Peter, How do I book flights so I have the greatest chance of being bumped? — Roberta Miller, Smyrna, Tenn.
- Book at peak travel times
- Ask for cash vouchers for maximum flexibility
- Don't try it on Jet Blue or Virgin America
Well, Roberta, I can understand why you would be interested. If you're not pressed for time, you can score travel vouchers by volunteering to be bumped, flying on busy routes or during peak travel periods. In fact, back in the day there were people who made a sport of getting bumped just for the free flight compensation.
But there's a big caveat. While airlines are required to offer compensation to bumped passengers, they may not offer a cash voucher. Instead, the trend now is to provide so-called flight certificates that come with a mile-long list of exclusions and blackout dates. If you can't redeem the certificate, that's a lot of wasted effort. Whenever given a choice, make sure to ask for cash vouchers that can be used on any booking, and have the added bonus of being eligible to earn frequent-flier miles unlike the free flight vouchers.
But if you want to give bumping a go, do the opposite of avoiding getting bumped. For example, choose flights that are typically overbooked, such as the 7 a.m. LaGuardia to Chicago flights, or the Minneapolis to Detroit early morning flights.
Ask the reservation agent on the phone or at the airport if the flight you've selected is overbooked since the agent is required to provide this information. Don't select seat assignment when booking your flight. Arrive early and let the gate attendant know that you're willing to get bumped from the flight.
Don't expect to win the bumping game with Jet Blue or Virgin America, however. Unlike the legacy carriers (Delta, United, American, Continental), these low-cost carriers generally don't overbook their flights. Jet Blue even goes as far as to offer $1,000 to passengers who are bumped because it's such a rare occurrence. Surprisingly, the low-cost king of the hill, Southwest, does practice bumping, so you might want to give this airline a shot.