The airlines often overbook flights, especially during busy holidays. Sometime they will ask for volunteers to be “bumped” from the flight in order to take the next flight. When I am not in a huge rush, I love to get bumped. It’s only worth it if you know what to ask for. Here is a list of things to ask for if this happens to you:
- a free upgrade to first class
- a free domestic flight
- frequent flyer miles
- meal vouchers
- hotel accommodations
- phone card to call home (that is if you have been living under a rock and don’t own a cell phone)
Yesterday my wife and I volunteered to be bumped, and as I was waiting for the flight to board, I figured I should do some research to make sure I was getting the best deal possible. My research uncovered that I wasn’t, so I thought I would make this information more readily available. After going back to the gate agent I was able to get $800 in travel vouchers, $28 in meal vouchers, and a first class upgrade on the next flight for me and my wife. What follows is a more detailed description of what to ask for.
First, ask for an upgrade to first class on the next flight. If it is available, they will give this to you just for asking. If it’s not available, you can ask for a later flight that has first class available- or you may just want fly coach on the next flight to get to your destination.
Second, on Delta they offered us vouchers worth $200 each to compensate us for being bumped, but my research uncovered that Delta could provide up to $400 each. I returned to the booking agent and basically argued that since we had to wait more than 4 hours for the next flight, that we wanted the higher amount. She reluctantly agreed. This portion will vary from airline to airline- but most airlines will try and offer as little as possible to get you to accept. Make sure you ask for more than the first offer.
Third, although we didn’t want frequent flier miles, most airlines can give out bonus frequent flier miles. In fact, if you just want frequent flier miles instead of vouchers- you can ask for a few thousand. Its not worth it in my opinion- so we opted for the $400 each in delta dollars.
Fourth, you can request meal vouchers even if the delay is only an hour or so. These can be used to purchase food or beverages anywhere within the terminal. One friend of mine, who is a pro at getting bumped, will just use the vouchers to buy candy for her kids, but you can get whatever you like with them. We had a nice dinner at the JFK Chile’s with our vouchers.
Fifth, if you have to stay overnight to wait for your next flight the airline will pay for your hotel stay, and for transportation to the hotel. This is not a bad deal if you’re stranded in a cool place.
One final note, you need to be nice to the gate agent to really maximize your freebies. Chat with him or her about how hectic the last flight was, or about how nobody seems to understands it isn’t the gate agent’s fault the flight is overbooked. If the gate agent likes you, you can generally put yourself in a better position to negotiate.
Good luck! Let me know how it goes for you.
Great stuff – the dollar-value is good to know.
I have found United to be (surprise) really good with this – two years ago, on the way to Vancouver, I volunteered, got a free-flight voucher and flew first class out there.
What was odd, though, is that the voucher was only good in the USA, and the flight I was bumped from was going to another country…
Anyway, it NEVER hurts to keep asking, and being friendly is always worthwhile.
BTW, I did not have this sort of luck with US Airways. I just didn’t have a guitar broken, but the story was just as bad.