I've started seeing commercials for some company doing a kind of "travel roulette" where a traveler is randomly given a destination and their vacation is free if they agree to go right now. Which is pretty cool, but the idea got me thinking...

If someone were to set up a general time slot (say, 2 weeks) and just show up at the airport (US in this case) with only a carry-on bag, is there some way to sort of hang around in a stand-by status and pick up a last-minute stand-by flight really cheap? Basically, not caring about where to go, just wanting to go on some sort of travel "adventure" somewhere in the world? (That is, this is specifically asking about international flights.)

I feel like that used to be possible back in the day, but I don't know much about the rules and regulations these days in US airports aside from just shuffling through like any other traveler. For example, one used to be able to get to the gates without a boarding pass (which I imagine would be the ideal place to grab a last-minute "the doors are closing now and there are still empty seats" ticket), but that's no longer the case.

For anybody who happens to work in or know about the workings of airline travel, is this something that's possible? It occurs to me that, at that last moment when the plane is boarding, any empty seat is essentially lost revenue. So I would think that there should be some way to get into one of those seats at cost plus a moderate fee. Or is this just wishful thinking? Even if it is possible, is it not worth it because getting back home would be cost-prohibitive?


1 Answer 1


For those that haven't see it, I presume what you're referring to is Heineken's Departure Roulette, which whilst a cute concept is really nothing more than advertising.

Over the years some airlines have run "mystery" fares where you would turn up at the airport in the morning, and fly to a (seemingly) random location for the day for a relatively cheap fare. However I haven't seen any such promotions for many years.

The nearest you'll probably find are the close-in fares that some airlines offer on a regular basic, such as United Airlines's Weekly Specials which go up on Monday/Tuesday for travel over the following weekend. The destinations vary week to week depending on how full the flights are.

Otherwise you can use services such as Kayak Explore to keep an eye out for cheap destinations in the near future - although unfortunately Kayak Explorer doesn't allow you to select a specific date, only a month range.

  • Kayak sometimes has a secret carrier option for a flight, but you still know WHERE you're going, just not who the carrier is.
    – Mark Mayo
    Aug 21, 2013 at 5:22

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