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So you didn't make your flight.  Hopefully that's not the worst outcome in the world.

Now use the information in these two articles to ensure you get the fairest possible compensation.

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Negotiating the Fairest Compensation when Bumped  part 1

Whether you're voluntarily or involuntarily bumped off a flight, there's a wide range of outcomes you can negotiate to your advantage

Be positive, firm and fair in your negotiation with the gate agent and make the situation into a 'win win' for both of you.

They get a happy loyal customer for the future, and you get generous compensation.

Part of a series on being bumped from flights, see the other articles in this series listed on the right.



The key thing to realize, when negotiating compensation for a flight you've missed - be it either a voluntary action on your part, or an involuntary action by the airline, is that the gate agent has a huge degree of personal decision making authority and can choose to give you considerably more (or considerably less) than would otherwise be the case, based on how you relate to that person, and your own attitude to them.

So be polite and pleasant and positive.  Know your rights, know what is fair and normal, and then negotiate a favorable outcome for yourself.

In this first part of a two part article, we talk about all the non-cash types of compensation you can seek, in addition to the actual cash component, which we consider in the second part.

Negotiating Non-Cash Type Compensation for Being a Volunteer

The airlines typically set guidelines for what gate agents can offer to volunteers to induce them to give up their seats.  This amount depends on the length of flight and the length of delay, and then can be modified from that initial point.

These guidelines will be influenced by the 'market forces' acting on the day of the flight.  If there are not many people willing to be volunteers, the inducement (aka bribe) might be sweetened.  But if there are ten volunteers and only two are needed, then don't expect the deal to be as generous.

One thing to remember - the airline is free to accept you as a volunteer or not.  You're not altogether in the driving seat here, you have to be cooperative and meet the airline half-way.  After all, if the airline ends up disliking you, and if you demand too much, they can simply decide you've become an involuntary denied boarding passenger, and then observe the minimum 'letter of the law' entitlements.

Generally airlines don't want to accept 'conditional' offers for volunteering, but there is at least once exception to that - if you are traveling as a couple or as part of a larger (eg family) group you can certainly say 'we want to either all travel as currently confirmed, or all be bumped - we don't want to split ourselves up'.  That is a fair and reasonable request to make.

Airlines will commonly be more generous to volunteers than they are required by law to be, for two reasons.  Firstly, their 'generosity' is in non-cash forms - it costs an airline a tremendous amount less to give you a voucher for future free travel than it does to write you out a check for cash.  The second reason, believe it or not, is the airline's desire to not upset their passengers.  They'd rather pay a bit more to someone who appreciates the chance to be a volunteer, than to massively upset someone by forcing them off a flight they desperately needed to take.

Typically there are many factors to consider in negotiating your compensation.  Some are things you'll want to understand before deciding to be a volunteer, others are best left until the last minute.

Some of these items you might find that sometimes, some airlines will be generous about, and sometimes other airlines not so generous.  Work your way through the complete list each time to attempt to maximize your overall compensation.

Best of all, if you do well and get generously compensated under one of these headings, that doesn't preclude you from further generous settlement under other headings, too.

(a)  Alternate flight arrangements

The most important thing is to understand what your 'protection' (this is the term used by airline staff) will be.

And the key point to focus in on here is not how much later you'll be leaving the airport you're in at present, but how much later you'll arrive at your final destination.

Note that sometimes you might offer/suggest to the airline staff that they fly you to a different airport (they might not think of this themselves).

For example, if you're flying to New York, you'd probably accept an alternate flight to any of the major three NYC airports, although if you were switched from LaGuardia to Newark, you might ask for some additional compensation to cover the increased cost of a taxi if you were planning to then go into Manhattan.

This is clearly something to understand up front.

If the alternate flights are going to get you way late to your destination, possibly requiring an overnight stay, you could ask if the agent can book you on a different airline instead.  It really helps if you can tell them what alternate airline to use, so as to make this an easy rather than complicated process for them.

Airlines don't like doing this as much as they used to, because increasingly each airline will rapaciously charge each other airline for accepting last minute overflow passengers, and the cost of this might exceed the cost to the airline of putting you up in a hotel for the night (they often have very deep discounts at nearby hotels that reduce their cost way down below what you'd expect).

So this is something you'd ask politely for, rather than demand as of right.

(b)  Upgrades on your alternate flights

Some readers have reported good luck when asking if they can be upgraded to business or first class on their alternate flights.  Indeed, in one case, a family of four all got upgraded for their alternate flight.

Asking to be upgraded for the alternate flight is something that you are not entitled to as of right, but rather it is a discretionary gift that gate agents can give you if they want to.  So probably don't raise this issue up front in advance unless it is a key part of your decision to volunteer or not, but rather try and finesse it later on.

You could even volunteer to take not the next flight out but a still later one if it meant you'd get first class rather than coach class seating (if this was important enough to you).

(c)  Accommodation if staying overnight

It is a reasonable request and expectation that if you end up having to stay overnight, the airline will pay for the cost of the hotel room.

But even this has some grey area that should be clarified.  If the hotel does not offer courtesy airport transfers at the time you'll be going to the hotel, and/or at the time you'll be returning to the airport the next morning, will the airline also pay for taxi rides to and from the hotel.

The airline probably has several different hotels it uses - see if you can choose from the possible hotels rather than take the hotel first offered to you - perhaps one might be three star and the other five star.

If you'll be at the hotel during meal times, it is fair to ask for a dinner and/or breakfast to be paid for as well.

You'd probably want to simply confirm up front that you'll have a hotel stay arranged for you, and then sort out these remaining details later.

(d)  Meals and Refreshments

If you're simply staying longer at the airport, it is fair to ask for a meal/refreshment voucher (or two).  If there'll be a lengthy stay and over a time that includes a traditional meal time, ask about the meal voucher up front.  But if it is a shorter stay, perhaps leave this to be something you finesse after you've been accepted as a volunteer.

Typically these vouchers will be for a certain dollar value equivalent, and can be redeemed at a number of different food stores around the terminal.

If there are two of you, maybe see if you can get three vouchers to be shared between the two of you.

(e)  Phone calls home

This isn't really a big deal any more - most of us have cell phones, and most of our cell phone plans allow for unlimited calling within the US at no extra cost, but it used to be a traditional part of the compensation package that you'd get some sort of calling card with a few dollars credit on it to allow you to call home to advise of your changed flight arrangements.

Maybe you might ask if they give such things, and then suggest you 'swap' it for another meal voucher or something else that might have more value to you instead.

This is not something to obsess about, particularly before you've been chosen to be a volunteer.

(f)  Lounge access

If you are going to be held over for quite a wait until your next flight, it is fair to ask if you could get a one-time guest pass to be admitted to their airport lounge.

If you are told they don't offer such things, you could also ask 'could you put a comment in my record requesting a courtesy admission based on there being sufficient space available in the lounge' - maybe the agent will type something into your record that might help you get in.

One last approach would be to suggest 'could you phone the lounge front desk up and ask if they'd let me in'.

In reality, airline lounges are nothing very special these days.  Many don't provide free food, and few provide free alcoholic drinks, although most will have coffee and sodas available, so don't make this too big a deal for you.

This is another thing best asked about after you've been chosen as a volunteer.

(g)  Other 'freebies' - miles, meals, amenities, upgrades

Lastly, the 'everything else' request.  After having gone through the preceding points with the agent, ask 'Is there anything else you could do - any other small courtesy or voucher you could offer that would be much appreciated?'  Pause a second or two to see how the agent is responding.

Maybe they'll come up with something unexpected and good.  But if they are starting to say they can't do anything more, you could suggest some things that they readily could agree to if they wished to.

For example, the chances are they have some 'courtesy vouchers' that might entitle you to $25 off a future flight, or for several thousand frequent flier miles.  They might have some free drink or food coupons for on the flight, as well as for in the terminal area.  Maybe they've some upgrade coupons, or who knows what.

If you're being positive and cooperative and helpful on your side, they might surprise you by being similarly positive, cooperative and helpful on their side.  It can be such a lovely change for them to deal with a friendly understanding traveler who isn't blaming them for things beyond their control.

As the adage goes - 'you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar'.

Be sure to also read the second part of this topic, on negotiating cash type compensation.

Part of a series on being bumped from flights, see the other articles in this series listed on the top right.

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Originally published 24 Jul 2009, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

Related Articles
All about airline overbooking of flights
How to reduce your chances of being involuntarily bumped
Volunteering to be bumped
What to do if you are involuntarily bumped
How to negotiate the best bumping compensation part 1
How to negotiate the best bumping compensation part 2
Your legal rights if bumped in the US
Your legal rights if bumped in the EU
Is the DoT Trying to Embarrass the Airlines part 1
Is the DoT Trying to Embarrass the Airlines part 2
New legal rights in the US 2011


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