Airline overbooking policies revealed What benefits are on offer for getting 'bumped'?

26 August 2013

Overbooked flights

Many airlines routinely overbook their flights, a snapshot investigation by Which? has revealed. 

Which? looked at the overbooking policies of 14 major airlines and found that nine of the 14 investigated regularly overbook their aircraft. 

Of these, four airlines offer additional benefits - such as cash or vouchers - to passengers who volunteer to take the next available flight.

These extra benefits are in addition to what airlines are required to offer passengers under the Denied Boarding Regulations.

Bumped benefits

Of the four airlines to offer additional benefits, EasyJet was the only airline to offer cash to passengers. The no frills airline offers £100 to those first in line to volunteer to get bumped to a later flight. 

Virgin Atlantic offers what it terms ‘generous benefits’ as an incentive to passengers to put themselves up for the next flight, but the airline wouldn't be drawn on what these benefits are. 

Air Transat and United Airlines also offer extra benefits for all bumped passengers but again, refused to state what the extra benefits are. 

This table shows what you can expect from the airlines in our investigation if you volunteer to take a later flight:


Flight overbooking

Flight overbooking is a common policy used so airlines can ensure flights are full even if some passengers fail to turn up for travel.  

A spokesperson for British Airways explained that trend analysis and historical records help the airline decide how many passengers to book on a particular flight. 

The spokesperson added that having too many passengers on any given flight is quite rare.

EasyJet told us it overbooks around 1% of its flights and said around 5% of passengers are no-shows, while rival no frills carrier Ryanair said it doesn't overbook any of its flights.  

Our investigation found that, should a flight be overbooked, airlines will ask for volunteers to take the next available flight. 

Volunteers will be re-routed on the next flight and offered compensation in line with the EU Denied Boarding Regulations, as well as assistance such as phone calls, food and accommodation, if necessary. 

Volunteering to be bumped 

Some people are happy to take advantage of the extra benefits afforded to them by volunteering to be bumped and readily put themselves forward to take a later flight. 

The Denied Boarding Regulations entitle all bumped passengers to rerouting and, depending on the length of delay, also compensation.

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