Why You Want to Get Bumped Off Your Next Flight (and How to Do It)

Why You Want to Get Bumped Off Your Next Flight (and How to Do It)

In this week’s weekly newsletter (here’s how to sign up), I mentioned that this past week, my wife and I went to Hawaii to take part in Starwood’s Holiday Challenge. We were supposed to head back to L.A. but felt four days in paradise just wasn’t enough. So we extended our stay—initially, by only two days but then my wife got sick so I changed our tickets again. To avoid astronomical fare differences, I had to give the airline seven days advance notice and I still spent almost $800 in change fees! If my wife had been feeling better, we would have gone to the airport and tried to plea with an airline representative to change our tickets for free or better yet, play the airline bumping game. This is when you volunteer to be booted off of your flight in exchange for an airline voucher that is usually enough for to cover another flight. The airline will make sure you get a seat on the next available flight so if you’ve got a bit of time to kill and don’t need to be anywhere urgently, you could stand to earn a free flight—or two—just by getting bumped. Let me explain further in this step-by-step guide on how to get bumped.

Many airlines have cut capacity, which means that most flights are operating with a full house. This increases your chances of getting bumped, especially on peak travel days like Monday, Friday, Sunday and around the holidays.

1. Check flight loads
Most airlines will allow you to see your flight’s seating chart (go into your reservation online and click the “change/view seats” link). But it’s best to try booking a ticket (don’t purchase) on your particular flight. If they aren’t selling seats then they are full or oversold. You can also call the airline directly and ask the operator if the flight is oversold. Here’s a handy list of all the airline websites and their toll-free numbers.

2. Volunteer to get bumped
Airline reps love it when passengers volunteer to get bumped. When I’m playing the bumping game, I will usually check-in with an agent at the ticket desk to let them know. Then I will go to the gate and wait for an agent to arrive – usually an hour before departure. I then ask politely if they are oversold and if they need volunteers. If so, I ask to be included on the list. NOTE: Most of the time, agents won’t know if they need volunteers until midway through boarding so they will put you on a list and hold your boarding pass. Tip: Don’t keep bugging the agent … it will only tick them off and decrease your chances of getting the good stuff.

3. Wait close to the gate
Sometimes agents come to the gate late and just get on the PA and announce they are looking for volunteers. That is why you should be standing close to the desk so you can be one of the first people to jump in line if they ask.

4. Be sure to get on another flight
Before accepting a bump, first find out how much they are offering; domestically it’s usually around $400 and internationally it can be up to $1,300. Then find out when the next flight they can get you on is. If it’s an overnight bump, the airline should provide you with a hotel, transportation, meal vouchers and sometimes even a calling card, though not always.

5. Get a cash voucher not a flight
This is very important. Do not accept a roundtrip flight because they come with heavy restrictions and blackout dates. Plus, you won’t get frequent flier credit for your flight(s). Instead, ask for a cash voucher that’s usually valid for one year from the date of issue for that airline. Note: Some airlines only offer flight vouchers not cash vouchers.

Good to know: If the airline bumps you (meaning you didn’t volunteer to get bumped), be sure to ask for cash, not a voucher. This happened to my sister and her family when they were traveling from Miami to Barbados because they were the last to check in and they each received $1,300.

6. Be nice
It’s very important to be genuinely nice to the agent. I always try to make friends with them and will even bring them chocolates since most passengers treat them terribly.

7. Ask for a lounge pass, upgrade, hotel and food
If the agent is struggling to find volunteers, the money usually goes up and so do the perks. I normally won’t change my plans for anything less than $400, even if it’s a short bump. But I will always see if they can bump me into first class on the next flight or give me a premium economy seat. Before I had credit cards that got me into the lounges, I would ask for a lounge pass as well. If you don’t have one, ask for lounge access and a meal voucher (usually $10).

8. Do it all over again on the next flight
During busy periods, you can get bumped multiple times the same day or over a week. It’s a great way to get some serious money towards flights. Tip: When you get bumped, take a photo of the voucher and email it to yourself so you don’t lose it. Also, set reminders as to when they expire so you don’t lose out on your hard earned bump.

9. Don’t check luggage
You will have a much greater chance of getting bumped if you don’t have checked luggage since it’s a pain and very time consuming for the airlines to find your bag in the cargo hold.

Good to know: If you choose to volunteer and they don’t need you (they let you know at the last minute) — you may lose luggage space and sometimes agents could give away your seat and you might get stuck with a middle. Ouch!

Please let me know if you agree or disagree with these tips or if you think I missed anything.

Happy Travels!

Comments

  1. My last flight was on Delta LAS to JFK on Jan 1 at 955PM getting in at 530 AM. That night (Jan 2) in NYC was the start of the snowstorm. I was considering being voluntarily bumped so I checked flights on the morning of Jan1 and saw there were about a dozen flights, both non-stop and otherwise, available to JFK that evening and the next day. When I checked in online later that morning, boom, my flight was oversold and they wanted volunteers.

    Hoping for a bump, I got to the airport at 6PM but the agent said I needed to speak with the gate agent. I waited at the gate, literally in the seat across from the check-in area for the gate agent to arrive. The gate agent appeared early for our flight, at about 715 and I asked nicely to be bumped. She seemed relieved as she advised me she needed 10 seats due to emergencies with the upcoming snowstorm.

    The agent could only move me to a 615 am flight the next morning that was not non-stop and arrived at JFK at about 4PM (about 2 hours before the storm). She also could not assure me where they would put me up, if they would feed me and if they would provide transportation to/from the airport. The clincher, she could only provide me with a $300 voucher. I thought that if they were that desperate, they would be prepared to give me more and be sure of what they could offer. I was very disappointed with Delta, did not take their offer and flew home that night. (I got lucky as the flight she was going to put me on, got stuck in Detroit during the layover due to the storm).

  2. Darn! Now everyone else will know our secrets! In Frankfurt this summer we were asked if we at check-in if we wanted to volunteer. Bad weather had kept a flight from the U.S. from arriving in Frankfurt the day before, meaning there was no plane to take the passengers FROM Frankfurt. We were offered $400 cash or a $600 voucher. I asked if we could be moved to Business Class the next day, but was told no. We declined the offer – we’d been in Germany for a month and just wanted to get home.

    At the gate the offer was upped to $600 cash or a $900 voucher, so we accepted the voucher, knowing we’d be flying to Europe next summer. The gate agents told us we could probably volunteer the next day, so when we were offered the same $400 cash/$600 voucher at check-in we weren’t surprised but we did decline. Once again at the gate the offer was upped, so we enquired about combining vouchers. We found out that we couldn’t combine 2 vouchers for one flight, but decided that $600 cash combined with the $900 voucher from the previous day would take care of next summer’s flights, we agreed. And yes, I AM that disciplined – those checks went directly into our vacation acct!

    We were put up in a beautiful hotel near the airport and given vouchers for all 3 meals. Luckily for us our grandchildren live in Frankfurt so both days we just took the train from the airport into the city and got to spend unexpected time with them!

    We were a little disappointed that we weren’t needed to volunteer the third day – we’d already decided to accept a $900 voucher for a visit to Ireland….maybe next time!

    • Johnny Jet Johnny Jet says:

      Nice work!

    • Gabriela Von Odyssey says:

      Last week I was flying home to Tampa from Little Rock, Arkansas. It was Sunday and my connecting flight from Atlanta was oversold. They were already looking for volunteers as soon as I checked in online day before that. So I did volunteer. And yes, as soon as we arrived to Atlanta, they were looking for volunteers again. I RAN to the counter, lol. I was hoping for a voucher for such a long time, and didn’t expect I’ll get lucky THAT day. Anyway, I volunteered, got a hotel for that night, transportation to and from it, first class seat for the next day, I could pick the time, which was nice, but most importantly I got voucher for $600.00

  3. Great post. Does this really work for a family?

    • Johnny Jet Johnny Jet says:

      As long as the flight is oversold but the number of people in your family. Or half can go and half can take a different flight.

  4. Good informative article. I just wrote about my experience using a voucher as I do believe lessons can be learned when redeeming vouchers.

  5. Dang…I so should have taken the bump!

    I flew from MCO to LAX on 01/02/2014, and the gate agent offered $500, hotel stay, and flight the next morning. I didn’t even bother because I was planning on meeting up with few buddies for drink that night.
    Thinking back…i totally could’ve used that $500 voucher. And another day in Orlando!

  6. It also helps if you have carry-on luggage only.

  7. Yes it need it does work with a family. We were bumped as a family of, twice. Included in that was a first class upgrade, hotel and food vouchers and an unexpected visit to San Francisco. Key is to be very very nice to the gate agents.

  8. I volunteered once and they ended up not needing to bump anyone but the gate agent put me in first class from San Diego to Atlanta. The next time I ran into a certainly oversold flight, I really couldn’t arrive later than my flight so I asked if I could take an earlier flight instead that showed lots of availability. They said sure but then wanted to charge me change fees for both legs of my flight so I declined and they ended up bumping about a dozen people involuntarily from my assigned flight. I just don’t get the logic in that.

  9. In my experience w/ United, if you accept a bump at a certain offer level (let’s say $200) and then they still need more volunteers and raise the offer (to let’s say $400), they extend the $400 voucher to each bumped passenger even if you initially volunteered earlier at the $200 offer rate. Does anyone know if that’s still protocol for United and/ or all carriers?

    • I noticed the last couple of times I checked in online with United, they asked if I want to volunteer during the check in process for $400 voucher. I declined because I really needed to get there that day but wondered if the best way is to decline online then volunteer at the gate?

      • Do you mean I will know I’m getting the voucher and don’t even have to go to the airport? Sounds too good to be true! That means I can continue enjoying what I’m doing rather than sit around in the airport waiting for my next flight. I wonder if other airlines do this during online checkin. I typically fly Southwest and American.

        • Johnny Jet Johnny Jet says:

          You would need to go to the airport and wait to the very last minute to see if they need volunteers

  10. I was recently flying on American from Tampa, Fla. to Buffalo, NY. The flight took me to Chicago, where I transferred to a smaller flight and on to Buffalo. Hated the smaller flight, I am 6’2 and the cabin on that small flight must have been 5’8″ I had to slouch to get to my seat, which of course was in the rear. On the return flight they asked for volunteers and I got bumped from the flight from Buffalo to Chicago, which would have been the same small flight. When they asked for volunteers they said I would receive a voucher for another round-trip flight. After the flight left and I walked up to the counter they handed me a check for $800. They also put me on a flight to Washington, DC, which had a larger cabin area. I arrived back in Florida about two hours later than planned.

  11. This goes back a ways but my partner and I were flying one way from San Diego to EWR on a 2 for 1 ticket on AA (total cost of the ticket was $283). We volunterred for a bump and we each got a $400 cash voucher and were put on another flight leaving 15 minutes later into JFK and first class. On arrival in JFK they put us in a car to our hotel, no cost, and had our bags delivered from EWR. On return we were flying on UA from EWR to San Diego and got bumped, $500 cash each, first class to ORD and economy to San Diego. So our $283 trip got us $1800 cash, first class most flights and transportation into NYC.

  12. This is something I have never done before but considering I fly a lot and never really have a time schedule I will have to give it a try

  13. I cannot forget, many years ago one Sunday, returning to my home in Manhattan Beach (LAX) from SYR via STL on TWA. I had an early morning flight out of SYR. The 10 AM, STL to LAX, was oversold. I volunteered, collected about $300 and was confirmed on the next flight, 2 hours later. That flight, also overbooked, provided the same benefit, .i.e., $300 plus confirmation, however, in FIRST Class on the next flight. Again, the third oversold, and a cash and first class confirmation on the next, and 4th flight, which was not oversold. Three “bumps” in about 6 hours! Certainly, a day well remembered.

  14. Are you at risk of your hold baggage flying off without you or are they always removed for security reasons?

  15. Here’s an insight on volunteering for bumping of Spirit. We were flying from San Diego to Las Vegas the day before Superbowl. The second busiest day in Vegas behind New Years. The Spirit reps were desperately trying to get passengers to give up their seats during boarding. First offering vouchers for anywhere they fly, then upping it to two. Plus they would put you on a Southwest flight leaving in a couple hours. My wife and I went for it and we received four vouchers. During the announcement we were told that there would be no blackout dates.

    Blackout dates did apply and I couldn’t fly on the initial dates I wanted for two different cities. For two tickets (San Diego -Chicago R/T), they waived the cost of the flight which was a savings of $190 each. However we had to pay the fees, taxes, seats, agent transaction fees ($20), and bag checking. Our initial out of pocket was about $320 for both of us. This is a pretty good price, but I expected to only have to pay the federal taxes and fees. Spirit hides a lot of self imposed fees in addition to the base price of the flight + pre-flight seat selection + carry-on or checked bag fee. To save $40, we could have not picked seats in advance. Our of pocket (with $40 for one checked bag r/t) was about $280. No bad really, but beware of all the extras that Spirit charges and rules. It was not as good as expected.

  16. Bylo Selhi says:

    Also in my experience airlines are reluctant to compensate passengers flying on reward tickets who volunteer to get bumped, at least on international flights. I’ve tried unsuccessfully.

    I don’t know if or how they’d compensate a rewards passenger if they had to bump them on an involuntary basis. That probably depends on the regulations in each jurisdiction.

    • I have volunteered to be bumped on an AA award tkt,ORD-YUL.
      Received a $500 voucher,hotel and a meal voucher.
      Michael

  17. I have volunteered to be bumped several times flying Southwest and as far as we can tell, they will not give anythinh but vouchers and never for more than the inital cost of your tickets.

    • I volunteered to be bumped on a Southwest flight from SFO to SAN last summer. Voucher is good for a year, and the value was $300 plus original cost of the one-way airfare, so total was approx $400, which is not bad for a two hour delay.

  18. My party of 4 was offered a bump in Rome last week $600 cash or $900 travel voucher plus hotel, food. I didn’t need to be back but the rest did, so I went along with them, but I really want to make this work in the future. Thanks for the tips!!!

  19. Perhaps there was a time when I was near the top of the heap for such travel perks. On a domestic ticket 15 years ago I set the stage for a $2000 bump from Detroit to Dulles.

    The chocolate example is also personal to me as I presented NWA employees with over 500
    pounds of 10lb chocolate bars, thanking them for their great service to me.

    But now…I am over all that

  20. A few years back, I was travelling on business and got bumped. Alaska gave me a $300 cash voucher plus my employer paid me hourly at time-and-a-half to sit at the airport for a few hours. Not too shabby.

  21. United airline agent La Toya Love (who is amazingly great at her job) was about to force a few people out of the aircraft but I decided I would get off and so did a dozen of other people volunteered. Our flight was from D.C. to San Antonio, Tx. Voucher valued was the highest I have ever heard for domestic flights – $1,300!!!

  22. What’s the best/non-greedy amount to ask for when volunteering to be bumped? I’m actually leaving a day earlier then I need to in hopes that I get something but dont wanna be greedy and have them deny me and wind up with nothing!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Don’t Get Bumped (Unless You Want to Get Bumped) As you probably know, most airlines overbook seats because they try to factor in no-shows. But when everyone shows up for a flight, they have a problem. First, the agents offer vouchers (usually worth a few hundred dollars) to passengers willing to take a later flight instead. If you’re flexible, this is a great option—as I explained in this January piece on how and why to get bumped. […]

  2. […] to get home, and you can take a later flight, you can receive additional free mileage points by volunteering to get bumped. Just remember to take into consideration whether you’ll need to rent a hotel for another […]

  3. […] that arrives a few days earlier than you have to be there. Then, when you get to your gate, volunteer to be bumped to a later flight. Just say in your nicest voice, “If this flight is overbooked, I could be […]

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