A common task for airlines is to overbook seats. This means that if everyone who has booked a ticket for the flight shows up, there are too many people and not enough seats available. The reason for this is that people often don't show up and that they can still operate a full airplane. It then earns the airline more revenue and it could in turn make cheaper flights for its customers (although they don't say so).
If you travel frequently, you will no doubt be asked whether someone agrees to take the next flight in return for compensation. Before taking this opportunity, there are a few things you should consider and understand the process. This article is based on our experience with easyJet on a European flight. The exact procedure can vary between countries and outside the EU.
What can happen on overbooked flights?
You arrive at the gate and hear an announcement asking for volunteers for the next flight. In return, they offer various incentives such as a hotel, cash, the next available flight and a meal voucher. If you say "yes" you will wait until the flight is full (no show etc.).
If the flight is still too full, you will be directed from the departures to the airline customer service. You then book for the next flight, the hotel and, if necessary, a taxi.
To apply for compensation (cash or voucher) you should either apply online, this could be an EC261 form, or you can call it up. Always ask before agreeing.
Also note that this process can change between airlines and airports.
How much is the compensation?
Compensation may vary between airlines, but in the case of easyJet we were offered the following:
- 500 € in cash (transferred directly to your bank account – with us a few days later)
- A hotel for the night
- Meals in the hotel. For us this was breakfast and dinner
- The next available flight in our case was 9 a.m. the next day
Things to consider before volunteering on overbooked flights
Although the money may be pretty tempting, there are several things to consider before volunteering for an overbooked flight. These include:
How long is your trip?
First, how long is your trip? Is it a night trip or a couple of days? Have you ever reached this goal?
If you have made a long trip or have already reached your destination, it may not matter to you whether you are missing some time. However, if your trip is very short, it can negatively impact travel time and the compensation may not be worth it.
When is the next flight and what time is it?
You should also consider when the next flight is and this should be the first thing you ask. If it is late the next day, you will lose an entire day at the destination. However, if your overbooked flight is an evening flight and you are transferred to a morning flight, this is not too bad.
Are you losing money from pre-booked hotels or activities?
Another important consideration is whether you have pre-booked hotels, tours, or activities. Doing so may affect your costs. For example, you lose the hotel booking, which may be higher than the compensation costs, or you miss the experience that you otherwise had. Another very important point of view before you register for the next flight.
Do you have work the next day?
Do you have work the next day? And is there flexibility with your employer? Do you have to get rid of your holiday allowance and is it worth the compensation offered? These are all things you need to think about before making a decision.
Does the airline offer a hotel?
Although we have been equipped with a hotel in our case, this is an important consideration if your flight should be the next day. In essence, you want to be as fresh as possible, what you would have been if you had taken your original flight.
Were you traveling on a special occasion?
Was your trip for a birthday, anniversary or other special event? If the answer is yes, you may be missing out on these celebrations and it is simply not worth the money. However, if you arrive early a day or so, you may be able to fly on the next available flight, make some money, and be there for special occasions.
How can you guarantee that you will board your original flight?
If you want to make sure you're always overbooked, try the following:
Check in on your flight as early as possible. For some airlines, this can be days or even weeks in advance. Even if several days or more are not possible, the previous day is a good choice. On our easyJet flight, one of the customers tried to check in on the day of the flight and was not given a seat due to the overbooking. We checked in on the same day of the flight but were successful, so maybe we did it a little earlier. The moral of the story is to check in early to avoid this potential problem.
Be at the gate soon after the opening
Another thing is to get to the gate as soon as it opens so you can get into the waiting area. If you are the last one in line, you may be one of those who get knocked off the flight if there are not enough seats and there are no volunteers.
Mike is the creator and lead author of Travel and Destinations. He started this website to share his experiences and tips with travelers. He is from the UK and has traveled to many places around the world. He loves to share his pictures and stories via Instagram and this website … [Read full bio]