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Are Standby Fares Too Good to Be True?

Dear Jessica,

Air ticket change fees are so cost prohibitive. We were looking at changing two December tickets on Delta and it would cost $700 on top of what we already paid. Someone told me instead to wait until the day we leave and call the airline three hours before the flight leaves to fly standby. That way it will only be $60 each. Would you comment on how this works on different airlines? It seems too good to be true.


Dear S.S.,

Same-day flight changes are possible on many airlines, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get the flight you want. With airlines slashing flights left and right to save money, there are fewer seats available for [[Standby | standby]] travelers.

Let’s talk about Delta first since that’s the airline you’re flying in December. Delta’s Same-Day Confirmed Travel option will allow you to change your flight time on the same day of travel for $50, provided the new flight is confirmed within three hours of your scheduled departure time. The same-day option is available for travel within the U.S., and to Canada, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Most of the major low-fare and legacy airlines offer confirmed standby for a fee (like Delta’s program), free standby (in which seats may or may not open up), or both. One notable exception is Southwest. The low-fare king does not offer standby on its cheapest Web Special fares; instead, if you make a same-day change on Southwest, you must pay the difference between the price you paid and the walk-up fare, which can be a hefty amount. Southwest allows free same-day flight changes on its more expensive Business Select and Anytime fares, however.

Cheap same-day flight changes can be a great deal, if seats are available. If your December flight is close to Christmas or New Year’s Eve, you may have trouble finding two open seats on an earlier (or later) flight. Airlines have cut hundreds of flights in attempts to save money, so planes will likely be jam-packed for travel during the holidays this year.

Standby is worth the risk if you’re just looking to arrive to your destination a few hours early or a little late. But if you must be somewhere at a specific time, you shouldn’t rely on a standby seat opening up on your preferred flight. And every airline’s policy is different, so you should carefully read your airline’s rules before you attempt to make a same-day flight change. (Rules can easily be found on your airline’s website. Just type “standby” into the search bar.)

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