travel cheap
March 31, 2006 8:23 AM   Subscribe

What's the deal with standby? Any mefites have first-hand experience of traveling on the cheap?

High school teacher trying to get cross-country as cheaply as possible this summer... maybe even international. What are my options? What kind of prices would I be looking at if I flew standby instead of buying tickets now? Any other options? (btw...the idea is to get from north florida to the pacific northwest)
posted by trinarian to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: As a teacher, you might be eligible for some discounted flights. Take a look at Travel Cuts. They have info on the ITIC discount card. (I don't know if the discounts they offer are cheaper than regular standby.)
posted by teg at 8:52 AM on March 31, 2006

Some info on standby here. As a university undergrad I used to purposely book tickets on flights that were notoriously oversold, then when they asked for people to volunteer their seats for a travel voucher (usually about $300-$400 plus meal vouchers) and take a later flight, I would. This way I could take my next flight for practically nothing, though I realize this doesn't help you with flying cheaply on the original flight.
posted by meerkatty at 9:30 AM on March 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

What's the deal with standby?

There's no deal. In short, you will never get a cheap flight if you have to fly standby. If all the seats on a day are full that means that there is very high demand and the airline will price the tickets accordingly. If demand is not that high, then you will get a confirmed reservation instead.

You can get a good deal booking last-minute flights through certain consolidators, like Site59. But you have to be very flexible. You can't predict whether they will have the tickets you want available at the times you want. And you will get a confirmed seat, not standby. Sometimes you'll get a better deal if you get a package hotel and flight.

Basically, if you are just hoping to pick up a bargain and can travel when you want to, and don't mind if you don't travel at all, then last minute deals are great. If you must travel at certain times, the last minute prices quite possibly will be expensive (like much more expensive) than the advance ticket prices.

Some info on standby here.

That isn't talking about standby either, that's talking about voluntary denied boarding (getting "bumped"). And that FAQ entry is old (you can tell since they talk about meals which most pax are unlikely to get in coach now). Since that FAQ was originally written, airlines have gotten a lot better at yield management and avoiding bumps. This means that it will be a lot harder for you to predict when you will get bumped unless you go on one of the truly busy travel days (e.g. Sunday after Thanksgiving, or flying to the NCAA football championship bowl game), which will be expensive because the airlines know how high the demand is.
posted by grouse at 9:58 AM on March 31, 2006

Install Southwest's Ding! program and you'll get random cheap fare deals pushed to your desktop. Just sit there and wait for the flight you want to show up. It will.
posted by evariste at 12:27 PM on March 31, 2006

For international, it's high season in a lot of places so you aren't going to get a lot of bargains.

Join some of the airline frequent flyer programs. You can join without booking a flight (or you used to be able to) and they are free to join. When you join, sign up for their email lists. One of the emails I get is a "last minute deals" from American Airlines, very, very cheap rates for flights that are less than a week away. It's a great deal if you are ready to pick up and go within a few days time. I've seen many flights to Europe and South America that are around $200 and less in their specials.
posted by 45moore45 at 4:20 PM on March 31, 2006

If you go to Smarter Travel, you can sign up for their last-minute deal newsletter, which will send you information on every airline's last-minute bargains each week from whichever starting point you choose. They also consolidate most airlines' flight deals and sales, so that's a good starting point to look for bargains.

Grouse is correct that airlines have become much better at yield management, and most of the time you will only see an oversold/bump situation on extremely popular days, which aren't that cheap to begin with. You're better off buying the cheapest ticket you can find and being flexible with your travel dates (fly midweek instead of weekends, try alternate airports within driving/train distance, etc.). FWIW, I got a roundtrip to Frankfurt in May for ~550 from NYC (with connections, but the exact itinerary I wanted and different departure and return cities), and you can probably find cheaper if you check Site59 or Smarter Travel.
posted by bedhead at 4:39 PM on March 31, 2006

Do you know anyone who's a pilot or flight attendant? Was one of your coworkers' sister's fiancé's brother the roommate of a pilot? Generally speaking (very generally) they get a certain amount of tickets, determined by seniority, that are preferred standby. I would not go on standby without those tickets, because chances are decent that you'll get there a week late, or not at all. Exploit all possible connections.

In the '90s my family traveled on a close connection's preferred standby tickets. In the early '90s, there was no problem, and we could usually get where we wanted in a reasonable amount of time. By the mid-'90s, we spent a lot of nights camped in airports, but we eventually got there. And by the end of the '90s, it wasn't even worthwhile to try anymore.

Things may have changed since September 11 (we haven't tried flying on those tickets since we gave up around 1999). But pilots' benefits have not been improving lately. Also, we were on super-seniority tickets in the first place -- you probably won't be.

Standby may be an absolute-last resort, but you need to be aware of just how uncertain it is. There were times we would've gotten from A to B faster if we'd been in a Greyhound.
posted by booksandlibretti at 6:38 PM on March 31, 2006

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