Overbooked Flight – What You Should Know

The dreaded overbooked flight is never any fun. Having been on the end as an airline passenger and as a ticket agent working a gate believe me it’s an ugly scene for both. So lets start with the basics.

What does it mean when a flight is overbooked? This means that just like it sounds the airline has sold more tickets than they actually have seats on an aircraft. So let’s say there are 100 seats on a plane but a 110 seats sold what now? That’s when you hear that gate agent asking for volunteers. What they are doing is asking for people willing to travel at a later time for an additional incentive. This incentive is usually in the form of a credit or discount on your next ticket. Sometimes it will include meals and hotel stays also if they cannot get you out that same night.



Why are airlines even allowed to over book flights? Well, truth is this practice is legal. And the corporate response I usually had to give passenger went something like this. “Airlines are allowed to oversale flights due to the historic statistical data that calculates the number of no shows they annually see on that particular routing.”

So what happens if no one volunteers? Well if no one volunteers its time to get nervous cause the gate now has to deny boarding the plane to some passengers. Always look to see if you have a seat assignment cause frequently no seat assignment means no seat. Pay attention to the gate agents instructions you may here him or her calling individuals up or making additional offers or asking you to step aside when you present your boarding pass to be scanned.


How much am I owed if I am involuntarily denied boarding? Well traveling within the U.S. you fall under the DOT mandated compensation guidelines. And they go as follows. If you are denied boarding you are due 200% of the sum of the values of the remaining flight coupons up to the passengers next stop over. With a $400 maximum unless the rebooked flight is within 2 hours and then its a maximum of $200.

Should I take cash or a voucher? It’s really up to you. Now many times the airlines only mention the vouchers which are usually in larger denominations than their strictly guided cousin cash.  What do I mean by this. Well many times you will hear an announcement offering $400 voucher/credit to volunteer for someone on a $150 ticket. That’s over doubling their value but that also means should this person choose the cash option they are looking at a far smaller amount of compensation. let’s look at the math.  200% of $75 is only $150 which for some may be great cause they essentially got a free ticket. For someone with a more highly priced ticket that $400 voucher may be nothing and the cash value for that segment may also not be worth it. At the end of the day you have to figure out what would work best for you.

The absolute last thing you should know about overbooked flight is if you are denied boarding read through the documentation before you leave the gate area. Make sure you have everything you need and are clear on what the next steps are in order to get or use your compensation. Most airlines give you the voucher or check at the gate so there are no additional steps to take. Hold onto everything so when it comes time to use your voucher there are no issues. Understand how long your voucher is good for cause majority if not all have some sort of expiration date.

In conclusion yes airlines are allowed to over book flights. You as the passenger have rights and compensation minimums under DOT regulations when traveling within the US. If you are denied boarding be sure to double-check that you received everything you need whether it be a check or credit voucher and of course your new itinerary. Overbooking is an ugly part of the travel industry and many may go thru life never experiencing it but for those that do hopefully this article has you more informed about what to expect.

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