I’ve heard stories about people receiving various perks from airlines in return for giving up their seats on overcrowded flights. I never attempted this myself, but now I know there is a method to perk offerings, I may try to work the system if I find myself on a tight flight. Here are the tricks regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration:
If the airline can get you to your final destination within an hour of your originally scheduled time, it doesn’t have to compensate you at all.
If the airline can get you on another flight scheduled to arrive at your final destination within two hours of your original domestic flight or four hours for an international flight, you’re entitled to an amount equal to your one-way fare, up to a maximum of $200.
If you’re delayed more than two hours domestically or four hours internationally, you’re supposed to get double your one-way fare, up to a maximum $400. That’s also the limit if the airline makes no alternate arrangements for you.
The airline can offer a voucher for future travel, but you can (and probably should) insist on cash (actually, a check). The voucher or check must be issued immediately.
The important point here is that these regulations are only available if the airline requires you to change your flight. If you volunteer to give up your seat, you’re on your own for negotiating with the airline. The most you may be able to get is a voucher for a free flight with many restrictions.
Here are three tips for changing flights, as a volunteer or otherwise:
* Pick a seat. It’s harder to bump you if you have had an assigned seat since the time you purchased the ticket.
* Check in early. You can check in from home over the internet up to 24 hours before the flight. Get to the airport early because you never know what the lines at the security screening will be.
* Get a guarantee — or an alternative. If you get bumped, get a confirmed seat on another flight — or even another carrier if you have to. If you are only offered standby status, you may have to deal with more full flights and a long waiting period in the airpor.
Updated February 10, 2011 and originally published June 15, 2006.