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Money-saving tip: Take the bump to cash in on airfare

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Published: April 28, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Recently I wrote about rechecking your reservations on your hotel and car rental to see if the price has changed in your favor saving you some monies. Well, I want to amend to my cost-savings tips with one more way to get more on a future trip. Here is what recently happened to us on our vacation in Orlando.

Southwest Airlines. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

We fly Southwest since they have nonstop to Orlando from my home state, plus, if you book early and pay attention to prices, they are the most affordable. But every year Southwest airlines overbooks their flights, plus, they sell standby seats.

So on our journey home, as expected, Southwest makes the announcement: "We are looking for seats on Flight [your flight number here]. We are offering $300 per ticket, plus the amount of your flight." Well, since we were going from Orlando to connect in Baltimore [BWI], we would have been stuck in BWI from 10am to 10pm if we'd taken that deal. So we passed on that offer.

We left Orlando at 7:45am and landed in BWI at 9:40. I took a long walk around the airport with my daughter to check out the shops and foods offered. Bought an Aunt Annie’s pretzel, grabbed a yogurt from Pinkberry, coffee from Starbucks. When returning to find my bride after the walk-around, she tells me they are asking for seats again. My brain starts to churn. Well I can drive to my home state from BWI which is about 400 miles away. I am guessing about five-and-a-half hour drive. I tell them what I'm thinking. They agree -- we can drive, and they would not mind.

So off to the Southwest counter I go. Many flights were oversold and they were looking for seats for several flights. The woman never looked up at me as she was very busy on her computer. I patiently waited. Finally I said, Are you still looking for seats on Flight [whatever]? She said "Yes, we need a bunch of seats." Still she did not look up. I said I will give you three seats. Finally I had her attention. She looked at me and asked for my info.

In return we received $300 per ticket for three tickets: $900. And since the flights were sold out from Orlando to BWI -- also sold out BWI to my home state and they needed the seats so badly, Southwest gave the flight amount from Orlando to my home state for another $886, instead of just the ticket prices from BWI to home.

So the grand total is $1,786 in Southwest Airline vouchers for my next Orlando Vacation. I rented a car, took out our Garmin GPS and off we went.

Don’t be afraid to take a bump on your flight while on vacation and your next vacation’s flight might be paid for already.

Have you ever let yourself get bumped from a flight to get a voucher or payment for airfare while on vacation? If so, what's your advice on how to get the best deal from the airline? Please share your story in the comments.

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Readers' Opinions

From James Trexen on April 28, 2013 at 1:36 PM
Great and helpful points. For me and mine (a family of four), we've always bumped our flights whenever possible (gotta love AirTran now that Southwest is taking over) since 2011. Heck, me and my dad voluntarily bumped three times in one weekend last year. It has saved us thousands in airline fees and makes vacations all the more affordable. WIth all the vouchers we've accumulated since, we're planning both trips to Anaheim (Disney of course) and Tampa Bay (to see relatives) this year.
From Beth Olliges on April 28, 2013 at 7:57 PM
I've received vouchers for allowing myself to get bumped a few times, but it's been a while, so I can't recall the exact circumstances or amounts. I do remember that once was with Continental on the way back from NYC with my brother and sister-in-law. (If it had been on the way to NYC, I wouldn't have done it, since they were both first-time visitors to the city. But since it was for the trip home, I didn't feel quite so bad "abandoning" them. And I was doing something nice for the man who would've been left behind while all his buddies went on their trip together.) I think the voucher was for around $200 plus the cost of my flight, but the coolest part was that they rebooked me on a flight home with Delta -- first class! (It was my first and only time ever flying first class, so that in itself was worth getting bumped -- but don't tell the airline that!) :)
From Russell Meyer on April 29, 2013 at 6:53 AM
We allowed ourselves to get bumped on a flight to Las Vegas. We were on one of the first flights of the day out of Dulles, and there was another flight just 90 minutes later. They rebooked us on the later flight, and gave us vouchers that we eventually redeemed for a trip to Seattle.

However, make sure you look at the fine print before handing over your confirmed seat. I have heard horror stories from friends that have willingly given up their seats only to find their trip a complete disaster.

Always be aware of the weather before giving up your seat...Many savy travelers will try to get on earlier flights because they see the wave of airport closures coming, and want to get out of town. The person giving up their seat end up rebooked on a later flight, but that flight gets cancelled or delayed, potentially forcing you to spend money on another hotel room or an incredibly uncomfortable night on an airport bench.

Make sure your checked bags are actually on the eariler plane. This isn't such a big deal when you're coming home, because most people have everything they need at home. However, if you're just starting your vacation, it's probably pretty important to have your bags when you arrive at the airport. Some airlines don't bother juggling bags, and will simply leave your checked luggage on your original plane. That means you can typically pick them up at the bag claim storage area. However, a few airlines, depending upon when you change your flight, will pull bags to put on the plane that you're flying. That significantly increases the likelyhood that your bag will get lost or get put onto the wrong plane. That's not so bad for those of us that travel relatively light, but for those with kids that can't live without certain items that may be in those checked bags, you could end up with a terrible start to your vacation.

Beware of the fine print on airline vouchers. Some airlines offer coupons that are the same as cash with very few restrictions. Others offer blanket round trip vouchers that are good on any flight in the continental US, which can have far more restrictions. As we found with the United vouchers that we got from getting bumped on our Las Vegas trip, we could get on pretty much any flight we wanted (we were booked 4 months in advance), but the voucher had to be physically redeemed at an airport counter, which meant a specific trip to book our flight. That was 5 years, ago, so perhaps things have changed, but it was something we did not factor in when we volunteered to get bumped. Almost all vouchers are going to prohibit flying around holidays (primarily Thanksgiving and Christmas), and will restrict travel to certain regions during certain times of the year (think New Orleans during Mardis Gras). Finally, all vouchers have expiration dates, so if you have absolutely no way to take another vacation within the next 12 months, don't allow yourself to be bumped.

From 216.64.80.82 on April 29, 2013 at 1:33 PM
I was coming back to Orlando from Toronto a few years ago with a connection in DC. United overbooked the Orlando leg and was begging for seats so I asked what they'd give me for my one seat. The rep offered a meal voucher and I gave her my best "get serious" look. She then offered a free RT ticket anywhere in the continental US + the meal voucher and I could get home only 3 hours later.

Well I jumped on that and wound up using the free RT to go to LA which saved me about $600. I had a year to make a reservation with the voucher and could take up to a year to travel after that so I wound up going to LA about 18 months after my original bump.

It's easier when traveling by yourself or with other adults, I felt bad for the families with small kids who were so stressed out. The one thing about living in Orlando is that there are so many people coming down here that your chances are pretty good to get bumped.

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