United hopes new program will reduce involuntary bumping incidents

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'YieldBoost' lets airlines buy out in-demand seats in advance

United Airlines has taken a beating lately as it tried to take back seats it had already assigned to paying passengers. So now the beleagured carrier has a new idea -- luring passengers out of their assigned seats before they even leave for the airport.

It's called the Flex-Schedule Program and it's intended to free up seats that are in hot demand, reducing the need for the involuntary bumping that has blackened United's eyes more than once lately.

Instead of dragging people off the airplane, United will be offering buyouts up to five days before the flight leaves, allowing it to resell your ticket at a higher price.

The program is being conducted in partnership with Volantio, a technology start-up in Atlanta that is offering its services to other carriers as well. Volantio calls the program "YieldBoost" and says it offers airlines the chance to "dynamically rebalance flights by reacquiring low-yielding inventory and reselling it at a higher price."

High-demand flights

As explained in a Bloomberg report, travelers on a flight that is in high demand may get an email inviting them to rebook at a different time and offering travel vouchers worth $250 and possibly other goodies as the program develops.

United says travelers will not be asked to change the date of their journey, only the time. 

The offers will only be made to consumers who book directly on United.com and agree to receive marketing messages.  

United says the program is not so much a solution for overbooking but rather is a chance to improve its profit margins by getting higher fares for in-demand seats that would otherwise be occupied by travelers paying a highly discounted fare.

Qantas and Alaska Air are also planning to adopt Volantio's program, Bloomberg said.

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