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How I Saved $1600 on Overbooked Seats!

Updated: May 25, 2023

An article written by Elizabeth Pante

When you start traveling alone from the age of 17 like me, you quickly learn to manage and understand how airports and air carriers work. Since as long as I can remember, I've always been looking for ways to save the most for my next trip. In December, I went into high gear thanks to overbooking or, as we say in English, overbooking. I tell you here how I made $1600 in travel credits with Air Canada by buying a single ticket at $500 (it's true, promise-swear!).

What is overbooking?

You should know that all airlines have data and statistics that allow them to predict the number of passengers who will not make it in time for boarding, for various reasons. Sometimes it's because they have a layover and their flight is late, because they arrived at the airport 30 minutes before their flight (don't try that!) and other times it's because a passenger is caught at customs or security. To ensure that all flights carry as many passengers as possible, instead of selling 150 tickets for an aircraft that offers 150 seats, airlines will therefore let one or two or three more passengers buy a ticket for a given flight. . So if there are 150 seats on board, they will for example sell 151 tickets.

This is a completely legal practice, although it often causes inconvenience for passengers in a hurry to reach their destination. Indeed, you never know if you will be that extra person who will have to stay on the ground...

When your flight is overbooked...

In the event that everyone shows up and there is one passenger too many, the company will generally call the last person to check in at the boarding counter to inform them of the situation. The company tells him or her that he or she will not be able to board since there is no more space. This person is therefore entitled to compensation in cash or travel credit depending on the number of hours they will have to wait for the next flight in addition to meal coupons and one night at the hotel if the flight is for the next day.

The compensation to which you are entitled

These compensations vary from one air carrier to another. Air Canada offers between $200 and $800 per person in travel credit plus meals and hotel accommodation if necessary.

For your information, here are the amounts offered by Air Canada and Porter Airlines when a passenger is denied boarding:

For a domestic flight (in Canada)

$200 (less than 2 hours late)

$400 (delay between 2 and 6 hours)

$800 (over 6 hours late)

For an international flight

$400 (less than 4 hours late)

$800 (over 4 hours late)

ATTENTION ! If your flight is canceled or delayed for reasons beyond the control of the air carrier such as the whims of Mother Nature, you are not entitled to the same compensation. There is always a way to argue your case with your airline when you return home to receive better compensation, but this is on a case-by-case basis. Knowing your air travel rights is a definite advantage when you travel a lot.

How I made my first $800 in travel credit!

Last fall, I bought a round trip flight from Montreal to San Francisco for the Christmas holidays. The day of my departure, the weather conditions were bad. My flight was supposed to leave at 6:15 p.m. and arrive at 9:30 p.m. local time (thus 12:30 a.m. for me). The flight was first delayed for an hour… then another hour… then another hour! It was 9:15 p.m. when the flight attendant announced that due to bad weather, there was a weight restriction, which meant that Air Canada had to add more fuel to the aircraft for safety reasons. They therefore had to find 15 volunteers who would take the next day's flight so that the aircraft would be lighter. My flight had already been delayed 3 hours, I was going to land in San Jose at 3 am (Hello sleepless night!), so when they announced they were offering $800 to leave the next morning on top of the hotel to sleep, I jumped at the chance.

After I was given all the documents I needed, I went to the hotel very close to the airport and slept there like a baby knowing that I was 800 richer $! When I arrived at the airport the next day, however, I learned that a few minutes after the volunteers (me and the others) left for their hotel, the flight that was delayed was completely canceled due to the weather!! ! Which means that the poor passengers who didn't volunteer and who saw us leave with $800, received 10% off their next purchase... (N.B. Such a situation is rare and if you feel that you have been harmed as a consumer, you can file a complaint with the airline.)

As soon as I got home, I took my travel credit to book my ticket to spend the month of February with my lover. Please note that the travel credit only applies to the “fare” portion of the ticket and that you must pay the taxes out of your pocket. Still, paying $95 in taxes to get to the West Coast with a direct flight is what I call paying really cheap for a plane ticket.

A paid stopover!

So, at the end of February, my return flight was as follows: San José – Vancouver – Montreal. I had a layover of just over an hour in Vancouver. This time, I very much hoped that my flight would still be overbooked for three reasons:

1- First, another travel credit to travel cheap, it's good to take!

2- I had never seen Vancouver and I thought that spending a few hours there would be nice to explore the city a bit.

3- I met a Quebecer in Madrid 10 years ago and we stayed in touch even though we haven't seen each other since. She now lives in Vancouver so this stopover was the perfect opportunity to see her again.

I had it all planned! My hand luggage contained everything necessary to spend 24 hours in Vancouver, I had checked if there were any tickets left for sale the day before for my flight and there were none. That's when I texted my friend: "Leonie, come meet me at the airport tomorrow, the flight is full I see. I try to spend the day with you! We'll see each other there ! »

Once through customs and security, I proceeded to my boarding gate. I was already one of the last to board due to a delay on my previous flight, so I immediately went to the counter to see if there was any chance that I would stay on the ground. There were 5 minutes left before closing the doors. They had just told a passenger that he would probably have to wait until the next flight since there was no seat for him. I immediately volunteered to take his place. When the Air Canada employee saw that it made me so happy to be "bumped" and that the passenger really didn't want to miss his flight, they swapped us!

I finally stayed almost 24 hours in Vancouver, spent time with my girlfriend, had a good night at the hotel, did the day of the passenger who had to see his son at all costs and… I saved another $800 on my future flights.

Casually, I still roll on my travel credits which total $1600. I am on my 3rd round trip thanks to a single ticket that cost around $500 last fall.

Here's what to do if you don't want to get bumped

When you see on your ticket that you have to arrive at the airport 90 minutes in advance, arrive 90 minutes (and more) in advance!

Check in online the day before (24 hours in advance). You put the odds on your side.

Airlines have boarding priorities. Thus, priority will be given to passengers with disabilities, unaccompanied children and passengers who pay a supplement for business class or privileges.

Finally, if you are a member of the company's loyalty program, you are less likely to be affected. If, like me, you are an Aeroplan member and you want to stay on the ground, you should mention it as soon as possible at the boarding counter.

Want to take advantage of overbooking next time? Follow these tips:

Before accepting, be sure to ask the flight attendant when the next available flight will be and its duration (connections) to be sure that the new itinerary suits you. Ask for good meals and overnight stay at the hotel if the flight is the next day. If you insist nicely, they can give you more than one good meal…

If you are a member of the frequent flyer program of the airline you are traveling with, all seats in economy class may be taken, but some are left in business class. In this case, you will be privileged for the upgrade.

Choose your flight carefully; yes, the most economical price is what we are looking for most often. On the other hand, choosing a flight that is regularly full will give you the chance to save a lot more money on the trip! Opt for a flight on Saturday morning, Sunday evening or in the morning on weekdays. Morning flights are often overbooked and find volunteers less easily since passengers traveling for business do not have as much flexibility as holidaymakers.

During busy periods such as Christmas holidays, Thanksgiving and long weekends, you have a good chance that your flight will be overbooked. You are already paying an exorbitant amount to visit your loved ones or take a vacation during this period; maximize your investment and be prepared to wait a little longer at the airport to get home… no need to tell your employer you volunteered to miss your flight home…

Make sure you have the minimum amount of clothing and toiletries in your hand luggage. Sometimes there is not enough time for the staff to remove your checked suitcase from the plane before take-off. If you spend an extra 5 hours at the airport or need to spend the night at the hotel, you will be happy to be able to freshen up before leaving.

Finally, when traveling, it is when you leave with an open mind and ready to prepare for any eventuality that you come out with the most beautiful experiences. The next time you go on vacation, think about your schedule which may be adjusted to the quarter turn… For a day wasted at the airport, a little flexibility can pay off big and allow you an even better vacation the next time !

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