It’s a moment that many air travelers have come to dread: As you wait to board your plane, an airline agent announces that they’ve overbooked your flight and will need to “bump” one or more passengers. A few unlucky travelers will be getting left behind and put on a later flight, whether they like it or not.
For some savvy fliers, though, this announcement is music to their ears.
“I was flying to Hawaii recently, and as I approached the gate they announced that they would be offering $500 vouchers to the first three passengers willing to be bumped,” recalls John DiScala, the brains behind the travel website JohnnyJet.com. “I immediately made a bee-line to the counter.”
It’s a game that many frequent fliers have down to an art. Airlines regularly overbook flights in anticipation of no-shows, but when every ticket-holder shows up looking for a seat, the airline is forced to bump one or more passengers to a later flight. Travelers like DiScala who volunteer to get bumped are rewarded handsomely for their cooperation. Airlines will typically offer hundreds of dollars in credits for a future flight (usually to be used within a year), plus meal and hotel vouchers for passengers bumped to a next-day flight. First-class upgrades and other perks may also be in the offering.
“We were using a totally free ticket that we had gotten via a bump, and then got bumped using that ticket to get two more free ones,” he explains.
David Meadows did the same, flying for free from his junior year of high school to his junior year of college.
“I have racked up over 20 free round trips and four $400 vouchers over the years,” he says.