Have you ever tried to find the absolute best and cheapest airline ticket?
In your search, you’ve probably come across sites that aggregate and compare ticket prices from all the major ticket sites as well as the airlines themselves, but there’s a problem with relying on these sites: these kinds of price-aggregation sites are not always the best way to get a cheap airplane ticket.
In fact, by using one of those sites, you miss out on an opportunity for an even bigger discount.
A lesser-known alternative to these sites is to purchase a standby ticket, which can be profoundly less expensive. AirTech.com, established in 1993, is probably the most well-known standby ticket hub. AirTech has been featured in the LA Times, National Geographic, and Lonely Planet because they’re pretty awesome.
Why are they awesome? Because they sell transatlantic flight tickets from Europe to the USA and vice versa (and even flights to Hawaii) at probably the cheapest prices you can find. You see, taking a standby flight can be MUCH cheaper than any other option. You may be wondering, “How do you fly standby?” “How do standby flights work?” “How much are standby tickets?” “Are they really cheaper?” etc. Well, today I’m going to cover all of that so that you understand the concept before you buy one. So get ready: we’re going to cover how to fly on standby. (That even rhymes!)
How a Standby Ticket Works
- Purchase a standby ticket from AirTech.com or directly from the airline.
- Receive a range of dates that your flight may leave. Usually this is a 4-day window. (So flexibility is required.)
- Confirm your ticket by calling the airline the night before the day of your intended departure.
- Arrive at the airport early: at least 1 hour early, 2 hours early for international flights. (Keep in mind there is a chance you could be bumped to another flight, such is the nature of standby, so be open to finding accommodations for the day after, just in case.)
- Don’t check in any luggage unless absolutely necessary. There’s a chance your bags will leave on a different plane than you do (though to the same destination). You’ll be reunited with them eventually, but it’s better to take a carry on. Plus, travelling light lends itself to a more relaxed trip overall.
- Go to and listen for your name to be called at your airline’s gate. (It’s always a good idea to double-check the gate info on your ticket, too.)
- Board the plane feeling awesome that you saved a lot of money.
You Gotta Want It
Basically, flying standby means your ticket is fulfilled when an extra seat is available on a plane to your destination. That means being ready to jump on a flight at most times during the day and sometimes having to wait until the next day. So a standby ticket requires you to be flexible. To guarantee you’ll get a flight, AirTech gives you a 4-day window, though it’s extremely rare to have to wait 4 days.
When you do finally settle on a date and departure city, be mindful of the comments listed under Airtech’s “seat availability” page. Sometimes (and this is rare) tax is not included in the ticket price displayed, and is an extra charge. This is indicated in the comments under the price at Airtech’s site. The departure cities are also limited to the cities listed on the site, but if you save a few hundred dollars (or if you’re already living in a departure city) this can still be the smartest option. Be aware of the pros and cons, and you can save a lot of money.
Research Pays Off!
Depending on your situation, travelling standby can definitely be the cheapest option, especially if you’re staying with a friend in the area or live near the airport. A prime example of savings is the difference between a ticket from Minneapolis, MN to Amsterdam. During an off-season like September the best price you could get from a ticket aggregator (like Kayak.com) is $618. The trip on the same day costs $359 on AirTech.com.
While standby tickets aren’t the answer to every situation, they are an option you shouldn’t overlook. With research, you could very well save hundreds of dollars.
But what if you’re flying over land? Going by plane might not be the most cost-effective option. If you’re travelling over land, you may find this article especially helpful: How to Get Paid to Travel 1,000 miles (How to Leverage Craigslist)
Now go and embrace your freedom!
planning a transatlantic flight? 😉
Standby can be a great money saver but depending on the season you have to watch it as you may end up stranded! I ended up on standby last holiday and was stuck for almost ten hours. In the end I didn’t pay for the flight which was good.
I’d say being stranded is a very rare experience if you do some simple planning ahead. Worst case you have to find a cheap hotel room for an extra night. Best case is you already have a friend in the area…
Can you provide more information on this?
Sure. What would you like to know?
is there a place to buy standbuy tickets from mexico to europe ??
I don’t know of a service that allows you to book standby tickets for flights leaving Mexico, however, you may be able to track one down if you do some research.
Alternatively, you could call up some of the major airlines in Mexico and ask them how you could do this. After all, you’re going to be dealing with them either way.
Most Airlines when the season is low they are never full. They work with agents who will book the last minute flights at a cheaper rate. This kind of travelling should be for people who are able to make that last minute travelling.
Standby can be the cheapest way to fly, but as you outlined in the article, the real price you are paying is the uncertainty of if or when you will get on a plane. If you are a person who can’t handle uncertainty then you would hate flying standby.
I’d never considered traveling on a stand-by ticket but when you think about it, it’s a great idea. Much, much cheaper.
Not sure if they operate such schemes here in New Zealand but I would think that if a person approached any of the major airlines they could work a deal out.
After all, it is in their interest to get as many people on each flight as they can.
I used the AirTech.com link and see no access to stand-by tickets. Can you help?
First of all, thanks for taking the time to comment. Too often people read what I create and don’t take 30 seconds to leave some feedback, so I appreciate your comment.
Since I wrote this article AirTech.com has changed a bit, but they still offer standby flights. Right now, their offerings are on the right side of their homepage. To and from Hawaii, and Amsterdam to New York. Looks like they do it all over the phone now.
Also, keep in mind that AirTech.com isn’t the only way to get a standby ticket. Far from it! If you contact an airline directly, they’ll usually be able to tell you how to get a standby ticket directly from the airline.
I used the AirTech.com link and see no access to stand-by tickets. Can you help me please? Not sure if they operate in whish airlines I am in US but I would think that if a person approached any of the major airlines they could work.
AirTech now books their flights through the phone, so you ought to contact them and ask. You could also call a major airline and see what they offer.
I believe there will be a lot of standby flights available out of the UK soon on account of operators getting desperate to offload their commitmnents.
Is there someway to purchase a standby ticket that works with multiple airlines? Or even to multiple airports in the same city (O’hare and Midway in Chicago). That way I could increase my chances of getting on a flight to my destination. For example, if I was unable to get on an AA flight then I could go to another gate and try and get on a United flight?
Thanks a really cool idea. But as far as I know, there is no such ticket that would work with multiple airlines since they all have different booking systems, etc.
I myself bought and traveled to Florida recently for a ticket of $109.00 which was very cheap and a great flight through Southwest airlines. They are offering cheap fares if you book online and Spirit and JetBlue are lines I know have cheap tickets also but you probably have to book online as well.
Another note to standby flyers: If you are on standby for a two legged flight (ie. you are flying from Chicago to London, but have a stopover in NYC), keep in mind that just because you got on the first leg of your flight does not mean that you will necessarily get on the second leg right away!
A fantastic way to travel though if you are not on a tight schedule.
That’s very true. Thanks for the reminder, Tathata!
I work for an airline, so I fly standby all the time. Most of the time, it works out just fine. I have never really been stuck somewhere for more than an extra day.
This mostly has to do with the fact that I plan carefully and I pay attention to what is going on in the world around me. For instance, a sudden snowstorm or line of thunderstorms can wreak havoc with last minute seat availability (as passengers are re routed on other flights, extra availability gets tight all across the country. Depending on how great the interruption is, this situation can last for days!)
You MUST be flexible and you MUST have a backup plan. Maybe you are stuck in Paris (a notoriously hard place to fly standby in the peak summer travel months) with no hope of getting out. See if you can switch your ticket to a different European city and take a train there. Think outside of the box (and do it before all of the other people flying standby do and come up with the same solution that you did!)
Aloha Shanna! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your personal experience with us. It’s good to hear that you’ve never been stuck somewhere for more than an extra day. Thanks again for sharing your advice 🙂