My wife and I traveled to see my parents last weekend and on the way back the flight was oversold. The gate agent announced a request for volunteers willing to travel on the next flight in exchange for a $300 voucher and dinner coupons to be used at the airport. The airline oversold by 16 seats and we ended up taking the deal.
Similar to hotels and other businesses that sell services based on a fixed capacity, airlines have algorithms they engage to manage passenger flight bookings. Each airline has a threshold, or appetite that is acceptable to it for the number of seats oversold on any given route. The algorithm is made of a wide array of variables such as average price paid per ticket, average profit per seat/airline mile, etc.
Based on this algorithm, airlines can afford to offer some compensation for those willing to give up their seat. For us these are always exciting times because we get to travel for free. Who doesn’t want free stuff?
I have realized in my years as a professional and now an entrepreneur that no matter how much wealth one accumulates or however rich one gets, everyone is still elated when they get something for free, even if it is a $10 free lunch. It is human nature.
As for my wife and I, we travel quite a bit and we must have accumulated thousands of dollars over time in free airline travel vouchers by volunteering for such opportunities. I know I have just accounting for my personal travels.
For example, once on my way to Las Vegas, the airline was looking for volunteers and started off by offering $350. But because not many were volunteering and the flight was badly oversold, I was eventually able to negotiate a $600 voucher plus a free hotel night at the airport along with meal vouchers.
On my way from JFK in New York to Dubai, I was offered a free international roundtrip ticket good for a year because Emirates oversold by 1 and I was the only willing volunteer. My sister lived in New York at the time so it gave me a chance to take a quick cab ride to meet her for a few hours before the next flight at night. Same thing on my way to London and Canada.
When I was employed as a consultant, I remember getting a $850 voucher for giving up my seat from Dallas to Monterey, Mexico. Similarly, there have been many instances where either myself or both my wife and I have scored free airline travel vouchers by volunteering to take the next flight out. Traveling for free has become a bad habit 🙂
I can’t say I have deliberately planned my travel around the best opportunities to get free airline travel vouchers, but a good friend of mine has used the system very well to score free travel frequently. Frank – you know it! Here are some ways you can deliberately plan your travel to maximize the potential for free airline travel vouchers:
Book busy flights – the most obvious way to increase your chances of getting bumped is by booking busy flights. There are websites like FlightStats that provide all kinds of flight related information that can help you gauge while flights often sell out or are just regularly busy. On the day of your travel, call the airline reservations department and ask them about the availability of seats. If they say there aren’t any seats left ask if the flight is oversold, and if it is ask by how many.
Calling ahead is important because you can ensure you show up to the airport early. Upon arrival, walk up to the gate agent and volunteer before they even asking for any. Though I have not purposely booked a busy flight, this practice has helped me score some free airline travel vouchers over my “traveling career”.
Holidays are a “gimme” – holiday time is when travel is at its busiest. Think Thanksgiving holiday, labor day weekend, etc. Airports turn into zoos and there is much chaos surrounding airline staff. Further, airlines know this is a time they bank the dough and therefore usually tend to oversell up the wall.
Think about it, if a passenger bought a ticket for $300 8 weeks in advance, but another passenger is willing to pay $800 by booking just a week ahead of travel, the airline might sell the $800 ticket despite the sale putting it in oversold status.
Why? Because it can hope that a volunteer will accept a $300 voucher and be willing to take another flight, netting the airline more net revenue from the arbitrage. Because flights tend to be packed during holiday season, this is a good time for someone wanting to score free airline travel vouchers by volunteering to give up their seat.
Credit card points – this is not a no brainer by any means. If you are interested in traveling for free, look into lucrative credit card offers that award thousands of miles in exchange for meeting a certain minimum spend within X months. I’ve written about how you can maximize credit card perks in the past, and this is one sure way of scoring free travel.
If you want a more detailed case study, read my article on how I was able to make $4,220 for free in just 2 hours from credit card points.
Some of the best promotions I can remember are British Airway’s 100,000 mile promotion and American Airline’s 75,000 mile promotion, both of which I capitalized on. These offers are just too good to pass up at times.
Complaining – I am not suggesting you become a full time downer for airlines each time you fly, but don’t be afraid to express your concerns when faced with difficulties while traveling. Baggage issues, travel delays, cancelations, poor customer service are all just a few examples of things you can file an airline complaint about.
I write in an email complaint each time I feel the services rendered by the airline was not satisfactory as per my expectations. Most of the time, a representative from customer service writes back with a small compensation in the form of airline miles or cash vouchers.
I am not talking about hundreds of dollars, though those have come by too, rather I am talking about 5,000 miles here, 10,000 there, or $25 here, $50 there. These amounts add up over time. For example, Frank often searches for flights that have poor on-time departures (airlines are now required to show this when you are booking online, or you can ask on the phone if you are booking with a live agent). He then complaints about the half hour delay and usually receives some points in his frequent flier account.
In some severe cases such as baggage damage or lost luggage, you are entitled to bigger compensation amounts. But because airlines are notorious for their poor customer service or no service, you may have to take matters a step further by filing an airline complaint in small claims court.
For the amount of travel I have done over the years, I have had to take a few airlines to court on multiple occasions, each resulting in a favorable outcome for me. Most disgruntled airline passengers don’t do this because they don’t know how the process works. Many are frustrated but also intimidated or overwhelmed and therefore often give up.
The process is actually quite easy if you have the right guidance. Realizing this need, I packaged my knowledge of how the system works, coupled with countless personal experiences, into an eBook which I sell on my Sue the Airlines website.
Side Note for Internet Entrepreneurs: This is an example of how you can monetize your personal experiences. The book sells on my website, ClickBank, Amazon, Barnes and Google Books.
So while I can’t say I plan out my travels specifically around the opportunity to get bumped in exchange for compensation, I have traveled thousands of miles on the airline’s dime. Frank however has deliberately worked the system and I remember him telling me that he hadn’t paid out of pocket for travel in over two years at one point. Isn’t that something?
Now that I think of it, neither have I – and I travel a lot, for personal and for business. Just in the last 18 months, I’ve made 3 international trips and about 30 domestic trips to visit friends, family, attend internet marketing conferences, etc.
We just returned back from a 6 day trip to San Francisco and the flight part of our trip was fully funded by free airline vouchers. Traveling is fun as it is for us, and travelling for free is just out of the world.
Getting free tickets is not difficult for a frequent traveler. That said, most day to day travelers travel for work and do not have the flexibility we do and therefore cannot take advantage of such offers. Those who travel for leisure have limited vacation time and often want to maximize their holidays.
If you travel for work and were presented the opportunity to travel for free using free airline vouchers, would you do it? CAN you do it is the more appropriate question? Can you tell your boss the truth and get away with it if it means a free personal trip for you in the future? Many corporate policies are against such behavior.
What if you were traveling on your own time for leisure, would you do it? Have you done it? I’d love to hear your stories and tips you can share to help our readers maximize free travel opportunities.