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Frugal Travel

Airlines increase payback for getting bumped

Apr 24, 2011

Hilton Head Island, SC – When the U.S. Department of Transportation announced recently that compensation for getting bumped from an airline flight was going up, thanks to consumer advocates and the Obama administration’s response to the demand for a passenger’s bill of rights, the sound you heard was a collective cheer from travel hackers everywhere.

Travel hackers, like Rick Ingersoll, the author of the popular blog The Frugal Travel Guy, have used what they call “the bump” for years to acquire travel vouchers from airlines, which translate into free travel in the future.

What is “the bump”? Simply put, travel hackers get to airline ticket counters early, on days and times that they know the airlines are likely to oversell seats for flights, and they volunteer to be bumped from their flight in return for travel vouchers or other compensation.

Airlines have been allowed to oversell because some passengers with refundable tickets will invariably fail to show. And an empty seat is lost revenue to the airline.

The new rules are an attempt to discourage airlines from overselling their flights.

Until now, travel vouchers for a bumped flight capped out at $400. But according to a report in the Chicago Tribune this week, airlines will now have to pay “up to $650 to passengers rebooked on a flight that is scheduled to arrive within two hours of their original arrival time on a domestic flight and within four hours for international flights.” (Passengers involuntarily bumped will receive up to $1300 under the new rules, compared with the current $800.)

In light of this new rule, Ingersoll offers his seven steps to making “the bump” provide you with even more free travel in the future:

1. Arrive at the gate one hour and 15 minutes before the flight is scheduled to leave, to either volunteer or confirm you are already first on the list.

2. Volunteer for all segments of your flight, including layovers, at the first ticket counter of the day. “United will let me do it,” he noted. “Other airlines may not. But it’s worth asking.”

3. Use carry-on luggage only. “Airline personnel do not want to have to hunt down your luggage,” he said. “If someone else with carry-on only volunteers, he or she is more likely to get the bump and the compensation.” Ingersoll says he’s even gotten his wife to travel anywhere and everywhere with nothing more than carry-on luggage “so we’re always ready to take advantage of a bump.”

4. If you’re traveling with more than one in your party, be willing to split up in case the airline only needs one volunteer.

5. Know your alternative routings so you can help the agent in the event the airline needs your seat. “Show them you are the easiest to deal with. Have available flight options that will work for you,” he said.

6. Never fully commit until you know which flight you will be confirmed on and the amount and type of compensation. “Don’t assume you’ll get the compensation just because you volunteer,” he said. “Make sure they’ll provide it first. And don't forget to ask for an upgrade to first class as part of the compensation.”

7. Volunteer for every flight, every day that you fly. “Even if the seat maps show plenty of seats, you have no idea if a previous flight has been cancelled, or if weight restrictions have been placed on the flight, meaning fewer people get to board,” he said. “I always check the seat counter and the airlines’ website’s seat map before going to the airport just to confirm my best prospects.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the price of your ticket and the length of your delay will determine your compensation. And under the new rules, that compensation is yours in addition to the price of the ticket. You can even use the compensation for alternate transportation or have it refunded.

“Amassing travel vouchers by volunteering to get bumped has been worth it for years,” Ingersoll said. “Now it’s even more worth it. A little inconvenience can mean plenty of free travel in the future. Take advantage of it.”

Airlines increase payback for getting bumped
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