Non rev flying may seem intimidating at first, but the ability to fly wherever whenever for basically free makes learning the ins and outs of non rev flying incredibly worthwhile.
Whether you’re a non-rev newbie or a seasoned standby flier, these non rev flying tips will make your free-flight experiences a lot less stressful.
Let’s start with the basics.
What Does It Mean To Fly Non-Rev?
To fly non-rev means to use airline employee benefits to fly on an airline for free or a discounted rate. “Non rev” literally stands for “non-revenue passenger.”
Non-rev passengers are given open seats that are left after all of the paying passengers have boarded. This means you won’t be cleared for your flight until you’re at your gate ready to board.
This also means when you fly non rev, you will not be given a boarding pass until you’re boarding at the gate. Instead, you’re given a “security document” to pass through security.
We’ll discuss this more later.
How Do You Get A Non-Rev Flight?
To get a non-rev flight, you have to either work for an airline, be an immediate family member of someone who works for an airline, or know someone who works for an airline and has access to buddy passes.
If you don’t work for an airline or aren’t related to someone who does, your only way to get a non-rev flight is through a buddy pass.
Airline employees are given a small number of buddy passes for non-immediate-family members and friends. The number of buddy passes can be based on the hours they’ve worked or given on a quarterly basis.
Although buddy passes are an amazing employee perk, refrain from asking airline employees for buddy passes unless you’re really close with the employee. The airline employees often earn the buddy passes, and they have to pay income tax on them. Buddy passes aren’t totally “free” for the employees.
Now, here are 10 non rev flying tips to make your trip as easy as possible.
1. Go Into Non Rev Flying With An Open Mind
Once you actually have and are planning to use a non rev ticket, adaptability is essential.
Unfortunately, sometimes the flight you’re trying to catch is full, which means you have to wait until the next flight to your desired destination or fly through a different city.
When this happens, you can either check the next flight loads online if you have access to help decide which flight you should try to catch next (pilots and airline employees should always have access).
Otherwise, ask a gate agent what the next best non-rev flight to try would be. Gate agents have access to flight loads and can tell you exactly how many seats are open on the next flight — or that the next flight is full.
Either way, there’s no need to panic. You just might not reach your final destination until later.
2. Take Early And Red-Eye Flights
Luckily, one way to avoid full flights is to try non rev flying on red-eye flights and flights that take off early in the morning.
No, this isn’t convenient. But, remember, you are flying for free!
Plus, you’re more likely to reach your final destination earlier in the day, which means more time to spend at said destination.
3. Check Flight Loads The Night Before If Possible
Again, if you have access to check flight loads, check flight loads the week leading up to and the night before your desired non-rev flight.
That way, if the flight filled up that day — and it might have — you can adjust your schedule accordingly and prevent sitting in the airport flightless for hours.
It may surprise you, but flights are booked the day before or even the same day of the flight. Not everyone books flights in advance (business people, for example), and if a previous flight was cancelled, the paying passengers will be put on the next flight as priority standby passengers.
4. Print Your Security Document
Moving on, when you’re physically inside the airport, you’ll first want to check in and print your security document.
When you reserved your non-rev spot online, you received a confirmation code, likely via email, just like you would if you purchased paid flight tickets. You’ll use this same confirmation code to print your security document at a self check-in kiosk.
If the airline doesn’t have self check-in kiosks available, the employee that the check-in counter will be able to access your reservation and print your security document with your name and ID.
You can also check in and print your security document at home prior (typically 24 hours prior) to bypass airline check-in altogether.
5. Don’t Check Bags While Non Rev Flying
Furthermore, whereas you would typically check baggage right at check-in, you should actually reconsider traveling with checked baggage when non rev flying.
Why? Because if the tagged flight books up and you don’t get on the flight, your bag may end up at its destination without you. Obviously, this gets even messier when dealing with connecting flights, non-direct flights, etc.
To help maximize your carry-on packing, I have an entire personal item packing list here to guide you.
6. Check In With The Gate Agent As Soon As You Can
Next, once you’re through security and have found your flight gate, check in with the gate agent as soon as you can.
Some airlines have non-rev rules for when you can check with the agent. For instance, Southwest Airlines had a rule where non-rev passengers couldn’t check with the gate agent until one hour before take-off. Regardless, you’re going to want to check in with the gate agent as soon as possible.
Here’s what to say when you check with the gate agents: “I’m trying to non-rev to [destination], and I was wondering how full the flight is looking.” The agent will then either tell you:
- The flight is full.
- The flight is empty, so I’ll print your boarding pass now.
- There are a few seats open, but you should be able to board. Come back to me in X minutes.
- There are a few seats open, but you should be able to board. I’ll call you over closer to take-off.
Know that you may not get a boarding pass until minutes before take-off. There have been times where I’ve literally ran through the jet bridge onto the plane as the flight attendants where closing the plane door.
Also, always have your party’s security documents and IDs readily available, as the gate agents may ask for them before printing your actual boarding passes.
7. Dress For The Occasion
Moreover, the majority of airlines have a dress code for non-rev passengers.
As a non-rev passenger, you are representing the airline. Thus, most dress codes involve business casual or dressy attire. Some airlines, like Southwest Airlines, have more relaxed dress codes (no flip-flops, no sweatpants, no leggings, etc.).
It’s important to know your airline’s non-rev dress code because dressing against the rules can make your standby chances harder. If you don’t abide by the rules, you may not be allowed to board. Additionally, the airline employee that you’re representing may be reprimanded for your disobedience.
8. Talk To The Flight Attendants If You’re Flying With Young Kids
In addition, it’s important to know that because you’re essentially getting the leftover open plane seats, the people in your party will, more often than not, not get seats together on the plane.
Again, this is not ideal, but you are flying for free.
If you’re non rev flying with young kids, let the flight attendants know. They will usually try to switch other passengers around to get you at least two or three seats together.
No one wants unhappy kids on a plane, including the flight attendants and other passengers.
9. Fly During Off-Season
Ultimately, the best way to avoid all the problems that come with non rev flying is to fly when normal people aren’t flying: during off-seasons.
Typically, avoid spring and winter breaks, holidays, long weekends, and weekends. Mid-week flights are usually more open than weekend flights.
We’ve found the best times of year to non rev are around the first few weeks of the fall and spring school semesters.
10. Use Last-Minute Hotel Booking Sites Like Hotwire
Similarly, it’s always a little risky to book hotel rooms early in advance when non rev flying.
While this definitely puts a damper on trip planning, it’s worse to pay for a nonrefundable hotel and not get on a flight to the hotel because the flights are full.
Therefore, I almost always use last-minute hotel booking sites to book accommodations when non rev flying. My favorite booking site, by far, is Hotwire.
In general, hotel deals on Hotwire get cheaper closer to your trip date, which is perfect for non rev flying as you have a better sense of flight loads (and, thus, whether you’ll get on the flight) closer to your trip date.
Can A Non-Rev Fly First Class?
Finally, while it is possible to be upgraded to first class as a non-rev passenger, it is very rare. First-class upgrades are typically reserved for revenue customers who have loyalty status with the airline.
As much as I would love to fly first class for free as a non-rev, it makes sense that the upgrades go to paying customers.
Have any more questions about non rev flying? Leave a reply below or message me on Instagram. I am here to help!
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