Before you volunteer your seat on an overbooked plane, do the math

If you’re traveling during peak times (e.g., Thanksgiving or Christmas), when nobody wants to give up his or her seat, you may get a true payout—a voucher approaching $1,000 in addition to complimentary dinner and a hotel room if you have to stay overnight. Most of the time, however, vouchers rarely exceed $200, they’re usually nontransferable, and they must be used within one year. When you factor in all the time you’ll spend at the airport, it may not be worth it. Before you let your seat go, ask the airline and yourself a few questions: When is the next flight on which the airline can book me a seat? Will I be flying on standby status for that next flight, and if so, am I willing to wait around for yet another flight if necessary? If the airline can’t fl y me out until the following day, will it pay for meals, hotel, necessary phone calls, and ground transportation during the interim? If not, can I afford to do so?