Five Golden Rules to Standby Travel

Upon reading an article about a family of four that got stranded for six days in Salt Lake City International Airport, I realized that many who utilize the standby benefits of airline travel do not have a deep understanding of how this often complicated system works. Reading this I was inspired to come up with a clear set of guidelines and tips to help novices and veterans alike.  Happy travels!

1. Always have a back up plan: Whether this entails different cities, different days, or even different modes of transportation, always ALWAYS leave yourself a backup plan.  If JFK is full, take a cab to LaGuardia; if the flights are bad to one tropical caribbean locale, switch it up and try for an Atlantic getaway, but always leave yourself an out.  ZED Passes can really help here as well.

2. Travel on off days whenever possible: While there are exceptions based on holidays and seasons, the days that boast the fullest flights are Fridays, Sundays, and Mondays. Business travelers often travel at the beginning and end of the week, and leisure travelers often pick Fridays and Sundays to maximize their weekend time away.  Tuesday is often the most open day to travel, with Saturday and Wednesday close seconds.

3. Come prepared to get stuck: Sometimes the worst does happen, and it pays to be prepared for that eventuality. G.K. Chesterton said that an inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered and I couldn’t agree more.  As long as you are prepared for a prolonged stay, you won’t let a cancellation or a full flight ruin your vacation.

4. When traveling internationally, pick a gateway city to get back from based on your airline: This one requires some explanation.  Let’s say I want to travel from Atlanta to Kiev, Ukraine using benefits on Delta Airlines.  Since Delta does not serve Kiev, I would have to purchase ZED Passes on another airline.  The possible routes are endless, but the backup plan should revolve around one city: Amsterdam.  Amsterdam is Delta’s gateway city for Europe and Africa.  For Asia, it’s Tokyo Narita.  When coming back from the other side of the world, it pays to cross the oceans first and worry about getting back to your specific city later. Delta has flights to over 8 U.S. cities from Amsterdam, so once you get to Amsterdam you can almost always get out.  It may not be direct to where you want to go, but at least you’ll be in the right continent.

5. ZED Passes are your friend: ZED Passes (Zonal Employee Discounts) have revolutionized the world of standby travel.  By allowing standby travel on virtually any airline, the world is truly yours to explore.  Whether it’s LAN Chile to Easter Island or Emirates to Nairobi, ZED Passes allow you to access places around the globe that your airline doesn’t serve.  There is a fee to buy the passes, but it is usually more than reasonable and is always fully refundable so there is no penalty for not using them.  They are also valid by city pair and not by date, so they can be as flexible as you need them to!

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