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southwestlogoEver since I got the Southwest Companion Pass by earning 110,000 points in this calendar year, we have been flying a lot of Southwest.  We flew to Reno for a long-awaited family reunion, then we flew back from Reno, where a passenger told me I was the type of person that shouldn’t have children.

We flew to Atlanta for my sister’s wedding (after a four…. hour…. delay), and each time my wife flew for free (after TSA airport taxes).

Normally, our plans are pretty tight.  When coordinating with families, we often don’t have a ton of extra time, not to mention the thought of spending a couple of extra hours with 6 kids is NOT my idea of a good time!  We’re just lucky we have learned the tricks of how to get seats near each other on Southwest through family boarding.  Even when we’re flying without the crew, most times we need to be back to relieve the babysitter (before they go crazy!!!)

What is voluntary boarding (“getting the bump”)?

Okay, so what exactly is getting a “bump”?  The basic idea is that most airlines practice something called “overselling”.  You would think at first glance that if you’re an airline flying a plane that has 100 seats, that you would only sell 100 tickets.  Well that would just be ludicrous!  In reality, they’re likely to sell several extra, counting on some people to not show up.  Usually that does happen, and the plane takes off fine and dandy.

But sometimes (gasp!) everyone does show up, and the airline has to kick some people off the plane (since we don’t yet have standing room only seats on aircraft)

Different airlines have different rules and compensation if you are voluntarily denied boarding (VDB).  Some airlines have a standard rule of what kind of compensation you’ll receive, and sometimes it’s down to how the gate agent is feeling, and the law of supply and demand – how many people are willing to  volunteer.

There is also involuntary denied boarding (IDB) – if the airline can’t get anyone to volunteer, they still can’t fly the plane with more people than seats, so they can INVOLUNTARILY deny you.  There are rules (and even laws!) regarding your compensation in this case, and typically it is higher (MUCH higher) than if you are a volunteer.

Ways to increase your odds

If your schedule is flexible, and you’re looking to get a bump, there are a few things that you can do to increase your chances:

  1. Choose your flights wisely – busier flights lead to more opportunities for oversold flights.
  2. Don’t check any bags.  It should go without saying that if the airline has to go find your bags and take them off the plane, your chances are much lower
  3. Arrive at the gate early
  4. When you get there, let the gate agent take care of his/her business, and then approach them and ask to be put on the voluntary denied boarding (bump) list.
  5. Know the flight schedule – if you’re knowledgeable about what other options you have, you may be able to find one that

Compensation on Southwest

So in preparation for an(other) upcoming flight on Southwest, I thought I would check what Southwest’s policies are, and they actually have a whole section about overbooking on their website – some exceprts:

If you volunteer to give up your seat in an oversale situation and we can rebook you on a Southwest Airlines flight that will arrive within two hours of your originally scheduled arrival time, we will give you a travel voucher in the amount of $100 plus an amount equal to the face value of your one-way flight coupon(s).

If we cannot confirm your travel within two hours of your originally scheduled arrival time, you will be placed on a priority standby list, and your compensation will increase to a travel voucher in the amount of $300 plus an amount equal to the face value of your one-way flight coupon(s). If you are not accommodated as a standby Customer, we will confirm you on a later Southwest Airlines flight(s) with seats available to your destination. You will not incur an increase in fare.

So if your flight originally cost $99, your offer will be $199 if they can rebook you on a flight arriving within 2 hours of your original destination.  $399 if they don’t get you there within 2 hours.

Rapid Rewards or Companion Pass

But what if you’re flying on a rewards ticket, or on a Companion Pass ticket?  How is your ticket value calculated?  It seems that there isn’t always a standard way for this to be calculated – it can depend on the gate agent, and maybe your own salesmanship 😀

There are a few reports of those tickets counting as $0, since technically you didn’t “pay” for them, but there is also a Flyertalk thread where a few people report getting different value.  After all, Southwest Rapid Rewards points have a fixed value (and it’s more than you think!)

Does anybody have any experience with bumping on Southwest?  Leave a note with what happened to you in the comments!

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