Why Don’t More People Volunteer To Be Bumped?

Filed Under: Travel

This is a holiday weekend, when more flights tend to be oversold than usual. As luck would have it, I made out like a bandit on Saturday by volunteering for a later flight from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas.

A little background: I used the companion certificate from my Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card to book a trip this weekend from DC to Vegas. Like many people with Monday-Friday jobs, I try to use holiday weekends for travel, to take advantage of the extra day off…but fares tend to be expensive. For me, this is a good use of companion certificates (I also have one from my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card) – that second ticket costs much less than it otherwise would.

My experience getting bumped on Saturday

Anyway, after arriving for my connection in Salt Lake, I get to the gate and the Delta agents are looking for three volunteers to be confirmed for a flight tomorrow morning to Vegas. They offer $600 in compensation. Nobody bites. They raise it up to $800 and two people take the bait. They announce that they’re still looking for one more person, and they’re offering $1,000!

I texted both Ben and Tiffany to see what they thought.

Ben’s reaction was basically “you’ve got to be kidding me – why wouldn’t you take that?”

Note: Yes, I will be seeing Britney.

Tiffany, who I think was born with a gene that makes it impossible for her to resist being helpful, found a Southwest flight I could take that would get me into Vegas only slightly later than originally scheduled for $179 – I’d still come out over $800 ahead!

So I stepped up and volunteered. And that’s how I hit the jackpot before I even arrived in Vegas.

Better yet, Delta was able to confirm me on their 1:55 pm flight the same day, which would get me in only about 3 hours later than my original flight! Score!

Why Don’t More People Volunteer?

This seems like an amazing deal – accept a 3-hour delay in exchange for $1,000. (To be fair, they originally announced that they could only confirm space on tomorrow morning’s flight – but I figured I could find another airline or even drive to Vegas if I wanted to – it’s about 6 hours from Salt Lake.)

Still, I hesitated. Why?

Ben said he thinks people might not understand how these vouchers work, and thus might be reluctant to accept them. Fair enough – though I’ve used them in the past, so that wasn’t an issue for me. (Also: Ben doesn’t have to worry about running out of vacation days at his job!)

Of course, it can also be logistically difficult to take a later flight: you may be traveling with several people, you may have other reservations (car, hotel, restaurant) that need to be modified, and you might have checked baggage to deal with.

My theory is that a big part of the reason people don’t step up is the endowment effect. In a nutshell, people are less willing to give something up that they already have. Imagine if you were booking a trip online and found that if you fly on Saturday, you would pay $250, but if you fly on Sunday, the trip would not only be free but the airline would give you $500 toward a future trip. I bet a lot of people would take that offer.

But when you’re already at the airport and you’re offered essentially the same deal, far fewer people will bite. The idea of losing a whole day of your vacation is not appealing.

One final note: it’s crazy to me that the airline spent about $2,600 to bump three people from this flight, only to have us confirmed on a flight three hours later. If the gate agents had a better way of verifying that they could confirm bumped passengers on the next flight (rather than one the following day), I bet they could have found people to volunteer for less compensation.

If you’re interested in maximizing your chance of getting bumped (and potentially earning some nice travel credit), check out this post. One caveat: as was the case on my flight, you could potentially get a higher offer by waiting to see if anyone volunteers for the initial offer. By waiting it out, I made an extra $400, since the initial offer was only $600. But, of course, you’re taking the risk that others will volunteer before you.

Has anyone else taken a bump offer recently?

  1. “My theory is that a big part of the reason people don’t step up is the endowment effect.”

    There is that, but also the hassle of going to a traditional carrier’s ticket office (if one still exists in whichever city the passenger loves) or to an airport to redeem an old-fashioned paper voucher. Though I wonder if B6 just adds the compensation to the customer’s True Blue credit bank?

    Oh and look at this:
    “Customers who are involuntarily denied boarding shall receive $1,350.”

  2. you made out! I was tempted when it reached $1000. The difference was we were onboard, seated and they couldn’t say when the next flight would be. I used Tripit Pro to see that it could be next day as all three flights later in day were full (they would offer bumps on those too as my family were flying later flights)
    it’s the unknown for many – where do I sleep and eat, do I stay in airport all day and what about vacation time. if you go back to the fun of vacation sure it’s a win but if stuck in a hotel room or airport waiting that’s torture.

    plus I’d want cash not a voucher and a confirmed seat on next flight even if first but that’s me bc I value my time and comfort. a middle seat on next flight is not same as my preferred aisle

  3. Uhm… because people buy ticket(s) to get them from point A to point B, in a specific timeframe. Not to trade it (the ticket) with voucher that eventough worth hundreds or even thousands, still come with limitation (terms & conditions).

    And yes, some of those people would prefere a fist fight to defend their right to board the flight rather than receiving voucher worth hundreds or even thousands….

  4. I just took an offer for $500 on American from Jacksonville, Fl to Dallas (DFW) on Thursday. And I only had to wait 30 minutes for the next flight! (The original flight was delayed) SCORE!!!

  5. Did DL not offer the option of gift cards (including an Amex prepaid credit card) instead of a transportation voucher? If those are offered, it really is like making off with cash…

  6. The airlines would need to offer cash or preloaded gift for me to even consider. Why should I take a voucher and be forced to fly the same airline within a fixed amount of time?

  7. +1 for Suzanne (PhilaTravelGirl)

    Even if it is $500 cash instead of $1000 voucher, i would gladly take the cash over voucher, but no airline would offer that, as voucher cost them $0. And people are aware of vouchers come with restrictions so you got the answer. Also there are lots of questions, with taking the next flight, are you going to get accomodation? Whatabout food ? Are you going to end up in a middle seat in the back for the next flight rather than window seat in the exit row of your original flight ? Then there is a risk of your checked bag not offloaded and loaded on the next flight properly. There are way too many variables and you are not going to find out until you agree with the offer. By that time you can do nothing about it if the outcome is not as good as you are expecting. It is just too many variables and too many risk to be bumped.

  8. You certainly hit the jackpot – hopefully you can use your voucher. Some years ago, I had a couple of Delta vouchers that I was never able to use and they weren’t given as a result of a situation where I volunteered to take a later flight. Not sure if anything has changed but back then they were a real hassle to use. And frankly, I never trust anything a gate agent promises about rebooking – remember these are the same folks who lie consistently during flight delays. But even if it were easy to use vouchers, some of us business travellers have actual schedules and appointments to make. Existing hotel reservations get cancelled (and charged) and new hotel reservations have to be made on both ends. There are actual expenses to being delayed not to mention the work schedule impacts. No thanks!

  9. Did the other 2 passengers not get $1000 each? Doesn’t Delta pay out same amount to all passengers once the highest/last offer is accepted?

  10. I almost always volunteer. In two situations when the offer price was increased after I volunteered we all received the final amount. Both cases were on American, first in 2007 and the second 2017. I’m not sure if it’s unique to AA or I’m just lucky, but I assumed it was standard practice.

  11. I know a ton of folks who would never VDB. They usually have non-refundable hotel and /or car rentals booked and if you dont show up then the whole res gets KOed. Or even if only the 1st night is lost that ha sto be deducted from the voucher amount.

    Also people are meeting up with folks coming in on other flights and it will simply mess everything up

    Others dont want to lose out on 1 day of a 3 day holiday, knowing the next one is 3 months away, and simply want to enjoy themselves rather then be held up in some airport hotel with nothing to do, etc etc

    Then theres the opposite side a few years ago my UA flight PHL-SFO was over and a couple heading to Hawaii was begging to be VDBed the GA was trying to talk them out of it and couldnt, why the VDB was $150 and not going higher.He thought they were nuts for missing a day in Hawaii for $150 each, and no they didnt live there. Since they didnt live far from PHL no hotel for them. they told me this way their next trip will be $300 less

  12. Most of my travel over the years has involved arriving somewhere at a particular time for important reasons. I almost never have the flexibility to arrive later. Returning home is a different story, and I have accepted compensation to arrive on a later flight (or to take a connecting flight vs my original nonstop flight) provided it is within a few hours. I have never agreed to take a flight the following day.

  13. For the past few years I (single person, somewhat flexible work schedule) have ooked Southwest’s last nonstop home on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and always took the bump to the first Monday morning flight. Got vouchers for $300-$500 depending on the circumstance. More than made up for the night at the airport hotel. Kind of bummed that WN is no longer overbooking.

  14. So, did the first two volunteers only get $800? I would hope that would get the final value as well. If that is not the case, that is why I probably wouldn’t volunteer until it reached a level (probably $1K would do it:-))

  15. Simple: they don’t offer cash. I’m not going to take a grand in credit when I have no idea how, when or even if I might use it. Offer me a grand in cash and I’ll snap your arm off for it.

    And how do you figure that Delta gave away $2600 to bump three passengers? It gave $2600 in credit, which is worth less than $2600 to Delta. Assuming the credit is used to buy seats on flights that aren’t booked out, then it’s worth close to nothing to Delta.

  16. Expanding on Neville Fernandez comment above “Why should I take a voucher and be forced to fly the same airline within a fixed amount of time?” provides what I think is the reason for few VDB takers.

    From Scott Kirby when he was at AA and confirmed “similar numbers” at UA:’ 60% of air travelers fly less than once per year and a further 20% fly only once per year. Because of the time limitations of the VDB, 80% of pax are unable to realize the benefit of taking a later flight.

    Turning to the 20% of air travelers who could use the benefit:
    – Some fly for business where their employer expects them to be at a certain place at certain time. If the employer hears about the VDB, they might expect the voucher to be given up by the employee.
    – If vacation flying with the family on the outbound portion, kids will be crushed at losing out on first days activities. Wife will dump the kids on your lap for the entire 6 hour delay, etc.
    – If vacation flying with the family on return portion. one or both of the parent’s employer might not take to kindly to their employee return late or not ready to work.

    I believe the solution to the VDB problem is for the government to require airlines to only offer cash in the form of debit cards. I invoke the government as there needs to be a VDB expectation reset. It is unreasonable to expect $1,000 cash rather than $1,000 travel bank credit, the appropriate exchange rate is probably 10:1 or 5:1 voucher:credit. If one airline makes the move to cash only VDB, the pax expectation of $X,XXX is still there from other airlines that primarily offer VDB vouchers.

  17. I’ve received a few DL vouchers in my time and I just don’t understand the comments suggesting that they are somehow torturous to use.

    @Steven M: “..the hassle of going to a traditional carrier’s ticket office…or to an airport to redeem an old fashioned paper voucher.”

    I’ve never had to go anywhere other than my laptop to redeem a voucher. I just go to delta.com, make my flight selections and enter my voucher number on the payment screen. Easy. I can even check the balances remaining on the vouchers.

    Others have mentioned “limitations”. What are these limitations? You have a year to book what can essentially be free or greatly discounted airfare. You make your flight selections on delta.com, you enter the voucher number, the dollar amount of the voucher is applied to the total cost of the rez. This is not a restrictive process.

    As @Donna mentioned, some people, for logistical reasons, just cannot change their travel plans. I try my best to build in some wiggle room into my plans in case of IRROPS; thus, I get a bit giddy when I’m presented with the opportunity of giving up my seat in exchange for a generous voucher, a confirmed seat on the next flight out, and hotel accommodation (if needed).

  18. Im confused about the WN flight comment. If you had taken the voucher and decided then to take the Southwest flight, wouldn’t that have cancelled your return flights? I thought missing a leg of a trip cancels the rest of the trip? What am I missing that would have made this a viable option?

  19. @Imperator
    I’ve heard that Delta uses e-vouchers in some cases now which can be redeemed online against the cost of future travel, which is progress. Not sure any other airlines are using them or have the old type where you have to make a reservation online, put it on hold, and then show up at an airline office or counter with the voucher to make the reservation. The one time I attempted to do this the agent couldn’t figure out how to apply the voucher and said I would have to mail it in and wait for a ticket to be issued. It was a colossal hassle and waste of time.
    Perhaps someone can post about the different voucher procedure rules for the major airlines – I’d love to know if things have been streamlined.

  20. Ditto to what Imperator said. I received a United voucher last year and it just involved typing in the code on the laptop. I am heading home from a European holiday and hoping to get bumped off my last SFO – LAX leg.

  21. I’ve never had trouble using a voucher. I’ll always be flying somewhere in the next year that I can apply it to, and it’s not hard to use. Sometimes I’m able to accept one and sometimes not, depending on my plans. I look at the way the author does. Let’s say my flight is at 3:00 p.m. and the next one is at 8:00. The voucher is for $400. Would I have been willing to pay an extra $400 originally to go at 3? If my flight was at 8, would I have been willing to pay an extra $400 to switch it to 3? Often the answer is no. I take the voucher. Other times, of course, there are definite needs to be in a certain place at a certain time and I can’t accept the voucher.

  22. Eugene/Mike

    I doubt it, since they agreed $800. It’s a contract at that point.

    By holding out for $1,000 our hero was taking a risk of getting nothing.

    Who dares, wins

  23. Had a flight cancelled by Virgin America recently. They have us 2 seats on the next Alaska flight.

    Then while waiting to board they asked for 2 volunteers. Didn’t bite, but it’s interest that they were re-booking people on that flight shortly before they were paying people not to take it

  24. Of course a voucher looks like cash to a travel blogger. It doesn’t look like cash if you only fly once in awhile, which is most people.

  25. I realize that most readers commenting are incredibly important people whose activity within their given professions is so vital to the world that even a 15 minute departure delay would be unacceptable at best – and at worst, might adversely affect the tilt of axis on which the world spins.

    However, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that 30% of any flight are people are flying in coach, their unstatused rumps planted in a middle seat, who have saved up for three months to go visit Cousin Del, Auntie Sue, or a new grandchild.

    How are these folks NOT taking advantage of a $1000 voucher?!? Are they not he same peeps who would save $15 to fly Spirit or Frontier?

    When I was a student I parlayed a single spring break ticket to Florida into THREE round trips. I was a student. What did I care if I showed up a couple hours late? A free r/t had immeasurable value as a poverty stricken student.

    So, as to who people are not taking bumps, my mind is truly boggled.

  26. I think it’s more complicated than you make it. I once accepted a lucrative $800 deal for a 5-hour bump (booked flight left on time) that turned out to be close to 8 hours (replacement flight late – weather related), and that was after switching the replacement flight that looked like it may not go at all that night. If it hadn’t gone, I may have been stuck, on my own dime, for a hotel since I accepted that risk with the payment.

    Also, in my experience, rarely do flights go as high as $800 or $1000, unless it’s primarily a business crowd where the amount offered doesn’t matter much to those with little flexibility in their schedule.

  27. First and only time I was bumped was in the late 70’s — I got a check made out to me at the counter for the cost of the ticket even though my employer paid for it. And I was rebooked in first class on another flight.

    I haven’t volunteered since then as payment after deregulation was typically in the form of a voucher good for a future flight. I’ve gotten similar vouchers for other reasons and in the early days these vouchers were laden with all sorts of restrictions about limited inventory, dates, etc so I considered them to be not worth the paper they were printed on.

    A number of folks above me have suggested that Ben/Tiffany/Travis research a post of how easy or restricted it is to use these vouchers. I would really like to see such a post.

  28. Glad you snagged the bump. I was on the Saturday 4:55 from SLC to LAS and volunteered when I was told in the Sky Club my flight was oversold. Delta was offering $600 at the time and were arranging seats on a later flight (was told they may upgrade me on later flight).
    Unfortunately, they had several no shows so they ended up not needing to bump anyone from the flight.

    If you have the flexibility in your travel plans why would you not take the “free money” for a delayed arrival?

  29. Once you’ve got the voucher in hand you’re good; however, getting the voucher can be a PITA. In my experience it goes this way: the GA announces that they’re overbooked and offers an amount for a certain number of volunteers. GA tells the volunteers to sit tight until everyone has boarded. If it turns out volunteers aren’t needed you may or may not still have your original seat assignment available which means getting stuck in a bad seat for nothing. Also, by the time you board forget about any overhead bin space.

  30. I took a bump from Boise to Salt Lake. They got me on the next flight (2 hours later) and I got a $500 voucher. Works for me!

  31. MQT to DTW got $1200 and they eventually re-routed me 3 hours later through MSP to my final destination (instead of waiting 24 hrs.).
    I arrived 40 min after my original itinerary.

  32. The reason is very simple–the voucher is a racket and a scam–typical us psych ops. It costs the us dump airline nothing. Riddled with fine print, exclusions, terms, conditions, exceptions, etc…NO WAY. At least 1200$ cash, plus lounge access to wait out the 3h+ wait. Otherwise, no way to american shyster corporations.

  33. Did you ask them to give you a lounge pass when you closed the deal? Never shake hands without pushing for a little extra right at the end.

  34. Bumping used to be a lot easier before smartphones; now too much info is out there. I would always ask if they were looking for people to bump when I checked in and put my name down as #1 or #2 (just in case). Now it’s easier to see if the plane is full or not before you even check in which narrows the field of who gets the bump. I’ve taken many a bump over my 50 years of travel. They have all been good; some spectacular. It’s easier traveling solo; 2 sometimes works but more than that can be tricky (although 3 of us once volunteered, they did not need us after all but we got bumped to 1st class on same flight to Hawaii). Best bump was returning from London to LAX. Got enough for a RT to London the following summer, overnight hotel and meals. Traveling for business doesn’t always work for bumping but if don’t need to be somewhere at a particular time, do it.

  35. I love the discussion, but you got me in paragraph 2. “A little background: I used the companion certificate from my Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card to book a trip this weekend from DC to Vegas.”

    Have you found a way to get a companion fare without a companion? Without buying the regular fare ticket? For only one person? That’s REALLY interesting!

    Or was your companion one of the the passengers to jump at $800?

    Or did you companion take the original flight (“Bye, Andrew, see you when you get there!”) to Vegas?

  36. As some of the posters said, being confirmed on X flight is not a guarantee that it will not be delayed as well. So really you need multiple flights after that in case that happens. So again, it’s a gamble that might pay off but definitely has downside if weather gets worse the next day, etc. What if the next flight you take is cancelled due to maintenance? Unlikely but part of the decision when you accept a future flight. Also, how long is your trip, are you able to lose a day, who are you meeting there, who else is with you, will they be able to get the same flights, etc.

  37. I believe the choice is much easier when you are not travelling as a family or with kids.

    I was offered free tickets once on Emirates and a replacement on another airline which was actually leaving earlier due to over selling. My wife and I decided not to take it for 2 reasons: 1) Emirates was chosen (although more expensive) due to the entertainment options for the kids & 2) it wasn’t cash offer.

    Spending any amount of extra time at an airport with kids. Even with lounge access would need to be heavily compensated.

  38. A simpler explanation would be that people are flying because time is of the essence. To rearrange the schedule would be a headache.

  39. Twice I’ve taken bumps which got me to my destination earlier than planned. How? By bumping to a nonstop (on a different carrier) in place of connecting flights. (But more recently I’m one of those Very Important People who wouldn’t have much use for vouchers, since most of my personal travel is either using awards, or using revenue fares paid for with flexible bank points. 🙂

  40. My best bumping story was when I checked in for a LHR-YVR flight I was told that economy was full and would I mind being bumped to first.

    The amazing part was that a woman in front of me declined.

  41. @Norman Goldstuck

    It happens more than once, and people consider it as normal. Same as tipping. Why would you tip for a person who did exactly what their job need them to do? An appreciation for above and beyond may seem reasonable, but never a compulsory.

    Crazy american culture.

  42. I’d guess the aversion to vouchers stems from horror stories that still circulate about the games airlines used to play with them. United comes to mind – allegedly their bump vouchers used to come with fare code eligibility restrictions such that the actual monetary value might be a fraction of the face value, if not negative because of the base fare differential. As others have noted you used to have to mail in the voucher or go to an airport ticket office to complete the transaction. I don’t think those restrictions apply anymore, but the legend continues so to speak. Regardless of that, most expire after a year. If you don’t fly very often, an expiring voucher might not do you any good.

  43. Just do a blog post that you’re stuck somewhere for 10 hours…I’d have given you a tour up through Park City.

  44. I take bumps whenever possible. The first two persons would typically also get $1,000 each. Unusual but possible that they were given $800 vouchers earlier and went on their way. Usually they issue the vouchers once everyone boards. So everyone gets the last price

    Because of Dao, less overbooking, less bumps. Dao hurt this game. But I have never understood the problem of why not more takers. I guess that people don’t like last minute change. Adaptability is key.

  45. My husband and I got bumped from Lax-Syd for $2,000 each. The only bad part is they offered us a hotel and all the hotels were booked. Needless to say we stayed overnight in the airport. But with that price, it pretty much paid for our 2 week trip to Australia & Fiji.

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