Overbooked flight? Don’t take that voucher, because you could get $1,300 instead

Infographic: AirHelp

You’re sitting at your departure gate, giving the woman with three devices plugged into the charging station your best shame stare, when you hear the loudspeaker above your head crackle to life. “Our flight has been oversold,” the gate agent says, “And we are looking for volunteers to take a later flight.” You cock your head to the side, considering it. You don’t have anything but Netflix waiting for you at home and you wouldn’t mind picking up a voucher for a future flight. But if you’re thinking of peeling your thighs from that vinyl seat and walking to the counter – DON’T.AirHelp, a startup that helps inconvenienced passengers receive compensation from the airlines, says you could do so much better.

The airlines do sell more tickets (typically just about 1% more)  than they have actual seats, because they assume that a certain percentage of passengers will not show up for the flight. But, as a number of frustrated EasyJet passengers have discovered this summer, those calculations aren’t always accurate. According to AirHelp, the airlines’ load factors – the number of seats that are filled – have been steadily increasing by a percentage point or two every year, which adds up to an increase in the number of passengers who get bumped from their booked flights. In the first three months of this year, 143,000 passengers on U.S. airlines were denied boarding due to oversold flights, an increase of 6.3% over the same period last year.

Infographic: AirHelp

AirHelp reminds us that becoming a frequent flier or holding elite status on an airline makes you less likely to be booted from a flight, but what do you do if you’re just a low-level schlub with a window seat? You don’t volunteer for a later flight and you ignore that offer for a flight voucher and hold out for real cash instead. That voucher might be worth between $200 – $400, on average, to put toward a future flight. But if you are involuntarily denied boarding on flights within the U.S., Airhelp will help you collect up to $1,300 for your trouble (for a cut of the money, of course), as well as a full refund for the cost of your confirmed flight.

Before you start planning how to arrange all that cash for an Instagram picture, realize that there are a few exceptions to that rule. If the flight you’re placed on lands within an hour of your original flight, if you “fail to comply with ticketing, check-in or reconfirmation procedures,” if your aircraft was swapped for one with a smaller capacity or if you’ve been bumped due to weight restrictions on a plane with fewer than 60 seats, then you’re not entitled to that cash payout.

Infographic: AirHelp

At least that’ll give you another reason to snarl at the woman hogging the charging station. Meanwhile, here are a few other ways to get paid if your flight is delayed or canceled.

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