So, you want travel credits?

With airline capacity down substantially, I’ve noticed more and more packed flights, many even oversold. With the summer travel season slowly starting, I expect to see more of that. I’ve gotten at least a handful of emails over the past couple of weeks from people asking about the best way to secure travel credits when taking a bump from a United flight.

For those not familiar with United’s voluntary denied boarding compensation, they typically offer a free roundtrip ticket good in the lower 48 when you take a bump on a domestic flight, and travel credits (basically good as cash when it comes to purchasing United tickets) for international flights. Technically you can also get travel credits for domestic flights, but for certain gate agents don’t like to give them out for whatever reason.

My track record? I’ve received travel credits every time I’ve asked for them. For those wondering about my cutoff point, I typically take the free ticket when the travel credits compensation is less than $300. I’ve heard that lots of people have problems at SFO with travel credits, but just this past weekend I managed to take two separate bumps and was compensated with travel credits in both cases.

So, let me provide a few tips about how to secure travel credits when taking a bump. Most of these tips assume you’d otherwise be willing to accept a free ticket, because they inherently involve risks, like only negotiating after the plane is gone. In my case I’d accept the bump either way, but like I said, it has always worked out the way I wanted.

So, here are some tips:

  1. Just be nice. This is the most important point. Gates are understaffed as is nowadays, so when they’re oversold by a dozen people it really adds to their workload. Just smiling and being calm will go a long way. Heck, even throw in how you know they’re overworked and how you hate to bug them.
  2. Don’t be a PITA! This goes along with the point above. Gate agents are overworked. If there’s a long line and you’re trying to negotiate with them and see what the other options are, they’ll naturally get pissed off. When I take a bump I just add myself to the volunteer list and stand about 20 feet away from the podium with a smile. I typically just say “I’m more flexible than the Olympics gymnastics team, so don’t worry about me. You can reaccomodate me once the plane is gone and you have more time.” They usually appreciate that.
  3. Don’t act entitled. Contrary to popular belief, you’re NOT entitled to travel credits. The gate agents have the right to give them to you, and they should, but at the end of the day you’re volunteering to give up your seat, and it’s ultimately at the terms of the gate agent. Taking a “could I please” approach is much better than an “I want” approach.
  4. Let the gate agent deal with the other passengers first! I have found this to be extremely beneficial. Oftentimes others got involuntarily denied boarding and are yelling at the gate agent. Tell the gate agent to deal with those passengers first, and that you’ll happily wait because you have all day. Once the stressful part of their job is done and they see you standing there smiling, they might be more willing to help you out.
  5. Ask discreetly! If you ask for travel credits, don’t do so in front of everyone. Whisper it to the gate agent, ask it quietly, etc. While they might be willing to make an exception for you, they probably won’t if everyone else at the gate wants them as well.
  6. INTERNATIONAL! “I see you guys are working so hard and I hate to add more work, but would it be possible to get travel credits instead? I travel primarily internationally, so they’re much more useful to me.”
  7. Negotiate when the plane left! Now here’s the riskiest suggestion I’ll give. Only negotiate when they actually process VDB’s. If the flight is way oversold and they bump people before the plane even leaves, do it then, but otherwise wait until the plane is gone, assuming you’d otherwise accept the free ticket.

What I can’t stress enough is just being nice. While I’m being voluntarily denied boarding, there are likely a few pissed off people that were involuntarily denied boarding, and they choose to let it out on the gate agent.

Filed Under: Advice, United
  1. You are so right! $400 in credits on Sat night (IAD-SAT) and $600 previous weekend (LAX-IAD). Of course you know all these hints might cause more people to volunteer for bumps! 🙂

  2. “Contrary to popular belief, you’re NOT entitled to travel credits.”

    Not true, according to the voucher you are given when you volunteer. Hold them to their words.

  3. Perhaps that’s true, but if someone acts entitled, they might be less likely to get what they want from the aforementioned overworked gate agent.

    Also for those from Hawaii, you can play the “I live in Hawaii so the DBCFREE is of no use to me” card.

  4. At which point the GA says plays the “You live in Hawaii so you don’t need any more favors” card. 🙂 😉

  5. Lucky, do you know the official policy for giving flight versus dollar vouchers? I’ve heard some agents say they can only give flights but that’s obviously not true.

    Do they have to do more work or it a more of a hassle in any way for $ vouchers or why do you think they are less likely to do so? Or is it just frowned upon by management?

    Would be good to get an understanding of what the issue is on their end.

  6. first of all, that profile is 10 months old, so you don’t know if the profile have changed or not.

    However, being a canadian, i can play that card,, and especially in the winter, everyone feels sorry for canadians.

    I found, if you end up with the free trip, an email might be able to turn it into travel credits, just have to send it in.

    I’m in the middle of a MR right now, hope i can get some of lucky’s luck.

  7. @ runnersmate — Very nicely done! You beat me by $100!

    @ bmvaughn — I guess that depends on how you define “entitled” and also how you read the card they hand you when you volunteer. When they say “or in select market a free ticket,” one could read that as saying that in those select markets that’s the sole form of compensation. Either way, in practice we’re anything but entitled to them, and the “entitled” attitude leads nowhere, in my experience.

    @ Ripper3785 — Good point. Lucky Hawaiians!

    @ Paul — As FortFun outlined above, the travel credits depend on the length of your delay. No, giving out travel credits is not frowned down upon by management (at least not upper management). It’s really beyond me why some agents choose to not give them out. It’s similar to some Red Carpet Club agents not wanting to give out drink chits. I don’t know, maybe it’s a game for some? It requires no extra work on their part….

    @ Sam — Good luck!

  8. As a not-too-often United Flyer, what are the reasons for not taking the free flight option?

  9. dose UAX oversell their planes at all, i’ve got three RJ flights comming up that’s zeroed out, but in my experience, that just means they’re sold out.

    Have you ever gotten a bump on UAX.

  10. @ Darren: biggest reasons are that they don’t earn miles and can’t be upgraded (by anyone below the Global Services level)

  11. Great advice Lucky!

    I received travel credits few weeks ago on an oversold UX flight (ORD-SDF). They re-booked me on a flight to CVG 30 minutes later and I wound up with $200 in credits.

    So to answer your question Sam, yes, they do this for UX flights. The gate agent did not want to give out travel credits at first, but then she called her supervisor and agreed to. She was appreciative of my flexibility and willingness to get bumped as she didn’t want to IDB a passenger. I stood back from the podium and let her get the flight out before having her process the credits. She was so nice and friendly about everything I gave her a GTEM cert.

    Good luck.

  12. @ Darren — FortFun is spot on. No miles and no upgrades!

    @ Sam — Absolutely! Actually, I’ve gotten VDB’ed a handful of times this year alone from RJ flights. IAD-JFK is actually the route I most commonly get VDB’ed off of. They typically only oversell RJ’s by one, but then there are often weight and balance restrictions which require more volunteers.

  13. Almost got one last month for the 1st time n STL. I approached the agent early while no one else was around would there be any bumps. She put me on the list. One agent later came to me & asked if I were willing to take a $200 voucher & stay overnight. Problem 1) I was w/ my other 1/2 & they only needed 1 so I declined. 2) I probaly would have but the voucher seemed “too low” for an overnighter, but would have loved to gotten hotel pts.Plus she had to work the next day. Later she PA’d the same deal but raised it to $400. A man volunteered but at the end it turned out that they needed no one.
    I’m feeling that if this were to happen again, I would do it & send my other on her way & negotiate for more than $200 w/ credits(being that she was there). I told the agent that I would have done it if not for the other 1/2 & she kindly said that she understood. If this did play out, what would anyone else have done?

  14. Thanks for clearing that up @FortFun, having never seen a credit voucher, I did not know that.

  15. Just did a UA bump, it was on SAN-SFO on 9th April (Friday). Original flight was at 0756, I asked when I arrived (on ORD-SAN) at 0130 if I could volunteer and be bumped to the earliest, 0618 flight. I got 100 USD in travel credits (don’t want DBCFREE, I don’t live in the US at all), a sweet 1st-row window seat for SAN-SFO and also my SFO-PVG (to Shanghai) flight, which were both upgraded from Economy to Economy Plus! 😀

  16. Nice tips!! I live in Tampa and mainly fly DL, but it’s nice to know what to expect if my UA flight is overbooked from BUF this spring.

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