Its that familiar sound, your at the airport when over the loud speaker the gate agent announces the flight is overbooked and they are looking for someone who is willing to give up their seat and travel on a later flight. And quicker then you can blink people are offering their seats. What do they know, you don‘t?
They know that overbooking means free trips or cash vouchers. All airlines overbook in anticipation of not all the passengers actually showing up but every now and then they so the airlines ask passengers to voluntarily give up their seats for one on a later flight in exchange for some kind of reward. Sometimes it’s a free ticket, a flight voucher or cash. If you have a flexible schedule you can make out pretty good by giving up your seat and frequent fliers know this so when the announcement starts they jump on it so they can get the first shot at the giveaways. Its referred to as voluntary bumping.
While there are no guarantees you will score any freebies, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances. Before booking your ticket find out which airlines are bumping the most people. Some of the biggest offenders are, in first place Delta Airlines followed by Northwest and US Airways.
Each airline has their own policy for what they will pay out. For example Northwest Airlines will give passengers a $200 travel certificate if they are unconvinced by a couple of hours and $400 for longer layovers. Delta on the other hand usually offer a free round trip ticket regardless of the situation.
Of coarse if the gate agents are having a hard time finding people willing to be bumped they tend to sweeten the deal a bit. One passenger on Northwest airlines was given a $1000 voucher for delaying his return to San Antonio, Texas from Amsterdam by one night in which the airlines picked up the tab for the hotel and provided food vouchers.
If you are looking to be bumped your best bet is to travel during peak travel times. You will have the best chance if you are traveling to a larger city such as Los Angeles or Atlanta. Business destinations are busiest on Monday and Friday evenings while more tourist cities such as Orlando, Florida are busiest on Friday and Saturday’s. Also the last flight of the day is usually full.
Holiday times like Thanksgiving and Christmas have great opportunities for getting bumped and since it’s a special time you may be able to score some really good freebies.
If you are getting bumped make sure you get confirmation for the flight will be taking and always ask for an upgrade. If you will be delayed by 2 or more hours also ask for food vouchers. They may not volunteer them but will usually will give them if asked.
There are a few websites that are great sources of information for people looking to get bumped. A couple of the best sites are bump tracker and flyer talk.
Once you get to your gate at the airport let the gate agent know you are willing to be bumped rather then waiting for them to announce they are looking for volunteers. The airlines often know up to 2 hours ahead of time that they will need to bump someone. You may want to take only carryon luggage otherwise you runt he risk of being separated from it. Sometimes they can pull it off of the plane but is easier if you only have carryon.
Remember to always be calm and polite with the airline agents even if you are being involuntarily bumped. You stand a much better chance of getting some nice compensation if you treat the agent right. They will be more likely to work with you and give you some extras.
Anytime you are bumped to a flight the next day the airlines should pay for your hotel and food. Don’t always jump at the first offer, try to negotiate a better deal but don‘t over negotiate. A lot of people are familiar with bumping and if you ask for too much they will simply find someone else willing to be bumped. Before excepting a free flight voucher as compensation make sure know the flight restrictions, it may not be worth it if there are too many restrictions. Get it on paper, never let them tell you they will take care of it when you reach your destination or it will be mailed to you, get the compensation up front.