How To Get Bumped Off Your Flight On Purpose

Well, Friday was a interesting day. An accident on the freeway almost keeps us from making it to the airport on time, and then when we do get there we are almost bumped off our flight for $600.

Did you know that airlines regularly overbook their flights on purpose? It’s all a numbers game, and perfectly legal. They know that statistically a certain percentage of people will not show up on time. The result is that every so often, everyone will show up on time and they will have to to bump passengers onto later flights. By law, they must compensate you if they do this, and they also ask for volunteers before forcing anyone to be bumped. You usually get about $200-$400 credit or a free flight voucher, in addition to a confirmed seat on a later flight. They don’t mind; Extra passengers are really cheap for them, as they simply take up seats that would be empty otherwise.

The key is to getting bumped is to get on their “bump list” first:

  1. First, decide if you’re willing to get bumped, or book an flight earlier in the day. If this is the last flight to your daughter’s wedding, maybe skip it this time :)
  2. If you’re ambitious, you can either call ahead or check online to see if there are any more seats left. If the only seats left are at the full-fare (outrageous) price, that means it’s full or nearly full. (They almost always sell tickets at the full price, it’s cheaper just to bump someone else and pocket the difference!)
  3. Then, when you check in, go for the human instead of the kiosk and confirm that the flight is full. If so, asked to be put on the “bump list”. Sometimes, you’ll have to wait and do it at the gate. They’ll be happy to do so, this way they don’t have to fish for volunteers and potentially have to bump somebody involuntarily (which they can). I am usually in the lines anyways to ask for an exit row seat (I have long legs), so it’s just part of my travel routine.
  4. Do it as soon as you get there, don’t wait for them to ask for volunteers!

We were called off the bump list this time, and offered $300 in airline credit each. Sometimes you can haggle for more, but we didn’t this time. In the end, there were just enough no-shows so that no bumps were needed. So close! Hopefully this can help someone on the way back home from the holidays.

Comments

  1. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  2. So this has nothing to do with *when* you check in, right? Just when you get here, ask to be put on the bump list?

    I have to admit, I’d be all about getting bumped for free money! In college, I had the opportunity a number of times but never took (usually timing was tight). Plus, I guess my parents paid my airfare! =P

    Would it be wrong to admit I was hoping to bumped last Thursday? I wasn’t… =(

    Jonathan, what do you think on this? I have a flight back home on Friday. I wouldn’t mind going back Wednsday though. I am hoping I might be able to change my flight for ~$50. Maybe I can change my flight to a “likely to be overbooked” flight? Pay $50 to change the ticket… then get $300 to take a flight half a day later? Then I get ~$250 and still get home earlier than Friday? That’d be slick, huh?

  3. The answer to this question might be obvious to people who fly a lot, but I thought of it while reading your post: Is the credit or voucher extra, in addition to the airline rescheduling your flight, or are you expected to use that voucher or credit to make up the flight from which you got bumped?

  4. Well, the earlier you arrive the earlier you can get on the list. But given than often you have to go to the gate to get on the list, and that agents only go to the gate less than an hour before departure, it may not be worth arriving too early.

    It’s always a risk, I wouldn’t pay for just a chance at being bumped.

    Yes, the voucher is in addition to a confirmed seat on a later flight. If you’re lucky, you could get bumped off the next flight too! I’ve never gotten a double-bump before.

  5. u guys are like homeless people.

  6. You must find out if they are offering you a CONFIRMED seat on the later flight when they bump you! This is key!

    I’ve gotten the double bump offer, it was sweet. Hong Kong to LAX on United. We negotiated for less cash up front, in order to got get a hotel room. Other people negotiated for first class upgrade, not sure if they got cash on top of that or not.

    This post reminds me of a guy I knew in college who would pour over the flight schedules (those thick paper brochures you can find in airports) to route his flight through hubs that were “most likely to be bumped” in the holidays. And then he plotted his “alternate routes” as well.

    One sort of related idea is to book a cheap flight on days that aren’t optimal for traveling, but then show up at the airport (earlier, even days earlier) and see if they will let you fly standby. Worked for me once… barely. Lots of full flights these days!

  7. Jon, so let me get this straight. Do you purposly book flights that are almost sold out and pay the ‘outrageous’ price hoping that you get bumped?

  8. No, the full price is only for seeing if the flight is full. The whole idea is a full fare is more expensive than the voucher they offer, so it’s profitable for the *airline* no matter what.

    I just book flights like everyone else, looking for the best fares for the times I want. I don’t book on busy days on purpose, and I hate stopovers. Actually, I hate flying in general. This is just something to do when you check in. Most of the time they aren’t even full for me.

  9. My wife and I once volunteered to get bumped to the next day in Atlanta on our way to Germany. We were flexible and it meant we could spend the entire day in Atlanta since the flight was in the evening. We both got a $750 flight credit each, confirmed seats for next day, free hotel stay at the Sheraton and a $50 meal voucher. It was like a mini vacation! We did a sight-seeing tour in ATL: CNN, Coca Cola, the Underground…. it was worth it. That was 5 years ago.

  10. I have a friend who got bumped. The airline gave him vouchers for three round trips.

  11. I’m pretty much never going to volunteer to be bumped again. Last time I did it with US(eless) Airways they gave me a real run-around trying to redeem the ticket. They (and most airlines) treat the free ticket like a frequent flyer mile award ticket so you can only get certain seats on unpopular flights. If you want to fly to the west coast in the summer forget about using your free voucher (Jim at Blueprint will personally back me up on this). I tried to use the voucher 3 or 4 separate times and finally had to settle with my mom using it to help move my brother to Syracuse NY. Like I said, getting the voucher is not the hassle – redeeming can be a royal pain.

  12. perhaps the only time a financial blunder worked in my favor was when i was bumped on american airlines to take a flight 30 minutes later for a $150 voucher. they made a mistake and added an extra zero…so my voucher was good for $1500. i flew free for years.

  13. I’ve used a voucher I got from AA before but did not end up saving that much after having to use their airline to book my flight as their prices are sometimes extremely overpriced. The voucher price never really equals how much the ticket costs!! ie. I get a voucher for $200 from my flight from LA to Tulsa, OK…that price is impossible for me to get that price buying straight from the airline. Prices can range from 250 (if im lucky and not flying out near a holiday) to over 400 easy if i am booking through AA. Versus if i booked through sidestep or kayak i can get much cheaper prices consistently in the low 200s.

  14. Wait until you try to use the voucher… the class of tickets you can spend that voucher on is extremely limited.

  15. I guess I had luck then with my vouchers. I usually fly Delta out of Austin, we fly a lot to Germany and NYC, they often beat JetBlue or are at least on par with them. I usually look on kayak.com and sidestep, just to find delta.com to be one of the cheapest websites to book my Delta flights. Not sure if that’s a Delta thing…
    Anyways, they never gave me trouble redeeming my vouchers, which were 2 so fare. One time the $750 one when I booked another Germany flight ($800 ticket during Christmas time), or another $100 voucher for a flight to NYC. Ticket price was $250 roundtrip before voucher, beat that JetBlue!
    Never heard of a voucher being only valid for certain ticket classes, it usually counts like a gift certificate. Maybe it works differently for other airlines.

  16. My ex-girlfriend and I used to travel every Thanksgiving week. That is a great time to get bumped! We typically held out for more ‘money’ on the vouchers. The airline would usually start asking for volunteers and offer $200 vouchers. Then they would go up to $300 and even $400. We would often get 1st class upgrades on the next avaiable flight or at least some leg of the departure or arrival flight. We were even put up in the Marriott in Mexico City. Plus you normally get meal vouchers and drink coupons. We practically flew from Baltimore to Puerto Villarta, Mexico free every year! We would either arrive just a few hours later than planned or early the next morning.

  17. Back when I was a mild mannered teen I was more or less in-voluntarily bumped from a flight… the flight they put me on instead was w/ a different carrier that left a bit earlier and they had me run through the airport to get to the gate in time. I didn’t mind because it was a smaller layover and I got home earlier, but they never even offered to compensate me with a voucher or anything. Oh well, lessons learned.

    I second what Kim is saying about how sometimes having a voucher you can only use directly with airline can severly reduce the “value” of it – a friend of mine got offered $200 to be bumped from her flight on United and went for it. A couple of months later she went to redeem the voucher on another flight and couldn’t quite figure out how to enter it online – she called the airline and they told her that the ONLY way she could use the voucher was to come in person to the airport and redeem it there. She printed out which flight she wanted and the price that she found online and went down there – and they told her that the online prices are different than the ones they can get. The flight she booked was over a hundred dollars more expensive than what she would have been able to pay online – between running around the airport and overpaying for the flight, she only netted about 50 bucks I’d say for delaying her original flight by 4 hours.

    I’ve also seen people at the gate get very demanding and adament about what they are and are not willing to take to get bumped. I saw a guy turn down a 300 dollar voucher on American because the lady at the gate couldn’t get him an aisle seat on the next flight. I’d probably be willing to fly in the latrine on the next flight if the $$ was right… but ONLY if I had them ensure me that the credit can indeed be redeemed online.

  18. Scott,

    Your experience must not be like mine. I actually got bumped on an award ticket and then got upgraded for free to first-class! I then took the voucher they gave me, and when the time came to use the voucher, I got bumped once again!!! I’m definitely getting bumped as much as possible. Priceline can’t compete with free!

    The trick with the voucher is that you want to use it for regular flights outside of the heavy vacation season or pick late-night flights.

  19. The vouchers must vary from airline to airline. I’ve never had a problem with mine, they also worked like gift certificates, from Airtran to Delta to Northwest. I’ve never flown US Airways ever somehow.

    The voucher isn’t necessarily designed to give you a free ticket, sometimes it’s less and sometimes it’s more.

    You could probably be more aggressive in booking flights during busy times, but I like it this way as there is nothing to lose. It’s one of those “just ask” situations where there is nothing to lose by asking.

  20. This is absolutely true although I doubt I could repeat the effect:

    I once was bumped 4 times on a US (desp)air flight from SF – Pittsburgh with 4 free round trips.

    Before the cop-out days of $200 vouchers, they used to give away free round trips. I managed to secure 4 (!!) of them in one day on the way home for turkey holiday. I gave one to my mother (she never used it) and managed to use only two others before the third expired.

    Bottom line: around the crazy holidays there are opportunities waiting for those who know… just bring a really good (big) book and a pillow!

  21. SavingEverything says:

    Scott is right; i have a voucher, from same airline, and cannot use it to fly to Tampa for this New Years’. Why not? i was told “peak, black out period”. Give me a break. Greling, you’r lucky.

  22. MyTwoCents says:

    The FCC used to require airlines compensate people who were bumped from flights. That changed during the Reagan administration – the FCC withdrew the requirement but the airlines have continued the practice for “goodwill”.

    Congress may have stepped in to protect consumers but I never heard about it. I don’t claim to know everything, but this is one I think I would have heard about.

  23. sfmoneymusings says:

    My sister called me while she was waiting for her flight to Miami to depart at SFO earlier. Delta asked if anyone wanted to get bumped and they’d get a $500 ticket voucher and an overnight stay at a hotel in SF. They didn’t specify which but my sister almost took it if she wasn’t in a rush to make her connecting flight to Belize in Miami.

    Great post! My sister’s going to keep that in mind for the future so she can travel more on the airline’s dime.

    Thanks!

  24. I always volunteer to be bumped, but i stipulate that i dont want vouchers, i just want an upgrade, i fly between australia and the UK twice a year and have only travelled economy once.. and i buy my tickets earlybird for about 2/3 the normal economy price.. and travel at the pointy end.. about 4 business class trips for every 1 first class.. choice.. this has worked for 6 years now..

  25. I always ask to be bumped as well. The first time I didn’t and I volunteered, I got around ? 700 back in cash when I paid ? 900 for the ticket to start with on an intercontinental flight with the KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines). After that I always volunteer to be bumped up front ;)

  26. Baskettcase says:

    Does United have an online flight voucher search site? In a perfect workd (ha ha ex:) getting free alcohol on domestic U.S.A. flights) since US airlines says “NOPE all seats assigned for voucher or air mile tickets have been filled, for that flight”. I would think they would have to prove the statement. I have tried now 5 times using different locations and off peak times to redeem a voucher from US Airlines. I keep asking the fools to tell me where to go, phone or browse where I can find out when and where I can use my voucher. Basically I find it not worth it. I think it is all a pack of lies. Hell I wish I could get away with what big business gets away with. We lost the point some where along the line that the customers are what makes your business. Thanks IF anyone can give me a site where I can try to book using my voucher with US Airlines I would be gratful. Have a good day.

  27. My husband and I volunteered to get bumped off our flight to Las Vegas last year in exchange for two round trip flight vouchers and an upgrade to first class on the longer leg of our flight . We only arrived 30 minutes later, and had much better seating on part of the flight, however, we haven’t been able to redeem our round trip tickets (US AIR) because every time I have checked for flights we want to go on, I am told that there are no more seats available for vouchers on that flight. Because of this, we had to buy our own tickets for vacation this year- It stinks. How can we get cash next time?

  28. I have since heard that you should always get a cash voucher instead of the round trip ticket so you can actually use it, is that true?

  29. John-in-nc says:

    Two can play at this game!

    Airlines, you want trouble you got it!

    People make agreements for the airline to get them to a particular place at a particular time. Then airlines do not honor the contract because it is not financially beneficial for them at that particular time so they bump the passengers because the fine is miniscule to them and inconveniencing their customers is of no concern.

    Now for this bozo along with other shysters, that have nothing better to do but try an weasel out a couple hundred bucks out of the airline. Good for them but this only compounds the problem cause the bean counters says, look we bumped ¼ million passengers and it only cost us $$$ saving us $$$$.

    For the majority of us being bumped is a major headache that forces big problems with other reservations we have made.

    What do I need to do, book a separate reservation for 15 fully refundable seats just to ensure I get my one?

    Don’t volunteer for the bump! Don’t accept their little voucher. Let them know you want a full refund on your purchas price plus inconvenience $$. When they do not honor your request you sue them for breach of contract. If everyone ties their ass up in court they will soon learn they need to provide the service we paid for.

  30. Fly_Cheap says:

    I’ve been offered cash several times flying from one European destination to another. That’s a lot better than getting a voucher. I had one of those from Virgin Airline and it expired before I had a reason to fly again.

  31. I was offered a voucher by American Airlines on a flight from London to Dallas. AA offered me a $600 voucher and the rep at the check-in said they weren’t certain they would need me but to go wait at the gate until the plane was boarded and they would let me know then. That rep told me I would get the voucher regardless if they bumped me or not, but I would get it simply for volunteering and that I might still make my flight. They ended up not needed me but then the rep at the gate said the rep at the check in was wrong and I only got the voucher if they had to use me. Who was wrong? Does anyone know?

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