Standby Tickets: How They Work and How Much They Cost

Flying standby used to mean buying a cheap ticket for the next flight with empty seats. But today, standby generally means you have purchased a ticket already, but want to get on an earlier flight, or you have missed your flight and want to catch a later one. Here’s what FareCompare readers need to know about standby policies of airlines in the U.S.

AirTran still allows you to buy a standby ticket, but only if you are between the ages of 18 and 22. Each segment (one takeoff and one landing) costs $69. You cannot check luggage, and your money is refunded if you do not get a seat.

For ticketed passengers who want an earlier flight, Airtran charges $25 per person per segment. Airtran Elite members are not charged.

Alaska Air
Alaska Air offers free same-day standby on the date of departure for nonstop flights between Seattle and Portland or Seattle and Spokane. You have to be in the boarding area 30 minutes before departure.

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For flights within North America, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, American charges $50 for same-day standby for earlier flights. AAdvantage Elite members are not charged, nor are those traveling on military, first class, business class or high-fare coach tickets.

Continental / United
Same-day standby for earlier Continental/United flights costs $75. There’s no charge for elite members of Mileage Plus and OnePass, those with fully refundable tickets and frequent flier award tickets. Standby is available for flights within the U.S. with identical routings that are scheduled for departure within three hours of your original request.

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Same-day standby for earlier flights costs $50, unless you have top-tier status in Delta’s SkyMiles program. You must make the request within three hours of the scheduled departure of the flight you want. Delta‘s standby policy applies to trips in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.

Classic, Classic Plus, Ascent and Summit members of Frontier‘s EarlyReturns program can stand by for earlier flights for free. Economy tickets are not eligible for standby flights. Standby travel must follow an identical route as the original ticket.

Alternately, you can pay a flat fee and change to an earlier or later same-day flight by phone (800-432-1359). Charges are:

  • Economy tickets: $50
  • Classic tickets: $25
  • Classic Plus tickets: Free
  • EarlyReturns Summit level members: Free on all fare options

Standby travel for an earlier JetBlue flight the same day as your original reservation must be arranged at the airport. There is no charge. For cities with only one flight per day, you may stand by for a flight one day earlier than the original flight.

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Standby policies for Southwest vary by fare type:

  • Business Select Fares: No charge for standby for same-day travel between the same city-pair.
  • Anytime Fares: Same as Business Select
  • Wanna Get Away Fares: Standby travel requires an upgrade to Anytime fare.
  • Senior Fares: Standby travel requires an upgrade to Anytime fare.
  • DING! Fares: Standby travel requires that the Customer pay the difference between the original fare and the Anytime fare.

US Airways
Confirmed standby for same-day earlier flights on US Airways costs $50. Flights to Europe and Hawaii are excluded. The fee is waived for unconfirmed standby.

Virgin America
Confirmed standby for same-day flights on Virgin America costs $50, but unconfirmed standby is free. Requests must be made at the airport before departure of the original flight.


Published: October 27, 2011