Best-made vacation travel plans can get bumped

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An involuntary bump could ruin an expensive trip. Here's what to do

Some people travel a lot and know the secrets to getting from point A to point B on time. This time of year, however, many infrequent travelers are in airports, and some may have made time-sensitive travel plans. They're meeting family for a special occasion or boarding a cruise ship for a week-long vacation.

If air travel is involved, it means arriving at your destination on time. This time of year weather -- in the form of thunderstorms -- can be be an issue and so can overbooked airplanes.

"Time to spare, go by air," is the chant of seasoned travelers and it's worth heeding by infrequent tourists.

Maybe you remember what happened back in April when Dr. David Dao needed to get back home to see patients and United Airlines involuntarily bumped him. These kinds of situations don't happen often, but Kaitlin Pitsker, a staff writer at Kiplinger Personal Finance who wrote "Know Your Rights On Flights," says they can happen.

"Most of these situations are resolved by people volunteering to take a later flight, in exchange for a couple hundred dollars and a seat on the next flight," she told ConsumerAffairs. "It's pretty unusual to have a situation like the one that happened on that United flight."

Less of a chance being bumped on a large plane

After the United incident, nearly all airlines that bump started upping the ante for incentives to give up a seat. On a large aircraft, usually there will be at least one passenger who will take the bait. Dr. Dao was a passenger on a small commuter jet, so there were fewer passengers in the pool.

"If no one, or not enough people step forward and agree to take a later flight, they will start selecting people who are told 'your seat on this flight is no longer your seat. You're going to take a later flight.' At that point, it's really too late, but you can hope that if you ask nicely that they'll relent, but really, they've already made their decision and your best bet is to look at the compensation," Pitsker said.

The Department of Transportation sets the compensation if you are involuntarily bumped, basing it on the price of your ticket and the length of the delay.

"Most bumped passengers who experience short delays on flights will receive compensation equal to double the one-way price of the flight they were bumped from, up to $675," the Transportation Department says on its website. "Passengers experiencing longer delays on flights would receive payments of four times the one-way value of the flight they were bumped from, up to $1,350."

Travel insurance is of no help

That doesn't help you very much, however, if you need to arrive at a destination in a timely fashion to begin an expensive cruise or other pre-paid tour. Megan Singh, Project Management Director at, says even if you have travel insurance, it's not going to help if you miss your tour because you were involuntarily bumped.

"This is because most travel insurance policies cover 'any delay of the common carrier,' and in the scenario of a traveler being bumped, the common carrier is not delayed, only that one traveler,' she said in an email to ConsumerAffairs.

So your best bet is to avoid getting bumped in the first place. Is that actually possible?

Pitsker says there are no guarantees, but there are things that can reduce your chances of being singled out to give up your seat. She says you can generally reduce your chance of being bumped by choosing a seat well in advance, by checking in online as soon as you can, and arriving at the gate on time. With some airlines, she says being a member of the frequent flier program can help.

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