Four years ago, in the Summer of 2006 on my way to London to Study Abroad, I was inadvertently thrown into the bumped flight compensation game. I built in a few days into the beginning of my schedule for travel around London, and as such, had a little free time on my hands. I checked into the airport for my Monday flight to the United Kingdom (classes started the following Monday), and at the check-in desk, the ticket agent informed me that the flight was in an oversold status, and would possibly be looking for volunteers to give up their seats in return for compensation. As I found out later, the protocol is to ask for volunteers first, as if one is bumped involuntarily, a cash payout instead of vouchers is required.
Intrigued, I continued on through security and made my way to my gate and spoke with the gate agent, who informed me that the offer stood to give up our seats, but was only $400 in vouchers at the time (I will also add the offer included putting volunteers up in a Best Western and giving them meal vouchers for dinner). I decided to go ahead and volunteer, seeing that I could use $400 for tickets to a cousin’s wedding and for my honeymoon. The gate agent did let me know that if the offer increased to get more people to volunteer, I would receive the higher rate. Much to my pleasure, they increased the offer to $800. The airline gave me $15 in meal vouchers for dinner, which was enough for a reasonable dinner. I went on to London the next day without a hitch and walked to the bank with my flights paid for the next year.
I have had several opportunities since then to give up my seat, either because the flight was oversold or overweight (a condition that can occur due to the weather requiring the aircraft have less weight and more fuel). Usually in most circumstances the offer was too low ($50 or $100) or my schedule too tight or important to make giving up my seat worthwhile. Most recently, however, my wife and I were offered $200 to take a later flight from Atlanta to Miami. We decided to go ahead and take the offer (it was only 2 hours extra and we could use $400 in free flights). Ironically, the flight ended up not needing people to give up their seats, but since we had volunteered, they let us keep the $400 in compensation :-)
The best way to get compensation offers is to get to the gate early. Others will be trying for these offers too, so make sure to do what you can so you will be the first. Another tip is to keep in mind the time of year you’re flying and the destination. The popularity of the destination, along with the time of year, will play major roles as to the likelihood of getting bumped. Lastly, be flexible in your schedule. If you are in danger of missing a meeting or vacation, this is NOT for you. But if you can be flexible and plan well, it is an excellent way to score some great deals for future travel.