While it may sound like a huge inconvenience, if you have the time, getting bumped off a flight can be a really lucrative business.
In fact, there’s a whole subculture of folks who are hoping for an overbooked flight, playing the system by volunteering their seats in exchange for flight vouchers, upgrades, lounge access and cash, literally financing all of their travels in this way.
Unfortunately, overbooking has become standard practice as airlines need it to post revenue and cancel out no shows (15% of travellers apparently) and latecomers. But instead of getting angry, get paid.
Here’s what to do to get bumped on your terms:
Don’t check luggage if you can avoid it
Not only will it save you time and effort, it will make you more likely to get picked as a volunteer since it’s a pain for agents to retrieve already checked bags.
Get to the gate early
Let crew members know you’re willing to give up your seat should the flight turn out to be overbooked as early as possible (although gate agents usually won’t know if they need volunteers until boarding). You can even drop the hint at check-in.
Sit close to the desk and listen for the announcement asking for volunteers
If other people are in on the bumping game it often becomes a matter of who makes it to the desk first.
Negotiate the same amount of compensation as the last person to volunteer
Airlines often raise compensation incrementally to attract more volunteers as they get more desperate for seats, meaning that the last holdout might get more than the first eager volunteer. However, you can make sure to get their final offer even when volunteering first simply by asking.
Ask for money instead of vouchers
Vouchers often have blackout dates, restrictions, or limited seating, so you’re better off grabbing the cash.
New DOT rules decree that airlines need to pay involuntarily bumped passengers up to $1,300. Obviously airlines want to avoid this at all costs, meaning you can try and negotiate for lounge passes, upgrades and direct flights.
But be cool too
If gate agents see you frothing at the mouth for some compensation, they might try and play hardball right back.
Make sure you get on another flight
Volunteering can be risky business. Make sure you’re not giving up a seat on the last flight out for the day, or, if that’s the case, that you’ll also be getting a hotel room and free meals until then. Oh, and that you’re actually getting re-booked, of course, ideally not on another overbooked flight (although you could try for the elusive double bump for twice the rewards — some people thrive during busy periods, allowing themselves to get bumped multiple times in one day to make some serious money).
Make sure to have a plan B
Sometimes flights seem overbooked, and ask for volunteers, but end up being fine. In that case, if you’ve given up your seat you may actually end up getting rebooked on your original flight, and thus in a dreaded middle seat. Make sure to keep your original boarding pass and seat assignment, or that you are fully rebooked before volunteering your seat.
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