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Mastering the Art of Getting Bumped for Money

Mastering the Art of Getting Bumped for Money

Did you know that airline passengers could potentially make thousands of dollars in compensation by getting bumped from flights? The idea of getting bumped from a flight admittedly sounds like a nightmare if you’re traveling to get to an important work event or family obligation, however, many flyers get bumped on purpose. Opportunity-seeking travelers know that anyone with a little bit of time to kill or freedom with their schedule could actually benefit from being bumped from a flight. The media creates a big story whenever a scuffle happens because a passenger doesn’t want to get bumped from a flight. However, thousands of passengers actually request to be bumped each year! One passenger even received $10,000 in airline vouchers for the inconvenience of catching another flight. Not that married to your seat? Check out some easy tips to remember if you’d like to try your hand at getting some compensation in exchange for waiting a little longer to board your next flight.

Time Your Departures Correctly

It’s impossible to actually predict which flights will be overbooked. However, you can increase your odds of being on an overbooked flight by flying at certain times. Flying during high-volume times will certainly increase your chances of getting bumped from a crowded flight. Monday mornings and Friday evenings could be your best bets. What’s more, you’re more likely to be on an overbooked flight if you fly during busy times of the year. Booking a trip during the holidays, within the peak summertime travel window or during spring break can drastically increase your odds of being bumped.

Avoid Checking Your Luggage

A big part of being prepared to be bumped is giving yourself as much flexibility to change plans at the drop of a hat as possible. Flying with carry-on bags only will give you more flexibility when it comes to being bumped. Of course, giving up an opportunity to take advantage of a free checked bag is a pretty big commitment.

Choose Airlines That Compensate Generously and Bump Frequently

Some airlines are far more likely to bump passengers than others. Flying with an airline that frequently bumps passengers on an involuntary basis will give you a strong opportunity to volunteer. Here’s how the Bureau of Transportation Statistics says airlines rank for bump frequency:

  • Spirit Airlines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • JetBlue Airways

Delta and United both share a reputation for paying out the most. In fact, passengers flying with Delta and United can receive as much as $10,000 for being bumped from flights in some cases. You may remember that United and other airlines revamped their compensation setups following the headline-making removal of a passenger named David Dao from a United Airlines flight back in 2017.

Ask as Early as Possible

Want to be the first one on the list if an airline needs to free up some seats? It’s a good idea to try to complete the check-in process early. Let a check-in agent know that you’d be happy to volunteer to give up your seat if your flight is oversold.

Listen by the Gate

Sometimes gate agents make last-minute announcements that they are looking for passengers who are willing to be bumped. Try to get a position right next to the gate desk as you wait to board your flight. Being close enough to catch the eye of the gate agent will ensure that you’ll be noticed when you raise your hand.

Happy Bumping!

The big thing to remember is that you never want to pester gate agents. Informing gate agents that you’re volunteering to be bumped if a flight is overbooked should be enough. There’s no need to ask for updates or pressure anyone. Another big thing to remember is that you should ask for a cash voucher. Some airlines may try to compensate you with a flight. The problem with this is that compensated flights can often come with rigid restrictions and blackout dates. You can also inquire about the other perks that are on the table. Some airlines will sweeten the deal even more by throwing in gift cards for retailers or lounge access. The bottom line is that it never hurts to ask, and remember to be polite as it goes a long way! Don’t forget to brush up on your rights as a passenger before you set out to make bank from bumped seats!

View Comments (14)


  1. speedbrds

    November 12, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    A bit off topic, but I got $1000 from UA to voluntarily bump down from First on an 1:28h flight & put me in fake premium economy. Only forked out $160 before original flight change fee. Pretty darn good.

  2. jjmoore

    November 12, 2019 at 10:26 pm

    Checked bags are never a big deal – you can get them rerouted to fly with you if you wish. Most of the time (when the final destination remains the same) the bags will fly with the original flight.

    Bumping in 2019 is not nearly as common as it once was (like between 2008-2016 when I easily did it 10-20 times a year on UA / DL / US / WN), and I can say with certainty that booking flights just to get bumped does not pay off, as 99% of flights these days go out without taking volunteers. I have only bumped a couple times this year, and have flown 140 segments, so that statistic is not far off.

    The rest of this article is accurate, and I cannot emphasize enough to be the first one in line an hour prior to departure to get first dibs. There is supposedly a list with hierarchy that is generated from online / kiosk check-in, but GA’s will typically work with you first if you are showing competence and willingness at the gate.

  3. Anna Savoy

    November 13, 2019 at 4:13 am

    Wow! That’s the best voluntary bump story I’ve ever heard. What a sweet deal!

  4. mhrb

    November 13, 2019 at 7:37 am

    What about purposely booking flights/connections that have a high chance of benefiting from EU261?

  5. not2017

    November 13, 2019 at 9:37 am

    Some destinations are more overbooked versus others that usually have open seats. Outbound from HNL is overbooked a lot. Mainly because people with 2nd homes in HI, have open return tickets. I would say having Southwest serving HI destinations would increase the open ticket bookings. HNL has given me many volunteer opportunities. Usually AA starts at $250 but at holidays, it has started at $800 in HNL. MCO, LAS, MIA, are also good contenders. Generally flying hub to hub during a holiday increases the chances for volunteers. Post bad weather really increases chances of bumps. If you can postpone your trip this can really pay off.

    One of the best ways is to have a friend/relative who works for your airline. Since airline employees fly standby, they know which flights they can usually get on, as a standby. From their point of view they can tell what flights have the best chances of overbooking.

  6. melmike

    November 13, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    Here in Australia we find this concept of bumping crazy. Just doesn’t happen and people would be outraged! Maybe cause we are such a geographically large country but with so few destinations (larger cities)

  7. Jackie_414

    November 14, 2019 at 9:35 am

    Because of United’s new requirements to earn status, the airline will be experiencing higher overbooking rates than before. Why? Starting in 2020, status requires a minimum number of legs, unless one wants to spend a bunch more money. For example, to get 1K status, the flyer has to have 54 legs and spend $18,000, or spend $24,000. So, if I am flying from SFO to PHL I can get a nonstop for one leg of the 54 I need. However, I can also book SFO-DEN-ORD-PHL, for three legs.

  8. Counsellor

    November 14, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    Not sure if this is still the case, but United used to give preference to elites who volunteered to be bumped, over non-elites.

  9. snidely

    November 14, 2019 at 6:44 pm

    Jackie 414 –
    Don’t you have a real life? Is your time only worth $25-$50/hour?

  10. fairhsa

    November 15, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    Asia is much the same as Australia. Just not a thing.

  11. northwestair

    November 15, 2019 at 10:19 pm

    Just not a thing in Asia. Even traveling internationally does not happen except the occasional OP upgrade

  12. IEFBR14

    November 16, 2019 at 7:15 am

    I have a real life. I used to do MSM (max sgmt mode) to achieve status. On Sundays, I would fly SNA-LAX-SBA-SJC-SBA-LAX-SNA for 6 segments on a Sunday for about $100. Doing so help me achieve lifetime status at United. I walk right past people whose time is worth more than $25-$50 an hour to get preferential seats, bumps, free bags (even on no-bags Basic Economy, and free additional bag on international, which means 3 x 32kg). This was before the money-based qualification.

    I took the Sunday paper with me. The SJC connection was only 10 minutes long, but I never missed it. It was the same aircraft, same crew that turned around. If it was late incoming, it would be late going out.

    I did have to get off the plane and run my boarding pass again to insure I got credit for that connection. I even left my paper on board. The crew watched it for me, and was welcome to read it too. At times, I was the only passenger and I served my own drink and snack.

  13. maskedmesothorium

    November 19, 2019 at 10:41 am

    Also worth mentioning that not all bump compensation is created equal. Frontier may be among the tops for bump frequency, but you are required to spend the compensation within 90 days if it’s a voucher. Most airlines give you a full year.

  14. dascc

    November 20, 2019 at 2:54 pm

    Can the airline voucher only be used on the bumped passenger? Or can it be used to cover a companion?

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