BUMP! | A Talk About Airline Denied Boarding Including a Delta Experience | VDB & IDB
This is a guest contribution by my good friend Mike from frequentflyermiles101.com, a site for those just learning the points game. One of the smartest miles+points people that I know, Mike is also obsessed with getting amazing value on luxury experiences. (oh, and he also LOVES to be denied boarding, voluntarily, of course!)
For many people, the three best letters in the English language are S-E-X. Not so for us aerosexuals. For us, there are three far superior letters: V-D-B.
(baccarat_guy editorial note: I prefer #AVgeek to “aerosexuals,” but, if it works for Mike….)
VDB stands for “Voluntary Denied Boarding (I’ll forgive the fact that it should be “voluntarily,” since “voluntary” places so much stress on the modifier.),” and refers to a situation where an airline has oversold a flight, selling more seats than it actually has on the plane, forcing it to ask for volunteers to give up their seats. Overbooking flights is more common than you might think-airlines sell a lot of very expensive, full-refundable tickets, knowing that some passengers just won’t show up. Every once in a while, though, it guesses wrong, and is forced to involuntarily deny boarding (IDB) to, or “bump,” the excess passengers. IDBing a passenger is expensive. Not only is the airline forced to give cash compensation to the passengers but it also must find another way to get them to the destination (which could include buying them a full-fare ticket on a competing carrier) and report it to the Department of Transportation (DOT). Certain corporations also have contracts with the airlines that give them discounts if the airlines fail to meet certain standards. Delta is particularly aware of its DOT statistics, so that’s where my “best bumps” have always come from.
For more details, please refer to this link to A Consumer Guide to Air Travel (see Overbooking) from the US Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement division. Also, be aware that these rules specifically cover policies and enforcement for air travel in the United States. In addition, the main resource for (USA) Aviation Consumer Protection can be found here.
If an airline is overbooked, the law generally requires them to ask for volunteers before bumping passengers off, and that’s where you can clean up if you have some flexibility in your schedule. Since bumping a passenger is so expensive, the airlines are willing to make it worth your while to volunteer. Here’s how it works:
- It may start as early as the night before your flight. Some airlines, including Delta, will send out a notice saying that they may be overbooked for your flight and asking if you would consider volunteering (You aren’t committing to anything yet.). It will give you a list of possible dollar values, asking you what the minimum you would take to volunteer is. Pick whatever number is the highest. You’ll end up getting it, anyway.
- Even if they don’t send you a note the day before, there are certain occasions that are more likely to be significantly oversold than others. For example, heavy business travel days (Sunday night, Monday morning and Friday afternoons) or the days before/after a major holiday are good candidates. Ask when you check in and at the gate what the situation is. The gate agent will tell you to stick nearby if they do.
- If the gate agents know that they will need volunteers, they’ll make an announcement as soon as possible. You’ll usually notice the look of fear in the face of the agent, as he/she starts to make an unpopular announcement, along the lines of, “Attention passengers, flight 1234 is in an oversold situation. We are looking for X number of passengers willing to give up their seat in exchange for an $XXX voucher (or, if you’re really lucky, “$X,XXX). We will fly you to your destination on the next flight. If you are interested, please see us at the gate.”
- As soon as you hear “Attention passengers…” make your way to the desk. And when I say, “make your way,” I mean dash for the gate pushing small children, animals and bloggers out of the way. You want to be up there, negotiating first. Some people will wait, figuring that the amount the airline is offering will go up, but airlines will usually give all volunteers the same amount. So if you are offered a $400 voucher and the payment eventually goes up to $600, they will usually give you the $600, as well. You can always discuss it with the gate agents while the paramedics attend to the children.
- So now is the time to ask for everything. Remember: If you don’t ask, they won’t give it to you. If it’s an overnight stay, hotel vouchers are standard, but everything else is negotiable. Want a couple of lounge passes? Ask for them. Food vouchers? Ask for them. First class seats on your next flight? Sure, why not? The worst they can say is no. They’re not going to “unvolunteer” you because you asked. On my last VDB, everyone who asked to be put in first class was put in first. Everyone else? Well, the coach class lav isn’t that horrible. Usually.
Travelzork’s baccarat_guy tells me that I’m the king of the bumps, but truthfully, I don’t plan it that way. But I know what to look for. I always ask the gate agent and move quickly when they start to make the announcement. I know that they will confirm a new flight for me before actually taking me off the flight, so if I don’t like what they’re offering, I simply tell them that I am no longer interested. This is one of those situations when “ready, fire, aim” is the appropriate strategy. I did learn one lesson the hard way, though: Make sure that they don’t take you out of your seat before confirming that they will need you. If they do put somebody else in your seat and then decide that they don’t need you, you’ll only have a choice of what’s left.
My most recent VDB was unusual, but also my best one. I was flying from JFK to LAS on flight 455, in 2-B, my favorite seat on the plane. As a Diamond Medallion, I had the ability to switch to a different flight 24 hours ahead of time, so when DL 423 became available, I switched to that one, arriving three hours earlier. It put me in a window seat instead of an aisle, but hey, first world problems.
When I got to JFK, the gate was in turmoil. A large group had missed a connection earlier in the day and Delta had put them on my (new) flight. I never found out exactly what happened, but this must have been an important group, since Delta would normally have just moved the group onto a later flight and left mine alone. The announcement came: Delta was offering $800 in Delta credits or on a gift card from a number of different merchants, including American Express. I checked with the gate, and they confirmed me on the next flight, in first class. There weren’t enough volunteers at $800, so Delta moved it up to $1,000. Everyone who had volunteered at $800 also got the extra $200. The wouldn’t give me a food voucher, but hey, what’s $7 when they just gave me $1,000.
But here’s the best part of the whole deal: the next flight ended up being the flight that I had originally been on, DL 455. And the seat I was assigned? 2-B. That’s right, I ended up in exactly the same seat that I had been in 24 hours earlier. Now, I just happened to be $1,000 richer.
Moral of the story: Seat 2-B or not 2-B? Wasn’t even a question.
Tell us about your best “bump,” or your personal VDB and IDB experiences.