What does getting bumped from a flight mean?
Bumped: When an airline is over sold and asks someone to take a later flight in exchange for compensation (usually a flight voucher).
Involuntary Bump: When an airline is over sold and no one volunteers to get bumped, they have to pick someone at random to take a later flight. This person, removed from the flight against their will, is entitled to some extraordinarily large amount of cash. I heard it’s a minimum of $800 cash, and have heard of it being much more per person.
Airlines oversell flights assuming that some percent of the people are fickle business flyers (or something) and won’t show up for the flight. Often they oversell by one or two seats and need “bumps” to remedy the situation.
Right before boarding, the airline realizes how many people have checked in, and if there are too many sold tickets, they start calling for volunteers.
“Anyone willing to take a later flight in exchange for $250 in airline vouchers?”
The airlines need volunteers. Imagine if they call out for volunteers at $250, $350, $450 and no one volunteers. Clearly everyone wants to take this flight, even for a $450 voucher, they would choose to still fly.
And if no one volunteers not only do they have to pick someone who would potentially be upset, they have to pay more money. And not only do they have to pay more in dollar value, they actually have to pay money. A voucher technically doesn’t cost them anything, but if they don’t find any volunteers, the person bumped is entitled to cash.
So that’s basically how it works.
How to get bumped:
1) Check the flights
Now I’ve heard of people planning flight based on the best time and routes to get bumped. Busy business routes at busy times.
And I’ve heard of people with status (who can cancel or change flights for free) really taking advantage of these. If the flight looks like it has plenty of free seats, they might switch their flight. Although, it’s nearly impossible to use miles on a sold out flight, and there aren’t easy ways to tell which flight will be oversold. However, you can check on your flight to see if it’s no longer selling seats.
2) Ask to be put on the list
Mentioning your willingness to be bumped at checkin might not help, as it’s the gate agents who make this decision. After all, they don’t even know how many people are checked in until boarding time.
Still, persistence doesn’t hurt. At checkin, you could tell them you’re flexible and ask to be put on the list.
3) Don’t have checked bags
Agents aren’t supposed to send your bag on a different flight than the one you’re on. But the thing is, by the time they know they need to bump someone, it’s too late to get your bag. So not having checked luggage is huge.
Plus, who wants their valuables in the hands of an archaic-functioning airline?
4) Check with the gate agents
Again, the gate agents know. Maybe they don’t know yet, but they are starting to get a feel. Ask about the flight, or let them know you’re flexible and don’t have checked bags. They may say the flight is empty, or they may take your name.
5) Wait at the gate, and listen
This is the trouble, the lounge is never in ear shot of the gate. First world problems, I know. But I seriously never am at the gate early. I might not board last, but often I show up right at boarding. I care more if I have big bags.
But the thing is, the gate is where they call out for volunteers. Being at the gate early is key.
I mean, the lounge is nice and all… But I’d rather have the voucher.
6) Ask what flight they can rebook you into
If you really want to get home, or wherever, when they call for volunteers, check on this. Many times I have heard of people who booked long connections (because it’s cheaper) getting bumped to a later direct flight, and getting home at the same time they would have originally anyway.
At least check. And even if you’re sure you want a bump, still make sure you’ve got a flight soonish.
Compensation can generally be negotiated on. I’m not much of a negotiator, in fact, I hate the concept of bartering in foreign countries (cuz I’m not a shopper), so I hate negotiating. But it can’t hurt to ask. Or if you know they are desperate (no one is volunteering), hold on. Again, they do not want an involuntary bump.
In the end, it’s more of an awareness than it is a strategy. You can do your part to increase your chances, but in the end, you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time. Some people end up being in those situations more than others though.
That being said, I would love to hear reader tips on getting bumped. I don’t often ask for tips like this, but if you have any thoughts or further strategies, please comment below. I take enough flights that I should be taking bumps all the time. :-p