Are you a daredevil? Ever bet against the odds? Then maybe this roulette-like savings strategy is for you.
I call it five risky ways to save on airfare: Take the risks and, if you win, you could save hundreds or even a thousand dollars. Or you could wind up with nothing. Or worse.
Ask yourself: Do I dare?
1. Standby flights:
If you think you can still go to the airport and say, "Give me one of those cheap standby tickets," then hop on a plane, you haven't flown in a while. Most airlines have done away with standby programs, with one exception I'll tell you about shortly.
What killed standby? Capacity cuts, for one. It's hard to find empty seats anymore, so airlines have little incentive to give passengers these kinds of price breaks anymore. But here are three modern standby strategies you can try.
Standby for different departure: You have a confirmed ticket but it's a cheap red-eye and you'd love to get on that earlier (and more expensive) flight. Try standby, but beware: the reason the earlier flight is more expensive is because it's more popular so it's likely full. Plus, today's standby is fee-based; exceptions are made for elite fliers and those who buy pricy "unrestricted" airfare, but most standby fliers fork over a fee ranging from $50 (Southwest) to $75 (American, United).
AirTran U: This is one of the last of the old-school standby programs, but it's limited to travelers aged 18 to 22. And it's not quite a steal: prices vary from $60 to $120 per flight segment, depending on destination. Still, if you're young and have a yen for last-minute travel, this could work for you.
Use an employee pass: Does a friend or family member work for an airline? Maybe you could use their Buddy Pass or whatever name it goes by. These passes aren't free but can provide extremely cheap flights. But because pass-holders are at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to being seated on a plane, it could cost you dearly. Let me tell you a story:
A 29-year-old teacher from central Virginia planned to fly from Richmond to Frankfurt, Germany, last week on a $600 pass from an airline employee friend. She never got there. Oh, she got to JFK alright, but there were no seats on outbound flights to Frankfurt. The gate agent then suggested she head to Detroit, because the Detroit-Frankfurt route was supposedly less crowded. She went and, no seats. The woman spent four days shuttling to airports and racking up $400 in bills for hotels, cabs and meals, with nothing to show for it. "I had to cut my losses," said the woman (who declined to be identified and didn't want to name her legacy carrier) adding, "I wouldn't recommend this to anyone."
2. Look for last-minute weekend specials:
Several airlines including American, Delta, United and US Airways all have regular last-minute weekend-only airfare sales - and US Airways frequently includes international deals that are good for travel for a month or so. Prices for these deals range from cheap to middling, but here's the problem: They're good for "select cities" only, but you just might find something special.
One more place to look: in an airline's Twitter feeds or Facebook pages; these are places where last-minute deep discounting is sometimes found. You won't know if you don't look.