Why would anyone want to get bumped of a flight? Because there is money to be made in doing so…By doing a small bit of planning, an hour delay at the airport could be worth several hundred dollars off your next trip.
While many people were watching all the people stranded in the Denver airport before Christmas due to the snowstorm there and feeling sorry for them not being able to make it home, all I could think of was how much money I could be making if I was there. When I was in college, I often planned my plane trips home with the specific purpose of getting bumped at least once and hopefully several times to collect the vouchers that airlines offer those that get bumped. On a day with full planes and everyone needing to go home, I could walk away with over $1000 in vouchers. I’m sure anyone doing this in Denver over the holiday weekend could have walked away with quite a bit more.
First, it’s important to clarify that when you volunteer to be bumped from a flight, your payment will be in airline travel vouchers (usually $250 – $350) and not cold, hard cash. While not as good as cash, it means free or heavily discounted travel if you do fly on a regular basis. The vouchers are usually good for a year after they are issued.
In most cases you can’t count on the weather to create a situation where being bumped will be possible so it requires some thought and planning to place yourself in a situation of getting bumped. First and foremost, you need to have a flexible schedule to make this work. Trying to do this when you have a a tight schedule just isn’t going to work. The more flexible your schedule, the more likely you will be able to take advantage of being bumped.
Unless you do a lot of traveling, you probably aren’t even aware that people are being bumped from planes. In the old days, they would make an announcement that they needed people to volunteer to be bumped (and on a rare occasion this will still happen), but there are enough people that plan ahead and would like to be bumped that rarely do they need to make these announcements today.
That means if you want to be bumped, you need to go up to the check-in counter as soon as you arrive at the gate and volunteer. While this mean that you will only receive the standard volunteer bump incentive (I remember in the early days the airlines would keep raising the offer to get people to voluntarily be bumped and it was almost like a chicken game where you were trying to guess at what point others would volunteer so that you could maximize your own incentive – I haven’t seen this happen in years), it also means that you will be considered. Since there is a good likelihood that others will also volunteer to be bumped, the earlier you arrive at the airport, the greater your chances of being bumped since the agents almost always go on a first volunteer, first bumped basis.
When you ask to be bumped, always insist that you are willing to be bumped only if you can be guaranteed a seat on the next flight out. This does two things for you. First, it means that you have another opportunity of being bumped and gain another voucher. Secondly, it means that you will be able to get to your destination city if need be. If you volunteer without getting a guaranteed seat on the next flight, you may find that they don’t have any free seats on any of the other flights that day and you won’t get compensated since you didn’t have a confirmed seat on the flight.
There are a number of things that you want to keep in mind if you decide you want to get bumped. It’s best to travel with all your belongings as carry-on luggage if possible. If you get bumped from a a flight, your luggage is going to arrive at a different time than you do and the likelihood of problems locating it will increase. If you get bumped from several flights the chances for baggage problems will only increase.
You will want to do research to find what are the busiest days and flights to maximize your chances of being bumped. If you aren’t familiar with this already, a trip to a travel agent may be worth the time as they will know which flights are usually overbooked. Holiday times (before Thanksgiving, Christmas and when children are out from school) are always a good bet to be full as well as flights that are frequented by business travelers.
In addition, you want to know all the other flights to your destination city that the airline runs that day. This will allow you to know whether or not you want to volunteer to be bumped onto the next flight and how it will affect your scheduling. You won’t have to wonder what the next flight out is and the ticketing agent will be pleased that they are dealing with someone that knows what they are doing.
Early flights on busy days offer the best chance to maximize the number of times of getting bumped while still making it to your destination the same day. If you book your flight late in the day, then there will be fewer flights to be bumped off of and you may be required to stay overnight.
Traveling alone will greatly increase your chances of being able to take advantage of being bumped. Rarely will there be more than a few seats that are overbooked on even the busiest flights. That means if you are traveling as a family of 4, the airline won’t need all four of your seats. While it is possible to get bumped while traveling as a couple, you will also lose some opportunities when they only need a single person to be bumped.
It’s always worthwhile to take a few extra minutes to see if being bumped from any flights you are taking and spending an hour or two longer at the airport would impact your travel plans. If not, take the steps to maximize the possibility that you bet bumped and you’ll have a good opportunity to earn some extra money toward your next trip