Travel Voucher: 10 Top Tips to Get More
Free travel vouchers come to you when your flight is overbooked or your airline has to reschedule you due to a problem on their end. Would you like a free trip?
Did you know over 150,000 people were voluntarily bumped from their flight during 3 months of 2008. These people probably got a free voucher, just like I did.
A travel voucher can vary in value, but often run in hundred dollar increments, up to $500. You can also get a free ticket effective in the 48 states, all 50, all of North America, or even the Caribbean. Nice, right?
Also, I'll include the exceptions below.
The List, Prioritized
The items in the list have a priority from 10 to 1. In each item, you’ll see I have additional tips. I could probably have made this a 20 or 30 item list, but these will cover the most important items, and common sense will help.
10. Know Your Price
Some people will tell you it’s not worth it to volunteer to be bumped if you only get $100 or $200 in a travel voucher. I would say it is up to you. Some people do get $1000 for a bump, but probably for an international flight. You will have to decide your minimum.
Decide before you fly, so if you get an offer, you know what you expect. Some airlines will offer a round trip ticket, but it might have restrictions. Some will offer a $200 voucher, and a $200 travel voucher will get you a lot of places. What about $300?
The airlines already know that $300 is a fairly good offer, and that $300 gives you plenty of options for traveling. If you know before you go, you are a step ahead – you won’t get off for too little, and you’ll be happy when you do volunteer.
9. Allow for more travel time
I have experienced this one. When I got my free ticket, I wasn’t able to alert my friend picking me up at the airport. I tried to call ahead and send her a message, but when I arrived, she hadn’t gotten it. I felt awful.
A delay at the airport or with switching flights and possibly adding a layover in another city can cause serious stress. Can you handle that on this trip? For instance, if you get delayed, will you miss an important class or other meeting? You need to decide that ahead of time as well. Getting bumped may get you another ticket, but if it ruins a college class or a business meeting, it might not be worth it.
Also, if you have someone meeting you, make sure they get a call or a text with your new arrival time. Ideally, you won’t have anyone waiting, so you can arrive when you want. This is especially important if you have an opportunity to 3-peat!
8. Understand what you are getting: Travel Voucher vs. Ticket, vs. Check
Did you know you can actually get a check for being bumped? It’s true. Federal regulations say you must be compensated double your one way fare up to $400 for being bumped. You can request a check for the amount being offered – money for college or for your trip.
If you don’t want a check, you want more travel, you may get more than the check amount. Airlines typically offer travel vouchers or free tickets first and other perks first anyway.
In at least 4 situations, you don’t get any pay for being bumped. Straight from the Dept. of Transportation website, these 4 situations don’t require pay:
Abbreviated, they look like this:
1. If your delay is under an hour…
2. If you were late anyway…
3. If the airline had to switch aircraft to a smaller plane…
4. If the aircraft is overweight and has under 60 seats, for safety sake…
…then you may not get anything.
(From Dept of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Report page 30.
You need to know who bumps and gives a travel voucher or you may not get one. You can find this out from friends, people at the airport, and experience. You might also try looking at stats for flights on FlightStats.com or FlightAware.com, where you can check on status and several other things about airline travel.
But what about which airlines tend to bump the most? That could be great information. All right, I’m going to spill it. Not every carrier bumps. Believe it or not, a few carriers don’t overbook, at least not seriously. Here are some numbers from a recent report by the Dept of Transportation on who bumps:
So if you fly Jet Blue, no free travel voucher. Likewise Hawaiian Air. But American, United, and Delta definitely do, and you can even get a Southwest travel voucher fairly often.
6. Find out where bumps happen
To do this well, you’ll want more information than just which airlines. You’ll also want runs, airports and flights.
Here’s a backwards example. I was in Charleston, SC recently waiting for a flight on a Friday. My flight was late, which meant I would miss my connection. I could either stay on my flight and get stranded at the layover airport, or stay over where I was. But this was not a bump, so I couldn’t get a voucher.
The cause? Our airplane was coming from La Guardia, and La Guardia was doing runway maintenance every Friday during the summer. The maintenance made nearly all flights late. Since it wasn’t the airline’s fault, we didn’t get a voucher.
Often, flights for vacation get overbooked. Trips to Hawaii – like mine – get more vouchers. Travel around the holidays, especially the busiest days like Thanksgiving week and New Years will have more flights overbooked.
5. Plan On a Bump
You’ll get more vouchers if you prepare right. Airlines prefer to bump people who don’t have checked luggage. This isn’t a requirement, but it makes bumping you easier than looking for your suitcases. Also, have a way set up to contact anyone meeting you on the other end.
You can check on your flight ahead of time as well to see what your bump chances are – more on this below. And remember number 10 above – give yourself extra travel time to allow for the delay a bump causes.
4. Ask for what you need
When you volunteer to be bumped, make sure you get what you need. The airline knows they have caused you a delay, and it may even be overnight. You might need a hotel, lunch, or even a call home or to your destination to arrange a new pickup time.
Also, you may want to ask for the same travel voucher another person got on the same flight. And of course you will need to make sure that your reservations on any connecting flights have also been changed as well.
3. Get There Before Your Competition
These days, everyone gives themselves a little more time to get through security. If you want to get a voucher and get bumped, leave even earlier. The last people to check in will be the least likely to get any reward for their delay, but if you have extra time, you can volunteer when the airline finds itself with too few seats.
To be safe, plan to arrive at your gate 90 minutes prior to departure, and be the first to talk to the gate agent if you can. A quick note here: look nice and be polite. Gate agents have to deal with all kinds of people, don’t be one of those obnoxious types that cause the problems.
2. Travel during the highest demand times (months, weeks, holidays, and days of the week)
Let me give you a quick lesson in business travel, which accounts for much of travel these days. Business travelers want to finish their travel and go home. That means they travel in predictable ways. You’ll see the most business travelers leaving on a trip on Sunday and Monday, and coming home on Friday afternoon. To get a travel voucher, you want to fly on the crowded days.
As a student, you may have a special insight here due to college travel. When your school finals finish, or for a particular holiday, lots of kids will fly home. Many students will fly home, and probably many will go at roughly the same time, the last day of finals or the next day. Your school may actually cause overbooking if enough college students fly to the same place through the same airport.
Also, bad weather can cause delays that the airline needs to fix. A mechanical failure of course can empty a plane and overbook another flight.
1. Ask if the airline needs volunteers to be bumped. Sit by the gate desk – you’ll hear more and you can get in line faster
Asking gets the number one slot because it puts some control in your hands. You check the flight in advance to see if the airline overbooked. You get there 90 minutes early, you talk to the gate agent first or nearly first, you look nice, and you show respect for the airline workers.
Then you ask, politely, if the flight is overbooked. Then, you ask if the airline has any compensation arranged. Make sure you understand the offer, and how you’ll get to your destination. If you feel good about it, you volunteer for the offer.
After that, stay close by, but you don’t need to stay right at the counter. They will announce your name if they need you. I traveled recently and asked for an upgrade with my miles account. Before the flight, they called my name, so I went to the counter. Sure enough, I got the upgrade. Very nice.
Here’s a little icing on the cake. As long as you are checked in properly, on time for your flight, polite and flexible, you can still ask if the airline needs volunteers even if you weren't early or haven't checked to see if it is overbooked. If so, you can get on the list. The other items above will help you get to be #1 and to find more places that you may get a free travel voucher, but this one can always get you on the list, if there is one.
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