Bumping My Way to Happiness

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When I am at the gate awaiting my flight my heart stops every time the gate attendant makes an announcement. Most times it is to declare a gate change or to announce the flight is ready to board, but sometimes they say such wonderful things. What makes my heart go pitter-patter is when they announce the flight is oversold and they are seeking volunteers to take an alternative flight. Oh how I melt every time I hear those words as they often lead to me being “bumped” and earning a few hundred dollars in vouchers. Mmmmmmm. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

This post will be the first in a series on bumping that should be of benefit to you in your travels. Today’s post will be on the basics of bumping. Future posts in this series will provide advanced techniques for improving your chances of being bumped and also identifying flights that have a higher probability of generating bumping opportunities. I hope these posts are of value to you and open your eyes and heart to the joys that bumping can bring.

What is bumping?

Bumping is the act of being denied a seat on a plane when you have a confirmed reservation. This is a result of the flight being overbooked. Overbooking is a common airline practice designed to fill the empty seats that no-show passengers leave behind.

There are two types of bumps: voluntary and involuntary. Involuntary is when you are denied a seat and you want to be on the plane whereas voluntary is when you forgo a seat on the plane because you are savvy like me and love airline ticket vouchers. These posts are focused on the latter although there will be a future post that discusses involuntary bumping and your rights associated with this type of bump.

Why should I willingly volunteer to be bumped?

Why? For the good life that accompanies being bumped. Volunteers are often rewarded with airline ticket vouchers or free flights, meal vouchers, and hotel vouchers when asked to stay overnight. When first class seats are available on your new flight there may also be an upgrade to first class in the cards.

On Delta, typical ticket vouchers are either $200, for a short-term delay, or $400, for an overnight delay. My next post in the series will detail the rewards provided by each of the major airlines.

Which flights are the most likely bump candidates?

Generally speaking, there are four scenarios which result in a flight being overbooked:

  • Peak Travel Periods. Spring Break, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and traditional vacation periods such as June, July, and August will likely result in an increased demand for tickets and, as a result, more opportunities for oversold flights and bumping.
  • Inclement Weather. Storms, high winds, snow, or other forms of bad weather can cause flights to be cancelled. The passengers on these flights are often rebooked on flights departing later that day or the next. Passengers on later flights stand a good chance of benefitting from these cancellations.
  • Traditional Business Flight. Flights to popular business cities that depart late Sunday night, early Monday morning, or Thursday afternoon and evening are prime candidates for being oversold.
  • Popular Routes. Routes to and from major hubs such as Atlanta and Dallas are good candidates for overbookings.

What can I do to better my chance of being bumped?

My advice for improving your chances of being bumped is simple: First, check-in as soon as possible. Second, get to the gate early.

If you are able to check-in at home, do so. The sooner you check-in the greater your chance for having a confirmed seat on the flight. If you wait, you run the risk of being one of the people in the unenviable position of trying to get on the flight. Many airlines offer the ability to check-in from your PDA if you forget to do it at home. This is also a great way to check-in if the lines at the ticket counter are excessively long.

Typically, most airlines offer compensation on a first-come, first-serve basis. So get to gate as soon as you can (120 to 90 minutes before the departure time is optimal) and inquire with the gate agent about the status of the flight. I have three questions I ask:

  • “Is the flight full?”
  • Next, “Is it oversold?”
  • Finally, “Are you looking for volunteers?”

If they are in need of volunteers I give them my name (or ticket if requested) and wait for more information when the bump is confirmed. Often, only a single volunteer is needed so be sure you are that person.

The Bottom Line

The information in this post is enough to get you started bumping. Watch out for future posts that provide more detailed information on bumping. I have been bumped 6 times in the past 3 months and I couldn’t be happier. You will be too if you are prepared and ready to take advantage of this great opportunity.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed on this site are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. For details on current offers visit the card issuer’s site.

About The Weekly Flyer

The Weekly Flyer writes about travel from a business traveler perspective. He travels the world every week accumulating points and miles along the way.

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