Hello Kevin and Welocme,
Ahhh the joys of non-reving! Pass travel is probably the best and the worst perk of this career. You are correct sir, the consolidation of many of the Majors has created a situation where each airline has fewer available seats and thousands of more employees vying for them. As for the standby list being the only way to get onboard for the most part that’s true EXCEPT for pilots who can also list for the cockpit jumpseat. Most aircraft have 1, some have 2 and that can allow you to bypass all the folks on the list unless of course there are other pilots from your airline, then of course (like everything else in the airline industry) it comes down to seniority. Keep in mind many cockpit jumpseats are less than comfy especially if it’s a long flight. There also are no guarantees as any use of the jumpseat is at the Capt’s discretion. While most are cool and I’ve never personally been denied I have seen it happen (usually some new young pilot who thinks it’s there right and doesn’t show proper etiquette, ie, ASK nicely). As for discounted tickets, different airlines have different programs. I’m with Hawaiian and you can purchase discounted “K” fares which will guarantee you a seat BUT they’re not available for every flight and it’s based on the number of open seats so the flight you need the guaranteed seat you probably can’t get one.
On the bright side, again as pilot’s we can JS on any airline and if you’re flexible and creative you can usually find a way. I live in Oahu but most of my family is in NY. I’ve been going home to NY every month for the 4yrs I’ve been out here and while sometimes it’s easier than others, I’ve never not made it.
As for the perks in general, most airlines allow unlimited free travel for you, one “companion” (husband, wife, etc), your parents and your children up to a certain age (usually 23). Most also offer a limited number of “buddy passes” for friends etc. Keep in mind it’s all based on seniority and priority and the buddy passes have the lowest priority of all making them generally very difficult to use. As a word of caution, YOU are responsible for anyone travelling on your passes. What that means is when you give your buddy a buddy pass and he doesn’t get on the flight and makes a stink at the gate guess who’s getting called into the Chief Pilot’s office? There have been many pilots who lose ALL their travel benefits because someone they were trying to help acted the fool.
BTW, this is the MAIN reason I’m not a fan of commuting. This non-rev JS stuff can be stressful and I want to live to be 100