Airlines have this pesky habit of overbooking flights. And with the holidays coming up (and really any time of year), and increased number of people traveling, it is important to know your rights if you get bumped from your flight.
There is a difference between being involuntarily bumped and volunteering to take a later flight, or a voluntary bump. Those situations can be lucrative as well, and can pay for future trips if done correctly. A tip for being asked to take a voucher: connect through a smaller airport with not as many flights to your destination. Then there is a better chance that the connecting leg will be oversold and they will be looking for volunteers. But you have to make sure that the deal with worth taking. Make sure you get a decent amount for your voucher, plus your are confirmed on the flight they propose that you take. Once we were able to get bumped, put up in a hotel overnight, and get a first class seat on the first flight out the next day, in addition to a $500 voucher each. If you have time, this is a great option to pay for future trips. But just remember, if you checked luggage, your luggage will not be pulled from the plane and will be waiting at your destination (but you can get reimbursed if you have to buy necessary items like toiletries, and sometimes the airline will give you those complimentary as well). But be sure to also ask questions about the voucher like: how long is it good for; are certain periods blacked out; does it have to be used all at once; etc.
For those being involuntarily bumped, this is a totally different story, and it is important to know your rights. According to the Department of Transportation, when you are bumped, the airline is required to give you a written statement explaining your rights and how it chooses who is bumped and who isn’t. Also, the airline doesn’t owe you a voucher; it owes you cold, hard cash (or a check). Below are the standards for amounts:
- If you are bumped involuntarily and the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination (including later connections) within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation.
- If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $650 maximum.
- If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (400% of your one-way fare, $1300 maximum).
And remember, you always get to use your ticket to get on a later flight. These amounts are on top of being rebooked. And you have to have a confirmed ticket and follow airline rules (e.g. check-in cutoffs) to be eligible. But importantly, remember to check the terms of any voucher offered, and if you are involuntarily bumped you can elect for cash.
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