Oversold Business Class on International Flight; How to Handle

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While not often, international business class cabins can end up in an oversold situation. Most airlines have a policy of not selling more seats than available and a primary reason for such a situation arises due to an equipment swap.  

The economy cabin ends up in oversold scenarios more frequently because airlines intentionally oversell seats, may have weight issues, and possibly have crew needing a seat. When this happens there are two scenarios, the airline will ask for volunteers to be put on a later flight and in exchange are given compensation such as airline credit or gift cards for the inconvenience.

As a reminder, 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, however be sure to see Why You Might Not Want To Volunteer To Bump On an Oversold Flight.The other scenario is when no one volunteers, and the airline is forced to do involuntarily deny boarding to a passenger which requires the airline to follow certain federally mandated guidelines to remedy the situation.

Per this Flyertalk thread, a Delta flight from Detroit to Shanghai experienced an oversold business class cabin where they needed 2 passengers to downgrade from Delta One to Premium Select on an A350-900. Initially the offer started at $600 and quickly climbed to $2,000 before an individual volunteered. The compensation was in addition to the fare-difference being reimbursed and brings up many opinions on what the best way is to handle such a predicament.

The first interesting point is that Department of Transportation (DOT) rules explicitly state that “bumped passengers are NOT eligible for compensation in the following situations; A passenger is downgraded from a higher class of seating to a lower class.  In this case, the passenger is entitled to a refund for the difference in price.” This means that the actions of the airline are entirely based on goodwill, public relations, and customer service.

It’s not public information of how the airline would select which passenger gets downgraded and conceivably any business class passenger is at risk. Therefore, by volunteering to be downgraded you create the opportunity to earn a voucher or other compensation for the inconvenience. In the case of the Delta flight from the US to China, a flight time of over 12 hours, each flyer needs to assess what they consider appropriate for compensation as it can vary depending on purpose of travel, who purchased the ticket (business or personal), and how different the class of service change is perceived.

However, it might be worth exploring other options as a volunteer such as changing to a different flight, maybe a later flight, or perhaps heading to another airport in the region and connecting on an alliance partner. When volunteering, the airline is interested in getting you to your destination and willing to be flexible with the available resources. Being a business class passenger should open up a few more options, but ultimately the airline can for a downgrade with no compensation.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below if you’ve ever had a flight oversold in the premium cabin.

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  1. Due to censoring unflattering comments, I don’t often have nice things to say about this blog, but I have to admit that this is a very good original post on an exceptionally ignored topic. Keep it up.

  2. I was recently asked to switch my flight from SIN -> DPS due to overbooking. We were booked into Business Class on KLM, and we agreed to Business Class on Singapore Air. We arrived in Bali a half hour early, still got to sit together, and got a voucher for our troubles.

  3. Yes and no. Its about AZUL. Brazil law is good and if foreigner maybe better.

    (quite OK bizz seats and as long as you press the service button they will serve. I mean day flight = window sheets open, working. Having service. They remember me). This was fhe 700 euro fare MAD-LIS-CGH return.

    Back from Sao Paulo to Lisbon onwars to Madrid. Flight delayed. Bla bla bla. Eco started boarding. Weird. No bizz. Some went anyway (maybe I should have). Then. Cut of for crew time. They needed additional sleep during night. This aircraft not has crew rest area so they needed several (8?) bizz seats. All except two (one was only on the fligt for 1 day meeting and cancelled and me). I did NOT want to go in eco. Their eco sucks.

    So I waited. Then I said was willing to take another flight. They said walk with us. I did (amd the other guy). They started ask questions and didnt trust it. Went back to the gate. Told them I want confirmation of what I get and showed them KLM app with a single way GRU-AMS at 5000 euro and Intold them would claim to them.

    Huh AMS? Yes at checkin they already rebooked me CGH-LIS-AMS. My MAD-AMS was a KLM booking. Nice of them.

    They only have a few A340 (or was ot 330) and I knew they didnt have enough planes so next day same problem.

    Nexf offer of me was Delta to US then AMS (nice amount of miles too). Nope. They came up with Alitalia. GRU-FCO-AMS next day. I said OK. Full fare highest fare bucket. I got 30000 miles orso.

    They put me in the BEST HOTEL. Luxury taxi from CGH to GRU. Perfect! Everything paid for. No excuses though.

    Know what you can ask and you get it. AZUL settled it well. It was an experience.

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