Airlines these days rarely offer standby programs, which, in years past, used to offer reduced airfares for last-minute travelers who would simply show up at the airport. In fact, "flying standby" has taken on a slightly different meaning in past years: it applies to passengers who have already purchased a full-price ticket for a specific flight, but would rather hop onto a flight that better suits their schedule.
Suppose you’ve booked a cheap flight at 11:30 p.m. from Detroit to NYC. Your ideal flight, a 1:00 p.m. departure, costs $200 more. (After all, who wants to land at LaGuardia at 2 a.m.?) To solve this, you must head to your airline’s website and sift through the day’s flights. Standby travel is based on seat availability and is never guaranteed. If you find an open seat on your ideal flight, call the airline and request standby — or follow their standby procedures. Depending on the airline, the change to your itinerary can cost as little as nothing, or as much as $75.
Here's a quick rundown of each major airline's standby policies, in the hopes of saving you money, and securing your ideal flight, in the future. (Related: a more detailed explanation of how to fly standby).
According to Delta's site, you can only go standby on an earlier flight than your original ticket if the Same-Day Confirmed option is not available. The same-day standby fee is $75, but is complimentary for Diamond, Platinum, and Gold Medallion Members. However, the fee is only charged if you're cleared to go on your requested flight. Also, you can only do this for flights within the United States, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, and some tickets, such as Basic Economy, are ineligible for this.
Pay $75 and change to any U.S, Puerto Rico, or U.S. Virgin Island flight, given that the new flight departs on the same day, from and to the same airports as the original flights, have the same number of stops in the same airport as the original flight, and be marketed and operated by American Airlines or American Eagle. It's also important to note that although anybody can standby for an earlier flight, only elite status members can standby for a later flight on the same day as their original flight.
According to Southwest's site, standby travel between the same city pairs and on the original date of travel is permitted with no change in fare, but, applicable taxes and fees associated with standby travel will apply on a per passenger basis. However, in order to fly standby, you must upgrade your ticket to the 'Anytime' fare option.
Standby travel is based on seat availability, is not guaranteed and, depending on your fare, is subject to an additional fee, JetBlue's website states. You should also know that the standby option is only offered when your desired flight is sold out and you are unable to complete a 'Same Day Change.' If this is the case, there is a $75 charge to list standby, but the fee will be refunded if you are not confirmed on your standby flight.
If you're flying Spirit and looking to travel standby, you're in luck: The airline allows passengers to travel standby on an earlier flight, on the same day of the scheduled flight, for a $99 fee per person. However, according to Spirit's website, passengers who wish to fly standby have to choose this option at the airport, so be sure to get there early so you have a better chance at flying standby.
If you're an Elite-level Frontier member, you're allowed to fly standby for an earlier or later flight on your day of travel for no fee. If you do fall into this category, you'll have to request standby travel at the airport directly, and your standby travel must follow your original ticket itinerary (i.e. if you had a connecting flight, you'd still have to make that connection). It's also worth noting that standby travel can be risky. If you're denied your standby request, for example, if all the seats are filled, you will have to book another ticket.
According to United's site, you may standby if seats are not available in the purchased fare class on your requested flight. In these cases, the same-day change fee will apply ($75 for MileagePlus non-Premier members and MileagePlus Premier Silver members; $0 for MileagePlus Premier Gold members and MileagePlus Premier Platinum and MileagePlus Premiere 1K members). However, when standing by, changes in itinerary are not allowed, and, you have to request standby travel on the day of departure at the airport directly.
If you're traveling on Alaska Air, you're eligible for same day standby for an alternate flight if your situation falls into one of these four categories: You are not traveling on a Saver fare, you're traveling nonstop between the airline's shuttle markets (Anchorage and Fairbanks, Seattle and Portland, Seattle and Spokane), you've purchased a refundable main cabin ticket or a first class ticket that is eligible for a same day confirmed change flight, but space is unavailable to make the change, or, you are an MVP® Gold Mileage Plan member (or traveling in the same reservation as one).