As of now, I am stuck at Houston Hobby airport trying to get back to New Orleans. The reason for this is because I am flying non-rev (non-reservation). First of all, flying standby and non-rev mean the same thing, you do not have a secure seat and you will be allowed to fly as long as there is an open seat available for you. In order to fly non-rev you have to be related to, or know an airline employee who will hook you up with a pass, often called a ‘buddy pass’, whereas flying standby means that you missed your booked flight and now must chance it with other non-revs. I have been fortunate enough to have two family members who both work for different airline companies, one for domestic flights and one that has a number of international flights.If you are flying non-rev you get put on the non-rev list. People that work for the airline and their immediate family are automatically higher on the list than someone who got the ticket from someone else. After they’re done boarding at the gate, about ten minutes before take-off, they have a count on how many open seats are left on the flight and they start calling out names from the non-rev list until the flight is full. If the flight is looking full, it can be pretty nerve-racking to wait for your name to be called. Even though today I have not been able to get on three successive flights out of Houston because I do not have a secure seat, I still recommend flying non-rev if you are able to as occurrences like this are uncommon. The major advantage of flying non-rev is the price. I have flown for free, or for as little as $80 for a round-trip flight within the US. I have also flown round-trip to Spain from Texas for about $270 dollars, although that price has now risen to roughly $500, which is still a steal for flying internationally such a long distance. When travelling, transportation is one of the biggest expenses during any trip, so by flying non-rev you can use those few hundred bucks to prolong your travels or allow you to do more while there. Going non-rev also gives you a great amount of flexibility with your schedule. When you buy a ticket you commit to leaving and returning on certain days and times, and changing this time table usually costs a fee or sometimes is not possible. Especially when backpacking, it is a huge plus to be flexible. Flying non-rev is not without its drawbacks though (as with everything right?). You could not be able to leave the day you expected to, you might get stuck in an airport trying to catch a connecting flight (as in my case), or you might not catch your return flight and be stuck wherever your destination was. When I’ve flown internationally I’ve had to sleep overnight in an airport on more than one occasion because I either wasn’t able to get on one or more flights, or because the early flight the next morning had the most available seats. Sleeping in airports is exhausting, and I’ve had so much practice that I’ve learned a few tricks (but that’s another post!). To sum it up, I do recommend flying non-rev if the option is available to you. Here are a few tips to follow to make the most out of it:
- Make a tentative schedule for the days and times you’d prefer to fly. Then make sure to check availability of those days/times. Even if there are a good number of open seats, ask how many other non-revs are trying to get on that same flight. (Keep in mind that this is just a general guideline. I’ve not gotten on some flights that looked wide open the day before when I checked and I’ve also gotten on flights where I was told there was no chance of catching that flight)
- If you are traveling with someone else, make sure you both have a game plan in case only one seat is available on a flight. Oftentimes one person can go first and there will be another flight to the same destination within a few hours that has available seats the other person can catch up later. Sometimes it’s better to split up and both go at different times than risk the chance that neither of you getting on. (Make sure the other person doesn’t have your passport!)
- Pack light if possible. If you are flying non-rev any bags you check will go to the destination even if you don’t get on the plane. If you have to check bags make sure to have a carry-on with a change of clothes, toiletries, and some entertainment (a deck of cards works great if there are two of you).
- My gf pointed out another one: mindset. It is important to stay flexible, keep your sense of humor and try to find something optimistic about getting stuck one more day…one last caipirinhna? It can be hard to say your goodbyes to a place twice…or to be ready to start a trip only to have your friends or family who dropped you off at the airport pick you up again so you can do a “redo” tomorrow. (At least you can grab those things you forgot to pack…and didn’t realize until you got to the airport).
- If you have a very limited amount of vacation time, or if it is extremely important you show up to your destination by a certain time, it might be worth it to you to buy at least a one-way ticket for peace of mind, you’ll still save money.