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Reading this question I found out how changes in seat capacity are handled, which made me quite curious what kind of incentives are typically offered to people who volunteer to take a different flight.

  • I can't say for certain as I have no experience of this, but I would guess they may be offered an upgrade, eg 1st class. Alternatively, they may be offered some 'flying miles', a discount on future flight and so on. Good question though (+1). – Sam T Mar 8 '15 at 15:08
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    Not a direct duplicate, but close... travel.stackexchange.com/questions/16427/… – Doc Mar 8 '15 at 15:38
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In the US, I've experienced all the following cases:

  1. Upon check-in, an automated offer to change the flight. The offer might include $$ towards future travel and/or bonus miles.
  2. At the gate, offers of $$ certificates towards future travel. The amounts will increase sometimes as departure time nears.
  3. On the plane, a request for volunteers with the $$ certificates.

Sometimes they restrict volunteers to people who are not making a connection later.

Upgrading you on a later flight used to be more common but I think occurs less frequently now, as more people use miles or status to upgrade. That is, the seats just aren't available.

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    Having flown International First Class (ie, on a 3 class plane!) on what was booked as an Economy ticket only a few months ago (as well as being "paid" $200 in vouchers), I can guarantee that upgrades can still play a part in the conversation... – Doc Mar 8 '15 at 15:42
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    One time, on an overbooked US continental flight I was flying with, after trying for over an hour they eventually offered upgrade to first class for the next flight + $5,000 credit for future travel. The ticket was probably roughly $200. – Thomas Bonini Mar 8 '15 at 21:55
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    $5000? Sorry, I can't believe that. If they are unable to find volunteers they will "Involuntary Denied Boarding" (IDB) someone, which will cost them a fraction of that amount. $500, maybe. $5000, not a chance. – Doc Mar 8 '15 at 23:41
  • @Doc Just hypothetically, maybe the voucher was for a single ticket up to $5000 instead of credit? – David Mulder Mar 9 '15 at 14:05
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It's been a few years since I experienced this, but on the two occasions I volunteered to give up my seat on a plane, I was offered :-

  • London to Frankfurt - vouchers of about 50% of my fare for the same airline, plus a guaranteed seat on a flight 4 hours later.
  • London to Chicago - cash of about 75% of my fare, plus a guaranteed upgraded seat (premium economy) on the same flight 24 hours later. I was offered a night in a hotel too, but as I live pretty close to the airport I didn't bother to take this.

My recent experience is that airlines seem to be becoming better at not overbooking flights - the only time I have even seen requests for volunteers was when a preceding flight was cancelled due to a plane fault, but I wasn't quick enough to respond before the quota was met.

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I was recently overbooked on an intra-European flight with Air France and the compensation I received was a guaranteed seat on the later flight and a redeemable voucher for a future airplane ticket booked via Air France. Having had it happen with British Airways a couple months back I would say this is common practice for domestic/European flights.

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Most of the time I have encountered this, the airline was offering travel vouchers, plus accommodations if they can't get you out the same day.

I can say in the specific case you referenced, US Air was offering $400 in travel vouchers. Because we had young children, I did not inquire about it to find out what else we could get, although if we were traveling alone, my wife and I would have done it.

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