A United Airlines passenger recently went viral on social media when she was booted from a flight and rewarded with a voucher worth up to $10,000.
Twitter user Allison Preiss of Washington, D.C. posted about the incident over the weekend while she was preparing to fly to Austin, Texas, for her friend’s bachelorette party.
How one airline passenger was able to score a $10,000 travel voucher
United, reached by the Washington Post, confirmed the voucher amount, saying in an email, “Yes, we issued” Preiss “this voucher per our policy.”
The travel saga began when Preiss was able to grab the last seat on the flight. She tweeted this the day before departing:
When she went to Dulles Airport to board her flight, she was notified that the airline needed someone to give up their seat. She then began to live-tweet to her followers, giving them a riveting rundown that would eventually lead to her scoring a potential airfare windfall.
United is “offering $1K in travel credit for an oversold flight,” she tweeted. “If nobody bites, they will kick off the lowest fare passenger by pulling them out of the boarding line. For a flight that THEY oversold. Unreal.”
She then tweeted: “I AM THE LOWEST FARE PASSENGER.”
In a later clarification, we learn that the airline didn’t overbook the flight —instead it was a safety issue. Evidently, there was a broken seat.
Broken seat or not, airlines routinely overbook flights. When more people show up than there are seats on the plane, they use the boarding process to weed through the fliers to see who can be re-accommodated. They get customers to play along by offering incentives.
While some fliers are keen to this and try to make a small fortune off being booted from planes, compensation typically depends on how major the inconvenience is. The thing is, during this crucial time before and during boarding is when the potential for nasty airline experiences is at its highest.
If no passenger decides to take the bait and change their flight, the airline is not going to delay 200 or so passengers, its cabin crew and everyone’s luggage just because a single flier doesn’t want to make a deal. This has led to some ugly scenes in which passengers have had to be forcibly removed.
To avoid the bad press (and lawsuits) associated with this, airlines make the choice to sweeten the pot : Throw in some major cash, even a hotel stay, or, in this case, an insane credit voucher.
To qualify for the latter, though, you usually have to meet a criteria that is out of your control. That’s why, in Preiss’s case, the airline purportedly tried to get her to sign paperwork saying that she voluntarily gave up her seat, which would kick her into a whole different category (with less compensation).
She told the Post that the airline initially offered her $2,000 and a seat on the next flight out. But Preiss told them she wanted cash. The agent countered that the airline could get her a voucher worth $3,000, then $4,000.
The airline industry knows that many people never actually follow through and use their vouchers, so they’re apt to offer credits instead of handing over bundles of cash.
So the agent offered Priess $10,000 in travel credit. “I never asked for a larger amount,” she told the Post. “The agent just escalated quickly.”
Whether someone redeems them or not, another reason why airlines prefer to offer travel credits rather than cash is because vouchers typically come with all sorts of restrictions. All this could greatly diminish the face value of the voucher.
That’s why Priess posted a partial pic of the travel voucher which clearly says “up to $10,000.” Of course, the key here is “up to.”
What happened to Preiss is not typical in situations like this — $10,000 is quite a sum for being bumped from a flight. But this story illustrates what can happen when airlines get desperate. Here are three things to consider when an airline tries to get you to give up your seat:
3 airline travel tips when it comes to being bumped
- You don’t have to agree to the first deal that airlines offer you. If they’re asking that you voluntarily give up your seat, really gauge the value of what you’re losing (and gaining) by agreeing to be bumped. Is it a once-in-a-lifetime event you’ll miss? If so, it may not be worth the hassle to gamble with an airline enticement.
- Before you accept a travel voucher, understand the terms. Are there blackout dates? Is international travel included? Does the travel voucher say “up to” $10,000? If you redeem it on a $300 flight, you could lose $9,700. Read the fine print.
- Know the rules on who can be bumped before boarding: Different airlines have different policies regarding who they will bump first. In this case, United bumped the lowest fare. American Airlines, on the other hand, says it can bump a person based on how late they checked in. Always read your airline’s bump policy beforehand.
- If you push for a refund, find out when it will be issued: Many airlines, including United, are not exactly known for issuing quick refunds. You may have to wait several months before you get your money back. And that’s no good if it means missing out on travel season.
Meanwhile, Priess’s story got even more entertaining. While the airline drew the line on granting her lounge access, they did provide $10 worth of meal vouchers. Then something amazing happened…
When she didn’t actually follow through with going to Pizza Hut, the restaurant offered to throw a pizza party for everyone who attended the bachelorette party.
Lesson: You never know who’s watching your tweets.