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Thrifty Thursday: How I earned $1200 in free flight vouchers in one day

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This Thrifty Thursday guest post is brought to you by John of Travel Rinse Repeat. Have a thrifty travel story of your own to share? Contact Brooke.

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

airport abstract
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.

fly for free

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.

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21 Responses to Thrifty Thursday: How I earned $1200 in free flight vouchers in one day

  1. Elizabeth June 28, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    What a awesome day! Can’t wait to try this on my next flight 🙂

    • John June 28, 2012 at 9:29 am #

      Good luck! It’s definitely a lucrative opportunity.

  2. John June 28, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    Thanks for featuring my article Brooke!

    • Brooke June 28, 2012 at 11:16 am #

      Thanks for submitting it!

  3. Gerard ~ GQ trippin June 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    How lucky are you?! Airline vouchers are great. Even when it’s inconvenient, it pays off in the future. Q & I had a United flight that was delayed 4 hours making us miss our connecting flight in Germany. So they gave us 2 $450 vouchers to make up for the problem. We gladly used those vouchers a couple months later to book us 2 RT tickets to New Orleans. I’ll be sure to ask the airline if they oversold the flights for sure next time… =)

    • John June 28, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

      Asking is key! That’s how you stay ahead of the other people waiting for the announcement.

  4. Reid June 29, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    Awesome day! $1200 is a pretty good score. I always try to sit as close as I can to the counter just in case the flight is oversold and they ask for volunteers.

    • John June 29, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

      I’ve been guilty of this before too!

  5. Michelle June 29, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    That’s awesome – what are you going to spend the $1200 on??

    • John June 29, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

      I’ve already booked two flights with it – one to Berlin and another to Nicaragua (where I am right now)

  6. JoAnna June 29, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    I love to be bumped from flights, and I’m always the first to willingly give up my seat. I was actually told a couple weeks ago that Delta isn’t doing that anymore, though. When did this happen to you?

    • Brooke July 3, 2012 at 7:25 am #

      It looks like this happened in March of this year. That would be a bummer if they are doing away with this option. Did you score some big vouchers from giving up your seat in the past?

  7. Ruth July 1, 2012 at 3:55 am #

    Wow, this sounds like a plot line from a movie–you made quite the haul! I’ve never been bumped from a flight before (usually I have a strict timeframe of when I need to be at my given destination), but next time I may need to volunteer. So, have you enjoyed your vouchers yet? Where is your trip of choice?

  8. Randy July 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    Wow! That is awesome! When we checked into our United flight yesterday the computer asked us if we wanted to give up our flights we said yes. Then it took about 30 mins at the counter for the newbie lady to get us on the list. This was after the normal check in girl said “why bother making more work for yourself?” and told her not to do it. It was ridiculous. In the end it was overbooked and they still didn’t take us but United sucks in just about every way possible so I will be looking into this option on a different airline.

    • Brooke July 3, 2012 at 7:24 am #

      I am familiar with this feeling towards United… very well. Good luck on the next try guys. 🙂

  9. Erica July 1, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    This is a GREAT idea,

  10. Jennifer July 2, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    Sheesh! I’d love to have a day like that! Good idea!

    • Brooke July 3, 2012 at 7:23 am #

      Me, too! Pretty impressive, right?! 🙂

  11. Brendon July 14, 2012 at 4:41 am #

    Normally I’d hate to lose my seat on a flight but for several hundred $$$ in vouchers and just a few hours delay, I’m In.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Travel Hacking/Business: John of Travel Rinse Repeat - travelinksites.com | travelinksites.com - July 5, 2012

    […] this topic in my post ‘Fly For Free By Playing the Airline Voucher Game‘. I also did a guest post about how I earned $1200 in vouchers in one day over at Brooke vs. The […]

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