A Forgotten Path To FREE Travel

It’s all about the miles and points.  For some of us, it even borders on a pseudo religion!   And rightfully so……sans the worship of course.   But before becoming a miles millionaire, traveling on holiday at least once per year with free flights was a reality, and it wasn’t because of miles.  The magic potion is travel vouchers, given by the airlines for volunteering to give up my seat on a confirmed flight and take a later flight.  In fact, our volunteer “bumping” last year, came atop a ticked purchased with a travel voucher – from being bumped the previous vacation!  Yes bumping still happens, and with so many flights currently operating near capacity, it’s even easier being the person getting compensation for being a bump volunteer!  But did you know, you can actually increase your odds of winning the prize?  Here’s a few tips to set yourself up with the highest likelihood of being the chosen bumpee:

  1. When its possible to pay the same (via money or points) for peak or off-peak flights, fly peak.  Peak hours and flights, especially on Sunday, Monday and Friday are many times oversold.  And when there’s a weather delay around the major hubs, those effects can trickle down to secondary airports.
  2. Travel lightly.  When the airline doesn’t have to concern itself with checked luggage, it’s easier for the airline (and you) if they don’t have to add in that headache.  Think path of least resistance.
  3. Be flexible, as this free travel battle plan is not for someone on a tight schedule.
  4. Check the airline’s seat map.  Although you won’t always see the full seat chart, a lack of open seats is a good sign that you might have a chance to get bumped.
  5. Arrive to the gate early and let yourself be known.  As soon as they ask for volunteers, be the first in line.  Without an announcement, watch the gate attendants.  Are they checking in crew or closing out the prior flight?  If yes, that’s a clear “do not disturb” sign.   Wait until they begin working with customers, then ask if there is a need for bump volunteers.  If they say yes or even maybe, tell them you’d be happy to volunteer if the need arises.
  6. Be nice.  Be cheerful (the gate attendants could use a pleasant smile). Expect nothing.  Be happy with what you get.  Sometimes its a couple hundred bucks, and a confirmation on the next flight.  Sometimes its a first class seat on tomorrows flight with an overnight stay at a 5 star hotel.  Sometimes its enough to pay for the entire flight itinerary of your next vacation!

Supposedly, the airlines pecking order for bump volunteers mimics the order upgrades are dispersed.  But experience shows this is not the case.   So fret not if you’re not the prime ambassador royalty plutonium status. The reality is first come first serve.

So the next time you’re at the boarding gate and you hear the sweet music of a need for bump volunteers, be the first, especially when the need is more than one.  And you shall not worry.  If you accept a lower award, but the offering to entice multiple volunteers increases, practical knowledge teaches us you’ll get the higher reward too.  But, don’t sleep on it too long.  The early bird still gets the worm!