How To Win the Airline Bumping Game

Kiplinger’s reports on this post Thanksgiving morning on ways to win the bumping game when airline musical chairs means someone has to go. They quote Bob Jones, who writes for, and has this advice:

“Some travelers, says Jones, routinely offer their seats even before an overbooking announcement is made. They may win frequent-flier miles as a token of gratitude, he says, even if they don’t get bumped. The Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the Department of Transportation recommends that you not trade in any ticket until you have a confirmed seat on a later flight and know whether vouchers you’re offered have blackouts or reservations restrictions.

Lacking volunteers, agents usually target the last passengers to arrive at the gate. If that happens to you, you’ll receive a written statement describing your rights (small comfort as you watch the plane depart) and promising you a seat on another flight. If you can be booked on a flight that will get you to your destination within one hour of your original arrival time, you’re entitled to nothing except maybe an apology. But if you’ll be one to two hours late, the airline owes you cash: the cost of the fare to your destination, up to $200. If you are delayed by more than two hours, the compensation doubles, to as much as $400.

You’re out of luck if you haven’t bought your ticket at least 30 minutes before the plane departs or met the deadline for checking in. Most airlines require that you get to the gate at least ten minutes before departure time; some insist on as much as an hour.

Even if you’ve done everything by the book, you still get bupkis if the airline decides to switch to a smaller plane and squeezes you off the flight, or if you’re on a chartered flight or a plane that holds 60 or fewer passengers — unless you’re dealing with a particularly nice ticket agent.”