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Maximizing the perks of airline 'bumping'

When Dr. David Dao was unwillingly bumped, and then violently dragged off a United Airlines flight in 2017, compensation caps took off.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — If you're flying during this busy summer travel season and dreading the long security lines and overbooked planes, you should know that patience pays.

"It pretty much paid for my trip," said Jenna Yockim, a KARE 11 employee, who recently returned home from Vancouver.

When she checked in for her flight home to Minnesota, Yockim says Delta was looking for volunteers to give up their seat and she was surprised to learn how much they were willing to give in return.

"They said they would give me $2,000 to separate from my mom, who I was traveling with," Yockim said. "It was an American Express gift card. It seemed really crazy because my flight didn't even cost that much."

Experts say those types of big payments are growing more common, as airlines work to maximize profits by overbooking planes.

"When you have a busy travel season like right now, people all show up and then they start bumping people off the flights," said Laura Begley Bloom, a senior contributor for Forbes. "United and Delta are some of the airlines that pay the most and also bump the most."

For years, airlines capped compensation at $1,350 for bumping passengers, but when Dr. David Dao was unwillingly bumped, and then violently dragged off a United Airlines flight in 2017, compensation caps took off.

"They raised the amount to about $10,000 for most of the airlines," Bloom said. "I think Delta, United, all have these huge numbers."

Bloom has been writing about the topic ever since her own family waited, and voluntarily bumped their way into a big payday a couple of years ago. 

"In my situation, we walked away with $11,000 in American Express gift cards and then were able to renovate our kitchen with that," Bloom said. "We call it the Delta kitchen."

In a follow-up story, Bloom outlined some tips for travelers looking to maximize the system. Here a few:

  • Book your trips with flexibility to change plans
  • Ask about opportunities during busy travel seasons, full flights
  • If asked to volunteer, ask for cash or gift cards instead of vouchers
  • Consider negotiating for the best offer

"But the thing is you always run that risk that somebody else is going to take that money and run with it," Bloom said. "Just remember, the amount that airlines offer you has nothing to do with what you paid for the flight. It really is just a negotiating game and they will continue offering more and more and more and more to get people off the flight and it can go really, really high."

Finally, Bloom says the most important thing for travelers to do is to know their rights, especially if they are bumped off of a flight involuntarily. In those cases, passengers can demand they are compensated in cash, and the payouts can often be quite large.

Click here for more information on from the Department of Transportation.