In most cases, being turned away from an overbooked flight is the last thing you want to deal with while traveling. If you aren’t in any rush to get where you’re going, though, it’s a circumstance that could end up being quite profitable. As Forbes writer Laura Begley Bloom points out, you can make thousands of dollars in compensation fees—plus perks—by getting bumped from certain flights.
Begley Bloom received $11,000 from Delta Airlines after she and her family were booted from their flights during the 2017 spring break travel season, and other travelers have reported receiving similar payouts. Delta reportedly pays up to $9950 to passengers who have been asked to take later flights, and United dishes out up to $10,000.
Unfortunately, there is no surefire way of predicting whether a flight will be overbooked, but there are a few factors that improve your chances of scoring a nice compensation package. First, consider flying at busy times (like Monday mornings and Friday nights) and during busy travel seasons (like holidays and college breaks). You should also try to buy seats on flights that are nearly full, because these are far more likely to be overbooked.
Which airline you fly with is another important factor. According to a 2017 analysis from CompareCards.com, at least as far as the major airlines are concerned, Delta is the company most likely to pay passengers who volunteer to take a later flight. Regional airlines like ExpressJet and SkyWest have even higher bump rates, though. Meanwhile, Hawaiian and JetBlue are the airlines least likely to overbook flights.
Just be sure to be at your gate early, or you could lose your right to compensation. And don’t hesitate to ask an airline agent whether they're overbooked and looking for volunteers to take another flight.
If you do manage to game the system and get bumped from a flight, Begley Bloom recommends demanding cash instead of gift cards and vouchers, which often expire or carry a lower value. By law, passengers are entitled to cash payouts if they turn down vouchers. She also suggests passing on the airline’s first offer—as long as they still need volunteers, they’ll typically increase the payout—and always ask for additional perks, like food vouchers, taxi fare, and upgrades. If you're lucky, you could end up significantly upgrading your vacation on the airline's dime.