You’ve had a wonderful holiday, only to arrive at the airport and head to your check-in desk to find that your flight is oversold. Someone – and possibly several someones – will not be boarding your plane to fly home, but if one of them is you could it be 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 could give you a chance to collect some meal coupons and flight vouchers. If it happens before you’ve left home, however, it could cause disruptions to not only the start of your holiday, but also problems with connecting flights, or being late joining a cruise ship. So what’s a traveller to do? Overbooked flights can happen at any time, but if you’re flying a popular route, or at a busy time such as Easter and Christmas, the risk of it happening is greater. And although airlines can “bump” passengers from a flight if it’s overbooked, which means denying people a seat on a plane even with 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 don’t want to risk getting caught up in an oversold situation, however, best advice is to either check in online as soon as your flight opens, or plan to arrive at the airport early for a physical check in. If you’re a willing volunteer, however, let staff know on arrival, be polite, and make sure compensation is worth the effort before agreeing. Ask questions, for example, 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 or is 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.