Southwest Overbooked My Flight, Now What?

The overbooking of flights is a common practice airlines use to ensure their flights fly full. Southwest allows overbooking of flights, and within the terminal you may commonly hear a gate agent calling for volunteers.

When a volunteer is needed, and your a glass half-full type of person, an opportunity is present. Volunteers are offered compensation to give up their seat and to fly another flight. The gate agent will present you with an offer that may include free flights, cash, and a re-ticket on the next available flight. If you are not in a rush to get to your destination, some of these offers can be quite lucrative.

It’s time to play Monty Hall, and make a deal. The Southwest gate agents do have some flexibility with their published compensation policy. It all depends on how many volunteers they need, and how many they are getting. You usually can negotiate your compensation a little higher – but for volunteers, it usually only comes in the form of a travel voucher. You will be offered the next available flight with seats, and then depending upon how soon you will arrive to your destination, you can receive a travel voucher compensation of $100 to $300 plus the amount of your one-way fare. Note: If your flight was booked using points or a companion voucher, you will not receive the amount of your one-way fare as your ticket has no-value.

When the airline cannot find volunteers in an overbooking situation, the conversation changes to Bumping. Bumping occurs when you are Involuntarily Denied boarding. Southwest has one of the better policies regarding bumping:

    When and if you get bumped, Southwest will schedule you on the next available flight with seats. They will discuss with you any change in flight plan such as connections or layovers.

  • If your alternative flight(s) is scheduled to arrive at your destination or stopover point within two hours of your originally scheduled flight(s), you will be compensated with a check or a travel voucher in an amount equal to twice the face value of your remaining one-way flight. Southwest caps the the maximum amount of involuntary denied boarding compensation at $650 in this scenario.
  • If your alternate flight(s) is scheduled to arrive at your destination or stopover point more than two hours later than your originally scheduled flight(s), Southwest will increase the amount of the compensation to an amount equal to four times your remaining one-way flight coupon(s). Depending upon what you originally paid for your flight, this can be quite large, capping out at $1,300.

    It is good to know your rights. The DOT regulations for passenger rights can be found here: http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer/fly-rights

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