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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The 411 on Overbooked Flights

These days, it’s almost mandatory that airlines overbook flights in order to make money and also fill each and every seat on the plane. There is a small percentage of people who arrive too late to make their flight or just don’t show up and the airlines take this into account when booking seats on each flight. Unfortunately, this means that planes are often crowded and many people each day get bumped and have to sit around the airport for hours waiting for the next flight going to their destination. This is especially true during the holidays. Of course, getting to the gate early could have prevented that from happening. While you could dwell on all the things you dislike about overbooked flights, it’s just as easy to look at the bright side and see how fewer flights per route and stuffed airplane cabins can work for you.

You want to get to your destination just like everyone else, but unless you have reservations to do something right after you arrive or are traveling for business, you can easily be a Good Samaritan and give up your seat to someone who really needs to arrive on time. You may be doing a good deed for someone else, but you’re also getting something in return, besides karma points. Airlines hope that people will volunteer to get bumped and are willing to reward you for doing so (even though they will reward Passenger X, too, when he arrives late and can’t get a seat). Maybe his ride was late or there was traffic or his alarm didn’t go off and he’s in a bind. Let him have your seat and wait for the next flight out. You will end up getting to your destination a bit late, but with some extras in your pocket.

While Passenger X happily gets to his work meeting on time, you can browse the Internet, grab lunch or peruse the shops. You might even want to start planning your next vacation, because your empty seat can net you a free ticket on a future flight. That’s right! You now have two tickets for the price of one! The fuller the flight is, the more desperate an airline will be to have people volunteer to be bumped. This gives you leverage. You can haggle for anything from a credit for future travels (a credit is always better than a free ticket, because you can use it like a gift certificate) to a hotel room to free drinks at the bar. Since the seat you gave up was, essentially, paid for twice by you and Passenger X, the airlines aren’t losing money by rebooking and also giving you a free fare certificate for the future. Of course, what you can bargain for also depends on how long after your initial flight your new one is scheduled. The longer the wait, the more you may get.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has imposed a mandatory compensation for all those bumped from a flight and it always helps to know what you are owed, just in case. For flights arriving less than two hours after your original flight, you should be rewarded at least the cost of your one-way ticket, up to $650. For flights arriving more than two hours after your original flight, airlines are required to compensate you twice the cost of your one-way ticket, up to $1,300. 

If you are looking to get bumped in order to score some free travel, arrive at the airport early, check in at the gate to see if the flight is oversold and travel with only a carry-on to make it easier to get your stuff to your destination with you. Do something nice for someone else and reap the benefits in big ways. Now you can travel practically for free again in the future, helping you to stretch your trip budget enormously. Woot!

Have you ever been bumped from an overbooked flight?

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