American Airlines Now Lets You Volunteer for Bump Compensation Electronically

The Supreme Court weighed in on airline overbooking in the 1970s, and yet we’re still talking about it today.

Airlines are going to new great lengths to avoid involuntarily denying boarding to passengers — selling more tickets than there are seats and then not having enough volunteers to take a later flight for compensation when more passengers than expected show up. Some airlines are overbooking less. Others are paying out more compensation to get more passengers to volunteer to give up their seats.

We’ve seen stories about Delta giving a passenger $4000 in travel vouchers for agreeing to take a later flight and United giving out $10,000. American’s Day of Departure Desk will also authorize substantially more compensation than before.

This is a real cost to airlines, although travel vouchers cost less than cash (they aren’t all used, and they do not all displace cash that would have been spent on tickets). Naturally airlines want to limit the cost.

In my youth I’d go looking for oversold flights and do my best to get compensation. Shortly after college I was traveling regularly from Rochester to Washington Dulles on United Express Jetstream 32 turboprops with 18 seats. These were regularly sold out — and weight restricted in winter. I’d take a bump Sunday evening, fly straight to work Monday morning, and pay for my next trip in the process. Now I’d almost always rather get where I’m going, it would take one of these outsized offers for me to volunteer.

American has implemented a new process to let customers list themselves as a volunteer to give up their seat and specify how much compensation it would take in advance, through the mobile app. The airline is somewhat behind the times here, Delta has had this functionality for several years.

Effective Wednesday, May 1 “When flights are oversold, customers using the mobile app will be offered an opportunity to volunteer to take an alternate flight a full 24 hours prior to departure and during check-in.”

The goal is to get a volunteer list in advance, and for customers to pre-agree to voucher amounts that are lower than what American Airlines offers today.

During the solicitation process, customers are presented with four voucher amounts to choose from. These amounts are less than what the dynamic voucher amount would be, resulting in a reduction of denied boarding compensation. Once a customer selects their preferred voucher amount they will be placed on a volunteer list.

Here’s a sample screen:

There are several interesting things of note here.

  • Even though a passenger has pre-agreed, they will still be called up at the gate (volunteers called up ‘in the order they appear on the list’). They’ll be told their alternate flights, and asked if they are still willing to volunteer.

  • Agents may still need to solicit additional volunteers at the gate.

  • Customers who volunteer and are bumped from a flight will all receive the same compensation amount.
    So the strategy seems to be to get customers to input the lowest amount they’d be willing to accept, knowing that they will receive the highest amount necessary to cover all volunteers. It’s sort of like a Vickrey auction.

One of the reasons I love denied boarding compensation by the way is that it isn’t taxable as income. Although for business travelers I do wonder if the compensation should go to your employer instead of you.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. As long as almost everyone gets the memo that they should always select the highest amount we can collectively maximize our bump earnings.

  2. I’m surprised a major US airline (that I know of) hasn’t added an automated process to change people to a confirmed flight for free earlier or later. They should have the metrics to know who would take it that wouldn’t displace revenue and when it would make sense to do so. If the 6pm flight is likely overbooked but the 3pm and 8pm flights have extra seats, offer a confirmed change to someone who likely wouldn’t pay $75 to switch (but may not want the 6pm flight any longer) and it is a win-win: The customer gets their preferred flight and the airline can avoid having to pay out bump vouchers.

  3. “dynamic voucher amount”

    What? Does AA have an algorithm for starting bump compensation? I always assumed it was whatever the GA felt like that day.

  4. United allows you to define the amounts yourself, but I see AA will only let you select from their pre-determined options?

  5. “Although for business travelers I do wonder if the compensation should go to your employer instead of you.”

    HELL NO! For the same reason that employers should not get the frequent flyer miles. It is my life that is being inconvenienced by business travel. This is small compensation for being away from my family and risking life and limb for the company.

  6. It’s been 3 or more years since I’ve gotten a voucher for a bumped flight. Once the airlines started asking for volunteers during check-in, I never got another bumped flight. I always volunteer, at the second-to-highest price. Your photo shows that American’s lowest volunteer price was $200. I think I’ve seen $50 on Delta. When the voucher gets offered to every single person at check-in, I suspect a plethora of people take the lowest offer.

    Airlines are smart to do this. I’m sure it results in a huge savings for them, because there are always people that will go for the lowest-offered benefit.

  7. I had quite civilised experience with United. They do offer a flight choice you would like to take instead original one (which is a good feature). I picked $500 or $600 and a flight I wanted (direct flight the same route 2 hours later). The GA called me and told that most likely they won’t need a volunteer, but still explained me everything. I stressed out that I need to be on the next flight only and I’m not ok with other options. She immediately booked a seat on the next flight for me (appeared in my reservation).
    In the end they didn’t need my seat. The GA still issued a $100 voucher for me for willing to volunteer.

  8. Hell no, it shouldn’t go to the employer! They aren’t the ones being impacted. That is a contract between the passenger and the airline.

  9. Just arrived on a flight with this experience. You board absolutely last, so you will have to gate check your carry on if not needed. OTOH it will be valet and not show up on the baggage carousel.

    If I were to encounter a significant delay, I would want lounge access as well.

Comments are closed.