The Art of the “Bump”

by TFB Editors on March 28, 2012

By Christine Krzyszton

If you're willing to get "bumped," you can amass lots of travel vouchers.

If you do your homework, plan some extra time in your travel schedule, and take initiative at the departure gate, you may be able to earn some extra travel dollars.

I am asked quite frequently how I can afford to travel to so many places. The explanation is multi-faceted, but most of my travel dollars have come from denied boarding vouchers. The availability of these sacred vouchers has declined somewhat, but they’re still out there for the taking if you plan ahead and you’re proactive in your approach.

When airlines sell tickets for a particular flight, they sometimes oversell it based on the assumption that some passengers will not show. It is not an illegal practice and most of the time it works out just fine. In some cases however, the flight ends up oversold so there are more confirmed passengers than seats. When this happens, the airline will ask for volunteers to give up their seats in return they for a voucher for future air travel, meal tickets, and hotel accommodations, if appropriate.

This practice is known in the travel hacker world as a “bump.” These vouchers can range from $200 to whatever the airline determines is a fair price to pay to open up the necessary seats. I recently scored a $500 voucher and a $10 meal coupon for a flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Miami when I gave up my seat.

American Airlines travel voucher

Most of the time however, I receive the standard $400. Once I took a $250 voucher in return for taking a flight that left two hours later. International flights bring higher voucher denominations due to the length of the flight and amount of time until the next departure.

How can you accumulate your own travel kitty from collecting denied boarding vouchers? First, you have to do your homework as to which flights you’ll select, plan extra time for your journey, then be proactive in your approach once you get to your departure gate.

Do your homework:

It would make sense that if you want to be on an oversold flight, you book a flight where most of the seats are already taken. You would probably think that seats sell out because there is high demand and this can drive the price up, so purchasing a flight with few (or no) seats available may be costly.  Most of the time you would be correct. In some cases, however, I have purchased the last seat for no more that I would have paid normally. Other times, when I purchase the ticket, there are NO seats available — a good sign but it doesn’t mean everyone is going to show up or that all available seats have been assigned. It just means I have a better chance of the flight being oversold.

An example: Let’s say you’re going to Orlando for a spring break. Chances are you’ll be paying a premium for your tickets anyway.  Selecting the flight that is the fullest, planning your schedule so you have time to take advantage of a bump possibility, and asking the gate agent if they need volunteers may result in you earning a nice voucher to pay for your next trip. Keep in mind that seat maps don’t always show all of the available seats due to premium seats being held or some exit/bulkhead row seats being blocked for later assignment.

Flexible Schedule

In order to take advantage of the bump possibility, you need to plan extra time in your travel day(s). While this isn’t always possible, even a few hours can make the difference. If you were planning on leaving in the afternoon, reconsider and select a morning flight to increase your chances of being able to accept a bump should one be offered.

Be Proactive

When you get to the gate, go up and ask if the flight is oversold and if they need volunteers.

Finally, keep in mind that new legislation increasing the amount airlines must compensate passengers who are involuntarily denied boarding has somewhat diminished the availability of flights being oversold. They still happen daily, however, so why not prepare yourself and build your own little travel fund?

Does anyone have a good “bump” story? How long did you have to wait and how much did you get in compensation? Share in the Comments section!

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