How to play the airline bumping game to your advantage

Personal Finance

For one, bumping can usher in decent discounts for passengers who know how to strike a deal. Volunteers are essentially competing against other passengers in a giant airfare auction, with airlines favoring volunteers who ask for the least amount of compensation, Kheel said.

“It is a balance between how much money you can get and how much airlines will pay the lowest bidder,” said Kheel — who said he would personally not accept anything less than $400.

Airlines typically offer vouchers at first, dangling incentives in the form of free flights or discounted miles. But passengers should always ask for cash instead, which “comes with fewer loopholes” and “lets you walk away with something you feel is more tangible,” said Gabe Saglie, senior editor for deal site Travelzoo.

Travelers can also push for more than cash, said Kheel. They might also ask for compensation to cover any extra costs incurred as a result of the delay: Think meal vouchers, airport transportation and hotel.

“Anything that’s going to come out of your pocket, ask for it,” he said.

Even being involuntarily bumped can work out in your favor, said Adam Goldstein, co-founder and chief executive of fare site Hipmunk. Passengers are involuntarily denied boarding when not enough volunteers step up to change their flights, although this scenario is relatively rare.

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