Here's What to Do If You End Up on an Overbooked Flight

The insider tips to help you prepare for one of the busiest holiday travel seasons on record.

AAA, TSA, and Google have all anticipated that this holiday travel season will be one of the busiest on record. AAA projects that the holiday travel period, between December 23 and January 1, will see 115.2 million people on the move. Most of those people will be driving, but 7.5 million will be traveling via air.

This means you should be prepared to deal with all sorts of travel headaches if you're among that 7.5 million. That includes delays and cancellations, but also overbooked flights. Overbooked flights have been an increasingly headline-catching trend since the return of travel really boomed in 2022. In fact, in 2023, the rate of passengers overbooked on airlines doubled since 2021.

But where does that leave you, in an airport trying to head home for the holidays and learning that you have been bumped from the flight you're taking home? Well, if you find yourself in this position, there are several ways to make this work to your advantage.

According to a new study conducted by Volantio, an airline tech company that works with booking software, 78% of travelers would switch their flights in exchange for cash—if they were given the right offer. So, how do you get that right offer?

Azim Barodawala, co-founder and CEO of Volantio, has some insider tips with Thrillist on how to make an overbooked flight work best for you, even during the high-stress holiday season. Here's what Barodawala advises:

1. Know what kind of traveler you are.

Can you handle getting bumped from your flight? Make a plan ahead of time to anticipate what your best options will be if you are presented with this choice of volunteering to take a later flight.

2. Be smart when bidding, if you're willing to get bumped.

When an airline is looking for volunteers to get bumped, they will often ask passengers to name their price — if you can afford to take a later flight and could pocket the extra money, try to place a middle-of-the-road bid. "Think about how much you want to win, and place your bets accordingly," says Barodawala. 

Don't go so low that it doesn't make sense to bump your flight, but don't go so high that the airline is unlikely to choose you. If you're bidding $600, and five other people are bidding $200, those lower bid prices are likely to win out.

3. Avoid getting bumped by being early.

Airlines are typically going to bump the last person to check in for a flight. Decrease the likelihood that you'll be that person by getting to the airport and checking in to your flight early. An early airport arrival will only be beneficial—it's also helpful with dealing with long lines at TSA.

4. Good manners get you everywhere.

Gate agents are already the face of airlines they have no control over. During the holiday season, their jobs only get more stressful. They will be dealing with stressed and angry travelers who have been screaming and ranting. "Treat them with respect, and avoid the dramatics," Barodawala says. "I've never seen a temper tantrum end well for the passenger, but being kind can usually drive a positive outcome."

You aren't going to get anywhere by joining the cacophony of rude people with no home training. Being kind and well-mannered can help you get better service.

5. Go in prepared for anything.

There is no predicting every outcome for your holiday flight. Over-bookings, weather, delays, cancellations, and other unforeseen circumstances can lead to a lot of standing around and waiting. Pack snacks, stay hydrated, and dress comfortably for your journey. Best case scenario, you'll be comfortable when you spend a little extra time at the airport because you got there early. Worst case scenario? You've got nourishment, cozy pants, and a few extra hundred dollars in flight vouchers as you camp out waiting for your later flight. "When things go wrong, being prepared can be the difference between a horrible journey and one that is bearable," Barodawala says.

Looking for more travel tips?

Whether you need help sneaking weed onto a plane, finding an airport where you can sign up for PreCheck without an appointment, or making sure you’re getting everything you’re entitled to when your flight is canceled, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading for up-to-date travel hacks and all the travel news you need to help you plan your next big adventure

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. She holds a bachelor's and master's degree in Journalism from NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She's worked in digital media for eight years, and before working at Thrillist, she wrote for Mic, The Cut, The Fader, Vice, and other publications. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.