Standby Flights: How To Fly Standby

04.04.23 by Travelex Insurance
Image credit: Getty Images

Flying standby used to be easier than it is today. A traveler used to be able to show up hours before the flight without a ticket and ask to be placed on a standby list. Once all the ticketed passengers were checked in, you could get a seat at a significant discount. With all the changes in the airline industry however, seat availability has drastically dwindled due to much fuller planes. Flying standby is now an “unconfirmed same-day” flight change, meaning you must already have purchased a ticket before you're able to fly standby. 

Although it’s not as easy as it used to be, flying standby is still possible in some instances. Read on for our quick tips. 

How can I fly standby?

Flying standby can secure you a flight for a different time than you originally booked. In general, there are four ways for today’s traveler to fly standby: 

  1. You’re flying with a guest pass or buddy pass with/from an airline employee. In these circumstances, you’re responsible for taxes and airport fees. 

  1. If you’ve booked a ticket but can’t take your original flight — voluntarily or involuntarily — or want to go earlier or later than scheduled. 

  1. Overbooked flights. If you volunteer to be bumped to a later or alternative flight. 

  1. Passengers who want an upgrade. 

How much does it cost to fly standby?

In most cases, standby isn't a cheap last-minute flying strategy anymore. Fees can range (depending on the airline) anywhere from $25 to $100 a ticket. Always check your airline to see the most up-to-date policies. According to Point Me, the following fees are a rough estimate:

  • Alaska Airlines: Offers free, same-day standby for ticketed passengers in certain cities. Must be at the gate 30 minutes prior to takeoff.
  • American Airlines: Charges $75 for same-day standby tickets for most routes. This fee is waived for military personnel, first-class, business class and AAdvantage Elite members.
  • Delta Airlines: The standby fee is $75 for most passengers. Delta has eliminated same-day flight changes for Basic Economy passengers altogether.
  • Frontier Airlines: Only elite members qualify for standby flights. All other ticketed passengers will have to pay to change to a same-day ticket at a new time.
  • JetBlue: There is a $75 fee for first-come, first-serve standby as well as same-day flight changes for select fare types. Note that cities with only one flight per day have neither standby nor same-day flight changes available.
  • Southwest Airlines: Depends on the type of fare paid by the passenger. Only "Anytime" and "Business Select" fares are eligible for standby. If you purchase "Wanna Get Away" or "Senior" fares you will need to pay the fare difference. There may be additional fees.
  • United: Most passengers will be charged $75 for flying standby.

How do I know what priority I am when flying standby?

Once again, know the policy of the airline you’re traveling with. You may want to upgrade or take an earlier flight, but each airline will handle these requests differently. For example, passengers who paid full fare have priority over others who purchased a discounted ticket, and those with elite status with an airline’s frequent flyer program are often given priority. There are many variables.

How can I increase my chances of getting on a standby flight?

Check out these quick tips on how to boost your chances of success:

  • Choose off-peak seasons, times, and holidays. Avoid travel with connecting flights.
  • Pack lightly and travel alone. Use a carry-on only so you're ready to go quickly.
  • Do your homework on your airline’s standby policies and fees.
  • Be flexible and patient. It pays.
  • Always get to the gate very early to get on the list — at least three or four hours. Immediately ask a gate agent to place your name on the free same-day standby list.
  • If your airline offers a standby app — get it. You’ll be able to program a flight change and get updates on the process.
  • Consider signing up for elite status with your airline. It'll increase your chances of getting a last-minute seat.
  • If you’re flying on a buddy pass, you're effectively representing the airline. Go with business or business casual dress and always be polite.
  • Expect to pay a fee, unless the ticketed flight was overbooked or delayed. Fees vary for each airline.
  • There will be a monitor at your gate with the standby and upgrade lists. Check to be sure your name is on the proper list.

However you choose to fly, remember to protect your travel investment with travel insurance. Our Travel Basic and Travel Select plans offer coverage for trip cancellation, interruption and more. Compare and get a quote today.

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