How I Missed a $600 Airline Voucher — Reader Mistake Story

Aug 15, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Tommy, who overplayed his hand in search of an airline bump. Here’s what he had to say:

I was booked on a United Express flight from Denver to Calgary. The aircraft was delayed on its inbound flight, and then we waited for another 20 minutes after boarding before the lone flight attendant announced there was a weight issue. The plane is configured for only 50 passengers and there were already three empty seats, so I expected they might call for one or two volunteers to take the evening flight.

I checked my United app and saw that there were still seven seats available, including a few Economy Plus seats. They were middle seats, but I figured I could stand that if the compensation was high enough. I texted my wife and jokingly told her I was going to hold out for the $10,000 offer, knowing it probably would not go that high, but I would settle for an offer in the $1,200 to $1,500 range.

Another several minutes passed while the flight crew re-checked their math. Temperatures in Denver were in the high 90s and climbing, and the small CRJ-200 could not keep up, so the it was getting hot onboard rapidly as well. After about 20 minutes (now over an hour late from the original departure) the gate agent came on. To my amazement, he asked for seven volunteers to take the next flight — the last of the day to Calgary — and offered a $600 airline voucher to volunteers.

I thought surely no one would accept this, but again to my amazement seven hands went up (all behind me, as I was in row 3). Had any of these passengers been listening to the news? Hadn’t they heard the stories about United and compensation levels for situations like this? Didn’t they know that the offer will escalate if you’re willing to wait? I guess not, and suddenly the opportunity to grab a voucher was gone. Instead, we sat around for another 30-40 minutes while luggage for the volunteers was located and unloaded.

Lesson learned: when the offer was made, I should have turned around quickly and assessed the activity behind me. I would liked to have held out for a higher offer, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Had I seen hands go up that even approached the count needed, I would likely have jumped up and been the proud owner of a $600 voucher!

One of the keys to negotiating an airline bump is to not get too greedy. Passengers commonly receive compensation in the range Tommy was looking for — plenty of TPG readers have done just that. But every bump scenario is different, and it’s not helpful to base your expectations on how much other people were offered in what may be completely different circumstances. I think Tommy’s mistake was anticipating an amount that was not only much higher than what the situation called for, but also much higher than what he would have been content with.

My advice is to avoid gamifying the process. You should know your price to get bumped in advance, accounting for the inconvenience of being delayed, any costs you might incur as a result (financial or otherwise), and the risk of toying with your itinerary. If the airline meets your price, then you can volunteer your seat with the confidence that doing so is worth your while. If the offer comes up short, then you can continue as planned without worrying that you let a golden opportunity slip away.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Tommy for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

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