One way to get a few hundred dollars in your pocket is to trade it off for a little inconvenience. It’s one of the best ways to fly for free. A lot of savvy travelers are taking advantage of this by getting themselves purposely bumped off a flight so they can collect some cash for their troubles.
Getting bumped from a flight is every frequent traveler’s dream. If you get bumped, either voluntarily or involuntarily, you will more than likely receive a voucher for a free flight, possibly a voucher for food while you wait in the airport, and if you are really lucky, you’ll receive some cash plus a hotel room, while still getting to your original destination, albeit later than planned.
It took me a while to get the hang of getting bumped, but once I did, I got dozens of free flights. This came in handy several years back, when my grandmother in another state was terminally ill, and I needed to go see her often. The free flights made that possible. I have read elsewhere that you cannot earn frequent flier miles on such free trips, but I was able to do just that. At least, it gave me financial consolation during a tough time.
What Happens When You Get Bumped?
Bumping occurs because airlines overbook passengers. They know that on any given flight, the number of no-show passengers may be as high as 15 percent. But sometimes, this backfires on airlines, and the flights are oversold. When all passengers show up for the flight, someone will need to get bumped. Imagine if you’re traveling with a group — if the compensation is good for a particular flight, it can be worth taking. Bumping, of course, means that you will be rescheduled on another flight while you get a little something for your troubles.
Speaking of compensation, how much are we talking about here? I just got wind of this CNN article that the amounts offered to bumped passengers may be rising. Now it used to be the case that if you get bumped, but you make it to your destination two hours later (at most), then you can receive the equivalent of a one way ticket in cash (with $400 as a maximum). If you end up reaching your destination more than two hours later, then you can get double your ticket value (up to $800), or the amount equivalent to one round trip. However, the Department of Transportation (DoT) is proposing some changes that can only benefit the consumer: they want to double these compensation amounts such that if you are under two hours late to your destination, you’ll get double your ticket value (up to $650), but if you end up inconvenienced by more than two hours, you’ll get four times your (one way) ticket value, up to $1,300.
This may sound sweet, but note that this may also encourage airlines to rethink the costs of their tickets. After all, someone’s got to bear the brunt of these new costs right? So before we rejoice, let’s think about how overbooking and bumping actually work. What is the economics behind these events?
At this time, airlines are allowed to overbook and sell refundable tickets. If this type of flexibility were not allowed, then bad things can happen such as: ticket prices may go up to cover costs of the flight; or the airlines may stop servicing a flight route due to lack of profitability; or finally, airlines may stop making tickets refundable to avoid incurring losses. The overbooking and bumping actually allows the airlines to keep ticket values low while still being able to cover costs. It’s a system that works because of the expectation that a certain percentage of passengers don’t make it to their flights anyway.
There are many situations when getting bumped involuntarily is not desirable, such as when you’re scheduled to attend a particular event that you cannot possibly be late for. But in many cases, this kind of thing has been a sport for some people, who actually plan for such opportunities.
Plan To Get Bumped & Score Free Travel Tickets, Vouchers or Cash
So how do you go about planning to get bumped? Let’s go through the steps:
1. Be aware of high traffic flight routes where overbooking can happen often. You can prepare yourself in case you happen to be traveling on one of these routes.
2. Check for available seating while you’re booking your flight. This will give you some idea of your chances of getting bumped. Fewer seats for sale shows a higher likelihood that the flight will be overbooked.
3. Check online frequent flier forums or other sites that allow for information exchanges among bumped passengers. Through discussion boards, you may learn about how certain flights or airlines operate.
4. You need a flexible travel schedule to be successful. If you are traveling to an important meeting, or someone is picking you up and you can’t contact them to tell them about your alternative travel plans, this may not work for you.
5. You also need to try to schedule your flight during heavy business flight times: Friday and Sunday afternoons, and Monday mornings. Other busy travel times, such as immediately before or after holidays are good bets too. These flights tend to be more crowded.
6. Try to get to your departing gate at least 45 minutes to an hour ahead of time, and mention to the attendants there that you would be interested in being bumped if the flight is full.
7. Try to get your name as high up on the list as possible, if you intend to get bumped and it looks like a heavily booked flight. People are generally bumped first come, first serve, so the earlier you can get your name on the list, the better. If your name is called, ask the attendant to clarify what you will get in exchange for giving up your seat. Make sure they can get you on the next flight, or at least one that will be departing soon.
8. Or you may want to hold off for more. Alternatively, if you are a betting person, don’t put your name on the list right away and see if they announce that they are going to bump passengers. If they do, and no one accepts right away, the airline will keep upping the dollar amount of the voucher until someone finally accepts.
9. Request hotel or dining vouchers if you’ll end up getting stuck somewhere (while you’re still traveling).
Involuntary bumping occurs when no one is willing to give up their seat, and the airlines may then bump the last people who check in. In the case of involuntary bumping, the compensation is governed by Federal Aviation Administration rules and will be moving from a 100 to 200 percent cost of a one-way fare to 200 to 400 percent ticket valuation, up to a maximum of $1,300. Be aware that the airlines generally do not offer free travel when flights are canceled due to bad weather.
Contributing Writer: BEM
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