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There is a wide range of different things to ask for when you're bumped off a flight.

Many of these compensatory items are non-cash items.  And then - typically the biggest part of the package - is the cash (or cash equivalent) you will receive.

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Negotiating the Fairest Compensation when Bumped  part 2

You should always get more than the legal minimums

The first offer isn't necessarily the best or final offer, but there are limits on what the airline can and will do for you.

Strike a balance to get the most you can both in cash-equivalent and non-cash compensation.

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



In the first part of this double article we talk about how to optimize the many non-cash elements of a total compensation package for when you're bumped off a flight.

Now, in the second part, we focus in on how to get the most appropriately generous cash-equivalent compensation too, and help you understand how to value the award the airline is giving you.

Negotiating Cash Type Compensation for Being a Volunteer

In addition to various other compensatory actions, you will be offered some sort of travel voucher - probably either a voucher that can be used to pay for a certain dollar value of future travel, or a free ticket of some nature.

There are plenty of 'fine print' issues to understand in each of these two situations so as to best understand exactly what you are being offered, and if there are any catches associated with it that might reduce its value to you.

The Nature and Value of the Compensation Offered

So how much do you actually get from the airline for volunteering?  Rates of compensation vary all over the board, from as low as $100 up to $500 and sometimes (rarely) more, and sometimes you'll get a free ticket instead of a cash voucher.

This is one of the hardest parts of the deal to negotiate, because it is the most 'visible' and 'accountable' part of the transaction for the gate agent.  They are, in some form or another, measured by how generous they are with giving away vouchers and tickets, but other things (like meal vouchers) are things they might have a drawer full of, all available to give away at any time for any reason.

You of course want to optimize and understand the issues to do with this part of the total deal as best you can, but if you're trying to negotiate a better deal, sometimes it is better to consider some of the other parts of the total deal, rather than to focus on talking up a $200 voucher to a $300 voucher.

Free Ticket Issues

It used to be that it was common for airlines to give you 'free tickets' rather than 'cash' vouchers, but this is much less common now.

But if you are offered a 'free ticket' voucher, there are four things you need to understand :

Availability restrictions

Are there any availability restrictions on the ticket - is it good for any seat on any flight at any time, or is it booked in a restricted class of service?

You should ask this question, and in an attempt to find out what the restricted booking class is/means, ask how it compares to the booking class typically required for eg a free ticket (you want it to be less restrictive than the free ticket inventory) or an advance purchase promotional fare (this might be acceptable).

Blackout dates

Less commonly these days, but still sometimes found, are situations where the ticket has blackout dates when it can't be used (eg the days around Thanksgiving).

Usually this is now managed 'automatically' (and more opaquely) by simply restricting which inventory class the ticket can be booked in (see the preceding section) but sometimes airlines will be up-front and specify certain dates that the tickets can't be used for.

Ticket Expiry

When does the free ticket expire - there are actually two parts to this question.  The first part is when the free ticket voucher needs to be converted to an actual flight booking, and the second is when the booked flights need to be flown.

You would hope that the free ticket would allow you to book your flights any time in the next year, and that the booked flights could be taken any time within a year of them being booked.  So, for example, if you get a voucher on 15 July 2009, maybe that means you have to book your flights prior to 15 July 2010, and you have to take your flights prior to 15 July 2011.  This is a generous window of time.

Ticket transferability

Can only you use your voucher, or can you use it to book travel for other people?  Ideally, it would be nice if the voucher could be used for a free ticket for anyone, not just yourself, and ideally, you should be able to choose who the person will be that travels at any future time.  But with a year to book your flights and another year to travel on them, the chances are that even if it is restricted only to yourself, you'll still be able to get value from the voucher.

If by some chance you get two tickets, can they be used separately or must they be used by two people traveling together?  Can they both be assigned to other people?

Route restrictions

Is the ticket good to go anywhere the airline flies?  Typically, the ticket may be restricted to perhaps only the lower 48 states (ie no AK or HI), and definitely not be valid for international travel, but sometimes you might be surprised and strike it lucky.

Cash Voucher Issues

More commonly these days you'll be given a voucher of some description - what used to be known as an 'MCO' - a 'miscellaneous charges order', and it will be valid for something between perhaps $100 and $500 that can be used for future travel purchases.

Note that although this is sometimes referred to as a cash voucher, it can't be converted into cash.

There are a few important questions to ask about these vouchers as well.

Who will redeem the voucher?

Is the voucher valid only on the airline that bumped you?  What about code share flights on other airlines?  Regional flights on other carriers?

Can it be spent in several smaller amounts?

Can the voucher be partially redeemed on several occasions?  For example, if you get a $300 voucher, could you use it to buy a $200 ticket and then get 'change' and have a remaining $100 voucher for another purchase.

How long is the voucher valid for?

Normally the vouchers need to be used within a year of issue date, but of course, you can use the voucher within that year to book future travel beyond that year (the same as in the example 2 of c.1 above).

Voucher assignability

Can the voucher be assigned to anyone else, or can it only be used for purchases in your name?

What can it be used for?

Can the voucher only be used for buying tickets, or can it be used for other things too (in particular, for paying excess baggage fees)?

Maybe you might want to use it to buy a membership in the airline's lounge program?  Or maybe you might want to use it to buy some miles from their frequent flier program?  Find out if there are restrictions on how you can use the voucher.

Which is Better - a Free Ticket or a Cash Voucher?

This depends of course on the restrictions that may be associated with the free ticket and the value of the cash voucher.  And, much of the time, it is a moot point because you won't be offered a choice.

You should try and guess as to where you might choose to fly with your free ticket, and then consider what a typical airfare to fly to that place would be, and this will give you a bit of a feeling for the equivalency of the ticket compared to the voucher.

One last thing to consider - you probably won't earn frequent flier miles on a free ticket, but you will if converting cash into a roundtrip ticket.  This might mean the difference of potentially 5000 or more frequent flier miles, which at a theoretical value of perhaps 2 each represents a $100 value.

Airline Specific Policies

While most airlines will negotiate most things in most situations, there are two exceptions of a sort.

However, even in these situations, if there is a shortage of volunteers (rather than the more common surplus of volunteers) there may still be some extra 'sweetener' you can secure from the gate agent.

United Airlines

United has a formal bumping compensation policy - it pays $400 in travel vouchers.

Delta Airlines

Delta has instituted an interesting system whereby it operates an auction, giving preference first to would-be volunteers who offer to accept the least amounts of compensation.

Be sure to also read the first part of this two part article, which is about negotiating non-cash type extra benefits when being bumped.

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.

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How to negotiate the best bumping compensation part 2
Your legal rights if bumped in the US
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