What Is Overbooking and Why Do Airlines Do It?

Many airlines overbook their flights and end up “bumping” passengers.. Meaning they sell more tickets than there are seats on the plane. But why do they do it? What happens to passengers who arrive at the airport only to learn that their seat is already taken?

Like any business, airlines want to make money. So, they try to fill as many seats on each plane as possible. However, airlines also know a few passengers will probably cancel their tickets or just won’t show up.

Airlines look at data from past flights to calculate the number of expected “no-shows”. For example, if the data shows that eight people normally don’t show up for flights from New York to Los Angeles, the airline might sell eight extra tickets.

However, the airlines sometimes get their numbers wrong.

Bumping Passengers

If there are too many people and not enough seats, the airline may ask passengers to volunteer to take a later flight for compensation — which might include money, travel vouchers, free meals and hotel rooms.

Some airlines have offered as much as $2,000 to get people to volunteer.

If there are no volunteers, airlines may have to make passengers give up their seats. This is called “bumping.”

In the US, if a bumped passenger is able to arrive at their destination less than an hour late using another flight, no compensation is required by law.  Although airlines may offer some. If they arrive over two hours late, the law requires that they be given 400% of the one-way ticket price, up to a total of $1,550, however this is at the airline’s discretion.

If you are not in a hurry to get to your destination, then this could be a good way to earn some extra money by getting a later flight. Obviously it doesn’t suit everyone.

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