The holiday travel season is upon us, so the airlines will be overbooking flights like no other time of year. Add to that the unpredictability of weather this time of year and you’ve got both a recipe for disaster and for opportunity.
As a former VP of Sales, it’s fair to say I did a bit of traveling. So here are my top tips should you find yourself in a position to volunteer to be bumped from a flight. Keep in mind that if you do this, you will be inconvienced, and it can really suck. So make sure that you get enough to make it worth your while or… just don’t do it.
- Decide before you even get to the airport if your schedule will allow for major delays. Keep in mind that you could end up spending all day at the airport, and possibly even another overnight stay depending on departure time.
- As soon as you arrive at your departure gate inquire with the attendant as to the status of the flight. Does it appear to be full, or even overbooked? (Incidentally this is a good time to ask for better seats than the crappy ones preassigned to you.) If the flight appears to be overbooked immediately asked to be placed on the list of volunteers to be bumped.
- An overbooked flight is kind of like a reverse auction for the folks working the gate. They are going to offer the minimum they can to get volunteers to step off the flight. If there are a lot of volunteers, you won’t get much compensation. If no one wants to go the concessions increase.
- If you’re first on the volunteer list expect to be offered at least a $200 travel voucher for the airline on which you are flying. Sometimes you will actually get a cash offer – don’t be afraid to ask for it. Keep in mind that if an airline is in bankruptcy you have some risk when accepting vouchers so they need to pony up more to make it worth your while.
- Before you accept any offer ask when the next flight you can be confirmed to leave on is.
- Don’t be afraid to bargain with the gate attendant. When they call your name and offer you $200 say, “Gee. I paid a lot more than that for this ticket. I was hoping for more like $300.” Then wait for the response. Those folks have the authority to make those decisions at the gate so ask nicely and you might just get it.
- Independent of how much cash or voucher you receive, here are some other things you can nicely request:
- “Would it be possible to squeeze me into First Class on my next confirmed flight since I’m stepping down from this one? I’m getting really tired and could use the extra room to stretch out a bit.”
- “While I am waiting, can I get a pass to the lounge? I really need to make some calls and check my e-mail since I’m being delayed.” (Keep in mind that the lounge normally has free drinks, snacks, TV, Internet, etc.)
- “Since it’s going to be a while till the flight, do you have any meal vouchers? I’m border-line diabetic and I need to keep up my energy levels.”
General compensation policies for US and EU passengers involuntarily bumped:
US domestic passenger’s compensation is based on the time delay:
- If you arrive at your destination within an hour of your original flight: $0
- If you arrive 1-2 hours later than scheduled domestically, or 1-4 internationally: $200 max
- If you arrive more than 2 hours late domestically, or 4 internationally: $400 max.
EU compensation policies are based on distance of travel and length of delay:
- 1,500 Km or less / 2 or more hours late: 250 euros
- 1,500-3,500 Km / 3 or more hours late: 400 euros
- 3,500 Km+ / 4 or more hours late: 600 euros
In addition, in the EU if you are delayed for two hours or more you get meals, two phone calls and lodging if applicable.
Remember, if you are a volunteer, you need to be extra nice to the gate agent to get the most you possibly can. You catch more bees with honey…
If you are involuntarily bumped your first impulse is going to be to pull a Rambo, but if you maintain your composure and treat the agent with compassion (it’s a hard job to piss people off) while asking for as many of the items above as possible you just might make out OK for your inconvenience.
Irregardless of what you receive at the gate, if you get bumped you can also write a letter to the companies customer service department complaining about getting bumped and they will usually send a bunch of travel vouchers (I’ve received $100-200 each time I did this).
I hope all of this helps someone one day. If you’ve got other tips please feel free to add a comment.