You’ve had the best holiday every, only to arrive at the airport check-in desk to find that your flight home is oversold. Someone – and possibly several someones – will not be boarding your plane as a result, but if one of them is you is it a curse or a mixed blessing? If the problem arises at the end of holiday, and you enjoy reaping the rewards of forfeiting your seat, an oversold flight can sometimes give you a chance to collect some meal coupons and flight vouchers. If it happens before you’ve left home, however, it will likely cause disruptions to the start of your holiday, and problems with connecting flights, or being late joining a cruise ship. So what’s a traveller to do if this happens? Flights can be overbooked at any time, but if you’re flying on a popular route, or at a peak travel time such as Easter or Christmas, the risk of it happening is far higher. And although airlines can “bump” passengers from a flight if it’s overbooked, which means denying people a seat on a plane even if they have a confirmed reservation, usually the check-in staff will seek out volunteers to give up their seat first.
If you volunteer to forfeit your seat, you might be eligible for lucrative rewards, from cash to free air vouchers. Also, the longer the delay, the better the pay-off, especially if the airline cannot secure enough volunteers to forfeit their seats. Some airlines will up the ante with rewards, even offering free meals, free drink coupons, and possibly an upgrade on a later flight if you stay back. If you don’t want to risk getting caught up in an oversold situation, however, the best way to avoid being left behind is to check in online as soon as your flight opens, or arrive at the airport early for a physical check in. If you’re a willing volunteer, in an oversold situation, let staff know on arrival and be polite, but make sure compensation is worth the effort before agreeing to stay back. Ask questions, such as if you’re offered a flight voucher will it be valid for long enough so you can use it? Or, if you’re rebooked onto a later flight, do you have a guaranteed a seat, and what happens if that flight also oversold? Ask for extras such as meal vouchers, free admission to an airline lounge or an upgrade if these are not mentioned, and if you paid in advance for optional extras such as checked bags or premium seats with leg room, the airline should offer you the same, or refund these charges if you do not receive them on your alternate flight.