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Oversold Flights, Getting Bumped and Bumping

What are Airlines Thinking, and Why Do They Oversell Flights?

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Sometimes natural weather occurrences cause your flight plans to go awry. And then there are the times when it is the airline's fault as is the case with mechanical problems, and oversells.

Virtually every airline embraces the policy of overselling flights. This means that the airline has sold more seats on the aircraft than it physically has on board.

As a passenger, it can be incredibly frustrating to arrive and check in at the airport, only to look at your boarding pass and realize that there is no seat assigned to you. Invariably, this indicates that the flight you have booked on has been oversold, or is close to full booking capacity. Before resigning yourself to the possibility that you may be watching your flight leave without you on it, let's look at what an oversold flight is, and what this means to you as a passenger.

Airlines oversell flights because there tends to be a certain number of passengers that do not show up for the flights that they are booked on. For some airlines, it is required for every passenger to call and reconfirm that they will travel (usually between 24-72 hours prior to departure), or the airline will cancel the reservation. This is not a common practice for the major airlines, which can absorb a certain amount of lost passenger revenues. The reconfirm-or- have-your-booking-cancelled tends to be the policy for some smaller airlines that may suffer more devastating financial losses if a passenger doesn't show up.

Airlines do not disclose the percentage that they oversell flights, and depending on time of year, and where the flight is going to, the percentage that an airline oversells can easily range from 10 to 45 percent!

Flights can be oversold at any time of the year, but this practice is most noticeable around holiday travel periods, when every flight seems to be brimming with passengers. Airlines overbook in order to try and make sure that their flights depart full and maximize profits. The MCO (the miscellaneous charge(s) order) is one of the options that will be offered for passengers volunteering to take a later flight.

Even if you have not volunteered to take a later flight but have been bumped off a flight because the airline has oversold it, you are entitled to compensation. Travel voucher will be used to represent MCO, because outside of the travel industry, this is how it is most commonly known.

Airlines prefer travel vouchers because they are not a payment in cash, it is essentially future credit. Because a travel voucher is not cash, the airlines tend to offer greater compensation if you choose this option. For example, an airline may offer $100 cash or a $300 travel voucher.

The compensation of course may be richer depending on destination, and how desperately the airline wants to get volunteers. In other words, the airline wants to avoid paying out cash, and although cash compensation is rarely negotiable, the airline may budge on the travel voucher amount if warranted.

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