Welcome to the busiest travel period of the year.
On the other hand, the insanely busy holiday travel period is an opportunity for flexible and savvy travelers to “earn” free future flights. I have been bumped from flights (I volunteered to do so!) several times.
This post will list a few ways to maximize your chances of getting bumped from flights.
Please see my post from 2010 which thoroughly explains bumping.
Here are 8 Great Tips to AVOID Getting Bumped From Holiday Flights:
- Book Overbooked Flights. Some people intentionally predict and buy overbooked flights (more tickets sold than number of seats on the plane)–specifically to be bumped. In other words, they buy tickets on busy flights expecting to be bumped and receive compensation. Many flights in the next few days will be overbooked because it is the heaviest travel period of the year. This article lists some typical overbooked flight scenarios. I would add introductory flights, as my best flight bump situation came from one.
- Confirm Flights. Same as if you want to AVOID getting bumped, you should confirm flight information, such as airports (departure, arrival, connecting), dates, times, and seat assignments–at least a couple of days prior to departure. If you bought a cheap fare many months in advance, things may have changed.
- Arrive Early. This week and a half (Friday before through Sunday after Thanksgiving) is the busiest travel time in the US. Airports are more crowded, check in lines are longer, staff is overwhelmed, flights will be overbooked. Allow additional time to find parking, pass through security, board planes, and everything else. If you miss a check in deadline or boarding announcement, then you might be involuntarily bumped. You DO NOT want that to happen.
- Be Nice. Whether it is busy or not, whether you want to be bumped or not, I believe it pays dividends to be nice to the airline and airport personnel. Anyway, it can only help you perhaps receive a coveted denied boarding compensation (aka bumped) spot from your flight if you are nice rather than obnoxious.
- Volunteer. If I know or suspect that a flight will be overbooked, I specifically (and nicely) ask if the flight is full. If they say anything other than “No” (“Yes” or “Definitely” or “Severely” or similar), I politely ask if it is overbooked. If there is a chance of the flight being overbooked, then I nicely say that my travel plans are flexible and that I can take a later flight if it will help them out. If checking baggage or otherwise speaking with airline staff prior to security, volunteer then. If you have no luggage to check and printed your boarding pass at home, clear security and then ask/volunteer at the gate or customer service counter. Also, volunteer for all of your flights on that itinerary. I once was the only bumped passenger on a Los Angeles to Honolulu flight because I was the first volunteer; I was able to be first on the list by asking when I checked in for my first flight in Monterey (that day I flew Monterey to San Francisco, San Francisco to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Honolulu).
- Listen to Announcements. If you are on the volunteer list, it is critical to stay in the gate area and pay attention to the blathering announcements. You may be paged and told that your seat is not needed, that you have been rebooked on another flight (good news), moved to first class (yippee!), or just to make sure you are still around. Miss any page and you will be removed from the volunteer list.
- Board Late. Yesterday, I suggested boarding as early as possible when you want to avoid being bumped. When you are on the volunteer list, you may have to wait until the airline staff go through a series of steps: board ticketed passengers, figure out connecting flights, reassign seats released due to upgrades, book standby passengers, assign non-com seats (pilots and other airline employees), etc.
- Bargain. Airlines typically offer a standard compensation to bumped passengers. When the demand is higher (more standby passengers), you have a better opportunity of negotiating more compensation. This FlyerTalk thread has a log of various compensations issued (reported by passengers).
Bonus tip #1: Ask for a travel voucher rather than free flight. Free flight vouchers are wonderful. Travel vouchers, on the other hand, are like cash discounts. You can book any fare and apply the travel voucher. Travel vouchers earn frequent flyer points and are less restricted than free flights.
Bonus tip #2: Volunteer multiple times. I have been bumped two times in one trip. However, there are savvy, opportunistic travelers who have been bumped multiple times in one day. I remember reading of a couple receiving eight worldwide first class tickets for getting bumped four times in one day from flights between the Caribbean and Miami on the Sunday after New Year’s Day. Wow!
OK, I could have made this a top ten list but I like staying true to my “8 Great” theme.
Following these tips will not guarantee, but will maximize the chance, that you that you get bumped from an overbooked flight.
In addition to my post with tips to AVOID getting bumped, Airfarewatchdog also published a blog post yesterday about bumped flights. Check it (after mine) and let me know what you think.
Charles McCool is an independent consumer travel advocate.
© 2011, Charles McCool