spouses, children and parents
  • Guest passes (aka you)
  • Employees of other airlines

It’s rare, but even if you make it on the plane there is a chance you get kicked off. Aircrafts often return to the gate for different reasons but if it does so, the original paying passenger that missed his flight because of a delay may have shown up. It’s unfortunate but imagine you were the airline from a business stand point. Does it makes sense to leave the paying passenger at the gate? If you go on a pass be prepared for anything. Do not call the employee and complain that you missed your flight!

Dress nice

I usually say to dress business casual. Jeans are typically ok but don’t roll up to the airport in flip-flops and shorts. As I said before, you are a reflection of the employee and the airline.  I don’t care where you’re going, suck it up. If you’re traveling international there’s a decent chance you could be rolling in a lay flat business class seat. The paying passenger sitting next to you paid thousands of dollars for their seat. It’s called business class for a reason. Dress like it.

Don’t check a bag

If at all possible DO NOT check a bag. Airlines have different policies but chances are if you check a bag and don’t make it on the plane, your bag is going without you. To make matters worse, you’re not considered a paying customer so if they lose your bag for good you’re not getting reimbursed. In 9 years I’ve never seen a bag completely lost forever but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

Conclusion

Hopefully that helps clear up some common misconceptions about Non-Rev guest travel. Buddy passes can be a lot of fun. I’ve flown all around the world with friends for very cheap because of them. They can sometimes be a pain in the you know what. Always remember it’s a privilege not a right. If you decide to use one take the good with the bad and enjoy the ride.