Real Answers from Real Pilots

Pilot Travel Benefits

Hello!
I am currently 24 years old working in business consulting, a job I’ve always dreamed of, but am now discovering that this job is not for me. I’ve since been giving some serious thought to my other passion - flying. I have an introductory flight scheduled and am doing some serious research to see if this is what I want to do. I do have one question I wasn’t able to find the answer to on this forum:

How exactly do pilot travel benefits work? Just wondering the specifics (How does the standby process work? Can you fly anytime/anywhere you want if there’s an available seat? How often in your experience are you not able to find a seat? Can friends fly with you?) I know it depends on the airline and the situation, but wanted to get an idea.

Thanks!

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Andrew,

While the specifics can vary from airline to airline, here’s a very general overview.

As a pilot you’ll have the ability to fly on any of your company’s flights free of charge. In addition all airlines will extend those privileges to your spouse or significant other, your parents and your children to a certain age. We also get Buddy Passes for others but the priority is lower and they’re not free. As you point out that’s all subject to availability. As to how often you can or cannot find a seat there are a plethora of variables. If say you want to visit your grandma in Boise in February you probably won’t have an issue. If however you’re trying to get to Fort Lauderdale over spring break things get a bit more challenging. Holidays can be rough and certain destinations are always a problem. Your priority is based on your seniority so as you gain seniority the higher you get on the list and the easier things become.

Now as pilots we also have the ability to JumpSeat. This is a great option as it’s only available to pilots and even if the entire cabin is full, you can often get the cockpit jumpseat when others can’t. The caveats are it’s just for you (so you may find yourself with some angry friends as you get home and they don’t), the jumpseat in certain aircraft is not necessarily that comfy (so if it’s a long flight you may get home but look like a pretzel) and lastly again it goes by seniority so if there’s another pilot who’s senior the seat is theirs.

The short answer to you question is I’ve never not been able to get where I’m going. It may take some creativity (reroute, multiple legs, a much longer day than you planned) but there’s almost always a way. It’s really also somewhat a matter of your (or your family’s) personality. Some actually enjoy the “adventure” of it, others do not. My daughter for example is a rockstar at pass travel and the only person I’ve given my log in to. She’ll tell me I want to go to XYZ and I’ll say go crazy. If it takes her 5 flights she doesn’t care. On the flip side a good friend of mine recently broke up with his girlfriend. When I asked what happened (they seemed happy) it was literally about pass travel. He loves to travel and if he’s not working he’s flying off somewhere. He too loves the adventure of it but apparently she did not. She insisted they start buying tickets and he absolutely refused. She said she’d be happy to pay, he tried to explain its not the money. She agreed it’s not about the money, it’s the uncertainty she hates. Yada, yada, yada, irreconcilable differences and they were done.

Adam

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Andrew,
Your story is very familiar to mine. I was working another job before flying and once I took that intro flight I didn’t look back. I hope you have that same feeling after yours!
So travel benefits do vary based on the airline but all come with a set of pass travel benefits. I grew up being able to fly on my dads United pass travel so I’ll shed a little light on their program:
There were 24 buddy passes a year allotted that the employee could give out to anyone. The employee would register the person on the buddy pass and list them on a flight (yep you can pretty much travel anywhere that airline services). Then you show up to the gate and wait to be assigned a seat from the standby list. Buddy passes are the lowest priority to get on but if the standby list was small and lots of seats available, it’s still a free ride! Immediate family is a higher priority and those are unlimited. If the flights were completely full, you get rolled over to the next flight to that destination and keep trying! I’ve had great experiences over the years flying on passes. Typically avoiding holidays and high travel days (fridays and sundays) you have good luck getting on.
As the employee, you get the highest priority off of your seniority to travel on your airline or any other airline with Zedfare benefits. That means you can pretty much get anywhere in the world.
The guys, Adam, Chris and Tory will be able to speak more in-depth about the airline pass travel benefits, so stay tuned!

-Hannah

Andrew,

Hannah and Adam answered your questions well. My experience with flight benefits is limited. I’ve never used them to travel outside of the country. I primarily use them to travel between SEA and SMF. Being able to sit in the jumpseat makes all the difference. When I travel with my wife, however, it gets a little complicated. Just like Adam, we’ve always found a way to get to where we are going. We have even resorted to driving the rest of the way because it was the best option during the holiday season.

Flight benefits are a nice perk, for sure, but to be honest I am getting to the point where if flying standby looks questionable I either skip the trip altogether, fly on a different day, or pay for a seat. Sometimes it is just not worth playing the standby game.

Tory

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Thanks guys for your responses! Definitely makes sense.

Hey guys,

Quick follow up question. Seniority is only for your own airline right? Like if a United and a Delta pilot are both trying to jump seat on an Alaska flight, their seniority does not apply?

Thank you,

Alex

Alex,

That is correct. In the case of OA JSers (other airlines) it’s generally first come first serve.

Adam

Hello!! I have a couple additional questions I thought of on this topic here - does it ever occur where you can get first class on standby as a pilot? Second, on overnights, I know the answer is “it depends”, but generally, what is the typical level of hotel (let’s say the levels are Motel 6, Courtyard, Marriott, or Ritz Calrlton) you stay in at a regional, and the typical level of hotel with a major? Finally, are pilots eligible to get reward points when staying in hotels? Really appreciate all the help - this forum truly does help a ton in making the decision on whether to pursue a career in aviation.

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Andrew,

Upgrades can happen but passengers will typically be upgraded before non revs.

I’m with a regional. We stay at hotels like Holiday Inn, Hilton, and Hyatt. I don’t collect hotel points but I know some do. I know it’s possible but I don’t know if every hotel offers it to crew.

Tory

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Andrew,

Different airlines have different policies when it comes to First Class upgrades. On mine, if there’s an empty seat we’ll get it before a passenger will and as always it’s based on seniority. I’ve a actually gotten it very often and will base my travel plans on First Class availability (much more comfy).

As you say it varies. We actually have language in our contract that stipulates hotel requirements and all hotels must be approved by the union. In general they’re very nice. Most however will not give us points due to the fact we’re not making the booking and it’s at a discounted rate.

Adam

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Andrew,

We get first class for al of our deadheads, on standby it can happen, particularly on international. At the regional level we stayed in a lot of Holiday Inns, LaQuintas, etc. They were not bad, but not fancy either. At United we stay at Marriotts, Hiltons, Westins, etc.

We are not eligible to get rewards points as the hotels bill the airline directly.

Let us know what other questions you have.

Chris

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Andrew,
Just to let you know what else is out there, on the part 135 side of things, most companies give you a company card and let you keep and accrue all hotel points, rental car points, etc. At the company I’m at, we get to pick our hotels within a $200 limit (except a few higher cost cities that come with dispatch approval) and accrue all the points. It adds up allowing a week to 10 day vacations every year solely on hotel points. Some companies even have partnerships with the airlines to allow pass travel.

-Hannah

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Thanks guys for the responses! Regardless, it sounds like a pretty sweet deal to fly for free and also simply get to stay at these hotels at “work” :sunglasses:

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