If you want to get free flights, get bumped. Getting bumped isn’t a guarantee but there is a science. Airlines often over-sell their flights assuming a small percentage of their customers back-out for whatever reason. When everyone shows up they ask people to take the next flight, usually in exchange for a voucher. With United for example, this voucher is $400 towards another United flight.
Even if you’ve never noticed these announcements before, I bet you will from now on. But you can actually increase your odds by volunteering before the announcement. At the baggage check in ask to be put on the list in case they should need volunteers. Many airlines try to make a list of flexible flyers who volunteer to be bumped. Although you are way more likely to be put on the list if you don’t have checked bags, this is sometimes the place to volunteer. If not, oh well, it’s not like the baggage people are your flight attendants. You can still volunteer at your gate and some people do both.
The best way to increase your odds is to book your ticket with the possibility of getting bumped in mind. Try flying:
- hub to hub
- major business routes on the appropriate weekday
- the last flight
- with as many connections and routes as possible (increases your odds and your distance for miles’ sake)
I’ve talked a little before about “ghost bookings”. In order to find out how many open seats there are, I sometimes try to book my flight with 9 people, then 8, 7, etc… If it doesn’t let me go through with 3 and does let me go through with 2, there are only 2 seats left. Obviously in this case, you want to be over sold.
If you want to get even more technical, I heard of one guy who looks up the planes. He looks for regional jets flying out of major airports. A case where there is little availability with high demand. Expertflyer.com might be a helpful tool for this.
Think about it and come up with a route and time for your next flight with this in mind. Maybe Vegas on a friday night? I don’t know, New York on New Years? I hear vacationers are a lot less likely to miss flights than business people.
A few more things to think about. Book cancelable rooms. Many hotels can be cancelled until 6pm but hopefully you’ll be on the next flight. With a free voucher you could book another flight with the goal of both getting bumped and getting more frequent flyer miles. With one bump you can set your self up for a cycle of free flying. Heck, you could then get bumped on the flight you booked with your miles too. Maybe it’s more of an art than a science, but getting bumped from your flight is one of the quickest ways to get a free flight. 100% free travel.