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
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. 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 number one on the list,” she replied.
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 told me to board as usual. I got on the plane, settled into my seat, 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 that followed 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.
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 some work 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, this flight 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.
Because it was an overnight delay, Delta also put me up in a hotel by the airport and gave me meal and transportation vouchers worth about $30.
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 are around the holidays (offering the most oversold flights) and 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.
I use the following tricks to ensure I’m at the top of the volunteer list each time I fly.
- 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-on and make sure your bags end up on the same plane as you.
- Be nice and smile - Ultimately the gate agent has final say who gets the valuable vouchers. Despite their external steely demeanor, they’re people too. 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.
About the author: John is a perpetual business traveler who now spends the majority of his life on the road meeting with clients all over the United States. Since he’s in the office for eight or nine hours everyday, he strives to make the most of every travel opportunity and shares his tips and tricks for doing so at his blog. Follow along at the Travel Rinse Repeat Travel Blog, on Twitter @TravelRinseRept, or on Facebook. If you want to learn more about the specific tactics John uses, see his post on earning free flight vouchers.
**All photos in this post were provided by the author.