Balik Bayan Privilege.
I’ve mentioned before how, at times, this blog almost “writes itself” … often because readers contribute such cogent and informative comments.
How many times do you think I can make a blog article out of the simple question,
“Do I Need an Onward Travel Ticket to Fly to the Philippines as a Balikbayan“?
Spoiler alert, the answer is NO.
Such is the case again after my recent article on “insurance” against being denied board due to not having onward travel from the Philippines.
Spoiler alert, the answer is NO there too, but why bother reading when you just can just drift around and wonder and get all sorts of uninformed answers?
Reader Joe P, who has helped me with true cost of living details and other current information about living here in the Philippines sent me in this great comment about his trials and tribulations regarding the “onward travel” thing.
Joe lives in the US but has a close relative living here in Central Luzon, right in the next town to me … just outside Metro Manila. And unlike many of us, Joe is employed by a major airline, so he has the benefit of flying (almost) for free. But avoiding much of the cost of airline travel doesn’t make air travel between the US and the Philippines a “piece of cake”, as Joe clarifies for us here. Thanks a bunch, Joe.
Yes even us lowly airline employees are being swept up in the current enforcement of the onward travel. Since we don’t PAY for tickets it is standby and NOT in compliance with the current enforcement of the OLD rules.
In other words, Joe’s employee benefit travel is never “confirmed”. When he wants to avail of it, he shows up for a flight and if there is an available seat, he gets on.
Otherwise the airline gives the seat to a regular paying customer and Joe waits for a seat on the next available flight.
This does NOT meet the current rules the government of the Philippines is enforcing so when Joe tries to get on a flight TO the Philippines, he has to be able to prove he has a “paid” … real, confirmed … reservation on an outbound flight … to the USA or to any other country aside from the Philippines.
This is new for us, since as late as November 2011 I was able to fake the system with a standby reservation…alas, those days are over, until they start NOT enforcing this again as they have done on and off the last 12 years.
Yep, this is one of the big issues, annoyances, irritations for non-Filipinos/Former Filipinos reading here. The law has been on the books, but the enforcement has been exceedingly ‘spotty’ and hard to predict.
Just from personal experience …
- In October 2006, my dual citizen (US.Filipino) wife and I traveled to the Philippines to begin our full-time life here. October 2006 to October 2015, (9 years so far and counting. No regrets.). We bought one way tickets on Philippine Airlines (the airline one would expect to know best about Philippines law — not so). They refused to board me, a US citizen, without onward travel, even though my wife showed them our documents and explained that we would be availing of the Balikbayan Privilege Stamp for me. Solution? I bought a refundable $90 USD one way ticket from Manila to Hong Kong on PAL, then they boarded me. Upon arrival in Manila, the Immigration Officer stamped my passport with my one year BB stamp and welcomed me with a smile. No mention of onward travel, of course, since BB Privilege Stamp holders DO NOT REQUIRE onward travel. I then refunded the ticket. The airline was wrong. but hey, no out-of-pocket cost, no harm, no foul.
- So in October 2006, the airline cared, (wrongly) about my onward travel and I bought a refundable ticket in order to board.
During 2007 and 2008 I stayed here in the Philippines on a combination of the BB Privilege Stamp and then I converted it to a Tourist Visa (easily done at any BI office) and stayed through 2008 as a tourist.
- In March 2009, my wife and I bought a RT ticket from Clark, Philippines to Macau. When we showed up to board the return flight at Macau, the Cebu Pacific check-in personnel took us aside and told me that as a US Citizen, they could not board me for the flight back to Clark because I had no “onward travel”. As soon as my wife showed them our marriage certificate and explained we were going to avail of Balikbayan Privilege at Clark, the airline representative said, “Oh, yes, sure, no problem, here is your boarding pass”. Upon arrival at Clark, we asked for the BB stamp from the Immigration Officer, he smile, stamped, and then we smiled too. Good for one year, easy-peasy.
- So in 2009, the airline “cared’ about the requirement and would have refused boarding had I not been ‘legal’ to return without “onward travel”.
- In March, 2010, My wife and I bought RT tickets from Manila to Orlando Florida and back to Manila on Delta Airlines. Getting on board for the flight home to Manila in Florida couldn’t have been easier … we did curbside check-in at MCO (Orlando airport), got boarding passes for all legs of our flight at arrived in Manila, walked up to the Immigration Officer, asked for Balikbayan Privilege stamp for me, and we were walking out with a smile in less than one minute.
- So in 2010, the airline could not have cared less about my onward travel. Nobody asked, nobody cared.
- In September 2012, I bought a RT ticket from Manila to Denver and back to Manila for me, traveling alone. I took the precaution od buying a ticket on Cebu Pacific as mentioned in the preceding article, not knowing if I needed it, but not wanting to lose my chance to fly home. Sure enough, when I went to get my boarding passes in Denver for the flight back, I had to show the paid and confirmed Cebu Pacific ‘outbound’ flight “E ticket” before United would let me fly to the Philippines. Upon landing in Manila I got the normal 30 day “Visa waiver” stamp and was not required to show any onward travel proof … although the Immigration Office did ask how long I was staying.
- So In September 2012 the airline DID care about my onward travel and required proof. I was not “legal” to get a BB Stamp since I was traveling by myself and the airline followed the proper rules exactly. I knew the rules and bought the ticket on Cebu pacific in advance … I could have bought it right there in the Denver airport by going on Cebu Pacfic’s web site .. only takes about 5 minutes. What did I do with the “Show Ticket” that I needed to board in the USA traveling alone and one way? Read on …
- Finally, in October 2012, 19 days into my 30 day Tourist Visa waiver stay, the date I had purchased my Cebu pacific “show ticket for) I bought a RT ticket to Macau for my wife and a one way from Macau back to the Philippines for me and my wife and I flew to Macau. (Remember I was still on a Philippine Tourist Visa., I wanted to get back in the BB program). Upon check-in for our return flight 3 days later, the Cebu Pacific reservations counter personnel never asked about onward travel or Balikbayan status … they just hit ‘print’ for our boarding passes and sent us to the gate. Upon arrival in Clark, we requested Balikbayan Privilege from the Immigration Officer, who smiled, stamped and said “Have a nice year”. Again, easy-peasy.
- So in October 2012, the airline could not have cared less about the “onward Travel” requirement.
- In October 2013 my wife and I purchased RT tickets Manila, Guam, Manila and flew to that lovely, often ignored “piece” of the United States hidden in plain sight in the middle of the Pacific. While checking in for our return flight to Manila, the counter agent at Guam looked very puzzled and started shuffling our reservation papers and passports around in his hand. I asked if there was a problem and the gentleman said, “I’m unsure about your onward travel. I showed him the prior BB stamps in m passport, my wife’s passport and her Philippine Certificate of Citizenship and told him we’d be requesting the BB Stamp upon arrival. “Oh thanks”, he replied, “I just wasn’t seeing your situation right. Here are you boarding passes, have a great trip.”
- So in October, 2013, the airline did care enough to ask about an onward ticket, but handed over the boarding pass when I carefully walked them through the documentation and the process. Again, easy-peasy.
- In September, 2014 my wife and I purchased RT tickets from Clark AB to Macau. We had a great time in Macau, even enjoying and extra 14 hours there due to a typhoon passing through. On the return journey to Clark the airline never asked about onward travel, they could not have cared less. On arrival in Clark the Immigration officer stamped my passport with the requested BB stamp, gave us a big smile and said, “Welcome home.”
- So in September, 2014, the airline did not care enough to ask about an onward ticket. Again, easy-peasy.
- In September, 2015 my wife and I purchased round trip tickets, Manila – Denver Colorado – Manila. Going back to the US for shopping and to attend a wedding. We stayed for a month. In October 2015, when we checked in at the counter n Denver the agent issued our boarding passes and never said a word about onward travel. But we had to change planes in Seattle, and while waiting for our onward flight to Hong Kong and then Manila, the gate agent made an ominous-sounding call. She said “There are 34 passengers on this flight who do not have the words “Docs OK” on their boarding pass. If one of those passengers is you, please approach the podium.’ Well sure enough my wife and I did not have that notation on our passes, so we walked up to the counter and the agent said, “The problem with you two is you have no onward travel from the Philippines showing”. I told her, “Well my wife is a Philippine citizen, so she needs none, and I am going to avail of the Balikbayan Program as her husband..” Showed the agent our marriage certificate and my wife’s “Reacquired Philippine Citizenship” certificate and the friendly agent press said “OK, fine”, hit “print” on her keyboard, and out came new “Docs OK” boarding passes, and on our way we went. At Manila, as has always been the case, the Immigration Officer just looked at our marriage certificate, stamped my passport with a new BB Stamp (good until October 2016) and handed the passport to me. Another year’s worth of stay, done and dusted.
- So in October 2015, the airline cared enough to ask about onward travel. When I showed them we met the requirements for the BB Privilege, they gave us boarding passes and sent us on our way
So there you have Seven BB Privilege trips and seven completely unpredictable results.
Anyone notice any consistency here? Frankly, I do.
My results have been consistently inconsistent.
BUT I NEVER HAD TO PRODUCE AN ONWARD TRAVEL TICKET WHEN TRAVELING WITH MY WIFE AND OUR MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE!
That’s one of the reasons I didn’t really want to get started on this chain of articles in the first place.
I can not predict what anyone else’s experience may be. I can only advise you of what MIGHT happen. What will happen? Nobody can tell you for sure … it hasn’t happened yet.
But, and perhaps Dave has not tried this, if you BUY a ticket on Cebu Pacific you can CANCEL it after you get to the Philippines but prior to 24 hours of the listed departure time and BANK it with Cebu Pacific for later use for up to one year on any domestic or INTL flight on Cebu Pacific..
Indeed, Joe, I did know about this feature. However, you will find the fee to cancel and then bank the ticket usually costs about P1500, more than the cost of the tickets when you buy them cheap. It’s an option, but not a very viable one.
OR as I have done in February 2012 with Cathay, I BOUGHT a full fair non restricted ticket, then cancelled it after I got to the Philippines and got a FULL refund no penalty. it did COST a bit more, upfront and they got to HOLD my money for a few weeks but I got all of it back.
There are several ways to skin the proverbial cats here, and I have some options that normal paying pax don’t but as Dave said…..playing roulette with this gig is only fun when you win, when you lose….you lose big
Last Stop “Insurance”
Indeed something you don’t often get offered but is always available are ‘full fare’ unrestricted tickets.
As Joe points out, the cost is often a ‘shocker’, but one of the features is, they offer the cancellation privilege, so that idea surely is a viable option. In my case, for example, I could do that easily, because traveling to the airline’s office in Manila is not very expensive for me, and normally would only cost me a day or two wasted.
For someone traveling to a distant province, it can easily cost way more than the price of an online throwaway ticket just to get to the office, fill up forms and return home.
But if you charge the “full fare” ticket on a credit card and then request a refund before you current months statement period, it may not even cost one cent … the airline credit might come in the same month and cancel out the ticket charge.
OK folks, there you have over 2300 more words on the ins and outs of the “onward Travel” requirement and the cheapest ways to be “legal”.
Any other questions I can help with? Or are you ready to come here on the Balik Bayan Privilege.