Real Answers from Real Pilots

Travel Benefits

Hello, as I am browsing the forum I noticed there were “travel benefits” that pilots experience in the Airline industry. I am guessing there are great deals on hotels, rental cars etc. Can you tell me more about that?

Harvey,

Generally when we talk travel benefits at the airlines we’re talking about flight benefits. In addition to being able to fly on our own airline we can also “jumpseat” on virtually any carrier ourselves (and get discounted rates for our families). When it comes to hotels, rental cars etc we often do get “crew rates” at the hotels we stay in. There are also travel services that have special offers for crews. That said while there are often good deals, more times than not I’ve been able to do as well with Costco or Orbitz.

Adam

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Thomas,

Bennies can vary from carrier to carrier somewhat but most offer unlimited free travel to the pilot, 1 companion (spouse, significant other), parents and children to age 19 or 23 if they’re still fulltime students on the airline. We’re also given a fixed number of “buddy passes” every year for extended family and friends but there’s a fee to use those. ALL pass travel is standby and that’s the problem with the buddy passes. When it comes to pass travel there’s something called “boarding priority” which is based on your seniority. The problem is buddy passes have the lowest priority of all making them challenging to use. Also keep in mind that anyone traveling on your pass you are responsible for. More than a few pilots have lost ALL their travel benefits by trying to help a friend. The friend gets stuck at the airport for a day or more or gets rowdy on a flight and guess who’s in trouble? Not the friend.

Many airlines do offer reduced fare confirmed seats but they must be booked well in advance and the price while better generally isn’t great.

Adam

At my airline we are able to have our entire immediate family, plus parents travel stand by, free of charge. We can also purchase reduced rate, regular tickets for them.

We do have a buddy bass program, but it is being phased out in favor of better travel benefits for family members.

Just to clarify Chris, by “entire” immediate family you’re including siblings and older children I assume?

James

By immediate family I mean your wife and children under the age of 23. At United there are no benefits for your siblings.

Got it, I didn’t think siblings were ever included but could have been the trade off for no buddy passes, thanks for clarifying.

I’ll let the guys in the industry answer the % question as I’m sure it fluctuated a bit since my airline days but I can answer that you do not have to be working the flight to get the discount.

My father is a CA with American, and our discount is 20% off the base fare. Once you take the 20%, add in the taxes and fees and that is your final cost. At least with AA, this discount can only be used by immediate family (myself, mom, and dad). I will be able to use this discount and my non-revenue travel privileges until I am 24 years old.

Thomas,

At United there are two different discount programs.

The first is free travel on a standby basis. Empty seats are filled with employees and their eligible pass riders on a seniority basis until either all pass riders are accommodated or the airplane is full. There is no cost for this travel, except for any departure taxes from foreign countries.

The second program is discounted regular tickets (not standby). This program is similar to what Jess described, basically it is 20% off. While not a huge discount it is something and these are confirmed seats like anybody else would purchase.

Chris

Thank you Chris, for I forgot to mention about American’s standby benefits.

Our non-revenue travel on American is the same as it is at all other major airlines, however, it is based on check-in time rather than seniority. You must check-in for your flight 24-hours prior to the departure time, down to the second. The priority list for the flight is then generated once you check-in.

Unfortunately, you could be 30-years deep with the airline, and an employee of one year can be ahead of you on the priority list all because they checked in before you. There are also different priorities for standby travel, but I will save those for another day as it can be confusing.

Jess,

American has always had that first come, first serve system, which is “unique” in the industry. I prefer the seniority system myself.

Chris

I feel like travel benefits are the only real advantage that regional guys get over mainline. Here at SkyWest, we get travel benefits on United, Delta, American, Alaska, and ZED fares for about 30 more airlines.

Yarden

Yarden,

First off we have ZED’s too (so there :slight_smile: ). While I agree having bennies with all the Majors is great I am curious how your priority is? When I was at ExpressJet the Continental guys severely outranked us, even on our own metal.

Adam

Adam,

Of course our priority is one tier under mainline on their metal, but there are so many more options to choose from when the fam travels on standby…

Now on SkyWest metal, I am proud to say that my whopping year of seniority has bumped off a good amount of glorious mainline mustaches :slight_smile:

Yarden

Nice! :slight_smile:

Adam

Thomas,

While many airlines have gone after many benefits for pilots (and all employees) over the years the fact is the pilot shortage has worked to our advantage. Like most things in business it often come down to supply and demand. While you’re looking at it as the pilot shortage will cause the airlines to cut back that simply isn’t the case. The fact is demand for air travel is and has been increasing and the consolidation of the airlines while restricting passenger options has strengthened the Majors that remain. The fact is they can’t operate without pilots which is why both United and Delta (and Hawaiian’s latest offering) are some of the best contracts in history and the work rules and benefits have been improving. You are correct since there are fewer carriers sometimes it can be challenging to get a seat but that’s always been the case. With a little creativity I’ve never had an issue and if anything again in some cases it’s gotten better because of deals with other carriers.

Adam

Thomas,

I do not see non revenue travel benefits ever going away, to begin with there would be a mutiny if that ever happened. As to flights being fuller though, there are always ups and downs in load factors. Every winter it gets a little slower and there are more seats available, that is a great time to travel. Certain flights are always more empty than others, typically the first or last flights of the day. No matter what happens with load factors there will always be some flights that are more full than others. I wouldn’t worry too much about this one.

Chris