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When buddy pass is not so friendly

onewithwings

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Good article I found: When buddy pass is not so friendly

Discounted flights can leave you stranded

By Clint Williams
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cheap isn’t always a bargain.

Ming Han Chung of Duluth figured he was saving a bundle using a Delta Air Line buddy pass to fly to Berlin last month, paying just $400 for a round-trip ticket that would normally cost about $1,300. The trip ended up costing much more —- about $1,500 as well as three unplanned vacation days.


In a city that boasts the world’s busiest airport, it’s easy to find a buddy pass. Delta Air Lines, which has about 25,000 Atlanta-based employees, annually gives every employee eight buddy passes. AirTran Airways, which has 6,000 local employees, issues six a year (employees will get two extra to use in September and October).

The buddy pass, a common airline perk, allows the holder to fly standby at a steeply discounted rate. The savings can be significant: coast-to-coast and back for $100; to Ireland and back for less than $200.

But Dad was right, you get what you pay for.
Passengers with a buddy pass board only if there are no paying customers to take those seats. A buddy pass traveler is the lowest priority. Even 200 pounds of cargo gets priority over 200 pounds of buddy pass holder.

Fly with a buddy pass and you risk being stranded. Like Ming Han Chung.

“The flight from JFK to Berlin was perfect. Business class. Very, very nice,” said Chung, who flew from Atlanta to New York before heading east across the Atlantic Ocean.

Chung’s July 29 flight home was canceled because of bad weather, and he was told that because of the backlog he wouldn’t be boarding the next day.

So he took a train to Frankfurt, then Dusseldorf, looking for a U.S.-bound plane with empty seats.
“I spent an extra $200, $300 on train tickets around Germany,” he said.

Chung spent nights at his friend’s place in Berlin and days at airports.

“Luckily, I had enough vacation time saved up, although my boss was calling every day [after July 29],” Chung said, adding he built in a couple of extra days into his schedule to accommodate minor snags in getting a seat.

Finally, on Aug. 2, Chung gave Air Berlin $1,019 for a one-way ticket to Fort Myers, Fla. On Aug. 3, he used a second buddy pass to get home to Atlanta.

While Chung’s trip shows what can go wrong, there is a lot you can do to get where you want to go, roughly when you want to go there, when flying with a buddy pass.

Airline employees said that with the buddy pass they give out caveats and warnings: You’re the last one on the plane; there is a chance you might get stranded.

“It just takes some common sense,” said Fran Shockley, a Delta flight attendant who has been sharing buddy passes for more than two decades.

Don’t plan on flying out on Friday or returning on Sunday evening, said Shockley and other buddy pass vets. Don’t expect to drop into Vail during ski season or Rome in the summer. Be flexible. Very flexible.

“You’ve got to know what Plan B is,” said retired flight attendant Mary Towler of Powder Springs.

Christine Solomon of Marietta booked a flight from Atlanta to Seattle for her husband and two children using buddy passes. The three got bumped again and again. Then the relative who provided the buddy passes advised that the surest distance between two points isn’t always a straight line.

“We wouldn’t have thought of going to Houston to get to Seattle,” said Solomon.

Another trick: Solomon used frequent flier miles to secure a guaranteed seat on the return flight. The buddy pass worked for the return flight, so the $100 fee for returning the miles into the bank was sort of like an insurance premium, she said.

Knowing the risk associated with flying with a buddy pass, Solomon also said she makes sure she can cancel without penalty hotel reservations, car rentals and train tickets should she not get to where she is hoping to go.

All the uncertainty makes traveling with a buddy pass a bit nerve-wracking. Even for the employees who pass them along.

“I make it my business to watch the progress of those using buddy passes I gave them,” said Fowler, who logs on to the computer to see if friends and relatives have made it onto a flight.

A flight that appears to have plenty of empty seats the night before can fill up before standby passengers board, so employees said they serve as on-call travel agents to help buddy pass flyers find alternatives.

“I want it to be a good experience for everyone involved,” Shockley said.
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TIPS

Taking to the sky with a buddy pass? Here is what you need to know, according to experienced travelers:

> Dress for success. If you want to travel in business class, you can’t do so in sweatpants and flip-flops. Airline policy for use of buddy passes includes a dress code.

> Be unfailingly polite and courteous to the gate agents. You have no clout, as paying passengers might.

> Pack light. You travel with only carry-on luggage.

> Get online early and often. The airline Web sites can tell you how many empty seats are on a flight. Check your flight before even leaving for the airport. Things can change quickly.

> Don’t use a buddy pass if you must make it to a destination for something like a wedding or you have to be back home by Tuesday or get fired.

> Think long and hard about using a buddy pass for international travel.
 
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