Saturday, August 24, 2013

Air travel ~ for free!

Air travel used to be romantic.  It had an air of exclusivity and prestige, and airlines frequently competed with each other to provide better service.  The pleasant experience of yesteryear has given way to airlines without reserved seats, hectic security lines, and fees to check bags.  In a few decades following deregulation, air travel has transformed from something to be savored into something to be endured.

Knowing that, it can be difficult to convince anyone traveling for business or pleasure to stay at an airport any longer than is absolutely necessary.  Yet the savvy traveler can find that, once in a while, having a little extra patience can pay off big time.  Take my experience from last week.

I flew into Salt Lake City for a one-day business trip.  The meeting was scheduled for the morning and wrapped up about noon, with a return flight scheduled for 2pm.  Literally, in-and-out.  I had flown Southwest, which gave me the opportunity to check in early and afforded me the time to grab lunch before the flight.  About an hour later, I boarded the flight in the uniquely cattle call-like method Southwest has perfected.  We sat on the tarmac for several minutes before a flight attendant made the following announcement:

"We oversold this flight, and we also have a row of (three) broken seats.  Would anyone volunteer to take a later flight?  We'll be happy to provide a voucher for a future flight and book you on the next available flight out."

I jumped at the chance to get the voucher, and was pleasantly surprised when I was informed that the voucher was worth $550.  That amount covers a trip across the country!  I had already started dreaming of where to go with the voucher, when the agent asked me which flight I'd like to be rebooked on.  I actually choose a flight several hours later, since I'm a beer connoisseur and wanted to check out a highly reputable brewery, Uinta, while I was in town anyway.  This flight postponement allowed me to take a taxi to the brewery and after a couple hours of tasting and bar conversation, I was on my way back to the airport.  The downside, of course, is dealing with a long security line, twice.

As a person who travels solo, I had the flexibility to impulsively act on the request.  If you, like me, have the flexibility and can figure out what to do during the downtime, I highly recommend volunteering for an overbooked flight voucher.  Not every flight is oversold, but I have some tips if you find yourself in a situation to surrender your seat.

1.  Don't volunteer to get off a late night flight, because the accommodations, which are often airline provided, can be rather shotty.

2. Use your smartphone to start looking up flight schedules to your destination immediately.  This will help you be aware of your options when it comes time to rebook your flight back at the gate.

3.  Survey the gate situation when you arrive.  If the boarding are looks crowded and there's a long standby list, likely the flight is oversold.  Don't wait for an announcement, but rather tell the gate agent you'd be happy to volunteer if the need arises.

4.  If possible, don't check bags.  This streamlines the whole process.

5.  Airlines all have different policies regarding oversold flights and volunteers to surrender seats.  Make sure the agent fully explains the terms and conditions before give up your seat.  No use getting a certificate, if it's to a destination you don't normally fly, for a small amount of money or will expire before you can use it.

6.  If you're so inclined, ask the agent for a food and drink voucher.

Above all, be patient.  Air travel is hard enough, and if you've chosen to give up your seat, there's little room to complain.  Be aware, be friendly, and have a safe trip!
Volunteer for an oversold flight, and get a travel voucher to a destination of your choosing!

~Rhamesis, the author of this post, runs his own blog you can check out here.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks. I especially like the part about volunteering, and this is extra great if you live near the airport!!