Here we’ll take a look at some of the most common travel benefits for airline pilots. It’s a hugely popular question, and is seen as one of the main perks of the job. Known as staff travel, pilots have access to a wealth of cut-price travel options, and an entire industry within an industry has formed around it.
So, do pilots get free flights? The answer to this question is a little complicated. There are numerous benefits that come with being an airline pilot, but you might be surprised to hear that free flights are not always one of them.
However, some airlines do give their pilots free flights — known as concessions — and even for the airlines that don’t, there are still plenty of ways that pilots can save money on air travel!
We will cover the types of discounted tickets that airline pilots receive. Then, take a closer look at questions such as who gets access to the benefits? How many free tickets do pilots get? And, what other ticket types are there that allow pilots to save money on air travel.
One of the benefits that airline pilots receive is discounted standby tickets. This means that they can often get on a flight for a fraction of the cost of a regular ticket. This is a great perk for last-minute travel, and it can save pilots a lot of money.
Decades ago, standby tickets used to be free for pilots, flight attendants and most airline staff — but times are changing! In most cases, pilots don’t get standby flights completely free, they normally have to pay the cost of the tax on the seat.
There are a few things to keep in mind when using standby tickets.
Another benefit that airline pilots receive is discounted rates on normal airfares. Known in the industry as full fare — or commercial — tickets, these are identical tickets with the same guaranteed seat and travel assurances as normal passengers book.
The only difference in booking these discounted tickets is the way they are accessed. Many airlines offer a separate internal booking website — only available to airline staff — that pilots can use to book these discounted rates. This means that pilots among other staff often save money on flights, without the hassle of flying standby.
Some airlines offer a flat discount rate for staff groups. For example, staff may be grouped into tiers by their rank and role in the airline, with tier one offering 20% off, tier 2 offering 25% off and tier three offering 30% off etc.
Equally, some airlines use the same pricing structure that affects normal fares. With the revenue pricing system, lowering fares for empty flights and raising them for busy flights, but then applying an additional staff discount on top.
Top tip: Standby flights are normally completely free or a small amount, but they always involve paying the government tax for that seat. For many shorter flights, government taxes can make up to half of the fare. As a result, sometimes the discounted commercial flights available to pilots end up cheaper than standby flights.
Completely free flights for pilots
There are still normally two ways that pilots can get completely free flights.
- Travelling in uniform — known as positioning or commuter flights
- Annual flight tickets, known as concessions
It’s no surprise to find out that working as a commercial airline pilot involves a lot of travel! However, many people don’t really quite how much of a lottery where pilots end up being based actually is. It can involve having to move across the country — or even continent — at the drop of a hat, as airlines decide they need more pilots at base X or Y.
For this reason, many pilots end up commuting large distances to work. While this practise has reduced lately, most airlines still offer free or nearly free flights for pilots that are travelling to and from work.
There are two cautions — you have to be wearing uniform, and normally are required to sit on a cabin or cockpit jumpseat. Jumpseats usually come with their set of rules and etiquette too!
Annual free tickets
The holy grail of airline perks!
After a certain period of time, pilots at some carriers often receive annual concessions — completely free tickets.
Who gets to travel — Do pilots get free flights for their family?
One of the most commonly asked questions about airline pilot benefits is, who gets to use them? Do pilots get free flights for their family? The answer to this question is normally yes, but only for immediate family. E.g a partner and any kids.
Hopefully, this blog post has answered some of your questions about airline pilot travel benefits. While it may seem complicated, surprisingly, this is only a high-level overview — there are a myriad of additional rules and regulations that apply to pilots travelling on reduced price tickets! (Briefly summarised as — more stripes, more chance of getting on!)
So, do pilots get free flights? Yes, but the specifics really depends on the airline and the individual benefits that they offer. However, in most cases, only the pilot and their immediate family members (their partner and kids) can fly completely free.
Discounted flights? That’s another matter. While there are some airlines that give their pilots free flights, virtually all pilots receive discounted tickets.
While it has its difficulties, staff travel is still hugely beneficial for airline pilots and their families. In the industry it can be associated with last-minute dashes through airports, missing flights, and upset children. Despite this, virtually all pilots agree on one thing. When staff travel works, it’s great. It is a benefit that allows some pilots to travel the world in a way their salary alone would never allow them to.