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Scoring $1200 in Travel Vouchers

Fly for Free - Airline Vouchers
The following is a guest post from John at Travel Rinse Repeat.  John is a business traveler who now spends the majority of his life on the road meeting with clients all over the United States.  Please check out his site and thanks for the tips, J0hn!

The Oversell Issue

It’s no secret that most airlines oversell their flights anticipating a certain number of no-shows. And if more customers show up than the airplane has seats available, then the airlines are forced to clear room on the plane by giving travel credit vouchers to volunteers who give up their seat and take the next available flight out. The value of these vouchers can be high and competition for them can be fierce.

One Sunday in March of this year, I was able to ride a wave of oversold flights, getting bumped from flight after flight, in the end collecting $1200 in free travel vouchers from Delta Airlines. This story is about that day, my biggest windfall to date.

My $1200 Day

Fly for Free - Airline Vouchers

When I travel for work, I typically fly out first thing on a Monday morning. However, due to an unusually expensive ticket price for my standard Monday morning flight to Atlanta, I had to book a cheaper Sunday morning flight instead. It was bad enough that I had to cut my weekend short, but to add insult to injury, it was a 7:00 am flight.

Despite the early wakeup call, I knew I’d have a certain level of flexibility to work with since I didn’t have to be at work until Monday morning. I arrived at my gate right when it opened (an hour before departure) and asked the gate agent if the flight was oversold.

Yes, as a matter of fact it is.” she replied. Still drowsy, I perked up at the thought of a hefty travel credit. I told her I was flexible and asked her to add my name to the volunteer list.

You’re #1 on the list” she replied.

I knew having my name added to the list was no guarantee of getting a voucher. The airline was counting on several people missing their flights and if that were the case, then there would still be plenty of room for me on the plane.

Boarding time came and I checked in with the agent again. She informed me that they wouldn’t be needing my seat and to board as usual. I boarded the plane, settled into my seat, got out my book, and tried to relax for my flight to Atlanta.

Right before the boarding door closed, a gate agent boarded the plane and announced the flight was oversold; she was frantically looking for a few volunteers. My hand quickly shot up, but she had already chosen others who were seated closer to her. As she walked by my seat, I quickly grabbed her attention. Upon seeing me, she instantly remembered that I had first volunteered to give up my seat. She agreed to let me come off the plane.

Had I not spoken up in this instance, I not only would have lost out on this voucher, but the others to follow as well. This underscores the importance of speaking up in similar situations. There is no need to be rude or mean, but a polite reminder is certainly worthwhile when several hundred dollars of travel vouchers are at stake.

I gave up my seat and was rebooked on a flight later that morning. The total reward for a few additional hours spent in Denver? $400.

Fly for Free - Airline Vouchers

Repeat…and Again…

After grabbing breakfast and killing some time at the airport, I returned to the gate for my next flight an hour before departure. I was the first in line when the gate opened, and once again, I asked the gate agent if the flight was oversold. It was. I wasn’t getting my hopes up, but I did think of how nice it would be to double my $400 voucher, and I added my name to the volunteer list again.

This time I never made it onto the plane – before boarding started they informed me my seat would be needed and I was rebooked onto another flight that evening. Once again, Delta rewarded me for the minor inconvenience with another $400 voucher, bringing my total for the day to $800 in flight credits – and it wasn’t even noon.

After losing myself in my computer for the afternoon, it was time to head back to the boarding gate to go for the hat trick. Like every other flight before it that day, it was once again oversold. I added my name to the volunteer list, and if I did get bumped, the next flight didn’t leave until 6:15am the next morning – the flight I originally wanted to book anyways.

I waited on edge to see if enough customers would show up to necessitate bumping me off the flight. Just like the two times before, I was bumped once again and given another $400 voucher, bringing my total to $1200 in less than 12 hours spent at the airport.

This time, the flight I was booked on wasn’t until the next morning – the Monday morning flight I originally wanted to take. Because it was an overnight delay, Delta also put me up in a hotel by the airport (in my hometown, nonetheless) and gave me meal and transportation vouchers.

When Monday morning arrived, I had run out of flexibility and had to go to work. However, I can’t help but think how long I could have ridden this particular wave of oversold flights. It was clear that Delta had made a serious miscalculation regarding how many people would be on their flights that day, and I was able to take advantage of it.

Anybody Can Do It

The best part about this is that ANYONE can have a $1200 day like I did – you don’t have to be a frequent flyer. In fact, the heaviest travel days around the holidays (offering the most oversold flights) are often avoided by the seasoned business travelers. These are the best days to go for the vouchers; the day I earned $1,200 was on the tail end of spring break when Colorado has an influx of skiiers and snowboarders.

  • Show up to your gate early – Get to your gate an hour or more before your flight departs and ask the gate agent if the flight is oversold. If it is, tell them you’d like to volunteer to give up your seat.
  • Pack carry-on luggage - Giving up your seat gets complicated when your bags are still getting on the plane. Pack carry-ons and make sure your bags end up on the same plane as you.
  • Be nice and smile - Ultimately the gate agent has final say on who gets the valuable vouchers. Despite their external steely demeanor, they’re people too, and a smile and a little friendliness can go a long way.
  • Fly on Heavy Travel Days – Days with a significant amount of travelers will also have a significant amount of overbooked flights.

With a little forethought and planning when booking a ticket and on the day of your flight, you can reap some serious voucher value from the major airlines.

Crystal’s Comments:  Mr. BFS and I have volunteered for staying off a flight once but they didn’t need us.  Most of the time, I am really, really looking forward to getting to whereever I am going, so I do not volunteer.  But I am usually flying for pleasure, not business.  I would be way more likely to stay behind and blog at the airport while waiting for another flight if I was just rushing to work, lol.  But I will totally keep these tips in mind on my next flight since a free flight would be awesome!

How about you?  Do you all play the travel voucher game?

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32 comments to Scoring $1200 in Travel Vouchers

  • Wow that’s a great deal! Like Crystal, I usually just want to get there and usually my business trips do not allow for me to do this. Wish they did though :)

  • To clarify, I never take the bumps on my way TOO work on a Monday morning. In this case I was flying out on a Sunday so I had time to spare. The rest of the time, I only go for vouchers on my way home on Thursday nights. I’ve picked up significant voucher value then as well, but never as much as $1200!

  • This is really interesting. I never knew airlines did anything like this. I tend to get really antsy, fidgety, and impatient, so I know sitting around for hours at an airport would just nearly kill me. Maybe if it was only one flight missed it wouldn’t be quite so bad, but I don’t know if I could spend an entire day there! You have far more patience than I do, John!

  • I never thought about volunteering. I will keep these tips in mind if I have room for flexibility. $1200 is a huge value. That good be good for 2 roundtrips–depending on where you are going, maybe even 3. It’s a great way to make use of your business travels, if applicable.

  • That is amazing. Unfortunately with my work, we are not allowed to keep any compensation. The only time that I have come close was on a return trip from Thailand with Emirates airline – they offered us a free return ticket anywhere if we waited until the next day. Unfortunately, one member of our party had already left and we were meeting him in Dubai and with no way to contact him could not agree. I was gutted! Will definitely be asking in future although!

  • I’ve done this before during the holidays, when I was flying two and from college, getting a voucher while being a poor college student is definitely a perk.

  • I rarely ever fly but my dad does this often on his business trips. Easy way to snag a $400 discount!

  • I did it once when they asked for volunteers. It was in Vegas and the next flight wasn’t for several hours so I took a bus back to the casino. I ended up winning $100 so getting bumped got me a free flight and $100. Of course, it could have gone the other way and been a very expensive free flight.

  • I think this is perfect for singles and short trips. Almost all of my trips are coast to coast or overseas. There is very little flexibility.

  • Score! That sounds awesome. Unfortunately, whenever I don’t travel much and it has always been in a group setting. Next time I get the chance, I just may need to try this approach out.

  • I’ve volunteered before, but it never came up. Usually, though, it’s like the last leg of a long trip and I’m just dying to get home, so I won’t even volunteer.

  • Nice! Did you get to use the $1,200 for a fun trip or just another business flight?

  • I used to try and do this when I was single, but never got picked. I am usually traveling with a five year old, so bumping isn’t a good option. Flying is so expensive from where we live that I would love to get some travel vouchers. Maybe when the kiddo is a little bigger.

  • This is an interesting. A free flight is definitely exciting. I will keep these tips in mind and try to get a voucher on my next trip. A $400-voucher is obviously a big savings.

  • Rob

    That happened once to my wife and I a flight Munich Madrid, and this time it was unusual as I was traveling with her and we were heading home rather than to work. Turned out they sent the wrong plane (too small) so not only did we get paid 500 euros cash (actually credited to our CC) but the next flight was only an hour away.

    Me was a happy man that day.

  • Stephanie Hungerford

    I took the bump when I was in Vagas and because they can not discriminate if your disabled unless your in an electric chair in which case they only have so many battery containers on each flight and your chair has to be placed in with the checked luggage but they can not charge you a fee for this because that would be discriminatory. I use the wheelchair services at the air port because I do not walk very well but I took the bump on South west when they were extremely over booked direct flight. I ended up on a flight with one additional stop. I got free pictures at that airport because they were doing a promotion because it was the first week of Dec. Those free pictures I used in my Christmas cards. the next plane was delayed as well so they gave me a meal voucher do to my inconvinance. I got to see the blessing of my brothers baby for free in March this was so worth the 6 extra hours at the airport.

  • Cool story! I’ll keep this in mind if my travel schedule is ever flexible. I don’t remember a time when we could have elected to fly a bit later, though, as we usually try to take as little time off work as possible for trips.

  • When they book you on the next flight is there much of a seat selection? Next month I have flights between ORD and SFO that I can be flexible on for time, but I cringe at the thought of being stuck in a middle seat for a four hour flight. I’d rather pass on the $400 voucher than be stuck in an uncomfortable seat for that long. Maybe it’s because I’m older and find it hard to sit in an airline seat for hours and hours no matter where that seat is located. I actually paid an extra $25 for a window seat on one of the flights since there was nothing left but middle seats when I booked.

  • @felicity, I used one of the vouchers to go to Nicaragua and another to go to Greece (both fun trips!) I still have the third voucher from that day as well as a few others – trying to decide how to best use them.

  • Tracey H

    We flew from Buffalo through Chicago to Portland, OR years ago and they asked in Chicago if anyone would agree to be bumped. I ran up for my husband and myself & accepted. We were put on a flight 2 hours later (in business class!) and each of us was given tickets to fly anywhere in the continental US. As it was, when I’d booked the flights, I’d forgotten the time change in Portland so we were going to arrive there way too early anyway (we were meeting our son who was working there) and the delay in Chicago didn’t matter to us at all.

  • This is a great idea. I may have to try it.

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