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Willing To Give up Your Seat? A Look Into Voluntary Bumping and How To Maximize Compensation

Willing To Give up Your Seat? A Look Into Voluntary Bumping and How To Maximize Compensation

BY JASPER YU-DAWIDOWICZ Published on June 22, 2024 0 COMMENTS


On oversold flights, airlines often ask passengers to voluntarily accept a later flight, or a “bump,” in exchange for monetary compensation. Voluntary bumping has grown in popularity over recent years as airlines attempt to decrease the number of involuntary bumps. 


On a recent American Airlines flight from New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), I was offered the opportunity to bump myself in exchange for compensation of nearly 11 times the cost of my ticket! Here’s a look at voluntary bumping practices and how you can maximize your compensation.


What is Voluntary Bumping


Voluntary bumping is when airlines request passengers to switch from an oversold flight to a later one in exchange for financial compensation, typically in the form of travel credits instead of cash and possibly hotel accommodations and food vouchers. 




Airlines give money to bump passengers: How to get as much as you can
Photo: CNBC


How Does Voluntary Bumping Work?


Historically, voluntary bumps were offered at the gate area before boarding. Gate agents will announce they are looking for passengers willing to be moved to a later flight in exchange for a starting compensation amount. 


Interested passengers will then visit the gate agent at the podium, where they will be rebooked for later flights and issued compensation. However, if no passengers are willing to be bumped, the airline will increase compensation until the necessary number of volunteers is reached. 


Wanting to avoid last-minute involuntary bumps, voluntary bumps today are typically offered and processed online before arriving at the airport. If a flight is oversold, airlines will allow passengers to place bids online to be voluntarily bumped. 




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Photo: One mile at a time


This minimizes confusion at the airport and ensures airlines are not forced to bump passengers involuntarily. Even if your bid is selected, airlines must still offer you the opportunity to travel on your original flight.


Why Are Flights Oversold?


In today’s modern aviation world, airlines use complex ticketing algorithms to oversell most commercial flights purposefully. 


While this may seem shocking at first, most oversold flights never result in the removal of passengers. 




Senate deal would add four long-distance flights to Reagan National Airport  - The Washington Post
Photo: The Washington Post


Travelers often miss connections due to delays or not showing up for their flights. By overselling flights, airlines ensure seats do not fly empty, ultimately lowering operational costs and generating a more significant profit for airlines.


Involuntary Bumps


However, in some instances, more passengers show up for a flight than seats available on the aircraft. As a result, airlines are forced to bump passengers from their original flights and place them on later ones. In some scenarios, this could mean denied boarding or the forcible removal of passengers, like this United Airlines flight in 2017. 


Until recent years, airlines have relied less on voluntary bumps and moved passengers' flights if their original one was oversold. However, involuntary bumping of passengers has become tremendously unpopular amongst travelers, generates negative press, and can become quite expensive for airlines. 




Backlash erupts after United passenger gets yanked off overbooked flight |  CNN
Photo: CNN


According to DOT regulations, airlines must reach your destination within an hour of your scheduled arrival. If they fail to do so, passengers would be entitled to compensation of 200% (up to $775) for a one to two-hour delay or 400% (up to $1,550) for a postponement lasting two or more hours for domestic U.S. flights. 


How to Maximize Chances of Being Voluntarily Bumped


To maximize your chances of being offered the opportunity to voluntarily bump yourself in exchange for monetary compensation, the most important thing is to check in for your flight on time. 


On my American flight, I checked in the right at the 24-hour before departure mark and was offered the option between four amounts to be bumped to a later flight. Passengers who checked in later may have been provided a different opportunity. 




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Photo: The Portugal News


Also, arrive at the airport well before your scheduled departure time. Visit the gate agent for your flight and ask if they still need volunteers to be moved to a later flight. 


Showing the gate agent and airline that you are willing to be bumped could increase your chances of changing flights and being compensated. 


In addition, passengers without checked bags are much more likely to be voluntarily bumped from their flight. This is because it is much easier for the airline to swap a passenger’s flight and not worry about transferring their luggage between aircraft. 




Airline Bumping - What You Need to Know - All Aboard Travel Dallas - Travel  Agency
Photo: All Aboard Travel Dallas


How to Maximize Compensation When Voluntarily Bumped


Many airlines today ask passengers to bid the amount they would be comfortable with if asked to switch flights. When checking in with American, I was offered between $400 and $825 to switch my flight through American Airlines’s Automated Volunteer Program (AVP). 


While lower than some incredibly high offers on social media, the $825 option was well over 11 times my $74 ticket price for a two-hour flight to Chicago. 


However, even when offered high compensation, ensure it is an amount you are willing to accept and are comfortable with for your inconvenience. Many airlines no longer provide straight cash as compensation; instead, they offer travel credits for future travel with that airline. 




Tips and tricks for how to handle oversold flights - The Points Guy
Photo: The Points Guy


Also important to note is that not all passengers will receive the same compensation.  Previously, gate agents would continue to increase the bid price until enough volunteers were found, then pay all bumped passengers the highest bid price. 


With the shift to online bidding systems, airlines no longer offer the same at-gate compensation to all passengers. If two volunteers are needed and the two lowest bids for the flight are $400 and $500, the airline will select those two volunteers and pay the travelers $400 and $500, respectively. 


Despite this, voluntary bumps can be pretty lucrative with flexible travel plans and a willingness to stay at the airport for a couple of extra hours. 


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