I've been thinking about summer travel lately ever since my trip last week and it got me thinking about how it seems like every flight is oversold. With airlines reducing capacity and frequency, they inevitably oversell their flights. Even though this can be a headache because it means that your flights will be bursting at the seam, it is also an opportunity for you if you have flexible plans. If you don't have flexible plans, then don't read any further. If you are flexible and volunteer to give up your seat, the airline will give you vouchers in varying amounts depending on the city you are leaving from and the length of your flight. You can get anything from $150 to $500+ towards the purchase of your next flight. Sometimes they will also offer you a free domestic ticket. Those are usually harder to use because they may only be used on certain types of fares and certain seats have to be available. The no-brainer is to go with the voucher. Depending on your negotiating skills you can really make out like a bandit too.
Here's how it usually happens. Within an hour of boarding they may make an announcement about the flight being in an oversold situation. They will also say how many seats they need. When you hear this immediately get to the counter because they will take people on a first-come basis. So when you tell them that you are willing to volunteer, they will ask for your name and/or your boarding pass. If you are going somewhere that is relatively difficult to get to, meaning that there is only 1 or 2 flights per day to where you need to go, they might not take you because it might be too difficult for them to rebook you. But if you are clever, you can suggest some alternative airports to them too. You can also suggest to be routed through certain cities too. Don't assume that the agent knows everything about your needs. Give them options and the nicer and more amenable you are, the better you will be treated. They will offer you options and you can feel free not to take them. Technically you have to agree on the alternatives before they release your seat. They will also make you sign something. If they can't get you on an alternative flight that day, then they have to pay for you to stay in a hotel. You might also want to suggest one too because you don't want to be stuck in a dumpy hotel room for the night. You can also ask to be upgraded on the alternative flights too. It never hurts to ask. If they are on the ball you can ask them to remove your bag so that you are not stuck without luggage and toiletries. They will usually deliver it to the luggage office in baggage claim. They will not bring it up to the gate.
So there is also no limit to the number of times you can do this in a single journey. If your alternative flights end up being oversold too, you can start all over again. Then you can amass a large amount of vouchers and use them to pay for your next vacation. Summer and holidays are the best times to get bumped from flights. So take a risk and see what happens...only if you have flexible travel plans.