Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Robin, whose family was rewarded for flexibility around an oversold flight:
My family was returning from a fantastic three weeks in China, when I noticed the gate was very full at our layover in Detroit (DTW). I approached the counter and asked if they needed volunteers, and was told they might need four, which was perfect for me, my husband and our twin 10-year-old sons. Shortly after, I saw a solo traveler approach and ask the same question. I watched as the agent added her name to the list, and many more followed.
The offer was a $400 Amex gift card for each ticket, along with a confirmed seat on the next flight only 90 minutes later. This seemed fair to me, and multiplied by four it was a great way to recoup costs from a long trip! We waited (along with the solo traveler) until almost everyone boarded, when the gate agent pulled me aside and said they didn’t need four volunteers, and that we were free to board the plane.
A light bulb went off in my head, and I explained that our family could volunteer for one, two, three or four seats, depending on what they needed. In other words, we could easily split up. I heard a sigh from the solo traveler as I watched her board the plane.
In the end, they only needed one volunteer. I gladly accepted, got my $400 Amex gift card and some time to myself to read at the gate, and joined my family at our home airport 90 minutes after they landed. It was easy and worth it to me, especially because the delay was so brief and the airline offered a gift card (rather than a voucher). I now make it clear to gate agents that we can split up any which way when volunteering our seats, and it has worked out very well for us!
Scoring compensation from an oversold flight is more difficult if you’re traveling in a group and need to stay together, since volunteering only helps if the airline needs to free up at least as many seats as the number of people in your party. When your group is flexible like Robin and her family, however, then you can quickly become a gate agent’s best friend in an oversold situation. They may be uncertain how many seats are needed until the last second, so providing the option to separate you (or not) makes their job easier. I recommend telling the gate agent you’re willing to split up from the outset; bumps are typically offered on a first come, first served basis, but your flexibility could move you to the front of the queue.
When you’re traveling with friends (or other financially-independent travelers) rather than family, be mindful that not everyone is equally receptive to getting bumped, and other people’s thresholds for making it worthwhile may vary. As always, it’s best to have a plan in place before the question of getting bumped arises, including an equitable way to decide who gets bumped and who gets compensated in the event that not all your seats are needed. For example, if four of you are flying and the flight is only overbooked by three, you could split the take evenly among all of you, or find some other way to include the fourth passenger (like paying for meals) if you receive compensation that can’t easily be divided.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Robin a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to email@example.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes. If your story is published, we’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!
Featured photo by Alexander Spatari / Getty Images.