Negotiating the Fairest Compensation when Bumped
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
This is not something to
obsess about, particularly before you've been chosen to be a
(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
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
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
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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24 Jul 2009, last update
02 Jul 2017
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