The purchasing of standby flights is an underused resource. Providing the flight you wish to travel on is not fully booked, you will almost always be able to get a standby fare, which can be significantly cheaper. There are a handful of ways you can get cheap standby flights, but the more flexible you are with your travel dates the more likely you are to make a greater saving. Purchasing these cheaper flights means you can direct your travel spending towards the more important areas, rather than paying over the odds for exorbitant air fares.
Determine your desired destination. In order to maximise your chances of getting the cheapest possible standby ticket, make your dates as flexible as possible. For example, you may call an airline and they say that they have a spot open on a flight leaving later that evening -- it is always worth packing your bags in preparation so you can make a quick getaway if necessary.
Contact the airline directly and ask them about their standby flights to your desired destination. Visit an airline contact information database website to quickly find the relevant contact details, or use airline contact listings on an airport's website, such as Heathrow's official site (see Resources). Try as many different airlines as possible - persistence is the key.
Work out alternatives, such as flying to or from a different airport. Standby flights between two smaller airports are often significantly cheaper than trying to find a standby between two major airport for example. Utilise an online airport finder to help you track down the best options (see Resources). Use an online journey planner (see Resources) to work out your journey to/from smaller airports to your final destination.
Go to the airport and enquire at the various airlines' gates about the possibility of getting a standby to your destination. Make sure you arrive at the airport comfortably before the flight you ideally want to get on, as anyone can get a standby ticket and they are sold on a first-come-first-served basis. Be prepared to wait for several hours. Even once you have bought a standby ticket, airlines will only be able to accommodate you on their next flight that has empty seats available.
Listen carefully for your name being called over the airport tannoy. Once you have successfully purchased a standby, it may not yet be clear which flight you will travel on. Often spaces used by standbys only arise very shortly before the flight's departure, so be prepared to board your flight at any moment. Continue to enquire at the gate about the state of your standby and your likelihood of getting on the next flight to stay aware of the situation.
Travel light, taking only hand luggage. As is the sometimes volatile nature of standby flights, it is a possibility that, if you check in luggage, it will end up on a different flight to you.
Be prepared to wait for several hours when pursuing a standby ticket at an airport. Take some supplies, such as food and drink and maybe even a sleeping bag as you may be in for the long haul.