How you can make money for giving up your seat on an overbooked flight
Delta went above and beyond for a customer.
The airline shelled out $4,000 to a woman who volunteered to give up her seat after the carrier overbooked a flight from Atlanta to South Bend, IN last week.
Delta initially offered to pay $2,200 for someone to give up his or her seat after it overbooked. However, the University of Georgia fans who were taking up most of the plane didn’t want to risk missing the Notre Dame football game.
So when no one took the offer, the airline started bidding up, with the price eventually hitting a whopping $4,000 before Tracy Jarvis Smith volunteered, giving her spot up to a Georgia fan who confirmed a flight reservation, but didn’t get an assigned seat.
Smith was strategic about waiting until the last possible second to volunteer. The savvy flyer confessed on Twitter she was waiting for the price to hit $4,000, and once it did she couldn’t say no.
Smith ended up with a fat check and the next flight out, delaying her a mere eight hours later than expected.
And giving up your seat for cash is a good move that could make you up to $10,000 in travel certificates if you’re in no rush to get back home. The freebie process typically starts with incentives like hundreds of dollars in flight credits if you voluntarily miss your flight. Depending on when the next one is leaving, the airline may also throw in a hotel stay and food vouchers as an added bonus.
On average, 6 out of every 10,000 passengers in 2016 became volunteers who earned compensation for taking another flight or not flying all together, according to MileCards.com
Anyone who is involuntarily bumped to a new flight must be compensated, according to Department of Transportation regulations. If the new flight gets you to your destination within one to two hours of the regularly scheduled arrival, the airline must pay 200% of the price of the one-way ticket, up to a maximum of $675, Money.com reports, noting that if you’re delayed by more than two hours within the U.S., the airline must pay up more than 400% of the one-way ticket – up to $1,350.
So if you are being delayed, speak up about compensation. Note the inconvenience and ask for incentives like free lodging and food while you wait, or first-class on the next flight if it’s available, airline experts suggest.
“You want to be rather nice. If you seem like somebody who is going to be a problem, they’re not going to want that,” says airline expert Seth Kaplan, a managing partner at “Airline Weekly.”
“If you’re tweeting they’re probably not going to use you. Very calmly deal with getting your vouchers. Don’t do it in a dramatic, demanding way. Say ‘I’m willing to do it, but it is an inconvenience here’s what I’d like,’” he adds.
Delta and United airlines are most likely to be overbooked, offering compensation to 10 and seven volunteers for every 10,000 passengers, compared to just 0.5 for JetBlue, according to the same study by MileCards.com. Airlines generally are more likely to overbook on the early flights thinking travelers might be willing to delay their flight time later in the day. Sunday evenings, Saturday mornings and holidays are good bets too. Commonly overbooked destinations include New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, Hawaii and Minneapolis.
Getting money for giving up your free seat is harder than it used to be. In 2016, 1 in every 1,518 passengers was able to volunteer for compensation, that’s down 42% from 1 in every 874 passengers in 2010, despite more fully booked flights in 2016.
That’s because airlines seem to have gotten more sophisticated at booking flights to the exact number of passengers who show up, reducing the need for volunteer passengers.
And in some radical cases, if no one volunteers to give up a seat on an overbooked flight, the airline could deny passengers from boarding, as seen in the horrific United episode in which flight attendants literally dragged a man off a flight he paid for.
Now, under United’s new “customer-first” policy, travelers who voluntarily give up their seats will be eligible to receive up to $10,000 in travel certificates. But these offers go quick, so you should ask the flight agent if there is an opportunity to volunteer before they even make an announcement. If possible, check the flight schedule beforehand to see if other options to fly out later in the day, and negotiate.
“Their willingness to go that high is fairly new,” says Kaplan, of scoring thousands of dollars for giving up your seat. He notes that many people will settle for hundreds.
“More often than not, someone is going to take far less than that. It’s not just between you and the airlines, they’re going to go with what’s best for them so you don’t want to overplay your hand,” says Kaplan.
Free tickets or vouchers offered during overbooking generally expire within a year, so if you don’t travel often, it might not be worth it.
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