The announcement is familiar if you’re a frequent flyer: The airline overbooked your flight and is looking for volunteers to give up their seats.
What you might not know is that airlines don’t expect you to give up your seat out of the kindness of your heart. Many of them are willing to pay you top dollar for that seat. And the more desperate the airline is, the more it will pay.
A New York family of three learned just how much Delta Airlines would pay this past weekend when the airline canceled, delayed and overbooked multiple flights because of a series of storms in Atlanta.
That fiasco led to about $11,000 in flight vouchers and gift cards for Laura Begley Bloom and her family, who were among the few willing to give up their seats after days of delays, according to CNN Money.
How They Got Top Dollar From Delta Airlines
The storms in Atlanta started Wednesday, April 5.
By the time Begley Bloom, her husband and their 4-year-old daughter were set to fly on Friday, the airline was still in midst of the logistical nightmare the storms created. Delta canceled about 150 flights and needed to rebook thousands of passengers.
So when Begley Bloom was willing to give up her seats, there was room for negotiation. The gate agent initially offered them $900 for each of their three seats, but her husband raised the stakes when he countered. He wanted $1,500 per seat, according to CNNMoney.
The airline, desperate for the seats, agreed to $1,350 per seat ($4,050 total).
When the family returned Saturday, things were not much better. They gave up their seats again, this time for $3,950 in vouchers. Delays were still a serious problem when they showed up on Saturday, so the airline refunded their tickets and gave them an additional $1,000 per ticket.
In the end, they had $11,000 in vouchers plus a cash refund for the flights they never got to take.
Of course, Begley Bloom and her family got so much because of the circumstances. Without the weather debacle, they likely would not have seen such a massive payday. But you can still use that as your guide the next time you negotiate with a gate agent: The more dire the circumstances, the more the airline might pay.
Airlines Often Oversell Flights
It may not take as long as you think to cash in on this kind of offer. According to TechCrunch, airlines often overbook flights based on their guess of how many people will fail to show up on travel day.
The no-show rate can be as low as 5% or as high as 15% in some cases. Airlines sell more tickets than seats to ensure they’re always filling planes to capacity.
Sometimes that means giving away vouchers when more people show up than the airline anticipated.
The lesson from Begley Bloom and her family is clear: The next time an airline asks for volunteers to give up seat on an overbooked flight, don’t be afraid to negotiate. It could pay big time.
Your Turn: Have you ever negotiated freebies at the gate on an overbooked flight?
Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She most she has ever been offered for her seat on an overbooked flight was a free night in a four-star hotel, which she declined.