Overbooking flights helps us save cash

Is flight overbooking so bad?

The practice of overbooking flights has had its share of bad press recently, from the outrageous scrum on the United Airlines flight, to Jo Wood's Tweeted fury at being asked to leave a flight. However, before we join the flood of people decrying the practice, it's worth bearing in mind that we're benefiting from it too.

SEE ALSO: Family got £8,800 compensation after being bumped from flight

See also: Which airlines are most likely to bump you from your flight?

See also: The Supreme Court just made family holidays much pricier

In addition to calls to boycott United Airlines, there has been an outcry against overbooking. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wrote to President Trump to try to persuade him to ban the practice, and a Change.org survey calling for a ban has been signed by more than 70,000 supporters.

Overbooking has been described by the press as a money-grab by greedy airlines, making passengers risk missing a flight and destroying their holiday, so that the airlines can squeeze even more money out of them. However, it's worth bearing in mind that we benefit from overbooking too.

Why overbooking is useful

1. If airlines didn't overbook, then those people who snap up the last few tickets would not have been able to buy them. Often these are passengers who have the least flexibility, which is why they have not been able to buy tickets in advance, so without overbooking, they wouldn't be able to fly.

2. Because they overbook, we are able to get better deals on seats. The way that deals work is that the first tranche of seats are offered at a low cost. Once they are sold, the price continues to go up as more and more of the seats are sold. As the departure date nears, if they still have plenty of seats to sell, the price falls again, and right before departure, they may fall significantly in order to sell all the seats they intend to. Without overbooking, these last-minute cut-price tickets would be much thinner on the ground - as would the early bird bargains.

3. In the vast majority of cases we reap the benefits of overbooking at no cost to ourselves. Most airlines are pretty accurate in determining how many people will miss each flight - and fewer than 0.01% of passengers are forced to miss a flight because it has been overbooked. As time goes on, the models and technology used to predict who will miss flights get more sophisticated, and fewer people end up being denied boarding. It means we get the savings associated with overbooking at no cost to ourselves.

4. Savvy travellers can even make money from overbooking - as long as they are flexible enough. Before anyone is removed from a flight, the airline will ask for volunteers, and will gradually increase the compensation on offer in order to persuade people to give up their seats. Earlier this week, a family flying from New York to Florida made almost £9,000 in profit after being bumped from three flights.

They initially received £1,075 each in gift cards for giving up their seats on their first flight and agreeing to travel the following day. Travel disruption at that point meant the airline was looking for more people to give up their seats, so they were paid £1,035 each for two tickets and £1,075 for the third. They then discovered they couldn't fly for another two days, so decided to cancel their trip. They were awarded £796 each in compensation, and had the cost of their initial tickets refunded.

How to avoid being bumped

If you are keen to avoid being bumped from a flight, there are a few steps you can take to make it less likely.

1. Try to fly at a less popular time. Flights on Fridays in the school holidays are likely to be oversold and packed, so being bumped is more likely. A plane late at night on a Saturday off peak season is less likely to be full - so you are more likely to keep your seat.

2. Check in early. Some airlines will bump the last people to check in if they don't get enough volunteers to give up their seats. If you can book online, it's worth doing as early as possible.

3. Join the loyalty scheme. Some airlines will favour frequent fliers, so at the very least join the frequent flier programme. Sometimes membership alone will be enough to protect you from being bumped.

4. Pay more for your ticket. This isn't terribly practical if you're a deal hunter, but generally, most airlines will avoid bumping those who paid the most for their seats.

5. Check in some luggage. It's far easier for airlines to remove passengers with no luggage in the hold, so if you get as far as the plane, having luggage on board should help you keep your seat,

6. Talk to the airline. Many will take individual circumstances into account so if, for example, you are trying to get to a wedding or a funeral, let them know and they may favour you when it comes to deciding who to deny boarding to.

Cheap holiday destinations in Eastern Europe
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Cheap holiday destinations in Eastern Europe

Most tourists tend to stay near the coast in Lithuania. But if you make the journey to Vilnius, you will be rewarded with a spectacular and unspoiled old town. In terms of prices, the Post Office recently named it the cheapest European city break destination. The average stay costs less than half the price of a weekend in Paris - at £100.04. At the time of writing, a week in September with flights from London and a holiday apartment cost £144 per person, according to Kayak.

This is well on the tourist trail, for obvious reasons, so anyone in search of a bargain needs to stay clear of touristy areas along the river. If you manage that, there are some decent bargains to be had: and the Post Office study put it in second place - with a weekend stay priced at £119.77. At the time of writing, a week in September with flights from London and a hotel room cost £115 per person, according to Kayak.

Prices are incredibly low here and there is plenty for tourists to do in a varied city with over 2,000 years of history. In the past it was always a bit of a struggle to find a cheap flight, but you can fly and stay for a week in September for just £134 in an easyHotel.

This city is much like Prague was before huge numbers of tourists descended. The beauty of the old town offers huge attractions for tourists, and yet prices remain at rock bottom. Every year the European Backpacker Index calculates the cheapest cities to visit in Europe (based on the cost of a night in a hostel, two rides on public transport, three budget meals, one cultural attraction and three alcoholic beverages); this year Krakow came fourth - and stood out in the top five as the most charming of the destinations. At the time of writing, a week in September with flights from London and a hotel room cost £131 per person, according to Kayak.

This is Poland’s cultural hub, so there’s always plenty to do in Warsaw. The size of the city also means there’s a huge array of architectural styles, including the old town centre, which was destroyed during WWII, and was rebuilt in replica. The Backpacker Index listed this as the sixth cheapest place to travel, and at the time of writing, a week in September with flights from London and a loft apartment cost £130 per person, according to Kayak.

This city is more tourist-friendly than Moscow, so the paperwork is less arduous, and there is more freedom of movement. The ultimate sight to see is the incredible (albeit pricey) Winter Palace. There are some expensive tourist areas, but there are still bargains for the dedicated, and the Backpacker Index put it in tenth place. At the time of writing, a week in September with flights from London and a hotel room cost £229 per person, according to Kayak.

This tends to be used primarily as a gateway to the Croatian islands, but for those who choose to stay here, there’s an older old town than the one in Dubrovnik, and far lower prices.At the time of writing, a week in September with flights from London and a hotel room cost £236 per person, according to Kayak.

The city is dwarfed in tourist terms by Prague, but still has plenty of beauty and culture to offer in the old town. The advantage of being rarely visited is the fact that the city is relatively unspoiled and inexpensive - and for that reason it deserves a place on the list. The downside is that it’s hard to get there  -  you’ll have to change flights, and the cost of the flight alone dwarfs the price of a week-long stay in some of these other destinations. It is, therefore, a great place to visit if you are travelling around the region, rather than flying over for a week.


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