How to (Willingly) Give Up Your Airplane Seat for Cash

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By Susan Catto and Gabe Saglie

There’s been much talk in the news lately about Canada’s proposed passenger bill of rights — Bill C-49 — which is currently wending its way through Parliament. The bill, which is anticipated to become law in 2018, could set standards for compensation when airlines bump passengers involuntarily.

But as savvy (and flexible) travellers know, electing to give up your seat when flights are overbooked can be a profitable decision. How high the incentive goes will depend on every passenger holding out, and it’s likely that the monetary thresholds will be met before they get to five digits.  But if you want to increase your odds of tapping Air Canada’s and WestJet’s incentives to give up your airplane seat, there are a few ways to up your chances of nabbing a voucher (or money) in return for your coveted place in the cabin:

  • Be proactive: Tell the gate agent right from the get-go that you’re a passenger willing, able and ready to give up your seat and take a later flight, should the need arise; there are even better odds if you get to the gate before the agent working your flight gets there.
  • Stay close: Sit close to the gate agent’s desk, so that when the announcement’s made that they’re seeking bump volunteers, you’re first in line; better still, perk up to conversations behind the desk and be ready to pounce when chatter begins among agents about needing to find volunteers to give up their seats.
  • Don’t check bags: It’s much easier to move to a later flight if you’re only bringing a carry-on — finding your checked bag takes time and resources. Also, if your bag takes off with your original flight, you risk losing it before your later flight arrives, especially if you’re dealing with connecting flights.
  • Fly hub-to-hub routes: Flights between an airline’s major destinations or hub cities tend to carry the most elite fliers; that’s Toronto to Montreal for Air Canada or Toronto to Calgary for WestJet.  These are flights where odds tend to be higher that a lower-status flier would be subject to getting bumped as efforts are made to accommodate higher-tier passengers.
  • Status matters: In a similar vein, if you fly an airline with which you have zero status, the odds of you getting bumped will be higher.
  • Buy the cheapest ticket: Airlines like Air Canada and WestJet have bare-bones fares that come with their own set of restrictions (no pre-selecting seats, limited carry-on bags, etc.). If you’re flying on these fares, you’re more likely to get bumped in favour of people who bought standard or refundable fares.

 

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