If you're planning on traveling by plane this holiday season, expect delays and crowds as more people than ever take to the skies. As a result of the popularity of travel, you may also face one of the greatest inconveniences or benefits of travel: bumping.
Airlines regularly sell more tickets for a flight than they have seats--known as overbooking--in anticipation of the fact that not everyone shows up for the flight. When more people show up than there are seats, the airlines are required to request volunteers to fly on another flight in exchange for compensation. Each airline has its own compensation policy; usually the ariline will offer a voucher good for a free ticket within the United States or a voucher worth at least $100 for future travel.
What happens if no one volunteers? The airline can then pick people to bump anyway. If you are involuntarily bumped you are almost entitled to be compensated if you end up at your destination more than an hour after the scheduled flight was due to arrive. If your new flights get you in one to two hours late, you are normally entitled to the full amount you paid for that portion of the travel up to $200. If you arrive more than two hours late, or the airline doesn't offer you a new itinerary, you are usually entitled to twice that amount.
To minimize your chances of getting bumped involuntarily, make sure to get a seat assignment when you purchase your ticket. On the day of the flight be sure to check in early; if you don't check in by your airline's required time, you can be bumped without compensation.
If you decide the compensation is worth getting bumped, here are some suggestions to increase your chances. First, to get a sense of the likelihood of being bumped, call the airline ahead of time and ask the sales agent how busy the flight is. On the day of the trip, arrive at the gate at least an hour ahead of time and get in line. As soon as the gate personnel come, ask if the flight is overbooked, and if so, what kind of compensation is being offered. If the deal sounds good, ask to be bumped right away. Check the restrictions of the compensation, such as how long you have to use the voucher, whether there are any blackout dates and whether you can transfer the credit to a friend or family member. It never hurts to ask for more, but be careful: if you wait for the offer to be sweetened, someone else may volunteer before you.
Whether you are bumped voluntarily or involuntarily, here are some pointers. Immediately ask the gate personnel to confirm you on another flight. Even if they don't volunteer the information, you are probably entitled to be booked on another airline's flight if it is more convenient. (It doesn't hurt to try to get a sense of alternative flights ahead of time). Occasionally you can even end up being rebooked on a flight that actually gets you to your destination earlier. If you do have some time in the airport, ask the airline for a food voucher and some free phone calls to tell people you are late. And, it never hurts to remind the gate personnel of the inconvenience you suffered and politely ask for a first-class upgrade.
Daniel N. Saul is the President of Smarter Living at www.smarterliving.com, a free online consumer organization dedicated to helping you save time and money.
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