7 Tips For Getting Bumped Off Your Next Flight

7 Tips For Getting Bumped Off Your Next Flight

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I’ve written about how airlines frequently oversell flights, which could lead to overbooking situations. This happens when there are more passengers booked on a flight than there are seats. The concept of airline overbooking made global headlines back in 2017, when David Dao was dragged off a United Express flight for refusing to give up his seats.

Now, odds are that when most people think of airline overbooking, their goal is to avoid getting bumped. However, for many of us into miles & points, getting bumped can be exciting and lucrative.

After all, in overbooking situations, airlines are supposed to solicit volunteers to take another flight, before involuntarily denying boarding to anyone. This can be a win-win, since a traveler with a flexible schedule can pick up some credits toward future travel in exchange for their time.

With that in mind, in this post I wanted to share seven tips for maximizing your odds of getting bumped on your next flight, while also managing your expectations. In no particular order…

Understand there’s no guaranteed bump

Airlines have incredibly complex algorithms that they use to decide by how much they should oversell flights. They use historical data to determine no show rates, and sell flights accordingly. This differs based on the time of day, day of week, month of the year, route, etc. There’s a lot that goes into this.

A vast majority of the time, airlines nail it, and don’t need volunteers. However, sometimes they don’t get things right (since you can only do so much to predict future human behavior), and that’s when volunteers are needed.

What’s my point? Don’t think that booking a trip around Thanksgiving will necessarily give you much better odds of a bump than just booking any other flight during the typical business rush. Airlines are much less likely to significantly oversell a flight on the day before Thanksgiving than on a Friday afternoon on a business route. Always have an open mind, because bumps could happen when you least expect them.

Bump opportunities often arrive when you least expect them

Do your research ahead of time

Before you go to the airport, find out if the airline is still selling seats on your flight. If the airline is still selling plenty of seats, chances are the flight won’t be oversold. However, if the flight is sold out or close to being sold out, odds of volunteers being needed are better.

How full a flight is booked could change from one minute to the next, so it could be that the flight is sold out and then a few minutes later there are a dozen empty seats (since a lot of people may be misconnecting), or it could be that the flight shows as being wide open, and then that all changes when the flight before gets canceled.

Check how full your flight will be ahead of time

Show up at the gate early to express interest

Different airlines have different policies as to when they start soliciting volunteers. For example, some airlines will start asking for volunteers during online check-in, though this is generally non-binding. Rather they just add your name to the list so that in theory you could discuss this possibility with a gate agent if it becomes necessary.

I feel like every other American flight I take has a message asking if I’m willing to volunteer, but I don’t know the last time they actually needed volunteers. This process is generally taken care of at the gate, so I recommend showing up at the gate early, ideally up to 30 minutes before the flight’s scheduled boarding time.

When you notice that the gate agent isn’t too busy, go up to them and say “any chance you’re oversold and need volunteers today? I have some flexibility in my schedule.” Ideally they’ll say “yes,” and will hold onto your boarding pass, or discuss what is being offered and what alternatives may be available.

Show up at the gate early if you want a bump

Have an alternative ready

If your flight is oversold, chances are pretty good that other flights will be oversold as well. As a result, you may sometimes have a hard time finding another flight with availability. Gate agents are busy, and might not be all that creative when it comes to finding you an alternative routing.

That’s why it pays to do your own research. Use either the website of the airline, Google Flights, or ExpertFlyer, to browse what other options might be available. Don’t be afraid to get creative in terms of the routing, especially if it’s what gets you to your destination quickest. Then you can save the gate agent some time by suggesting a good alternative to them.

Maybe you don’t want to take the most direct routing home!

Figure out how much you can negotiate

Gate agents usually have some discretion when it comes to voluntary denied boarding compensation. That’s because airlines want to do everything they can to avoid involuntarily denying people boarding, since that’s counted against them by regulators.

So to figure out how much leverage you have to negotiate, get a sense of how oversold the flight is. If they don’t ask for any other volunteers in the gate area, chances are that they’re only over by one or two, and you don’t have that much leverage. However, if they’re making announcements asking for many volunteers, or if the alternative routing they’re offering leaves a big delay in your travels, you have a lot more room to negotiate.

Sometimes you can even negotiate an upgrade as part of the compensation, especially if first class is all that’s available.

Some airlines have a policy of giving all volunteers whatever the highest compensation given to any individual is. Even if that’s not officially the case, if you have some leverage, you should be able to negotiate that without issue.

Be ready to negotiate, if there’s room to do so

Make the gate agent’s job easy

Once you’ve volunteered, don’t be annoying. Gate agents in the US are ridiculously overworked, so once they ask you to hang around, just say “I’ll be sitting over here.” Make sure that seat is close to the podium so you can observe what’s going on, and so they can easily call you over if there are any updates.

If they do bump you and they’re still busy, just make sure you get the compensation from them, but consider then going to an airline lounge or customer service desk to get boarding passes, seat assignments, etc., for your new flight.

Gate agents are really overworked

Understand it’s not over until the door closes

This is an important point in terms of managing your expectations. You can go through the whole process of volunteering, agreeing on compensation, having the agent protect you on the next flight, etc., and still not get bumped.

Things change last minute, so when you volunteer you may find yourself in a situation where 30 seconds before departure the gate agent asks you to board the plane. When this happens, it could be that there’s no more room for carry-ons, or in some situations they may have even assigned your seat to someone else. This is a risk to be aware of, so be ready for that to possibly happen.

It’s not over until the jet bridge is pulled

Bottom line

Airlines regularly overbook flights, and every so often volunteers will be needed to take another flight. If you’re a savvy and flexible traveler, this can work in your favor so that you can score some compensation. The above are the things I’d recommend considering before doing so.

If you’ve ever voluntarily been bumped from a flight, what was your experience like?

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  1. Joey Jetson Guest

    Being retired and usually flexible in our schedule we have taken several bumps. Our best was 15 to 20 years ago or so on a flight back from Puerto Rico to MSP. This was on the old NW Airlines. A Saturday and lots of cruise ship passengers. We each got a voucher for $1200. Our bags were already on the plane. The gate agent said not to worry. She would get us there and the...

    Being retired and usually flexible in our schedule we have taken several bumps. Our best was 15 to 20 years ago or so on a flight back from Puerto Rico to MSP. This was on the old NW Airlines. A Saturday and lots of cruise ship passengers. We each got a voucher for $1200. Our bags were already on the plane. The gate agent said not to worry. She would get us there and the bags would be held. Well, we got on a flight to Detroit left less than a half an hour later. We got to Detroit and they quickly put us on a small regional jet plane with mostly crew going to work in MSP perhaps 7 people in the cabin. We arrived in MSP, went to the baggage claim area and I waited just a short time and the bags from the original flight were just coming in.

    One note of caution. We recently got the same amount as a voucher from AA for taking a bump back in March this year. We went to use the voucher and found out that they may only be good on flights that originate in the USA. We were trying to use on a flight into the USA from another country. Check on that to be sure it works for you.

  2. iamhere Guest

    Try to have your alternative in the same alliance. If not then the airline cannot guarantee seats and you may get stuck somewhere in transit especially if changing planes to get to your final destination.

  3. KG Guest

    I got bumped a few weeks ago. Connected in a different city and landed 75 minutes later than scheduled for a cool $975. Easiest money(credit) made. In fact, it was my third bump this year for a grand roof $3,000 worth of flight credit.

  4. Robert Fahr Guest

    AA. DFW-STL. Three same day consecutive bumps $500, $300, and $200 for a $1,000 haul. The first flight was overbooked by several pax. All volunteers rolled to the next flight which, in turn, resulted in another overbooked situation. I actively volunteered for the third flight and they were oversold by one! As a young man at the time, money was more valued than time.

  5. glenn t Diamond

    Being shamelessly disloyal to any airline, a voucher just doesn't cut it for me! It's either cash (any currency will do) plus the fixins~ hotel room, meals, transport, cabin upgrade if applicable, or it's no dice.

  6. Schlange Guest

    My best bump happened in 2005 when my family was flying BOS-MIA during April vacation. I had already boarded along with my brother (I was in high school and managed to snag AAdvantage Gold, of course I was gonna board early lmao) when my mom texted me and said that they were looking for volunteers, offering $400 vouchers. I got the okay to disembark and went to the gate where they quickly accepted my brother...

    My best bump happened in 2005 when my family was flying BOS-MIA during April vacation. I had already boarded along with my brother (I was in high school and managed to snag AAdvantage Gold, of course I was gonna board early lmao) when my mom texted me and said that they were looking for volunteers, offering $400 vouchers. I got the okay to disembark and went to the gate where they quickly accepted my brother and I and protected us on the noon flight, throwing in breakfast. My family flew in ahead and my brother and I hung around. Well, the noon flight was also overbooked! Another $400 voucher and lunch, plus booking on the 3pm flight. That one was also overbooked, but we had to be in Miami that night, so we didn’t take it. However, our return flight was via DCA. DCA-BOS was overbooked, so the entire family took a bump, snagging $300 vouchers and a vacant ride to BWI to fly home that night. We were planning a vacation for the following year, so I sold my dad the vouchers (I was going so it wouldn’t matter), and took the $1100 to finance a spring break trip to Germany for a week. That was my best bump.

  7. ColoKat Guest

    I took advantage traveling from.COS to ATL...notoriously overbooked years ago, Now not so much. Primarily by taking a later flight I got Upgrade to 1st and later flight in the day. I loved it because I always booked Early 1st flight but had the time to take later less full flights and it was always worth it for the upgrade in recent years the companies for business travel haven't gotten into "cheap flights" so that...

    I took advantage traveling from.COS to ATL...notoriously overbooked years ago, Now not so much. Primarily by taking a later flight I got Upgrade to 1st and later flight in the day. I loved it because I always booked Early 1st flight but had the time to take later less full flights and it was always worth it for the upgrade in recent years the companies for business travel haven't gotten into "cheap flights" so that early morning overbooking has gone Way down.....sad but oh so true..

  8. Julia Guest

    Didn't stuff like this get you banned from United for a while?

  9. Marco Guest

    Before the pandemic at Haneda, check in rep asked if we were interested in volunteering. We said we were, but family of 3. Rep said no, and 5 minutes later said yes. All upgraded for next day flight, 2 rooms at Royal Park, meal vouchers, a cool 1,000 flight voucher each and even a day metro card. Unreal….

  10. Lune Guest

    Upto about 10-15 years ago, I used to get bumped fairly frequently, at least once a year. I didn't plan it, but I guess most of my travel back then was on busy holidays and such.

    But now, it's been many years since I've been bumped. Lots of times the check-in kiosk asks if I want to add my name, which I do, but I've never had to give up my seat. I just think...

    Upto about 10-15 years ago, I used to get bumped fairly frequently, at least once a year. I didn't plan it, but I guess most of my travel back then was on busy holidays and such.

    But now, it's been many years since I've been bumped. Lots of times the check-in kiosk asks if I want to add my name, which I do, but I've never had to give up my seat. I just think that airlines' revenue management systems have gotten much better, so overbooking is pretty rare. Either that or my travel patterns have changed and I'm not on those flights anymore.

  11. Michael Wilson-South Guest

    I once had frequent business in Eureka, California, and was often offered a bump. One day I was bumped four consecutive flights, each time earning a free N/A ticket anywhere on United. If I recall correctly, the flight to Eureka from SFO was $150. The bump ticket was worth $250.

  12. Eskimo Guest

    Why share 7 tips to get you bump when you have dozens of real life experiences in your teen years to share. Always wonder what exactly needed to be done to pwnd the system. (and maybe tips to know when it's going too far)

  13. Paul Guest

    Late for flight. First thing they did was apologise, booked me into a flight 1 hour later and offered money or another free flight. Mates had offered me as volunteer.
    Took the money, met up with mates and had some extra holiday money!

  14. Kumaroll Guest

    Got $1500 voucher on Alaska airlines in spring this year. I would agree with other comments that it’s more likely you will not get bumped, so manage that expectation and treat it like lottery. Especially now airlines are getting ahead by emailing passengers asking for volunteers.

    Also, cannot agree more on being polite with gate agent. I don’t think I would’ve gotten this much money if I was a jerk.

  15. JasonB Member

    No tips on what kind of flights are most commonly oversold? I would guess domestic hub to hub, but who knows. Getting bumped flying out of Omaha doesn't seem like it would happen.

  16. Albert C Guest

    Was bumped on a Virgin air flight many years ago. We received a 4 star hotel stay with dinner and breakfast, a flight home the next day,and a voucher for a free Virgin flight,not too shabby.

  17. riku2 Guest

    I have volunteered many times and received the payment many times. But almost always with European airlines and there is no negotiating with them. They offer the same as EU261 compensation which is very generous. I think technically they do not have to (because you are a volunteer) but it seems that they have decided that volunteers get the same as involuntary denied boarding.

  18. Mick Guest

    I was late changing airports once when I was younger between narita and haneda. Our flight to Sydney was full but JAL put us on a 2hr later flight via Brisbane. My mate and I thought this was a fine solution. Then they upgraded us, gave us lounge access and $400 US which almost paid for our return flights from syd to Sapporo. How innocent we were haha

  19. Sean M. Diamond

    Your guide usually works only in the USA (and to a lesser extent in the EU and a few other jurisdictions with statutory compensation).

    In most other parts of the world, overbooking simply means that the last person to show up gets left behind and rebooked to whenever the airline can fit you in next. As for compensation, you can try to negotiate something but that is usually just a hotel room till your next flight.

  20. Duke R. Guest

    back in 2019, I had a flight get canceled - I got rebooked for the next day.
    Upon boarding for the rebooked flight, they called out for volunteers... so i volunteered to take a 3hr later flight and negotiated $650 voucher (they initially offered $425). After I got the voucher, I went to the new gate...and upon boarding for that flight they asked for volunteers...again. So...I volunteered and got a 2nd voucher (this time...

    back in 2019, I had a flight get canceled - I got rebooked for the next day.
    Upon boarding for the rebooked flight, they called out for volunteers... so i volunteered to take a 3hr later flight and negotiated $650 voucher (they initially offered $425). After I got the voucher, I went to the new gate...and upon boarding for that flight they asked for volunteers...again. So...I volunteered and got a 2nd voucher (this time only the $425) and had to wait another 3hrs for my new flight.

    So for waiting 6 hours, I made over $1000. More than made up for the fact that the initial flight cancelation costs me a day at work.

  21. Phil G Guest

    I would say the best time for this to happen is during bad weather situations.

  22. David Guest

    Way to complicated. Fly UA and use their app. If a flight is oversold and they may need volunteers, you can bid to receive miles (a waste) or money on a travel voucher. They have suggested amounts or you can enter your own. It also shows other available flights, and you can bid different amounts on each option. Seldom has my seat been needed but the last time I did hit on a $1,000 voucher.

  23. M.Casey Guest

    Is this a reposted article? The statement, “Airlines regularly overbook flights” hasn’t been true since 2017; overbooking is rare.

    36 years working in the industry, facts matter.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      What part of the industry are you in? facts matter.
      I was also in the education industry for more than 15 years. I joined Kindergarten and I left the industry when I got my degree.
      15+ years in the education industry, facts matter.

      I doubt pilots or bag handlers would (really) know about overbooking.
      And if you are in RM, you're lucky your boss is incompetent and you're still in RM.

      If...

      What part of the industry are you in? facts matter.
      I was also in the education industry for more than 15 years. I joined Kindergarten and I left the industry when I got my degree.
      15+ years in the education industry, facts matter.

      I doubt pilots or bag handlers would (really) know about overbooking.
      And if you are in RM, you're lucky your boss is incompetent and you're still in RM.

      If 2017 you mean David Dao, then he only made airlines more discrete.
      "Airlines (still) regularly overbook flights."
      Overbooking is very common. Involuntary denied boarding was and is still rare.

      facts matter.

  24. Up Up & Away Member

    Ben, what is your view on volunteering vis a vis having checked a bag?

  25. George Romey Guest

    The most important thing to remember that it's doubtful you will be needed, which means boarding at the end and not having room for your bag(s) near your seat. The best bets are flights to very popular destinations at very popular times. Think of HA in the winter time. People aren't going to show up late to the airport and they want/need to get to the island(s) on time.

  26. Chris Guest

    We were flying back to UK from LAX at Easter. My son was a no show as he had decided to extend his trip and go visit a friend in Seattle. My daughter was faffing about getting veggie burger and so we were almost last to board. Our carryon were taken off us as flight was full. As we were walking to our seats they announced that they were still looking for one passenger (with...

    We were flying back to UK from LAX at Easter. My son was a no show as he had decided to extend his trip and go visit a friend in Seattle. My daughter was faffing about getting veggie burger and so we were almost last to board. Our carryon were taken off us as flight was full. As we were walking to our seats they announced that they were still looking for one passenger (with either no hold luggage or travelling with other people) to fly tomorrow and were offering $1100 plus hotel and food. I suggested to my daughter she could do it and 3 mins later she was gone. She looks younger than her 21 years so I went with her to volunteer. Because she's at university nearer London she just got the train straight there instead of doing her connection to Manchester. As a result she arrived back about 3 hours later than if she had flown home and then got train the next day. She's spending a year at a college in the US so has the vouchers to take trips or for an extra trip home. Her brother wasn't happy!

    1. Bricktop Guest

      MY wife and I were flying to Paris from Newark and they asked for volunteers. We only had our carryons unlike some of the others who checked bags, which the agent told us later had worked in out favor. We got a meal voucher, a new flight an hour later via Frankfurt, and $800 apiece (turned later into 3 r/ts to Dublin). It actually worked out better for us because we couldn't check in to...

      MY wife and I were flying to Paris from Newark and they asked for volunteers. We only had our carryons unlike some of the others who checked bags, which the agent told us later had worked in out favor. We got a meal voucher, a new flight an hour later via Frankfurt, and $800 apiece (turned later into 3 r/ts to Dublin). It actually worked out better for us because we couldn't check in to our hotel until after noon, and with the change in FRA, we got to the hotel just after noon. My one mistake was not asking for an upgrade on EWR-FRA. That would have made a homer into a grand sam.

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Sean M. Diamond

Your guide usually works only in the USA (and to a lesser extent in the EU and a few other jurisdictions with statutory compensation). In most other parts of the world, overbooking simply means that the last person to show up gets left behind and rebooked to whenever the airline can fit you in next. As for compensation, you can try to negotiate something but that is usually just a hotel room till your next flight.

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Bricktop Guest

MY wife and I were flying to Paris from Newark and they asked for volunteers. We only had our carryons unlike some of the others who checked bags, which the agent told us later had worked in out favor. We got a meal voucher, a new flight an hour later via Frankfurt, and $800 apiece (turned later into 3 r/ts to Dublin). It actually worked out better for us because we couldn't check in to our hotel until after noon, and with the change in FRA, we got to the hotel just after noon. My one mistake was not asking for an upgrade on EWR-FRA. That would have made a homer into a grand sam.

3
Chris Guest

We were flying back to UK from LAX at Easter. My son was a no show as he had decided to extend his trip and go visit a friend in Seattle. My daughter was faffing about getting veggie burger and so we were almost last to board. Our carryon were taken off us as flight was full. As we were walking to our seats they announced that they were still looking for one passenger (with either no hold luggage or travelling with other people) to fly tomorrow and were offering $1100 plus hotel and food. I suggested to my daughter she could do it and 3 mins later she was gone. She looks younger than her 21 years so I went with her to volunteer. Because she's at university nearer London she just got the train straight there instead of doing her connection to Manchester. As a result she arrived back about 3 hours later than if she had flown home and then got train the next day. She's spending a year at a college in the US so has the vouchers to take trips or for an extra trip home. Her brother wasn't happy!

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