With airline capacity down substantially, I’ve noticed more and more packed flights, many even oversold. With the summer travel season slowly starting, I expect to see more of that. I’ve gotten at least a handful of emails over the past couple of weeks from people asking about the best way to secure travel credits when taking a bump from a United flight.
For those not familiar with United’s voluntary denied boarding compensation, they typically offer a free roundtrip ticket good in the lower 48 when you take a bump on a domestic flight, and travel credits (basically good as cash when it comes to purchasing United tickets) for international flights. Technically you can also get travel credits for domestic flights, but for certain gate agents don’t like to give them out for whatever reason.
My track record? I’ve received travel credits every time I’ve asked for them. For those wondering about my cutoff point, I typically take the free ticket when the travel credits compensation is less than $300. I’ve heard that lots of people have problems at SFO with travel credits, but just this past weekend I managed to take two separate bumps and was compensated with travel credits in both cases.
So, let me provide a few tips about how to secure travel credits when taking a bump. Most of these tips assume you’d otherwise be willing to accept a free ticket, because they inherently involve risks, like only negotiating after the plane is gone. In my case I’d accept the bump either way, but like I said, it has always worked out the way I wanted.
So, here are some tips:
- Just be nice. This is the most important point. Gates are understaffed as is nowadays, so when they’re oversold by a dozen people it really adds to their workload. Just smiling and being calm will go a long way. Heck, even throw in how you know they’re overworked and how you hate to bug them.
- Don’t be a PITA! This goes along with the point above. Gate agents are overworked. If there’s a long line and you’re trying to negotiate with them and see what the other options are, they’ll naturally get pissed off. When I take a bump I just add myself to the volunteer list and stand about 20 feet away from the podium with a smile. I typically just say “I’m more flexible than the Olympics gymnastics team, so don’t worry about me. You can reaccomodate me once the plane is gone and you have more time.” They usually appreciate that.
- Don’t act entitled. Contrary to popular belief, you’re NOT entitled to travel credits. The gate agents have the right to give them to you, and they should, but at the end of the day you’re volunteering to give up your seat, and it’s ultimately at the terms of the gate agent. Taking a “could I please” approach is much better than an “I want” approach.
- Let the gate agent deal with the other passengers first! I have found this to be extremely beneficial. Oftentimes others got involuntarily denied boarding and are yelling at the gate agent. Tell the gate agent to deal with those passengers first, and that you’ll happily wait because you have all day. Once the stressful part of their job is done and they see you standing there smiling, they might be more willing to help you out.
- Ask discreetly! If you ask for travel credits, don’t do so in front of everyone. Whisper it to the gate agent, ask it quietly, etc. While they might be willing to make an exception for you, they probably won’t if everyone else at the gate wants them as well.
- INTERNATIONAL! “I see you guys are working so hard and I hate to add more work, but would it be possible to get travel credits instead? I travel primarily internationally, so they’re much more useful to me.”
- Negotiate when the plane left! Now here’s the riskiest suggestion I’ll give. Only negotiate when they actually process VDB’s. If the flight is way oversold and they bump people before the plane even leaves, do it then, but otherwise wait until the plane is gone, assuming you’d otherwise accept the free ticket.
What I can’t stress enough is just being nice. While I’m being voluntarily denied boarding, there are likely a few pissed off people that were involuntarily denied boarding, and they choose to let it out on the gate agent.