Know how to play the game if you get bumped from your flight?


Business class, lounge access, too? Why not?

If you’re flying anywhere for the holidays, pack a pound of patience because the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says they “expect this holiday season to be our busiest ever.”

You can interpret that prediction another way, too – that an airline may have oversold your flight in hopes of making sure there’s someone in every single revenue-producing seat.

When that happens you can actually make some money off of that mess.

“Sometimes a lot of it,” Katie Hammel, content marketing director of told ConsumerAffairs. “While oversold flights are still the exception, when an airline has too many passengers show up for a flight, they offer increasing levels of compensation—often thousands of dollars—to solicit volunteers. They’re almost always able to sufficiently sweeten the pot to get enough volunteers.”

Nope, this isn’t illegal or unrealistic. Airlines are just trying to maximize their profit margin and it's rate that a traveler gets bumped against their will. C’est la vie.

However, if you do get bumped against your will… 

In situations where an airline forcibly bumps you, they have to pay up, especially if you wind up getting considerably delayed in getting to your destination.

Hammel says that for domestic flights, it works out like this:

  • For 0-1 hour delay, no compensation
  • For 1-2 hours delay, 2x the one-way fare (up to $775)
  • For 2+ hours delay, 4x the one-way fare (up to $1,550)

For international flights, the delay length needs to be a bit longer to get the big money:

  • For 0-1 hour delay, no compensation
  • For 1-4 hours delay, 2x the one-way fare (up to $775)
  • For 4+ hours delay, 4x the one-way fare (up to $1,550)

How to get the most out of the compensation game

What can you do if the airline needs volunteers on your flight? 

“First, if they need multiple volunteers, make sure you politely request that your compensation amount be the same as the final volunteer’s. You don’t want to volunteer at $300, only for the final person to get $1,000,” Hammel said.

Then, if Lady Luck is on your side and not enough people take the initial offer, things can get good and juicy. 

At that point, don’t be afraid to negotiate for other perks. 

“Airline agents won’t necessarily mention what’s on the secret menu, but just like at In-N-Out, it 100% exists,” Hammel said.

And those perks can be really sweet – meal vouchers, hotel vouchers, access to lounges, better routing on your replacement flight, and even business class seats.

“Desperate airlines take desperate measures to find volunteers, especially when they need more than a few,” she said.

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