What To Do If Your Flight is Oversold

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Airlines have been changing their oversold procedures after the recent incident where a United Airlines Passenger Was Dragged Off Plane Due To Oversell and with the recent changes if you’re flying Delta or United you could find yourself with a hefty reward if you’re willing to get bumped off.

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Delta Gates

If you’re looking to volunteer to give up your seat to take a later flight first check to see if the flight is full. You can do this by checking fare class availability such as with ExpertFlyer. You could also look to see if the airline is still selling seats for your flight, or even a less accurate way is to check the seat map. If the airline isn’t selling seats and the seat map is full, chances are your flight may be oversold.

When it comes to day of departure, do the online check-in. Delta first solicits volunteers while checking in online and even allows passengers to bid what amount they’re willing to take a later flight. Next when you get to the airport, stop by the ticket counter and inquire if the flight is oversold. Ticket agents have no reason to hide this information so will sometimes even disclose how many passengers the flight is oversold by.

Once you’ve cleared security head to the gate. If you’re trying to bump off an oversold flight, I’d recommend getting to the gate an hour before the flight. I once missed an oversold opportunity for arriving too late and the gate agent already had 6 volunteers. Once at the gate, approach the gate agent and let them know you’re interested in volunteering to take a later flight. They may take your ticket or write down your seat number. Depending on the situation they may go over other flight options initially or may say they’ll call you up if they need to.


If you’re called up to the gate, inquire what the next flight they can put you on. Airlines have become stinger lately with rebooking and are less likely to rebook you on another carrier. While they may offer the next nonstop flight to your destination, do your research and see if you can get there sooner by adding a stop along the way.

For compensation, depending on the airline it can very significantly, though I’d say I would expect a minimum of $400. While most airlines offer airline vouchers, Delta in certain cities will offer gift cards including American Express cards.

With the recent changes, Delta is allowed to offer up to $9,500 in compensation and United can offer up to $10,000 to get volunteers to take a later flight, so don’t automatically accept the initial offer of $400 or $800!

Once you’ve agreed on an offer and new flights sit back and wait for all the passengers to show up, and if they do you’ll have been bumped!

Feel free to share your experiences of tips for bumping off of oversold flights below. 

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.

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  1. When I determine that a flight is probably oversold I select an alternate itinerary on the same airline that works best for me based on schedules, aircraft, and seat availability. When the gate agent arrives I greet them with a smile and offer to give up my seat. I tell him/her that I’ve already worked out the details for an alternate. It lightens their workload. In those cases in which it turned out that my seat was needed I have always been given the itinerary I requested.

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