How to Earn Hundreds of Dollars in Free Travel

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How to volunteer for cash when your flight is overbooked.

If you flew anywhere last year, you were one of the 4.3 billion passengers traveling by air in 2018, according to Statista, a statistics database for market data and research. As global passenger numbers break records, the planes reach their capacity all the more so. And getting a $1,000 airline voucher is just the beginning. With some airlines, you can score as high as $10,000 for being bumped.

In this day and age of busy airports and oversold flights, you can benefit greatly by volunteering your seat. Here’s how you can increase your chances of making a buck by doing so.

Fly During Popular Times, to Popular Destinations

In this day and age of busy airports and oversold flights, you can benefit greatly by volunteering your seat.

Holidays, school breaks, and business travel all contribute to filling up the aircraft. As much as it’s a pain to travel during those busy times, it can pay off handsomely. The more people show up for their flights, the higher your chances of getting bumped, so you want to have a strategy.

Look for Monday mornings/Friday evenings filled with business travelers, perhaps those before or after a major convention. You can also capitalize on flights to big events, such as the Super Bowl or college football playoffs. The tail end of big travel holidays, such as Thanksgiving Day, Memorial Day, and Christmas, have proven to be a gold mine as well.

Don’t Stray Too Far from the Gate

Although sometimes the announcement comes after you’re already on board, searching for volunteers can begin as early as check-in time or while you wait at the gate. This is the only case where lounge access isn’t much of a benefit. You can’t hear gate announcements while sipping on a glass of sparkling wine at an airport lounge, which means you might miss out on being bumped and getting compensation for it.

Be Proactive

Instead of waiting for a potential bump announcement, approach a gate agent and ask whether they need volunteers beforehand. Make yourself known and show your interest. If the flight is oversold, you’ll be called first to collect hundreds of dollars in free travel. Also, be flexible and willing to spend a night or two wherever you are and fly the next day, not just a few hours later. Double bumps aren’t unheard of, which can increase your haul even more. The more flexible you are, the more chance you have of getting picked.

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Volunteer on a Simple Itinerary

If an airline is looking for volunteers to give up a seat, don’t raise your hand if you have a complicated itinerary with two more layovers involving multiple airlines on the way to Europe, for example. The chances of being rebooked on all those flights with the connections you like aren’t high. Not to mention, it’ll cost the airline more money to rebook you, which makes you a less favorable candidate. Volunteer to give up a seat only if the next city is your final destination. It makes it easier for you and the airline to rebook you on the next available flight.

Don’t Be Greedy

Any good negotiator will tell you not to settle for the first offer. The same principle applies to getting bumped. Airlines usually start offering low payout amounts in the effort to find volunteers and then go up as needed. However, you have to find a balance between a good offer and being greedy. The more the offer increases, the more people will want to take it. If you wait too long, someone else will pull the rug from under your feet.

With some airlines, you can score as high as $10,000 for being bumped.

Pick a number in your mind. How much are you willing to volunteer your seat for? If the airline reaches that number, take the offer. If not and someone else nabs the lower offer, let it go and enjoy arriving in your destination at the time planned. Don’t get caught up in the what ifs and the coulda, shoulda, wouldas.

Don’t Settle for a Voucher

This goes against our previous advice, but if you take the offer, ask for more perks once you deplane. If you’re offered an airline voucher or gift cards, check their expiration dates, make sure you can use them. If not, in most cases, the agents could swap those for straight-up cash. This way you’re not tied to a specific airline for your future trip.

Additionally, check if you can get upgraded on the next flight. You’re doing the airline a favor after all. But don’t feel entitled to an upgrade, either, as it’s not part of the original deal. If the delay is overnight, make sure to request hotel, transportation, and meal vouchers to cover your expenses. You don’t want to eat into the cost of your compensation.