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How to Be Refunded 4X Your Ticket Cost if You're Bumped From a Flight

Airports + Flying
by Alex Bresler Mar 8, 2024

Overbooking flights is one of airlines’ peskiest practices. Many airlines intentionally oversell tickets to account for no-show passengers. When they miscalculate, resulting in more passengers than available seats, travelers run the risk of being bumped. Officially, this practice is called involuntary denied boarding.

No airline wants to bump passengers. First, they’ll ask for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for a later flight, flight voucher, or monetary compensation. Involuntary denied boarding occurs when there are not enough volunteers. It’s up to the airline to decide who gets bumped, considering factors such as fare class, check-in time, and frequent flier status.

The one silver lining to involuntary denied boarding is that it leaves passengers eligible for denied boarding compensation, a fact that’s been circulating social media as a travel hack.

@sam_jarman Know your rights and know how much $$$ airlines owe you! #flightcompensation #airlines #bumpedfromflight #learnontiktok ♬ original sound – Sam Jarman

The US Department of Transportation has clear rules regarding airline responsibility in the event of involuntary denied boarding, including how much they’re required to pay bumped travelers.

Assuming you have a boarding pass, you checked into your flight on time, and you made it to your gate on time, airlines are required to compensate you for involuntary denied boarding if unable rebook you on a flight that’s scheduled to arrive within an hour of when your original flight was intended to land. There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as if a necessary aircraft change resulted in fewer available seats. But if you get bumped for the simple fact that an airline oversold a flight, it’s on the airline to pay you back for your troubles.

One caveat is that the denied boarding compensation policy only applies to flights leaving from the US. That means that you may not be eligible for compensation if you’re returning to the US on an international flight (though airlines decide to pay voluntarily). It’s important to note, however, that some international areas, such as the European Union, have their own policies regarding bumped passengers, so be sure to follow up with the airline no matter what.

So, I’m eligible for denied boarding compensation. But how much?

How much denied boarding compensation you’re eligible to receive correlates to how much you paid for your airline ticket and how long you’ll have to wait to get to your destination.

For domestic flights, the DOT states that passengers subjected to short delays (one to two hours) will be paid twice as much as the cost of their original one-way ticket. Those subjected to long delays (two or more hours) will receive four times the one-way ticket price. Depending on ticket costs, these payments may be capped at $775 and $1,550, respectively.

The policy is similar for international flights leaving the US with the exception of what constitutes a short or long delay: anything between one and four hours is considered short while a delay of four or more is considered long. The same compensation limits apply.

Do all airlines oversell tickets?

The short answer is no. Southwest, for example, claims that the practice of overbooking flights violates its “customer-friendly” travel ideology.

Other airlines are candid about their overbooking policies. Take Delta, for example. According to Delta’s customer service plan, “overbooking is done in the best interest of both customers and the airline” because failing to account for no-show passengers would require the airline to increase its fares, and fewer people would ultimately get to fly.

Readers are directed to Delta’s contract of carriage for specific details regarding its overbooking policies, which states that the airline will rebook bumped passengers on a different Delta flight, reroute them on another airline, or provide accommodation if an overnight stay is required, all at no additional cost to the traveler. (In the event that a hotel is not able to be booked, passengers will receive a Delta voucher equal to the average contracted hotel rate in the area up to $100.)

As for compensation, Delta’s contract of carriage reiterates the amounts that the DOT outlines, noting that payment will be made at the time of the involuntary denied boarding.

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