Following on from my post on airline stopover programs, I wanted to continue to explore more of the unique ways that airlines around the world strive to offer value for customers.
Flight passes are bundles of prepaid flights that are valid within a specific region and for a limited amount of time. Put differently, flight passes are akin to buying flights in bulk. Many airlines around the world offer passes in various forms, each with its own unique benefits and drawbacks.
Whether or not you can benefit from a flight pass depends on how often you travel and the places you travel to. If you are a budget-conscious traveller, the idea of forking out thousands of dollars for speculative travel may be terrifying, as you can often get better deals by watching out for flight sales throughout the year.
On the other hand, if you travel during peak travel periods or often make last-minute bookings, it could be very worthwhile to look into buying a number of flight credits in advance. Similarly, if you plan to do a lot of travel in a short period of time, you may benefit from buying an unlimited flight pass.
Let’s have a look at some flight passes offered in Canada and abroad. If you have used a different flight pass that isn’t on the list, feel free to reach out and we’ll make sure it gets added.
In This Post
Different Types of Flight Passes
Flight passes generally come in two different varieties. Some flight passes offer unlimited travel within a restricted time frame. If you plan on doing a lot of travel within the permitted time frame, these unlimited passes can offer substantial value over buying one-way or multi-city flights.
Unlimited flight passes are best used by maximizing your travel over a short amount of time. If you’re the type of traveler who likes to see as many places as possible when you visit a new country, or if you need to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time for work or play, these passes could be worth looking into.
A more common type of flight pass is purchasing a number of flight credits that are redeemed for travel between specified zones within a specific time frame. Each time you go to book a flight, you use a credit instead of being subject to the currently available fares.
This type of flight pass is typically purchased by someone who often travels back and forth between two areas. Perhaps you’re a snowbird who travels between Toronto and Arizona a handful of times between fall and spring. Maybe your vocation requires you to travel between Vancouver and Toronto to meet clients in person. Or, you might be a student studying in Montreal but based out of Edmonton, and your parents are generous enough to fly you back for holidays and breaks.
Unlimited Flight Passes
We’ll first look at the most notable unlimited flight passes offered around the world, followed by the flight pass programs that operate on a per-credit basis.
Earlier this year, Flair Airlines sold the Go Travel Pass, which offered unlimited travel within its Canadian network between February 13 and May 13, 2020. For $499, passengers could book flights on any day of the week except for Fridays and Sundays and during blackout periods (long weekends and Spring Break). For $699, passengers could travel on any day of the week and had one checked bag per flight.
The pass covered the base fare only, so passengers were still on the hook for the taxes and fees for each flight they booked. For example, a flight between Halifax and Toronto has a base fare of $42.27 and taxes and fees of $46.73. So, a pass-holder would be on the hook for $46.73, which is a very reasonable amount to pay (but adds up with each flight you take).
While I can’t say that I have a particular desire to fly with Flair on a regular basis, I can see this pass offering substantial value to anyone wanting to visit as many places in Canada as possible on their holidays. The pass would definitely help you stretch your travel budget so you could make up for the in-flight experience with a variety of on-the-ground experiences.
Air Canada also offers unlimited flight passes for use in a variety of zones in their domestic and transborder networks. In comparison to Flair’s Go Travel Pass, a similar unlimited pass with Air Canada is many orders of magnitude more expensive, coming in at a whopping $5,028 per month!
(In addition, Air Canada also sells flight passes in the form of credits, which will be covered below.)
If you’re planning a visit to Brazil, Azul Airlines’s Azul Airpass gives you unlimited flights within their domestic network for 10 or 21 days. If you have an international paid ticket on United, TAP, or Azul Airlines to Brazil, you can buy a 10-day Airpass for US$399 (plus booking fees) or a 21-day Airpass for US$499 (plus booking fees). If you fly to Brazil with any other carrier, you can buy an Airpass valid for four flights within a 21-day period for US$499 (plus booking fees).
A quick search for flights within Brazil shows that you can get flights between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo for $20, so if you only plan on visiting Brazil’s major tourist hotspots, then this may not be the best choice for you. Over the course of three weeks, though, you could definitely get your money’s worth by hopping around the surprisingly large country.
Bamboo Aiways, based in Hanoi, Vietnam, is currently offering Bamboo Passes valid in their domestic and international networks. The Bamboo Pass Unlimited gives cardholders unlimited travel for one-, three-, six-, and twelve-month durations for $3,000, $9,000, $14,400, and $25,200 respectively.
Bamboo Airways flies to the Czech Republic, Australia, Indonesia, Los Angeles and San Francisco in the US, most countries in East and Southeast Asia, and extensively within Vietnam. Over the course of a month, I imagine you could squeeze value out of the pass by jet-setting around Vietnam and the world, if it was safe to travel.
VietJet is another discount Vietnamese airline with hubs in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Currently, they are offering two unlimited passes for flights to 45 destinations within Vietnam.
For $536, the Power Pass Sky6 pass gives you unlimited travel within Vietnam until the end of September. Similarly, for $1,012, the Power Pass Sky12 pass extends the period until March 31, 2021. This includes a 15kg checked bag and a 7kg carry-on bag, but you are still on the hook for taxes and fees.
A quick search for flights between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi shows a total round-trip cost of $64 on their lowest fare. Of this, $52 was taxes and fees, so I’m not sure if this particular product is a sensational value (even with the included baggage). I think the value here would come in last-minute bookings or bookings during peak travel periods, which seems to be a common theme with flight passes.
Flight Credit Passes
The more common alternative to paying for “unlimited” travel is to buy flight pass credits. These credits are akin to buying a 10-pack of one-way public transit tickets – you pay for a number of trips in advance, and you usually pay a bit less than what you would have paid if you bought 10 separate one-way journeys.
Flight passes aren’t really of use to the occasional traveller because of their high upfront cost; instead, they are best used for flexibility in last-minute bookings or cancellations, booking during peak-season travel, or travelling back and forth between two regions on a frequent basis.
Air Canada offers a variety of flight passes for travel across Canada, between Canada and the United States, and to many of its international destinations. The price is inclusive of all taxes, fees, and surcharges, so once you’ve purchased a pass, you need not spend a penny more.
The type of flight pass you need depends on where you need to fly and the type of fare from which you’d benefit most. In total, there are 44 different flight passes available, with options in a mid-range economy fare (Flex), a full-fare economy fare (Latitude), or a business class fare. Less expensive fares will be less flexible, may incur fees for changes and cancellations, and are subject to the availability of “M” Flex fares.
For individuals, most passes are sold in packages of 6 or 10 credits. There are also options for businesses ranging from 30 to 200 flight credits. Each one-way flight journey costs 1 credit (even if it consists of multiple flight segments), and booking is done through Air Canada’s dedicated flight pass portal.
Suppose you’re a teacher working in Toronto but whose family lives in Vancouver. You tend to travel in peak periods when you have time away from work over the December holidays, Spring Break in March, long weekends, and during the summer break.
You stumble upon the East West Connector Pass, and you’re weighing out the benefits of purchasing one.
The average price per flight is $577.10 one-way (or $1,154.20 round-trip), and since it’s a Flex ticket, you also earn 2,085 Aeroplan miles per direction and have one free checked bag. Over the December holidays, the current price for a Standard fare ticket is $1,137.32 excluding a checked-bag and earning only 521 Aeroplan miles.
While the difference in price isn’t substantial, you’ll save some money on bags and earn more Aeroplan miles for your trip. If you have eUpgrade credits, you can use them for the Flex fare, but not on the Standard fare. And if the price rises substantially, or if you are booking closer to the date of travel, then because you’ve paid in advance, you will only have paid $577.10 per direction.
Lastly, if you have Altitude status with Air Canada, you can earn additional eUpgrade credits if you purchase a flight pass. To do so, you’ll need to select “eUpgrade credits for eligible flight pass activities” from Bundle 2 of your Altitude Select Privileges.
Toronto-based Porter Airlines sells the Porter Pass. They operate in a very similar way to Air Canada’s – you prepay for a bundle of flight credits, and you have one year from the date of purchase to use them.
Unlike Air Canada, Porter Passes of 20 or more flight credits are transferrable to anyone else. So, a family of five could each have two round-trip flights per year if they had 20 credits at their disposal. For Porter’s destinations in Canada, each flight would cost $272 per person, which isn’t unreasonable for, say, a flight from Toronto to St. John’s.
The Qantas Explorer Pass lets you add a series of domestic flights within Australia to a transpacific booking from Canada or the United States with Qantas or American Airlines.
Adding the domestic flights is easy – just head to the multi-city booking page and sandwich them between your international flights.
Note that the routes are divided into three zones, as shone above, and each zone has an associated fare. If you stick to direct flights between cities, you’ll avoid paying the fare for two different zones.
For example, if you’re in Uluru (Ayers Rock) and you’d like to get to Adelaide, you’ll have to fly through Sydney or Melbourne, thus incurring fares from Zone B (Uluru to Sydney) and Zone A (Sydney to Adelaide). Instead, you could consider flying into Alice Springs, doing a side trip to Uluru, and then continue on to Adelaide. You could also consider incorporating a vehicle relocation into your trip.
Thanks to Hazzan for bringing this pass to our attention in the comments.
British Airways & Other Major Carriers
British Airways’s Flight Pass covers flights between London and European hubs. This can be an alternative to low-cost carriers, whose bare-bones products may be less appealing to those who travel for business or who prefer a certain level of comfort.
Interestingly, the price also changes depending on how far out you’d like to be able to book flights. The farther in advance you purchase, the less you pay per flight. Similarly, the closer in advance you tend to book, the more you pay per flight.
While these passes aren’t really useful for anyone visiting Europe on holidays, if you live in London or any of the hubs to which British Airways flies, and if you need to fly between the two cities often for any reason, this flight pass can save you money without being subjected to travelling on a low-cost carrier.
British Airways’s product is one of many similar flight pass products offered by major airlines across the world, and poring over the details of each airline likely wouldn’t reveal any significant differences.
There are, however, a few interesting regional flight passes that are worth discussing.
If you find yourself on an aspirational trip to the archipelagos of French Polynesia, it would be worthwhile to look into an Air Tahiti Pass. The pass allows you to travel between several or many of the islands at a very reasonable price.
For example, the Bora Bora pass allows you to visit Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora, and Maupiti for either $625 (lower fare, less baggage allowance, less flexibility) or $807 (higher fare, more baggage allowance, more flexibility).
Anyone headed to Bora Bora would have to book an international flight to Tahiti before taking a separate domestic Air Tahiti flight to Bora Bora. And since Air Tahiti is the sole operator of domestic flights in French Polynesia, they charge a significant premium on this 50-minute route: fares are usually around $583 round-trip per person.
Therefore, by going with a flight pass starting at $625, you can add an additional four destinations to your French Polynesian trip for only a few dollars more, which can offer incredible value.
Each pass is valid for travel within 28 days, and your journey must begin and end in either Tahiti or Moorea. You can only visit each destination once, although stopovers of less than 24 hours in hubs are allowed. You’ll need to plan your trip according to Air Tahiti’s flight schedule, so make sure you’ve planned that out in advance.
Similar to the Air Tahiti Pass is the Caribbean Airlines Explorer Pass. The airline operates flights between Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Tobago, and Trinidad.
The Explorer Pass allows you to hop between three or more islands over the course of 21 days, although the fares don’t include taxes and fees for each flight segment.
While most people who travel to the Caribbean likely visit only one island, the Explorer Pass could give you the option to experience a few different islands on one trip.
I’ve long wanted to island hop around the Caribbean, and this pass seems like a reasonably affordable way to do so, especially if combined with the possibility of redeeming Avios on select British Airways fifth-freedom flights (like Antigua–St. Kitts).
At a time when the vast majority of passengers and planes around the world remain grounded, the idea of regularly flying across the country for business or pleasure remains far-fetched for now. As soon as it becomes possible to fly again, I’m sure many of you (myself included) would like nothing more than to hop on any plane for the sole purpose of being in the clouds en route to anywhere.
While the future of frequent flying remains unsure for the time being, flight passes may be worth your consideration if you plan on spending a lot of time in one area or if you frequently travel back and forth between two areas. For those who speculate that the future cost of air travel will substantially increase, flight passes may be a way to secure relatively affordable air travel when it becomes possible to fly again.
I’d be curious to hear from those of you who use flight passes for business or personal travel. Have you monitored the cost of flights to calculate if flight passes are worth the price tag? Are there any other airlines that have interesting flight passes? Feel free to leave a comment below.