Mr. Joe made a post in an online forum while on a work trip about how I use flight vouchers to get FREE travel on airlines. It received a fair bit of commentary and a number of questions so I thought I’d make a post about it.
The essential premise: there is a statistical average number of passengers that will not use the airline tickets they have booked. These could be business travelers on refundable fares, or people that miss their connecting flight due to weather or maintenance, etc etc. It matters very little what the cause of a person missing their flight is, just that there is a number that will.
To compensate for this airlines overbook flights. The intent is to overbook by just enough that you don’t have empty seats and you don’t have to “bump” anyone. They get it right the majority of the time.
When more people show up than they would expect there aren’t enough seats for everyone. The way the law is written, it goes VERY badly for the airline if they have to force someone to take a different flight. I don’t know the exact details, I’m sure you could look up the law if you really wanted but just know that it’s BAD.
If they can get volunteers to take a different flight, even if they have to give them a lot of money to do so, it’s cheaper than the fine that occurs if they have to involuntarily bump someone.
What will you get?
So the trick to getting free airline travel is to volunteer to take a different flight when the gate agent asks. Some airlines even have the check-in system ask if you are willing to take a different flight. The amount of flight vouchers varies, I have received anywhere from $500 to $800 per flight.
I travel for work occasionally and I volunteer to be bumped from every flight. Last year on two work trips alone I got $1,500 in free flight vouchers. This year I’ve already earned $500 in free flight vouchers. Each time it meant a minor inconvenience of taking a later flight but it can be really worth your time. I’m hoping this year to get up to $2,000 in vouchers.
If the gate agent does need volunteers you can normally ask for a couple perks. I can normally get an upgraded seat in an exit row or one of the “comfort plus” seats or whatever the airline calls the seats with a little more leg room.
Some Questions I’ve Gotten:
What do you do while you’re waiting? So one of the downsides to getting bumped is that it means taking a later flight. My solution is to always have a book or iPad for entertainment. I don’t mind waiting a couple of hours to get a few hundred dollars in free flight vouchers.
What are the limitations of the flight vouchers? Each airline is different but some general rules of thumb are that they must be used in the 12 months following their issuance and they cannot be sold or transferred. One exception to the transfer-ability is that most airlines allow you to use the vouchers for family travelling on the same booking.
I’ve never heard of these being offered, how do you find them? The airlines are very good at math and so the odds are very low that you will hear an announcement looking for volunteers. If it gets to that stage then they are getting very desperate and will offer big time bucks. The trick is to book flights during the busy business travel times and at busy airports (Atlanta, Charlotte, LAX, etc) and to go up to the gate agent before they start boarding and ask “Are you overbooked on this flight?” If they say they are you can tell them that you would be interested in being bumped. Most of the time, I volunteer before they ever even ask.
I hope you find this beneficial and if you have any questions, just put them in the comments section and we’ll answer them!