If you’re a top-tier frequent flyer, benefits like priority check-in and airport lounge access will be second nature to you. But when it comes to the oneworld Alliance, there’s another perk on the cards – and one that’s not as widely known. That privilege is oneworld’s priority standby. But how does it work when there are no seats on the flight you want?

As it happens, I recently experienced this benefit first-hand. It wasn’t planned or intentional. But for me, it ended up saving the day. Here’s how events unfolded on a recent oneworld journey and how ‘priority standby’ became my favourite frequent flyer perk – for that day, at least.

Priority standby on oneworld flights: when it’s helpful

There are many reasons why travellers might want to move onto an earlier flight. To get home sooner when a meeting finishes early. To fly earlier and make a meeting. Or, in my case, to catch a connecting flight on a separate ticket, when the first flight of my journey is delayed.

I’ll be the first to admit that booking connecting flights on two different tickets isn’t the greatest idea. If you keep all flights on one itinerary, it’s the airline’s problem to get you where you need to go if there’s a disruption. But in my case, travelling on separate tickets was unavoidable. And it meant travelling at my own risk in the event of delays.

I’d booked two flights – both on points. One from London to Paris with British Airways, secured using Qantas Points. Then an onward flight from Paris to Singapore with Singapore Airlines, booked using Velocity Points. This was a strategic move on my part, primarily to avoid the UK’s hefty Air Passenger Duty (APD) that would have been payable if I’d flown straight out of London.

It was a great plan, saving hundreds of dollars. But then, drama struck. Just as I was hopping onto the Tube bound for Heathrow, a dreaded text popped up from BA. Flight cancelled, thanks to air traffic control disruptions. I’d been rebooked onto a later flight… but one that’d have me literally running to make my connection. Even if that flight were on time, it’d be tight. By the time I get my bag, get through passport control, change terminals in Paris… I might just make the cut-off – by five minutes if I’m lucky.

Clearly, I’m in a pickle. But then, I remember a benefit that I’ve not had a reason to use before. Priority standby.

How to use oneworld priority standby

I already have a booking – on a flight that’s been disrupted. As a frequent traveller, I know that this gives airport staff more leeway in changing flights and getting things sorted. But to make my connection, I need to achieve the impossible. I need a seat on an earlier BA flight – when every flight is full. Hello, priority standby. It’s your time to shine.

I do a quick search via ExpertFlyer on my way to the airport, and I notice that the earlier flight is already full. But a thought crosses my mind. What if I ask to fly standby and keep my fingers crossed that somebody else doesn’t show up?

Thanks to my oneworld Emerald status, I can check in at British Airways’ private First Wing. This is manned by BA’s most experienced staff – and it means talking to a person, not clicking buttons on a kiosk. I ask if they can add me to the standby list for an earlier flight to Paris. It takes a while and takes two staff members to make things happen, but we’re off to a good start.

I get two boarding passes – one for the later flight I’d been bumped onto, given the disruptions. And another without a seat assignment for the earlier flight I’m eyeing off. I wander through to BA’s Galleries First Lounge – another benefit of oneworld Emerald status – and settle in, keeping my fingers crossed.

Standby for a oneworld flight with status
With oneworld priority standby, I keep a confirmed seat on my original flight while being on the list for an earlier flight.

I’m given time to visit the service desk. Nope, the flight is still full. They advise me to come back when check-in closes. Still full. But they suggest I try again in 20 minutes once missed flight connections have been processed. Will I get a seat – and if I do, will my bag make it? I’m nervous.

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When oneworld priority standby saves the day

While chatting with the staff, I learn that I’m one of six people on standby for this earlier flight to Paris. But they also share that thanks to my oneworld Emerald (Qantas Platinum) status, I’m at the top of the standby list.

In other words, if a seat becomes available, it’ll be mine for the taking before it’s offered to anybody else. There are other oneworld Sapphire and Ruby members on the list. But as an Emerald frequent flyer, I get priority. That’s true even though I paid only AU$42.12 in real money for my original flight, having covered the fare using Qantas Points.

As it happens, there ends up being one seat unoccupied after all missed connections are processed. And being at the top of the list means that seat is mine. It’s a middle seat, right down the back. But I don’t care. It’s this or missing a connection on a flight on a separate ticket. I tell you what, I’ve never been happier to fly in a middle seat!

Using oneworld priority standby to get a last-minute seat on a sold-out flight.
I manage to secure a firm seat on a sold-out flight. My onward connection is safe!

Credit where credit is due – BA even manages to get my suitcase onto the earlier flight. And without replacing the original baggage tag (it still has the ‘old’ flight on it when it arrives on the belt in Paris). Colour me impressed.

Ultimately, thanks to oneworld Emerald, I was able to achieve the impossible – getting a seat on a sold-out flight. This meant I’d have enough time to check-in again for my connecting flight on a separate ticket. The perks of Emerald really served me well today.

The elephant in the room…

Before you start writing comments, yes, I know. If everything were on the same ticket, the delay wouldn’t matter. It’d be up to the airlines to accommodate me. But I booked using points – and across different airlines and programs, too. It literally wasn’t possible to book these flights together.

I’d allowed five hours between flights in case of any delays. In future, I think I’ll allow even more time if I have to do the same thing again. But I got there in the end. And by the time I got through the rigmarole in Paris, I waltzed up to Singapore Airlines check-in about 10 minutes before it opened. In the end, it was perfect.

I knew the risks, but it all worked out. I made my flight to Paris, and I couldn’t have been happier. To be honest, I’d flown BA First just a few months prior, and I was just as happy to board my middle seat to Paris as I was to waltz into row one bound for JFK.

It’s fair to say that any airline can be good under the right circumstances. But some of my better and more memorable travel experiences are from when things go wrong, and an airline makes them right. That’s certainly the case here. And to think that all of this was possible while booked on an Economy flight using Qantas Points. A flight that costs less in actual pounds than a standard single trip fare to the airport itself on the Heathrow Express.

Because of status, my booking type was irrelevant. I was a oneworld Emerald member with a disrupted flight to Paris, and that’s all that mattered. I may have had to sweat it out in the lounge – but ultimately, I achieved the impossible. And that’s what matters most and what I’ll remember about the flight.

Summing up

Travel disruptions can strike anywhere and at any time. In this case, it was an issue with air traffic control – one of those largely ‘unavoidable’ issues. But thanks to my oneworld Emerald status – and that lesser-known benefit, priority standby – a day of disruption didn’t get in the way of my travel plans.

It’s a perk that relatively few travellers seem to actually call upon. Most will instead be relaxing within the comforts of oneworld’s various First Class lounges and claiming this as their favourite benefit. But when you need it, it’s a phenomenal reward for your loyalty.

Grabbing a middle seat to Paris doesn’t sound particularly glamorous. But when securing a seat on a sold-out flight is the ticket to getting your journey back on track, it’s better than any First Class lounge. And given that oneworld Emerald members fly more than most, benefits like this can really turn a horrible day of travel disruptions into moments of bliss and happiness.

On a normal day, I’d prefer the lounge. But when things go pear-shaped, being able to get where you need to be trumps having a nice seat at the airport, watching everybody else take off.

Also read: British Airways Galleries First Lounge, London Heathrow T5 South

Feature image courtesy of British Airways. Chris Chamberlin travelled at his own expense using Qantas Points.

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My experience with oneworld’s little-known status perk, priority standby was last modified: January 31st, 2024 by Chris Chamberlin